Mother's Day (Ten Virgins)
Testimonies - Keegan & Adrienne Caudill
We’re picking up Matthew chapter 25 today. This chapter starts with a parable that may seem odd to us, because it refers to a cultural context that is quite different from our own.
Last week, Mike had the privilege of getting to cover the “abomination of desolation” in chapter 24, which, I guess, is a challenging passage to cover. And he was more than happy for me to take this passage, all about the ten virgins!
I joked with him that I was going to just do a Mother’s Day message instead, and he said he’d find his own way to skip it until I had no choice but to tackle this passage!
But I think it’s a great passage, and once we overcome some of the cross-cultural challenges that come with the territory, it’s packed with some great edification and encouragement.
This passage is a continuation of a discourse that began back in chapter 24.
End of Jesus’s ministry, he is talking to his disciples about the “end times,” and his return.
He’s made it truly clear that nobody will be able to calculate or predict the exact timing of events. And some of the things he talked about may have been fulfilled within a few decades of when this was written, while others have yet to be seen.
As we’ve come to expect from Jesus, he uses parables to help try to explain complex concepts in relatable terms. At least, relatable to his audience at the time! Sometimes we must do a little bit of homework to overcome the cross-cultural differences, which is the case with today’s parable.
Let’s start by reading together:
Matthew 25:1–13 CSB
1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they didn’t take oil with them; 4 but the wise ones took oil in their flasks with their lamps. 5 When the groom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. 6 “In the middle of the night there was a shout: ‘Here’s the groom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 “Then all the virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’ 9 “The wise ones answered, ‘No, there won’t be enough for us and for you. Go instead to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 “When they had gone to buy some, the groom arrived, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet, and the door was shut. 11 Later the rest of the virgins also came and said, ‘Master, master, open up for us!’ 12 “He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you!’ 13 “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.
All right so first let’s untangle exactly what is happening in this parable. It’s a story that refers to a common tradition at the time, a wedding banquet, but their wedding customs looked a little different from ours.
The concept of marriage is culturally universal. How exactly it is implemented and celebrated is as varied as humanity itself.
The concept of the reunion of Heaven and Earth, of God and humanity, of families with each other, is a very parallel concept to marriage, which is why Jesus is often referred to as a groom, while the church is referred to as a bride.
So, using a wedding, or even a banquet, to describe the kingdom of God, is not necessarily a new one, but rather a recurring theme.
It’s the other details, the virgins, and lamps, which are more specific, and less familiar to us, so let’s talk about those for a minute.
After the period of betrothal was finished and all the agreements had been reached, the wedding could take place. Weddings typically extended over a period of five to seven days. Autumn was the best time for marriage because the harvest was in, the vintage over, minds were free, and hearts were at rest. It was a season when the evenings were cool, and it was comfortable to sit up late at night. Usually, the entire village gathers for a wedding.
At the beginning of the wedding celebration, in the evening, the bridegroom, accompanied by his friends, went to fetch his betrothed from her father’s house. He would wear particularly splendid clothing and sometimes even a crown. A procession was formed under the direction of one of the bridegroom’s friends, who acted as the master of ceremonies and remained by his side throughout the rejoicing.
The beautifully dressed bride was carried in a litter and in procession. Along the way people sang traditional wedding songs drawn from the Song of Songs in the Bible: Who is this coming up from the wilderness like a column of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and incense made from all the spices of the merchant? (Song of Songs 3:6) When the procession reached the bridegroom’s house, his parents bestowed a traditional blessing, drawn from Scripture and other sources. After the prayers, the evening was spent with games and dancing, and the bridegroom took part in the festivities. The bride, however, withdrew with her bridesmaids and friends to another room.
The next day was the wedding feast and once again there was general rejoicing and a sort of holiday in the village. Toward the end of the day there was a meal at which the men and women were served separately. This was the time for the giving of presents. The bride, dressed in white, was surrounded by her bridesmaids, usually ten of them. She sat under a canopy while traditional songs and blessings were sung and recited. During this time, in the evening, the groom arrived. While the exact ritual words are not known, there seems to have been a dialogue between bride and groom. This is recorded in the Song of Songs. The bride says, let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—for your love is more delightful than wine. Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes; your name is like perfume poured out. No wonder the young women love you! Take me away with you—let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers (Song 1:2-4). The groom responds, Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me. My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely (Song 2:13-14).
