Bill Heinrich  -  Dec 22, 2015  -  Comments Off on 14.01.07 THE WISE AND FOOLISH VIRGINS

14.01.07 Mt. 25:1-13




1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like 10 virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were sensible.

3 When the foolish took their lamps, they didn’t take olive oil with them. 4 But the sensible ones took oil in their flasks with their lamps. 5 Since the groom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

6 “In the middle of the night there was a shout: ‘Here’s the groom! Come out to meet him.’

7 “Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 But the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’ 9 “The sensible ones answered, ‘No, there won’t be enough for us and for you. Go instead to those who sell, and buy oil for yourselves.’

10 “When they had gone to buy some, the groom arrived. Then those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet, and the door was shut.

11 “Later the rest of the virgins also came and said, ‘Master, master, open up for us!’

12 “But he replied, ‘I assure you: I do not know you!’

13 “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.


Jesus, the Master Teacher, followed the rabbinic pattern of teaching which often left the listener wondering how a story ended. The primary difference is that He added God’s perspective to the stories. The same is true in this parable which raises the following question:



14.01.07.Q1 Who or what do the five foolish virgins of Matthew 25:1-13 represent?[1]

One of the best known symbols of the Bible is a woman who represents a religious entity.  Two righteous “woman” symbols are


  1. Israel who is the “wife of Jehovah.”


  1. Church who is the “bride of Christ.”


Two demonic “woman” symbols are


  1. The great harlot (Rev. 17)


  1. Jezebel (Rev. 2:20)


Throughout church history, the imagery of the wise and foolish virgins has been problematic since virgins are considered synonymous with the pure unspotted bride of Christ. Consequently, there are multiple interpretations of this parable. At issue, the foolish virgins have a most unhappy ending; a stark contrast to the bright eternal future the bride of Christ is to enjoy.


The primary problem is that five virgins lacked sufficient oil.  But the focus is not the lamp, torch, or even the bride since she is not mentioned. In first century, oil was such a frequently used commodity that no one would ever forget it, much less five young bridesmaids. This was a matter of willful neglect.[2]  The primary message is, as with the parable of the talents preceding it, that the believer should always to be ready for the return of Christ (v. 44).  People are held responsible for their actions.  The foolish virgins (bridesmaids) allowed their lamps to run out of oil, but believers ought not to be lacking in their responsibilities to the faith. Those who had sufficient oil symbolize believers with a pure heart and righteous standing with our Lord. They will be admitted into Christ’s millennial kingdom. Those who had insufficient oil symbolize the unprepared or unsaved individuals who desired to enter, but were excluded. It is a parable of separation.  All the virgins are believers, but some are prepared to meet their Lord, and others are ill prepared because of having interests and pleasures in the world more than in Christ. The essential point is that Jesus will return for a bride who is faithful, obedient, and watching for His return.


The parable of the virgins has a parallel in rabbinic literature. From the Talmud is this story of those who are wise and others who are foolish.


Rabbi Yochanan, the son of Zakkai, told a parable: “It is like a king who invited his servants to a feast and did not set a time for them to arrive.  The wise adorned themselves and waited by the door of the palace, for they said, ‘Is there anything lacking in the palace?’  The foolish continued working, for they said, ‘Is a feast ever given without preparation?’ Suddenly the king summoned his servants.  The wise entered the palace adorned as they were, but the foolish entered in their working clothes, and the king said, ‘Those who adorned themselves for the feast shall sit down and eat and drink; but those who did not adorn themselves for the feast shall stand and look on!’”

 Babylonian Talmud, Shabbath 153a


In this Talmudic parable, as with the parable told by Jesus, the servants, or attendants, had to be prepared to meet their king. Jesus again used a story motif that everyone knew. In the phrase, “Virgins who took their lamps,” the word “lamp” is not the small clay vessel that fits snugly in the palm of the hand.  Rather, it was probably a wooden stem with a cloth at one end, soaked in olive oil, and was essentially a torch.[3]  The typical household clay lamp would blow out at the slightest breeze and, therefore, would not have been used outside.  However, the focus is not on the lamp, which is a Western perspective, but on the light it produced, which is a Jewish perspective.  Jesus is the light of the world – and that is the key point.



However, an explanation of the first century Jewish wedding is necessary, especially since the imagery of a wedding was used several times in the teachings of Jesus.  Weddings and the feasts that followed were major social events. It was at a wedding where Jesus performed His first miracle, turning water into wine.  It is through wedding imagery that He spoke of the future.  Therefore, to understand the messianic prophecies, it is important to understand the cultural setting of a first century Jewish wedding. In this case, there can be little question that the wedding banquet narrative gives a hint of the coming messianic banquet in which Jesus will be the central figure and His saints will be the guests.


