The Parable of the Ten Virgins: Being Prepared for Jesus' Return | Bible Study

Parables Bible Study #9 – The Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13)

Pastor Duke Taber

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Introduction

The Parable of the Ten Virgins, found in the Gospel of Matthew, is a story that Jesus told to illustrate the importance of being prepared for His return. This parable comes as part of Jesus’ discourse on the end times, known as the Olivet Discourse, where He teaches about the signs of His coming and the end of the age.

Through this parable, Jesus emphasizes the need for readiness and watchfulness in light of His imminent return. He shows us that the time of His coming is unknown and that we must be prepared at all times, not just spiritually but also practically.

As we study this parable, may we be challenged to examine our own readiness for Christ’s return. May we be inspired to cultivate a life of watchfulness, faithfulness, and preparedness, not just for the future but for each day. And may we look forward with hope and anticipation to the day when we will meet our Bridegroom face to face and enter into the eternal joy of His wedding feast.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What comes to mind when you think of the Parable of the Ten Virgins?
  2. Have you ever found yourself unprepared for an important event or occasion? What was that experience like?
Parables Bible Study #9 - The Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13)

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The Context

The Parable of the Ten Virgins is part of a larger discourse in which Jesus is teaching about the end times and the signs of His coming. This discourse, known as the Olivet Discourse, is found in Matthew 24-25 and is prompted by the disciples’ question about the destruction of the temple and the end of the age (Matthew 24:1-3).

In this discourse, Jesus warns His disciples about the coming tribulation, the rise of false prophets and messiahs, and the need for endurance and faithfulness in the face of persecution and apostasy. He also teaches about the suddenness and unexpectedness of His return, using several parables to illustrate the importance of readiness and watchfulness.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins comes immediately after the Parable of the Faithful and Wise Servant (Matthew 24:45-51), which emphasizes the need for consistent faithfulness and service in light of the master’s return. It is followed by the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), which teaches about the importance of using one’s gifts and resources wisely and productively for the master’s benefit.

Together, these parables form a trio that stress the importance of readiness, faithfulness, and wise stewardship in light of Christ’s return and the coming judgment. They remind us that as disciples of Jesus, we are called to live each day in light of eternity, preparing ourselves and others for the coming of the Lord.

The broader context of Matthew’s Gospel also sheds light on the significance of the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Throughout his Gospel, Matthew presents Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of David who has come to establish God’s Kingdom on earth. He emphasizes Jesus’ teaching about the nature of this Kingdom and the characteristics of its citizens.

In this context, the Parable of the Ten Virgins can be seen as a warning and an encouragement to the disciples and to the early church. It warns against complacency and unpreparedness in one’s spiritual life, and it encourages vigilance, faithfulness, and a constant readiness for Christ’s return.

As we study this parable, it’s important to keep in mind this broader context of Jesus’ teaching about the end times and the nature of His Kingdom. The parable is not just about a future event but about how we are to live each day as citizens of God’s Kingdom, prepared and ready for the coming of our King.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Why do you think Jesus told this parable in the context of His teaching about the end times?
  2. How does the context of readiness and watchfulness add urgency to the message of the parable?

The Story

The parable begins with a description of a wedding custom in ancient Jewish culture. Jesus says, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom” (Matthew 25:1). In this custom, the bridegroom would go to the bride’s house for the wedding ceremony, and then the bride and groom would return together to the groom’s house for the wedding feast. The virgins in the parable are likely the bridesmaids who are waiting to escort the bride and groom to the feast.

Jesus divides the ten virgins into two groups: five who were foolish and five who were wise. The foolish virgins took their lamps but took no oil with them, while the wise virgins took flasks of oil along with their lamps. The bridegroom was delayed, and all the virgins became drowsy and slept.

At midnight, there was a cry, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” All the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish virgins said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise virgins replied, “Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.”

While the foolish virgins went to buy oil, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Later, the foolish virgins came, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But the bridegroom replied, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”

Jesus concludes the parable with a warning: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13).

Reflection Questions:

  1. What details in the parable stand out to you, and why?
  2. How does the contrast between the wise and foolish virgins illustrate the importance of preparedness?

