Of course I’m referring to the parable of the ten virgins found in Matthew 25:1-13. The historical setting is a pre-wedding ceremony sometime in the First Century. Even though this story is allegorical, it’s clear that the bridegroom is Jesus. The ten virgins represent those who have been invited to the wedding feast. Five were “wise” and had their lamps fully trimmed with oil, five were “foolish” and did not. (v.2)
Why is this important?
In keeping with the allegory, this means that even though they all had something in common (they were all virgins) they were not all equally prepared.
There is a great deal of symbolism in this parable if you understand how a Jewish wedding unfolded in this historical time period. The wedding typically followed a period of betrothal, usually a year, sometimes two. On the eve of the wedding, the bridegroom, along with a few close friends, left his home to go to the bride’s home where there would be a variety of ceremonies, including consummation of the marriage. This was followed by a procession through the streets, typically after nightfall, back to the groom’s house for more festivities, which might last several days, even up to a week. First Century folks really knew how to have a good time at a wedding! Everyone in the procession carried their own torch, usually a lamp with a small oil tank and a wick. Those in the wedding party needed to make certain their lamp tanks were topped off so as not run out of oil and thus extinguish the light, because anyone in the procession without a lit lamp was assumed to be a party crasher, or possibly even a thief or troublemaker.
One of the other main reasons the ten virgins needed plenty of oil for their lamps was that according to tradition the bridegroom did not announce the time of his arrival. It was spontaneous, often heralded by the blowing of a shofar. The obvious analogy in this story is that Christ will return at an unknown hour and those who are His must be ready. There will be no time to “go back for more oil.”
Let’s take a look at what oil represents in this parable.
Oil is often a metaphor for Holy Spirit in Scripture. While that surely is one aspect of importance in this tale, the even more important question is "Will we be ready when Christ returns?"
You might ask, “What exactly does being ready mean?
The first part of the answer is that we must have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior. That is, we must all be metaphorical spiritual “virgins.” Romans 10:9-10 tells us that if we “believe in our heart and confess with our mouth” we have accepted the free sacrificial gift of His salvation. Next, we must be looking with eagerness and anticipation for the return of Christ. In the parable, the bridegroom tarries so long all of the virgins slumbered and slept. (v.5) Not a good thing to be doing!
What happened during their time of slumber?
Well, five of the virgins had enough oil so that their lamps were still lit when the cry went out, “Behold the bridegroom comes, go out to meet him.” The foolish five begged the wise five for some of their oil, to avail. Thus, they had to leave and buy more oil. While they were gone, the bridegroom showed up, invited the five waiting virgins inside—and then shut the door. When the five foolish virgins returned and banged on the door, saying, “Lord, Lord, let us in,” the bridegroom responds, “I know you not.” (v.6-13)
Wow! I don’t know about you, but I do not want to be one of the five foolish “virgins” when Christ returns.
Jesus has tarried for two thousand years and much of the Church is asleep today, just like the ten virgins. You may find that statement hard to believe, but I hope you find it as disconcerting as I do.
Why do I say this?
Perhaps it’s because the divorce rate of Believers is the same as, or higher than, non-Believers in many places. Perhaps it’s because older, mainline denominations are losing members of their flock faster than new Believers are coming in. Perhaps it’s because once a person reaches eighteen there’s a seventy-five percent chance that they will never accept Christ. Perhaps it’s because it is estimated that only six percent of people who come forward and profess Christ as their Savior in evangelistic crusades like Billy Graham’s are still in the Faith one year later. Perhaps it’s because one survey found that ninety percent of self-professed Christian singles in the eighteen to fifty-nine age group identify themselves as sexual atheists. They believe in Jesus and God but they don’t believe He has anything to say to them of any consequence about their sexual orientation. Sixty-three percent of those same singles have no problem with having sex outside of marriage. Perhaps it has to do with several mainline denominations not only openly accommodating practicing homosexuals in their congregations, but ordaining them as ministers as well.
Summing up these, and other disturbing, trends which indicate a deeper spiritual malaise infecting mainstream Christianity like an out-of- control endemic and systemic virus we can say this: The Church--that is all those who are called out of the world to worship God through Christ and be transformed by the process of sanctification into the likeness and image of Jesus--is now compromising many of Christianity’s core tenets in order to please the world and become “seeker friendly.” The fundamental message of transformation by the Blood of Jesus and His resurrection into “a new creation” because He is the “firstborn” of that creation (that is “old things pass away and all things become new”) has gone from Theocentric (centered on God) to anthropocentric (centered on man).
The message many of our churches proselytize is now exactly opposite from the message of the Bible. The Apostle Paul in his Second Letter to Timothy penned a prophetic warning to our generation, specifically speaking about the fact that “in the last days, perilous times shall come” when “[people] of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the Faith,” will be “ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of truth.” They will have “a form of godliness, but [deny] the power thereof. “ He goes on to admonish us, saying, “from such turn away.” (2Tim.3:1-9)
The Church, and the world, is in the midst of perilous times. Few would contest that statement. Whether or not Jesus will return in this generation, however, is subject to ongoing debate. What is not debatable is that the process of the “great falling away” from the Faith Paul warns about in 2Thess.2:3 has already begun. It may be in its infancy, but it’s growing at breakneck speed. Heretical doctrines such as “There is no Hell, Jesus sinned and had to repent, God will reconcile all things to Himself, including Satan, We do not need to accept Christ to enter His Kingdom and go to Heaven, Same-sex marriage is acceptable to God, Abortion is acceptable to God, and many others are rampant in the Church.
Perhaps one of the biggest indictments of the “modern” Church is that we have lost the “fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of Wisdom.” (Prov.1:7) In many ways the Church is in a similar situation as is described in the Book of Judges when “every [person] did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judg. 17:6)
Jesus sums it much better than I ever could:
“Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness”
In closing, I’d like you to ask yourself, “Am I invited to the wedding, and is my lamp filled with oil?”