JESUS GIVES THE ILLUSTRATION OF THE TEN VIRGINS
Jesus has been answering his apostles’ question regarding the sign of his presence and of the conclusion of the system of things. With this in mind, he now gives them wise admonition by means of an additional illustration. Its fulfillment would be observable by those living during his presence.
He introduces the illustration, saying: “The Kingdom of the heavens may be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were discreet.”—Matthew 25:1, 2.
Jesus does not mean that half of his disciples who inherit the Kingdom of the heavens are foolish and the other half are discreet. Rather, he is making the point that in connection with the Kingdom, each of his disciples has the capacity to choose to be vigilant or to be distracted. Jesus has no doubt, though, that each of his servants can remain faithful and receive his Father’s blessings.
In the illustration, all ten virgins go out to welcome the bridegroom and to join the wedding procession. When he arrives, the virgins will light the route with their lamps, honoring him as he brings his bride to the house prepared for her. How do things work out, though?
Jesus explains: “The foolish took their lamps but took no oil with them, whereas the discreet took oil in their flasks along with their lamps. While the bridegroom was delaying, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.” (Matthew 25:3-5) The bridegroom does not arrive as soon as expected. There seems to be a long delay, during which the virgins fall asleep. The apostles may recall what Jesus related about a man of noble birth who went away and “eventually got back after having secured the kingly power.”—Luke 19:11-15.
In the illustration of the ten virgins, Jesus describes what happens when the bridegroom finally arrives: “Right in the middle of the night there was a shout: ‘Here is the bridegroom! Go out to meet him.’” (Matthew 25:6) What is the situation of the virgins as to their preparedness and vigilance?
Jesus continues: “Then all those virgins got up and put their lamps in order. The foolish said to the discreet, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are about to go out.’ The discreet answered, saying: ‘Perhaps there may not be enough for both us and you. Go instead to those who sell it, and buy some for yourselves.’”—Matthew 25:7-9.
So the five foolish virgins are not vigilant and are not prepared for the arrival of the bridegroom. They lack sufficient oil for their lamps and need to try to find some. Jesus relates: “While they were going off to buy it, the bridegroom came. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward, the rest of the virgins also came, saying, ‘Sir, Sir, open to us!’ In answer he said, ‘I tell you the truth, I do not know you.’” (Matthew 25:10-12) What a sad outcome for not remaining prepared and vigilant!
The apostles can see that the bridegroom whom Jesus mentions refers to himself. Earlier he had even likened himself to a bridegroom. (Luke 5:34, 35) And the wise virgins? When speaking about the “little flock,” who would be given the Kingdom, Jesus used the words: “Be dressed and ready and have your lamps burning.” (Luke 12:32, 35) So in this illustration about the virgins, the apostles can grasp that Jesus is referring to ones such as themselves. Hence, what is the message that Jesus is conveying with this illustration?
Jesus does not leave any doubt about that. He concludes his illustration by saying: “Keep on the watch, therefore, because you know neither the day nor the hour.”—Matthew 25:13.
Clearly, Jesus is admonishing his faithful followers that in connection with his presence, they will need to “keep on the watch.” He will be coming, and they need to be prepared and vigilant—like the five discreet virgins—in order not to lose sight of their precious hope and miss out on the reward that can be theirs.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE REALLY TEACH?
Consider how actions and attitudes around us prove that we are now living in “the last days” that the Bible foretold.
What is the purpose of Christ’s return? In what manner will he return, and what will he then do?
THE WATCHTOWER—STUDY EDITION
Read this clarified understanding of Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins, which focuses on the parable’s simple, urgent message.