I am so blessed with readers who have followed this blog long enough to feel comfortable challenging me on my theology and/or asking questions about specific Scripture. We don't always agree, and that's okay. And I don't always have the answers, and I'm not afraid to say so. But I love the discussions, and the knowledge that there are people seeking more of our God instead of being comfortable in their traditions and rituals. I love hearing from them and the connection it gives me to them.
One such reader was diving into her own thoughts on the Parable of the Ten Virgins, and here is the substance of her question ... How far should the analogy go? Her understanding is that all ten were virgins; all ten were invited to the wedding; all ten came at the right time to wait; all ten had lamps; all ten had at least some oil; but only five had ENOUGH oil and made it into the wedding feast. She was struggling to figure out who were the five virgins that weren't allowed into the wedding feast? Do they represent Christians who are in danger of being left behind at the Rapture? And, if I am understanding her confusion correctly, she was struggling with equating Christians (regardless of their measure of faith) with being called "foolish".
I will tell you that "the Church" has struggled with this parable for centuries, and I do not claim to have all the answers, by any means. I do know that for years, I have missed an important factor of this parable (and others) by not considering Jesus's qualifying statement "the kingdom of heaven will be like...". This reader rightly understands so many things about the state of Christians and the Church in these days. She perceives that modern-day Christianity has resulted in a Laodiciean Church; a lukewarm, accommodating, and compromising Church -- one that is willing to sacrifice righteousness in order to get along with the culture and society. She has a real concern that these Christians are being identified with the "foolish" virgins and they may be left behind when Jesus returns and the Church is raptured.
Let me explain my fundamental understanding of this Parable. I do not think its meaning is connected to the Rapture. And I base that on my understanding of who the principle characters are; the significance of the lack of oil; and the reference Jesus makes to the Kingdom of heaven. So, let me see if I can explain this in a manner that rightly represents where I stand today.
First, central to our understanding of this parable is knowing why Jesus says it "will be like the kingdom of heaven". I have read some commentaries that try to equate the kingdom of heaven to the Church. I patently reject that theory! The kingdom of heaven is the realm where the king lives. It is where God, the Father, rules from heaven. It is the seat of His government, and where His Love, Mercy, Grace, and Judgment abound. It is His domain, and from where He instituted man's dominion over the earth when He created us. The kingdom of heaven was the model for how man was to govern the earth on behalf of God. But that plan was re-directed when Adam and Eve gave their dominion [rulership] of the earth over to Satan in the Garden of Eden.
Also, notice that Jesus says the kingdom of heaven will be like the ten virgins. That indicates a future event; in this case not the Rapture, but it definitely has to do with His Second Coming. And it is important that we see the progression of the kingdom of heaven on earth. It was established in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Even walked in the presence of God... remember, wherever the king is, there is his kingdom. So the earth might have been established as a "colony" of the kingdom of heaven, but it didn't regain its original identity [or purpose] until Jesus came the first time, re-inaugurating that designation when He announced, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand".
There is a dual significance in that declaration. First, repent means more than forgiveness of sins [which is what it meant to John the Baptist]; it also meant to change the way the people of the earth were to think of themselves. They were to begin thinking from God's perspective in heaven. Jesus came to re-establish earth as an extension of heaven and to re-establish our purpose on the earth. So, again, how does the story of the ten virgins point to the kingdom of heaven and what it will be like?
Jesus is obviously the Bridegroom. I have heard the virgins mentioned as merely church members, but I think that is too broad a representation. I believe they are more correctly, Saved Christians. I base that on the fact that they all possess oil to some degree, and oil is one of the metaphors for the Holy Spirit. We all know that when we come to faith in Jesus (or Saved), we are sealed with the Holy Spirit. He is an indicator of our salvation. Oil as a metaphor of the Holy Spirit’s presence [and action in our lives] is clear in the ritual of anointing prophets, priests, and kings.
So all ten virgins possess the oil of anointing of the Holy Spirit. For me, the big question is what is the significance of five of the virgins having extra flasks of oil with them, and five not making that preparation? They all have full lamps, right? And why do the foolish virgins' lamps run out of oil? I want you to see that this parable has both a physical and spiritual application; both to the Jew and the Gentile. Let's begin with the Jews ... To gain a fuller understanding of what is going on here, we need to comprehend this passage's correspondence to a typical orthodox Jewish wedding. We need to look at it from this physical perspective because Jesus is a Jew, speaking to Jews and this message is for them. See it in both a practical application and how it points to the Father's plan of redemption.