So why are they called “virgins?”
The word “virgin” as we understand it today is pretty much the same as how the Greek word was used, but not exactly. It was a little more ambiguous, and much more commonly used.
In fact, in both Hebrew and Greek, the word “virgin” can mean a few different things.
The Lexham Bible Dictionary Virgin
Generally, a woman of marriageable age, with or without focus on virginity; could be translated “girl.”
In our culture, it would be very much like referring to the bridesmaids at a wedding. Even that word “bridesmaids” has its roots in the assumption that they are all “maids,” that is unmarried girls, though obviously that’s not always the case anymore, and it’s not really the point anymore, is it?
One key to understanding this passage is to realize that in this case, the reference to virgins is NOT so much to focus on their marital status or their sexuality, but rather the role they played in the larger context of the wedding.
They are, at the very least, guests of the wedding, and possibly friends and/or servants who attend to the bride. Either way, they are all meant to be active participants in the wedding festivities.
Lamps & Oil
Alright, so all 10 of these girls, or young women, are expecting the bridegroom, right? But only five of them are prepared.
The difference between being prepared and being unprepared, in this parable, comes down to whether or not they have oil for their lamps.
Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary Lamps, Lighting, Lampstand
Archaeological excavations have provided numerous examples of these lighting implements used in ancient times, dating from before Abraham to after Christ. Lamps of the OT period were made exclusively of pottery. These lamps were of the open-bowl design with a pinched spout to support the wick. Wicks were made generally of twisted flax (Isa. 42:3). Lamps burned olive oil almost exclusively (Exod. 25:6), though in later times oil from nuts, fish, and other sources were used.
These are indoor lamps, which were made to hold oil, along with a wick, which was supported by the spout. The wick would burn, fueled by the oil, providing light inside at night.
The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) Chapter 25
These details belong to the parable’s social setting and narrative movement. They should not be allegorized (even wise virgins sleep, and even the foolish find oil to buy). Instead, the story makes a single point: when the bridegroom arrives, it will be too late to prepare to welcome him.
It’s important not to try too hard, to stretch too far, to find meaning in every detail, at the expense of missing the message of the big picture.
That said, I’m sure that it’s no coincidence that lamps, specifically, were used to represent the readiness of these young women.
Lamps and light, in general are often used symbolically throughout scripture to depict life, abundance, divine presence, and glory. Jesus is depicted often, especially in John, as being THE light of the world. And back in Matthew chapter 5, Jesus also described his disciples, extensions or offshoots of him, as being the light of the world.
Matthew 5:14–16 LSB
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
So, in that sense, the lamps in this parable could be seen as representing the visibility of our faith. Whether or not our light can be seen is an indicator as to whether or not we are truly in a posture of “readiness” for the coming day of judgment.
Are You Ready?
I suppose the most pertinent question that we could glean from this parable, to ask ourselves, is “am I ready?”
Are you ready for Christ’s return?
What does that even mean, to be ready?
Does it mean we need to have oil for oil lamps at any given time? Does anyone even own an oil lamp?
So, what does it mean to be ready for Jesus?
Well, it must do, not so much with a physical readiness or having specific objects prepared, rather an internal state of our hearts and minds, an attitude and spirit of readiness, and eagerness, rather than of laziness, or even of evasiveness.
For me, I guess, it’s helpful for me to understand what it means to be ready, to think about what it means to not be ready!
Ask yourself, in any given moment, would you be embarrassed, frightened, or ashamed, if Jesus walked through the door and sat down next to you?
If the Father said come, let us go for a walk in the garden and know each other, would your first instinct be to run towards his voice, or to run away and hide, like Adam & Eve did?