The Characters

The Parable of the Ten Virgins features three main characters: the bridegroom, the wise virgins, and the foolish virgins. Each character plays a significant role in illustrating the lessons of the parable.

The Bridegroom

In the parable, the bridegroom represents Jesus Christ Himself. This is evident from the context of the parable, where Jesus has been teaching about His return and the coming of His Kingdom. The bridegroom’s arrival for the wedding feast symbolizes Christ’s second coming and the establishment of His eternal Kingdom.

The bridegroom’s delay in arriving at the feast is a key detail in the parable. This delay represents the period between Christ’s first and second comings, a time of waiting and anticipation for the church. It reminds us that the exact time of Christ’s return is unknown and that it may be longer than we expect.

When the bridegroom arrives, he enters the wedding feast with those who are ready, and the door is shut. This represents the finality of Christ’s return and the separation between those who are prepared and those who are not. Once Christ returns, there will be no more opportunity for preparation or repentance.

The bridegroom’s response to the foolish virgins who come late is also significant. He says, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you” (Matthew 25:12). This phrase implies more than just unfamiliarity; it suggests a lack of intimate, saving relationship. It is a sobering reminder that not everyone who claims to know Christ will enter into His Kingdom (cf. Matthew 7:21-23).

The Wise Virgins

The wise virgins in the parable represent those who are truly prepared for Christ’s return. They are called “wise” not because of their intellectual knowledge but because of their practical readiness and foresight.

The key characteristic of the wise virgins is that they take oil with their lamps. In the context of the parable, the oil likely represents the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, which is essential for the life and light of the believer. The wise virgins’ extra oil suggests a surplus of spiritual resources, a depth of relationship with God that goes beyond mere external appearance.

When the bridegroom is delayed, the wise virgins are able to trim their lamps and keep them burning through the night. This suggests an endurance and faithfulness in their spiritual lives, a ability to persevere through the challenges and waiting of the Christian life.

When the foolish virgins ask for some of their oil, the wise virgins refuse, saying there will not be enough for both groups. This is not a lack of generosity but a recognition that spiritual preparedness is an individual responsibility. We cannot rely on the faith or resources of others; we must cultivate our own relationship with God.

The wise virgins’ readiness is rewarded when the bridegroom comes. They enter with him into the wedding feast, representing the joy and celebration of Christ’s eternal Kingdom. Their preparedness has ensured their place at the feast.

The Foolish Virgins

The foolish virgins in the parable represent those who are unprepared for Christ’s return. They are called “foolish” because of their lack of foresight and their superficial readiness.

Like the wise virgins, the foolish virgins have lamps and are waiting for the bridegroom. This suggests that they have a form of expectation and perhaps even an outward appearance of readiness. However, they lack the essential inward reality, represented by the oil.

The foolish virgins’ lack of oil suggests a shallowness in their spiritual lives. They have the external trappings of faith but lack the internal substance. They are unprepared for the delay of the bridegroom and the challenges of the waiting period.

When they realize their lamps are going out, the foolish virgins try to borrow oil from the wise. This represents a last-minute attempt to gain spiritual resources, perhaps through the faith or merits of others. However, as the wise virgins point out, spiritual preparedness is not transferable. Each person must cultivate their own relationship with God.

The foolish virgins’ attempt to buy oil also proves futile. By the time they return, the bridegroom has already come, and the door is shut. This suggests that there is a deadline for preparedness, a point at which it is too late to get ready.

The foolish virgins’ plea to the bridegroom, “Lord, lord, open to us,” and his response, “I do not know you,” are a sobering reminder of the consequences of unpreparedness. Despite their initial expectation and outward association with the wedding party, their lack of inward readiness excludes them from the feast.

Reflection Questions:

  1. In what ways can you identify with the wise virgins? The foolish virgins?
  2. What do you think the oil in the parable represents, and how can we ensure we have a sufficient supply?

The Importance of Readiness

At its core, the Parable of the Ten Virgins is a powerful exhortation to spiritual readiness in light of Christ’s return. It reminds us that the time of His coming is unknown and that we must be prepared at all times, not just externally but also internally.