In the first century, marriages were frequently, but not always, arranged by the fathers.  It was common for a girl to be betrothed as early as twelve and a boy at age thirteen.   However, a young man had the option of selecting any bride of his own choosing.   The formality began when he came to her home and presented a formal, legally binding contract known as a katuvah.[4]  This covenant stated the marriage proposal and the sum of money the groom would pay to the bride’s parents to have her as his wife.  The purpose was to insure the understanding that she was not free but was precious and costly to him. If the terms of the contract were accepted by both families, it was signed at the synagogue and the couple celebrated by sharing a cup of wine together.  Only then was the covenant sealed and they were considered betrothed.

The couple was considered husband and wife, although the marriage was not consummated until after the wedding.  If either one died prior to the wedding, the surviving partner while still a virgin, would be known as a widow or widower.  If the betrothal was broken other than by death, the bride would receive a divorce decree.  If she were found to be unfaithful, technically, she could be put to death, but the practice was seldom instituted.  During this time she would wear a veil whenever in public to affirm to any other possible suitors that she had made a commitment.  When Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy, his consideration of a quiet divorce reflected his sense of mercy and kindness, when, in fact, he could have legally demanded her death, as well as a refund of his money paid at the signing of the marriage contract.


The wedding was generally held in the following year.  During this time, the bride prepared herself for her new home, whereas the bridegroom would build the house itself.  Frequently, this structure was simply another room added onto the existing home of the father of the bridegroom.  The young bridegroom constructed it, no doubt with the help of family and friends. His father then declared its completion.   It was during the one-year period of Mary’s betrothal that Jesus was born.


As the house was being finished, the preparation of the wedding feast was in process.  The feast would last between three and seven days, depending on the financial resources of the families. Weddings always required a large quantity of food and wine. Middle Eastern hospitality in ancient times, as today, demanded that only the best be presented to guests.  When everything was completed in detail, the father gave permission to his son to “capture” or “kidnap” his bride.  It was a game and, to add to the suspense of the event, the “capture” usually occurred at night.


“All became drowsy and fell asleep.” The word sleep often suggests death, but not in this case.  In this parable the terms drowsy and sleep simply emphasize that the delay would be for a long period of time.[5]


“The door was shut.” At this point Jesus takes the cultural norm and adds a profound twist. When there was a wedding, the door was never shut.  The late comer was always invited to join the festivities. But when Jesus said “the door was shut,” He captured everyone’s attention. For those in the church who are “left behind,” repentance is not possible after His coming.[6]


This is clearly a statement of rejection imagery,[7]  and the foolish virgins will have no part of the Messianic Banquet.[8] The wedding feast of this parable depicts the future messianic wedding banquet in heaven[9] that, some say, will occur during the same period while the earth is experiencing the Great Tribulation. The point of the parable is that every believer has to be fully prepared; fully obedient and committed to Jesus; fully at work for the Kingdom of God. This is not a statement of legalism, but of a lifestyle of dedication to His honor and glory.


As stated previously, there is a constant danger for modern Bible students to read a meaning into a parable that was not intended by the gospel writer.  In this case, there is no indication whether the foolish virgins were able to obtain oil and, if they did, whether they returned. In this culture, the world rested at sundown and it was impossible to purchase anything at night. In the context of telling a story, however, there is nothing wrong in saying that the foolish virgins went out to buy more oil even if the stores were closed. That is not the theme, but only a minor point that adds color to the narrative. Simply stated, these women had not prepared themselves diligently for the feast.[10]  The message of the parable is that one is to be watchful and prepared for the return of Jesus. The concept of the Messiah as being the bridegroom also appears in 2 Corinthians 11:2.  This is a new concept that is not found in any rabbinic literature and, most certainly originated with Jesus. The focus of the narrative is not their marital status, but rather that there were ten of them and their use of oil.  The number ten was often used as a convenient round number in illustrations.[11]


There are several similarities between first century weddings and the imagery Jesus used to describe His relationship with those who believed in Him; those whom He called His “bride.”  Just as in ancient times, a young man left his home and went to the home of a young woman where he offered her and her father a contract of marriage (katuvah), Jesus left His home in heaven, came to earth, the home of humanity, and offered humanity a contract of marriage – the New Testament.



When the young man was seated at the dinner table with the parents of a young woman, he would offer the young woman a cup of wine.  He never asked the question, “Will you marry me?”  If she accepted the proposal, she would indicate so by accepting the cup and drinking the wine.  Likewise, Jesus poured the cup at Passover and told His disciples to drink the wine (communion).  The young man paid a price to the bride’s father because her family was losing a worker and the young man had to show that his bride was not cheap, but valuable to him. Jesus paid the ultimate price for His bride; it cost him His life.


When the young woman accepted the invitation of marriage, her bridegroom had to leave and build a home for himself and his bride.  However, it was his father who determined when it was completed, to insure a quality home and that the eager young man would not build a flimsy shack.  Likewise, Jesus went to prepare a place for His bride and God the Father will determine when it is completed.  Neither the bride nor her groom would know when the father would say it’s time to “steal” her.  He worked hard to build the wedding chamber and she prepared herself for that special day.


