The Parable of the Ten Virgins

Text: Matthew 25:1-13

In the first stanza of our opening hymn we sang, “O Lord, how shall I meet You, how welcome You aright…O kindle, Lord most holy, Your lamp within my breast to do in spirit lowly all that may please you best.” (LSB 334) It’s an Advent hymn, but it helps set our minds to the theme of the close of the church year: Christ’s return. Jesus uses the parable in our text to illustrate what His return will be like on our end. He shows us that there will be two types of people, those who are prepared and those who aren’t. He says that the wise virgins were those who had enough oil to keep their lamps lit, and we will see that the lamps of the wise are kept lit by a faith that is continually fed through the Means of Grace, Jesus’ Word and Sacraments.

I.

The text begins, “The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.”[1] Jesus often uses imagery of a bride and groom to describe the relationship between Him and His bride, the Church. Earlier in Matthew 9[:15], after Jesus was asked why His disciples don’t fast like John the Baptist’s, He responded that the wedding guests cannot mourn while the Bridegroom is with them. In this He was referring to Himself. The Church is described in Revelation 21[:2] as the holy city Jerusalem, which has been decked out as a bride adorned for her husband.

Perhaps most famously, this relationship between Christ and the Church is described in Ephesians 5. Paul writes, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish…No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.”[2] What Paul is describing is how we are made the Bride of Christ. On our own and by ourselves we are nothing. We are dead in our trespasses and sins. Our every waking moment is spent either sinning, or wrestling with the temptation to sin. Jesus took that sin upon Himself. He carried our guilt and shame to the cross and died, to present us without spot or wrinkle, as holy and blameless. Through Baptism we are brought into His Church and made members of His Body, which He feeds and nourishes through the preaching of His Word and the administration of His Sacraments to give and strengthen faith.

The virgins in the parable are members of the visible Church, the church on earth. As members of the wedding party they were to keep watch for the bridegroom to arrive and take them to the feast. This was part of an Israelite wedding custom where the groom would go to the bride’s house to pick up her and her friends and then they would process joyfully to the home he had prepared for them. It was just accepted that waiting was involved, and in that waiting there was revealed two types of virgins: the foolish and the wise, split half and half.

The difference between the two is that while the wise took flasks of oil to fuel their lamps, the foolish took only what was in the lamp to begin with. If we look at text before and after this parable, especially the Parable of the Talents, it becomes clear that the oil represents a faith that is being continually fed. The wise virgins are like those who continually hear God’s Word and receive His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of their faith. The foolish are those who say they are ready for the return of the Bridegroom, who believe in Him, and yet don’t ever hear the Word preached or receive the Sacrament.

II.

We continue on, “As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.[3] As the virgins are waiting time began to pass and they fall asleep. As the hours of waiting went on, it seemed to the virgins that the bridegroom was delayed and they became sleepy. Surely at this point the wise virgins were okay, because they knew they had enough oil to carry them through the night; but the foolish haven’t figured, yet, that as the night drags on, their lamps are going to run out.

Then, at about midnight, there was a cry: “The bridegroom is coming! Come meet him!” All the virgins quickly arise from their sleep, when there is a terrible foretaste of the end of the parable. The foolish realized that their lamps were running out of oil, and so they asked the wise to give them some of theirs. The wise responded that there isn’t enough to give them, they cannot share their oil. It suddenly becomes clear, the wise are prepared for the return of the Bridegroom, and the foolish aren’t. The wise are the ones who have kept their lamps fed continually being in the Word of Christ. They have built their house on the Rock, while Jesus says of the foolish, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.”[4]

The wise virgins confess that, as we sang in the opening hymn, we lay in sin’s fetters. And yet, Christ came to set us free. We stood moaning in shame, and yet Jesus came to honor us. In love Jesus came down to win for us the crown of life through His suffering and death in our place. We receive the benefit of His sacrifice only through faith. This He gives to us in Baptism. Faith is nourished in us through the preaching of His Word. He strengthens our faith as He gives us the forgiveness of sins through our His own body and blood. We are the wise. The foolish shun all of these things, assuring themselves that they do not need these things to be a Christian.

III.

And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.[5] The brakes are hit for the foolish virgins. While they were out trying desperately to find oil for their lamps, the bridegroom came. He gathered those who were ready and waiting, whose lamps were lit, and brought them into his feast and shut the door. When the foolish arrive later they beg to be let in, but the only answer that came was “I do not know you.”

The foolish virgins were found without oil for their lamps, without a true and living faith, and then when they wanted to get into the feast, the kingdom of heaven, they were not let in. This is what will happen to those who remove themselves from a faith nurtured and fed by Christ. Here, Christ comes to us in His Word, in the Holy Absolution, and in Holy Baptism. If you want to see Jesus, look to His Word and to His precious Sacrament. It is by these things that we are made the wise virgins and welcomed into the wedding feast.

In the opening hymn we asked how we may welcome the coming Bridegroom, how we may partake of the wedding feast – It is only through the gift of faith that the Holy Spirit gives to us and that Jesus keeps alive in us through the preaching of His Word and the receiving of His Supper. Even as we bear a debt and burden of sin, the temptation to avoid hearing God’s Word, we know that will are covered by His grace. It says in stanza 6, “He comes, for you procuring the peace of sin forgiv’n, His children thus securing eternal life in heav’n.” In Christ you are wise, your sins are forgiven, and you are welcomed into heaven.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mt 25:1–4.

[2] Eph. 5:25–27, 29.

[3] Matt. 25:5–9.

[4] Matt. 7:26.

[5] Matt. 25:10–12.

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