Genesis 3:6–13 LSB
6 Then the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, so she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. 7 And the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings. 8 Then they heard the sound of Yahweh God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of Yahweh God in the midst of the trees of the garden. 9 Yahweh God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” 11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 And the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave to me from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then Yahweh God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
There is a healthy measure of fear that should come with the prospect of our contaminated, sinful lives coming into contact with the perfect holiness of God, knowing the two are simply incompatible. If we are hesitant to approach God, or the thought of Jesus joining us in our every day activities makes us a little squirmy, it could be simply because of a healthy awareness of how desperately we fall short of his Glory!
Romans 3:23 is the best known and most concise statement of this fact:
Romans 3:23 LSB
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
But this is a fundamental truth about humanity that is core to the whole message of scripture, and certainly to the message and worldview of Jesus.
Isaiah 53:6 LSB
6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But Yahweh has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.
Jeremiah 17:9 LSB
9 “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can know it?
Ecclesiastes 7:20 LSB
20 Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.
So, yes, it’s appropriate to recognize that on our own we are completely unworthy to be in God’s presence for eternity.
In fact, recognizing that is the first step to recognizing how significant it is that we are not on our own! It’s not until we realize that we are powerless on our own that we can truly surrender to the power of God in us.
Confidence in Christ
And, as it turns out, we don’t have to be ashamed in the presence of Yahweh! We don’t have to shudder in horror at the thought of Jesus joining us!
Of course, we will always be a work in progress during this life, but Jesus is here to help us! Not to sneer at us from his high place in heaven, nor to whisper judgment in our ears and torture us with guilt over our past failures.
John 3:16–18 LSB
16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
It’s precisely BECAUSE of Christ, that we can approach him with confidence.
Not with arrogance, mind you! With humility, and gratitude, but also with the assurance of our security in Christ, who’s presence IS in fact in this room, among us, within us, in the person of the Holy Spirit.
He is our spokesperson, our legal representation in the courtroom of judgement, and he’s never lost a case. As confident as we can be in our own conviction, as certain as we are that we deserve a death sentence, we can be just as certain that Jesus has delivered the opposite. We can have complete confidence, with humility and gratitude, that we are secure in him.
The parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1-13 teaches us several important lessons about the kingdom of heaven.
First, it teaches us that we must be prepared for the coming of the Lord. The foolish virgins were not prepared, and they were shut out of the wedding feast. We must be prepared by being in a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.
This preparation involves more than just outward appearances and religious activities; it requires a genuine faith and a consistent commitment to following Jesus Christ. Like the wise virgins who brought extra oil, we must be ready to meet our Lord and Savior at any moment, and we must be willing to endure and persevere through the challenges and trials of life. Ultimately, this parable reminds us that our readiness for the return of Jesus Christ is a matter of eternal significance and should be a top priority in our lives.
Second, the parable teaches us that we must be faithful in our service to God. The wise virgins were faithful in their service, and they were rewarded with a place at the wedding feast. We must be faithful in our service to God by serving others, sharing the gospel, and living a life that is pleasing to Him.
Faithfulness is an internal, personal state of being, which has external, visible, and effectual results. That is, it has the effect of producing fruit that is the evidence of our faith.
IF we focus on being faithful, and on preparing for Christ’s return, I think the next three attitudes come as a natural result of our relationship with God. This parable illustrates the difference between the fruit of the faithful and prepared, verses the fruit of the unfaithful and unprepared.
Third, the parable teaches us that we must be patient. Patience is a quintessential fruit of the Spirit! The bridegroom was delayed in coming, and the virgins had to wait. But they knew him well enough, and trusted him enough, to never doubt that he was coming.
We, too, must be patient as we wait for the return of the Lord. We know that He will come again, but we do not know when. In the meantime, we must continue to live our lives for Him.
Fourth, We should also be confident about our hope in Jesus. The parable teaches us that the wise virgins were confident that the bridegroom would come, even though he was delayed. We should also be confident that Jesus will return, even though we do not know when he will come. We should live our lives in light of the hope that we have in Jesus.
Finally, the parable teaches us that we must be humble. The wise virgins did not boast about their preparation. They were simply grateful that they were ready. We must be humble as we serve God. We must remember that we are nothing without Him.
The parable of the ten virgins is a reminder that we must be prepared for the coming of the Lord. We must be faithful in our service to Him, patient as we wait for His return, and humble as we serve Him.