The parable suggests several key aspects of spiritual readiness. First, it involves a depth of relationship with God that goes beyond mere outward appearance. The wise virgins’ extra oil represents the internal reality of the Spirit-filled life, a life that is rooted in a genuine, saving relationship with Christ.

Second, readiness involves endurance and faithfulness over time. The delay of the bridegroom and the long night of waiting represent the challenges and trials of the Christian life. Readiness means persevering through these challenges with faith and hope, keeping our lamps burning bright.

Third, readiness is an individual responsibility. The wise virgins’ refusal to share their oil is not a lack of generosity but a recognition that each person is responsible for their own spiritual preparation. We cannot rely on the faith or merits of others; we must cultivate our own relationship with God.

Fourth, readiness has a deadline. The foolish virgins’ inability to enter the feast after the door was shut suggests that there is a point at which it is too late to get ready. We do not know when this point will come, either in terms of Christ’s return or the end of our own lives, so we must be prepared at all times.

The parable also highlights the consequences of unpreparedness. The foolish virgins’ exclusion from the wedding feast represents the eternal separation from God that awaits those who are not ready for Christ’s return. Their plea to the bridegroom and his response are a sobering reminder that a superficial association with Christ is not enough; we must have a genuine, saving relationship with Him.

So how can we cultivate readiness in our own lives? The parable suggests that it starts with a commitment to the basics of the Christian life: prayer, Scripture reading, fellowship, and service. These disciplines help us to cultivate a deep, abiding relationship with God and to grow in our faith and love for Him.

But readiness also involves a posture of watchfulness and expectancy. It means living each day in light of eternity, with a keen awareness that Christ could return at any moment. It means prioritizing our relationship with God above all else and being willing to let go of anything that hinders our readiness.

Readiness also involves a commitment to faithfulness and endurance. It means persevering through the trials and challenges of life with hope and trust in God. It means keeping our lamps burning bright even through the long night of waiting.

Ultimately, readiness is about relationship. It’s about knowing Christ intimately and walking with Him daily. It’s about abiding in His love and allowing His Spirit to fill and transform us. As we cultivate this relationship, we will find ourselves increasingly ready for His return, eagerly anticipating the joy and celebration of the wedding feast.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What does spiritual readiness look like in your own life? In what areas do you need to grow?
  2. How can we cultivate a posture of watchfulness and expectancy in light of Christ’s return?

Conclusion

The Parable of the Ten Virgins is a wake-up call for all who claim to be followers of Christ. It reminds us that the Christian life is not just about outward appearance or superficial association but about inward reality and genuine relationship. It challenges us to examine our own hearts and lives and to ask ourselves: Are we truly ready for Christ’s return?

This question is not meant to induce fear or anxiety but to spur us on to greater faith, love, and hope. It’s an invitation to deeper intimacy with Christ, to a life filled with the oil of His Spirit and the light of His presence. It’s a call to live each day with purpose and intentionality, knowing that our lives have eternal significance.

As we reflect on this parable, may we be inspired to cultivate a life of readiness and watchfulness. May we be diligent in the spiritual disciplines that nurture our relationship with God. May we be faithful in the challenges and trials of life, keeping our lamps burning bright. And may we live each day with a sense of expectancy and hope, knowing that our Bridegroom is coming and that the best is yet to come.

The promise of Christ’s return is not just a future hope but a present reality that should shape every aspect of our lives. It should fill us with joy and anticipation, knowing that we will one day see our Savior face to face and enter into the eternal celebration of His love. It should motivate us to live lives of purity, integrity, and service, knowing that we will give an account for how we have lived and loved.

So let us be like the wise virgins, prepared and ready for the coming of our Lord. Let us fill our lamps with the oil of His Spirit and let our light shine before others, that they may see our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven. Let us encourage one another and spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together as we see the Day approaching.

And let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. He is our Bridegroom, our King, and our greatest treasure.

May we be found ready and watching when He comes.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What is one key takeaway or insight you have gained from studying the Parable of the Ten Virgins?
  2. How can you apply the truths of this parable to your own life this week?
  3. Take a moment to pray, asking God to help you cultivate a life of readiness and watchfulness in light of Christ’s return.

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