When the bridegroom’s work was approved by his father, the young man would gather his friends to “steal” the bride from her home.  This was always a festive time and the parents played along with the game.  The group would sneak up to the bride’s home in the middle of the night. The parents of the bride and her brothers ignored the game of thievery while sharing in her excitement. But he most certainly could not rush into her bedroom, as that would have been considered so rude that it would be a shame he could never outlive.  Rather, he would give a shout outside the home and then enter, giving her only a few minutes to make herself presentable and light her lamp.


A steward was in charge of the feast and it was his responsibility to insure there was sufficient food. He also metered out the wine.  He ascertained that only those who wore the special wedding garments would enter the house of the bridegroom’s father and join the celebration.[12] Thereafter the bride removed her veil and was considered a married woman. Likewise, when Jesus comes for His bride, she needs to be ready. There will be a shout and the church will be “captured” by Him.


The wedding tradition of “stealing” the bride continues to this day. For instance, late one evening in Haifa, Israel, this author was reviewing his sermon notes when he heard a strange commotion outside. He opened the door to see fifty to sixty young men cheering, singing, and clapping hands to bongo drums as they marched past his apartment. In the front of this procession was one very happy young man who was being carried on the shoulders of his friends.  Immediately behind them followed an equal number of young women, also cheering, singing, and clapping hands. The procession passed by and went around the corner and this author returned to his studies.


After fifteen minutes, he could again hear the bongo drums, clapping, and singing faintly in the distance. The noise of the crowd grew louder as the young people were returning, and once again, the author stepped to his door and noticed that this time the female delegation was somewhat larger.  The young men were still carrying a certain young chap on their shoulders, filled with the joy of his life, and beside him was an equally delighted young woman.  There was obviously a wedding for a bridegroom and his friends had “stolen” his bride and her attendants.  Soon they disappeared down the dark street and the bongos, singing, and clapping faded into silence.  This author immediately reflected upon this passage, which had just sprung into blazing life, and thanked God for bringing this experience into his life. The modern Middle East is still a treasure of biblical traditions.  God demonstrated a live performance of His Word, a very unexpected gift of divine graciousness.



Finally, the parable of the ten virgins is not unlike the history of Israel.  Throughout Israel’s history, the greater portion of people chose not to believe or follow God’s commandments while the smaller portion did.  The majority were the idolaters and often practiced the occult rituals of neighboring communities. In essence, the minority were the true “remnant” of God’s people. Ethnically, they are the same but, spiritually they are not identical. The classic example is found in 1 Kings 19 where only seven thousand were faithful to God. While all the Israelites were God’s Chosen People, only those who were faithful to Him were defined as being His “remnant.” [13]  Likewise with the parable of the ten virgins – five were foolish and five were His remnant. Since this parable can be applied to the church, obviously not all who hold church membership are true followers of Jesus. The essence of the message is that one day Jesus Himself will judge His church and separate the true believers from those who claim to be His followers and have not lived by faith and obedience.


The Church fathers who authored the Didache made a similar comment concerning the spiritual condition of the believer at the return of Jesus:


Keep vigil over your life.  Let your lamps not go out and let your loins not be weak but be ready, for you do not know the hour at which our Lord is coming.  You shall assemble frequently, seeking what pertains to your souls, for the whole time of your belief will be of no profit to you unless you are perfected at the final hour. 

Didache 16:1-2 


[1]. See video 09.03.04.V1 by Messianic Rabbi  John Fischer who discusses first century wedding imagery, and video 14.02.05.V2 by Professor John Metzger who discusses the Passover, the Last Supper and its implications to the Messianic Banquet.


[2]. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 789; Geikie, The Life and Words of Christ. 2:450-51.


[3]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:131; Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 349-50.


[4]. The marital contract is further described in 04.03.03.A and 08.02.01.

[5]. Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 349-50.


[6]. Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 350.


[7]. See the discussion of rejection imagery at the end of 12.01.02.


[8]. For further study, see Pagenkemper, “Rejection Imagery in the Synoptic Parables.” 179-198.


[9]. See Isa. 25:6-8; Mt. 8:11; 22:1-14; Lk. 12:37; 14:15-24; 15:23-24; 22:36; Acts 10:41.


[10]. Cf. Hosea 13:3; Amos 3:2; Nahum 1:7; Jn. 10:14; 2 Tim. 2:19.


[11]. Ruth 4:2; Lk. 19:13; Josephus, Wars 6.9.3; Carson, “Matthew.” 8:512-13.

[12]. See video 09.03.04.V1 by Messianic Rabbi John Fischer who discusses first century wedding imagery, and video 14.02.05.V2 by Professor John Metzger who discusses the Passover, the Last Supper and its implications to the Messianic Banquet.

[13]. Adapted from Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 5, page 8, 10.


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