In Matthew 24:3 the disciples ask Jesus “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” They were basically asking Jesus to explain how people would be able to recognize him when he returns. From Mt 24:4 onwards Jesus answers his disciples. Mt 25 is a continuation of Jesus’ answer.
The Parable of the Ten Virgins
In the parable the bridegroom is Jesus, and the 10 virgins represent Christians who are waiting for Jesus’ return (the arrival of the bridegroom). However here we see that those waiting for the groom are divided into two groups: The 5 wise virgins and the 5 foolish virgins (Mt 25:2). What separates the wise ones from the foolish ones? The foolish virgins took their lamps, but they did not take any oil with them, however the wise ones not only took their lamps, but also took oil (Mt25:3-4).
Here is a quick summary:
WISE VIRGINS: Lamp + Oil = Light
FOOLISH VIRGINS: Lamp + No oil = No light
At midnight the bridegroom comes, but the foolish virgins have run out of oil, so they have to go buy oil from those who sell, they miss the bridegroom, and are not allowed into the wedding banquet.
In order to truly understand what this parable is telling us, we have to at least understand what the lamp, oil, and light represent.
Psalm 119:105 says “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” From this it is easy to see that the word, the Bible, is likened unto a lamp. This also makes sense considering that in the parable both the wise and the foolish virgins have lamps, just like today all Christians have a Bible.
The oil requires a more detailed explanation, probably an entire post all to itself, but for now it is important to realize that without the oil the lamp cannot produce light. Having the oil can be likened to having the explanation of the word and prophecies – the explanations (oil) that result in understanding (light ) – Ps 119:130.
2 Peter 1:19 says,
“And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
This basically tells us that until the return of Jesus (the morning star, Rv 22:16) we must pay attention to prophecy (the word of the prophets), which is like a light shining in a dark place. The light of the lamps is the understanding of the prophecies, and because the wise virgins had understanding of the word (light) they were able to recognize and be ready for the bridegroom, even though he came at night, while it was still dark (Mt 25:6; 1 Thes 5:2).
This may seem a bit confusing, so here’s an example of how it happened at the time of Jesus’ first coming:
Jesus was the groom, and the Jews were the bride (waiting for their King). The wise virgins were the disciples, and the foolish ones were the Pharisees, Sadducees, and their followers. They all had the lamp (the word of God), but only the disciples had the oil (the explanation, Mt 13:11 & 36). Because they had the word and the explanation, the disciples understood the prophecies and therefore also had the light – they recognized Jesus was who he claimed to be (Jn 17:8).
The Pharisees on the other hand, had God’s word and studied the prophecies every Sabbath, yet they still did not recognize Jesus (Acts 13:27). They clearly did not understand the prophecies, and so even though they had the lamp, they had no oil, and therefore did not have the light. They were the foolish virgins at the time of the first coming, the ones not allowed into the wedding banquet.
Isn’t it time that we seek true understanding of God’s word, instead of interpreting the parables and prophecies to suit us? Only with the correct understanding will we be able to welcome our bridegroom and participate in the wedding banquet of the Lamb (Mt 25:10; Mt 22; Rv 19:7-8). We have to have not only the lamp, but the oil and the light as well.