One of the most difficult of Christ’s parables to fully understand is the Parable of the Ten Virgins. The conclusion is easy to comprehend but not the symbolism.
I have searched long and hard for an adequate understanding of exactly what this parable is saying to us and have always been left unsatisfied.
However, when I began to view all Scripture through the lens of the Gospel, I think I have come up with a better understanding of what Christ is saying to us. The following is my attempt to fully understand this complex parable.
“At that time [the end times], the kingdom of heaven [or entrance into it] will be like ten virgins [pastors] who took their lamps [the Gospel] and went out to meet the bridegroom [Jesus]. Five of them were foolish [proclaimed a different gospel-Galatians 1:7] and five of them were wise [proclaimed the Gospel of Christ]. The foolish ones took their lamps [a different gospel] but did not take any oil [Holy Spirit] with them. The wise, however, took oil [Holy Spirit] in jars along with their lamps [to ensure they remain in the faith].
“The bridegroom [Jesus] was a long time in coming [2,000 years], and they all became drowsy [proclaimed the Gospel weakly] and fell asleep [lost their passion for preaching the Gospel and the soon return of Christ].
“At midnight [a late hour], the cry [of someone associated with the wedding party] rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! [Jesus] Come out to meet him!’ [Christ is near, at the very gates-Matthew 24:33.]
“Then all of the virgins [pastors] woke up [in surprise] and trimmed their lamps [examined themselves to see if they were in the faith-I Corinthians 13:5] The foolish ones [pastors] said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil [God had not opened their minds to understand the Scripture-Luke 24:45]; our lamps are going out’ [because we proclaimed a different Gospel].
“No’ [you could not endure sound doctrine-II Timothy 4:3]. They replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you [we will not compromise the Gospel as you have]. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves’ [Go to the Lord in prayer and ask Him to open your minds to the Scriptures.]
“But while they were on their way to buy the oil [when they should have had it all along], the bridegroom [Jesus] arrived. The virgins [wise pastors] who were ready [remained in the faith-John 15:4] went in with him to the wedding banquet [Wedding Supper of the Lamb].
“And the door was shut [the rapture occurred, and the foolish virgins were left behind. The Lord shut them in as he sealed the door of the ark for Noah and his family-Genesis 7:16].
“Later [while clinging to their false doctrines] the others [foolish pastors] also came [in prayer]. ‘Sir! Sir! [this is the way they addressed the Savior they did not know] they said, ‘Open the door for us!’ [they had been left behind to go through the tribulation.] But he [Jesus] replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you’ [because they were ashamed of the Gospel-Romans 1:16].
“Watch, therefore [be vigilant and remain in the faith], for you know neither the day nor the hour” [Matthew 25:1-13].
Perhaps the biggest clue that this interpretation is appropriate can be found in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Late in his letter, he addresses the false teachers, or super-apostles, of his time and warns against them. He writes:
“I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough” [II Corinthians 11:1-4].
In this passage, we find the identity of the foolish virgins are those who receive a different Jesus, a different Gospel and a different spirit. Their identity as pastors is based on the fact that the above passage of Paul is dealing with false teachers. Also, when Jesus related this parable, he was speaking to the men who would one day pastor his church. This whole passage seems to fit in extremely well with Christ’s parable.
As a side note, I have heard many Christians lament that their pastors do not preach about the end times anymore. This parable might provide a clue as to why that is.
It seems that all pastors, whether wise or foolish, will become drowsy and fall asleep as manifested by their refusal to preach about the end times. Even when the end times are upon us, they will be dead asleep until they are abruptly awakened by a cry from Christ’s wedding party.
Amazingly, not only will the end times not be preached boldly, but neither will the Gospel. That is the state that we should expect to find ourselves in as we approach the soon return of Christ.
Paul provides us greater insight into how events will unfold leading up to the rapture and the Day of the Lord [the seven-year tribulation period culminating in Armageddon]. It is possible that we will know the rapture is close before it occurs.
It seems as if there may be an angelic cry to alert the faithful of Christ’s impending return.
“Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you [for you will know the time of my visitation]. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night [to surprise the faithless, not you]. While people [the faithless] are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains [the seal, trumpet and bowl judgments] come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape [the seven-year tribulation period].
“But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief [you will know the time of my return]. For you are all children of light, children of the day [people of faith]. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep [like the wise and foolish virgins], as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober [maintain sound doctrine]. For those who sleep, sleep at night [the wise virgins], and those who get drunk [on false doctrine], are drunk at night [the foolish virgins]. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.
“For God has not destined us for wrath [of the tribulation], but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” [I Thessalonians 5:1-11].
Many Christians of good repute claim that the parable of the ten virgins is pointing to the end of the tribulation period.
There is certainly a lot of credibility to this interpretation as it is spoken in such a way as to be relevant to both events. We also cannot discount the possibility that this parable has a dual meaning concerning the two events.
However, there is significant evidence that the Holy Spirit will have withdrawn prior to the tribulation, and this event is crucial to understanding Bible prophecy. After all, if the Holy Spirit is not present, then this parable must be talking about the rapture. The evidence of the departure of the Holy Spirit is included below:
- The restrainer who restrains lawlessness will remove his restraining influence so that the Antichrist can be revealed [I Thessalonians 2:6-8].
- In the first three chapters of Revelation, Jesus states seven times, “He who has an ear, hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” However, when Jesus later says, “If anyone has an ear, let him hear,” [Revelation 13:9] he does so because the Holy Spirit is no longer present at this point in the Book of Revelation.
- The rapture occurrence as described in I Corinthians 15:51-52 and I Thessalonians 4:13-17 is completely unlike the faithful who are harvested at Christ’s second coming in Revelation 14:16.
It is evident that the Holy Spirit is not present during the tribulation, which is why evil is completely unrestrained during this time period.
Also, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is only for the church age; the Old Testament Saints did not receive this incredible phenomenon, nor will those who experience the tribulation. Although some of the Old Testament Saints received the gift of the Holy Spirit temporarily, there was no permanent indwelling. As Jesus said:
“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” Now, this he said about the [Holy] Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given [to the Old Testament saints] because Jesus was not yet glorified [John 7:39].
Since the Holy Spirit withdraws himself before the tribulation, it seems likely that the tribulation saints are also saved by grace through faith but without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Those who are killed for their faith are placed under the altar until the end of the tribulation [Revelation 6:9-11]. We who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit are immediately in the presence of the Lord when we die. Those who survive the tribulation enter Christ’s millennial kingdom and live among the nations.
The main things that we should learn from the Parable of the Ten Virgins are:
- Watch for the soon return of Christ.
- Stand firm in the faith by proclaiming the Gospel.
Whether this interpretation is entirely accurate or not, we must all remember to remain in the faith and stand firm on the Gospel of Christ. We do know when the church age is coming to an end. When it does, the gift of the Holy Spirit may no longer be available to men and women. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the greatest honor ever bestowed on humanity, and it is a tragedy that anyone would miss it.
The Holy Spirit lives within us even now, swimming in the muck of our sin, doing the work of sanctification while grieving over those who fail and/or fall away. If we learn nothing else from this parable, let us learn this:
Don’t be a foolish virgin.