I’ve always found the parable of the ten virgins (or bridesmaids) in Matthew 25:1-13 to be quite sad. This parable is sandwiched between two others that also give insight into how His followers are to live in anticipation of His return.
In Matthew 24:42-51, the servant fails to watch for the Master’s return and lives as though He is not coming. When the Master returns, He surprises the disobedient, willful, wicked servant in his ungodly behavior. His fate is to be cast out. In Matthew 25:14-30, the Master gives three servants a measure of talents according to their ability, to take care of while He goes away on a long journey. When He returns, He demands an accounting of how they used the talents for the Master’s benefit. Two were faithful and doubled their return by their hard work; they put what the Master had given them to good use. The third servant was lazy, unproductive, and unfaithful. He buries his talent and goes on about his life with no thought of it. When the Master returns, he claims to have been fearful, that the Master was hard and demanding and he acted to preserve it, rather than risk losing it. The Master sees through his protests and punishes him as deserved, throwing the worthless slave into outer darkness.
In these two parables, there are clearly two kinds of people: true followers who know their Master is returning and watch faithfully and work diligently while waiting, and those who only pretend to serve the Master but care little for His return and have no compulsion or desire to serve His kingdom purposes. The parable of the ten virgins is more complicated.
All ten virgins are waiting for the bridegroom (a picture of Jesus). But the hour grows late…they are tired and fall asleep. At midnight, hours after they expected His return, they hear a shout and the call to come out and meet him. Five of the bridesmaids are prudent; they had plenty of oil to make sure their lamps did not go out. The other five were foolish and were out of oil. Without the oil, they would not be welcome to join the procession of escorting the bridal party. They chose to go out at that late hour to try to find oil and missed the procession. The door was closed. When they returned and asked for admittance, they were refused; the bridegroom declares, “Truly I say to you, ‘I do not know you.’”
In the context of Matthew 24, Jesus is not speaking of the rapture of the church (who is the bride of Christ). The parables are describing His Second Coming, which will take place at the end of the Tribulation, so the bridesmaids must represent those who claim faith during those seven years. They will know the general time frame Jesus will return, but not the day nor the hour (Matthew 24:36, 42, 50). The picture of oil is connected to the Holy Spirit’s anointing in scripture. It was used by the priests to anoint (consecrate, set apart) those who served as priests and kings. The children of Israel were also instructed to keep the oil lamps in the Tabernacle / Temple burning continually – a picture of the Holy Spirit’s presence (Exodus 27:20; Leviticus 24:2). The virgins who had enough oil were truly saved, set apart by the Holy Spirit. Their oil endured.
Because the bridegroom was delayed, the foolish virgins were unprepared. They ran out of oil, which seems to indicate they proclaimed faith in Jesus, but like the thorny and rocky soils, the Word did not take root and bear fruit. They only appeared to be followers but did not endure to the end (Matthew 10:22; 24:13; Mark 13:13; 2 Timothy 2:12). At the end of the Tribulation, when the Bridegroom returns, it will be evident who belongs to Jesus and who was only pretending. Many will fall away in the end.
The principles in these three parables also apply to our pre-Rapture, pre-Tribulation world as we wait for Jesus to come for His bride. We must be watching faithfully; we must patiently endure when He (seemingly) delays, and we must work diligently, using the gifts and resources He has given us for kingdom purposes. Most importantly, be sure that your lamp is filled with oil, and that you truly belong to the Savior. The last thing you want to hear Him say is, “I do not know you.”