Several of Christ's parables and other teachings, touch on his Second Coming; and the need for his people to be ready for that event; expectant to the point of being prepared for it to happen at any time.
And this is the thrust, and drive, of the parable of the 'Wise and Foolish Virgins', which could, equally, have been called 'The parable of the prepared, and the unprepared'.
The parable begins with the words. At that time (the kingdom of heaven will be like)...’; and the 'time' in question, is what the church used to refer to as 'Judgement Day’.
Verse One continues by telling us that 'ten virgins took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom’.
Almost certainly, the ten young women were friends of the bride, rather than of the bridegroom. It was the custom, in those days, for the bride’s friends to assemble, to welcome the bridegroom, as he approached the home of the bride's father.
In the father’s house, the bride waited; and the meal was prepared. All that was then needed, was for the bridegroom to arrive; to share in the meal, and then take his bride to his own home.
It was also the custom, for the assembled friends to hold lighted oil-lamps, as part of the welcome.
What we have so far, is a time of waiting, and a preparedness for the actual arrival of the bridegroom, which, in terms of the parable, prefigures the arrival of Christ, at the Second Advent.
Verse Two tells us that five of the virgins were wise; and that five were foolish. The fact that Jesus, in the parable, divided the bride's friends into two equal groups, within a story that points to the 'Day of Judgement'; does not indicate that half of mankind will be saved; and that the other half will be lost. The numbers merely indicate that there were two types of young woman, and that the hearer of the parable must decide which type to imitate.
In Verses 2-4 we see that what differentiates the 'foolish' from the ‘wise', is that they had not thought ahead, and prepared for a possible delay; whereas the ‘wise' ones had planned ahead; and had taken extra containers of oil, in case the bridegroom arrived later than expected.
Verse Five tells us that ‘They all became drowsy and fell asleep’. In the telling of this parable, Jesus does not condemn the bride's friends for not staying awake; for they all slept, the 'wise', as well as the 'foolish’.
The condemnation lies with the state of preparedness or unpreparedness, demonstrated by the virgins at the moment of waking up.
Now we come to verse six, and what many Christians find to be a rather surprising statement: ‘At midnight, the cry rang out: 'Here's the bride- groom! Come out to meet him’; and the surprise relates to it being midnight.
In those days, the event of the wedding contained no actual religious ceremony. What would happen, was that the bridegroom dressed himself with the finest clothes that he could afford. Then, accompanied by some of his special friends, he would walk from his own home, to that of his prospective father-in-law.
There he would be welcomed by the lamp-bearers, and then by the family; after which, they would all settle down to the wedding-feast.
Being a hard-working people, the ancient Jews found mid-to-late evening best for such a get-together.
It gave everyone concerned, plenty of time to finish their work for the day, and to go home; wash, and dress in their finest clothes; before setting off to the marriage feast.
Even so, as Jesus made clear in the parable, there was an exceptionally long delay before the bridegroom arrived; and, therefore, an exceptionally late start to the meal.
‘Midnight’ has no special theological importance. It simply gives extra point to Christ's teaching about being prepared; even for the unexpectedly-long wait; and about being ready, when the wait was over.
When the bridegroom arrived at last, the 'wise virgins' immediately trimmed their lamps. In doing so, they made sure that the lamps burned at their best and brightest; making the welcome as special as possible.
The fact that the young women 'trimmed their lamps’, implied that they had been burning all along; and this is very much in keeping with Christ's earlier teaching in Matthew's gospel account, when he said: ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they see your good deeds, and praise your father in heaven’. (Matthew 5: 16).
The ‘lamp’ of Christian preparedness, is a witness to the world around.
Verse Eight tells us that the 'foolish' girls asked the 'wise' ones: ‘Give us some of your oil’, and that their request was refused.
This is not to be seen as selfishness on the part of the 'wise' girls. The social system of the day, demanded that the bridegroom should be met and welcomed in that particular way ...
... and better that there should be five lamps burning brightly, than ten lamps flickering and giving a diminishing light.
But, far more important than any social requirement; is Christ's indication that, in the life of his Kingdom, there can be no transfer of spiritual reserves or merit…
... and that, as spiritual preparedness is a personal and individual matter, there can be no borrowing of needed resources, no matter how 'fair' or 'unfair' it may appear to be.
Verse Ten tells us that ‘...while they were on their way, to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready, went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut’.
The point of the parable is, that those who were ready went into the feast, just as they had hoped and expected ....
... and that those who had failed to make themselves ready, when they returned, even though they had bought some oil, and considered themselves to be ready ...
... found that it was too late. The door was closed. When the young women called out: ‘Open the door for us’, the answer came: ‘I tell you the truth; I don’t know you’ .
We must remember that the 'bridegroom' in the parable is an image of Christ himself, at the ‘End-Times’, and the 'Day of Judgement'.
The words ‘I don't know you’, do not mean that the 'bridegroom’, or Christ, doesn't know them by name. It has a far sterner meaning than that.
Those words ‘I don't know you’, mean: ‘I have no relationship with you. Despite my oft-repeated warnings to you; the disobedience of your unpreparedness, has placed you outside of the event of the 'heavenly banquet’, that I have told you about.
When the event began to take place, you weren't there. You were off somewhere else, trying to effect a last-minute preparation.
There comes a time, when it is too late; a time when no further opportunity will be given to you, or anyone else.
When you thought yourself to be ready, and returned, it was already too late. The door was closed, and it will not be opened again.
I did not reject you. It was you who removed yourself from my presence, and thus prevented yourself from sharing in all that I had offered to you'.
That is the far-sterner meaning of those words ‘I don't know you’.
There is a truly dreadful note of finality in that part of the Lord's teaching; and what the Lord says, cannot be argued against; debated; or altered; or anything else that Christians might hope for.
Finality is just that - final.
The parable ends with the words: ‘Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour’.
The word 'watch' must not be seen to mean 'awareness' and being ‘on the look-out'. Instead, the word, and the warning, is all to do with readiness; with preparedness for the Second Advent of Christ…
... which will come, delayed or not; and whether we are ready or not.
Enough has been said about the meaning of the parable - preparedness -without repeating it all ...
... but there is one aspect of the interpretation of the parable, which must be touched upon, and it is this:
The 'foolish virgins' were not even prepared for the expected, let alone for the unexpected.
And so it is with the Church, today. It may be said, as a matter of realism, that vast numbers of Christians do not really expect even those things which the Bible teaches us must be expected...
... and, if Christians, largely, don't even expect the promised, and expected things; how will they begin to prepare for the unexpected things, as God moves in power, according to his will?
In the light of that parable, are we prepared for the expected; let alone for the unexpected, which could happen at any moment?
How ready are we?