The parable is of a typical Jewish wedding. After the betrothal the groom goes back to
his family estate and prepares rooms for his bride and himself to live
in after their wedding, if necessary building on to or up from existing
dwellings, if not constructing a new one. No one can predict how long that will take. When all is ready, he and his
attendants travel to the bride's place, often a great distance, and
usually a shofar is blown to announce their arrival and a shout will go
up to alert the bride's household and party. The bride and her
attendants [the virgins] are expected to be ready for this, having purchased
beforehand all that is necessary. ("In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”) Do you see the connection?
In the parable, the wise virgins refuse to share their oil because then none of them will have enough and the celebrations will be adversely affected. The wise virgins, these ladies in waiting who attend the bride, are simply fulfulling their duty to wait on the bride. They took the pains to make sure they had extra oil in case the bridegroom was delayed. So they will tell the foolish virgins to go buy more olive oil from whomever has some to sell. Any Jew with an olive tree and an olive press would most likely have some on hand, and some might actually be in the business of supplying olive oil.
But because the foolish virgins didn't go the extra mile to make sure they wouldn't be caught without enough oil, they miss out on the festivities of the wedding between the bridegroom and the bride, and the groom doesn't know who they are when they show up banging on the door to be let in.
So, let's transition to the spiritual side of this parable; what the kingdom of heaven will look like when the bridegroom returns. Time and time again, Jesus warns His disciples [and those who flock to his teachings] to be ready.... "Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect" (Matthew 24:44); "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour" (Matthew 25:13). Stay awake; be watchful are warnings throughout the New Testament. To me, it is obvious that the wise virgins made sure they would be ready and prepared, and had plenty of oil to last, no matter how long it took the bridegroom to return. The foolish virgins were content to rely on only what was required, and did not store up for the future.
So, is there anything else I see in this parable? Because Jesus makes it clear that this parable is what it will be like in the kingdom of heaven, I surmise He is referring to when He returns at His Second Coming, when the kingdom of heaven will be fully established on earth at His presence in the Millennial Kingdom. We are not to just inhabit the earth until His return; we are to take back territory from the kingdom of darkness, thereby expanding the kingdom on earth. And what effect does that have for us in eternity, when we will be where He is?
When He returns, we will be called before Him at the Bema Seat judgment to report what we did for His kingdom during His sojourn to His Father's House. The extra oil that the wise virgins have with them represents what they accomplished for the Kingdom, and they will receive crowns and rewards. The foolish virgins, while Saved, will inherit their salvation, but no rewards or crowns. The wedding feast is for those who diligently attended the bride and walked in their kingdom power and authority, working with Jesus to accomplish the Father's will; often at great sacrifice and risk. Jesus will know them! Those who carried the title of bridal attendants, but rested on that privilege, without a personal experience in working with Jesus will go unrecognized.
The rewards we earn cannot be borrowed from another, and cannot be sold to another. When Jesus returns, all those who are Saved will enter Heaven, and that includes all ten virgins. But there will be a wedding between Jesus, the Messiah/Bridegroom and His Bride (a union between a restored Israel and Jesus's Ekklesia). There will also be a wedding feast to celebrate this union and covenant ordained by God. Not everyone is invited to the feast. Only those whom Jesus intimately knows. And I think it goes without saying, that the foolish virgins will lament the time wasted and the inheritance/rewards lost.
I want to finish this post by saying that this parable has a depth that is almost unfathomable. By no means, do I have it all figured out, or all the puzzle pieces in the right places. My understanding is a work in progress. But I hope with the questions my reader asked, and my attempt to explain my current understanding, it will encourage and excite you to dive in with us. There is no more satisfaction than that which comes from getting closer to your Savior and the Father, when you study and receive the guidance and counsel of the Holy Spirit in the process. And be prepared for your opinions to change and your knowledge to grow. This journey with God is never stagnant! We are to grow from glory to glory, and it's all His Glory! Join us!
Matthew 16:27 For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory (majesty, splendor) of His Father with His angels, and then He will render account and reward every man in accordance with what he has done.