Jesus was a master teacher. His stories have intrigued readers for 2,000 years. Parables are invented stories that illustrate spiritual truths. These stories depict everyday things, but cultural changes can make interpretation more difficult. This is true of the virgins parable in Matthew 25.
Jesus is comparing his return at the end of time to a wedding. The virgins are bridesmaids, very young girls (ages 12-16) who will be brides themselves in the near future. These girls wait with the bride for the coming of the groom. When he and his friends arrive at the bride’s house, the bridesmaids lead the procession to the groom’s home.
Usually, the procession was at night—which explains the lamps. These were not small dishes of burning oil but rather torches, perhaps sticks wrapped with oil-soaked rags.
Typically, messengers came and announced the groom’s impending arrival, but his coming was often delayed for several hours. The delay represents the uncertainty of the time when Jesus is to return in judgment. All the virgins “slumbered and slept” (Matt. 25:5). Five were wise, and five were foolish. Dozing wasn’t the foolish girls’ mistake. All the girls slept.
The foolish girls had no oil for their lamps. Their failed torches would plunge the wedding procession into darkness. Their lack of appreciation for the honor shown them would insult and embarrass the bride’s family. It was the wise bridesmaids’ desire to honor the bride (and not selfishness) that led to their refusal to share oil.
The foolish girls’ unreadiness caused expected consequences. They missed the groom’s arrival. The party started without them. And they were excluded from the festivities.
Their exclusion from the marriage feast points to the far more serious consequences coming to anyone unprepared for the return of the Christ (Matt. 7:21-23). The virgins parable ends with this warning: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matt. 25:13).
We don’t know when Jesus is coming again in judgment, but we do know what the standard of judgment will be. Jesus says, “He who rejects me and does not receive my sayings has a judge; the word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day” (John 12:48). We won’t be eternally judged by the words of Muhammad recorded in the Quran. We will be judged by the words of God’s Son Jesus recorded in the Bible.