Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
(Sound of suspense): One of the nagging questions on the minds if not the lips of a lot of believers these days is: Am I “in” or am I “out”?–when it comes to the parable of the ten virgins, that is. You know, in Jesus’ story of the ten maidens awaiting the arrival of the bridegroom for his bride, of whom only 5 (the ones prepared with enough oil in their lamps to light the way) get to go in to the wedding feast leaving the remaining 5, the unprepared, outside…
…in the cold.
Rather, in the heat…
of impending judgement…
on all the earth…
(Or so say prophecy scholars in the context in which Jesus was speaking–giving details about the signs of His coming and of the end of the age [Matthew 24:3]).
That’s one of the Big Questions we need to know the answer to right now, don’t you think, as not only the acrid winds of planetary-scale mayhem waft closer but also the end of the so-called Church Age prophecies converge at an alarming rate?
But an equally important question, I believe, is: Where is the encouragement in THIS little story…because, I mean, WHO CAN REALLY KNOW FOR SURE if one is in or one is out? Especially when what we tend to hear from the pundits in the pulpits generally induces anxiety, with the emphasis on “You better make sure you are one of the lucky ‘wise ones’ so you don’t end up ‘outside’ in the darkness with the weepers and the ‘teeth-gnashers’!” And on that note, we file out of church, subdued, worry lines deepening, a small yet persistent anxiety niggling at the edges of our spirit…
I mean, where is the “blessed hope” we are to experience despite the deepening global strife, the “confidence at His coming“? When mostly, what we hear about the parable of the waiting virgins tends to make a believer lose some grip on, well, hope and confidence…
(Repeat sound of suspense.)
From my corner of the darkening landscape may I offer some in-context explanation of this parable derived from the original language and, more importantly, some encouragement that it is still consistent, in the embedded message, with the Good News of God’s grace (versus just another behavior checklist) to those who call Him Abba and who have asked His Son, Jesus, to be the light that leads to the eternal feast. As Gospel writer John transcribed Jesus’ words: “…”I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (8:12, NIV).
But first, speaking of checklists…
BUT IT DOES SOUND LIKE THIS PARABLE IS REALLY ABOUT BEHAVING PERFECTLY, NO?
Many wonder if this teaching is another “mind your Ps and Qs” thing, or else (pick one: weeping and gnashing forever and ever amen; you really do have to earn your way to heaven, the cross notwithstanding; or what I grew up with in the Catholic system: endless categories of sins to be ever mindful of lest one either loses one’s Catholic salvation entirely or still has to pay penance for it in an indeterminate amount of time in Purgatory….it’s complicated. See my series’ here and here on what I was taught [but read at your own risk] and how and when I traded man-made religion for redemption in Jesus Christ).
OR do the “wisdom,” “foolishness,” “preparedness,” and, for that matter, “virgins” and “lamp oil” referenced in the parable point to a deeper meaning than what a scant surface synopsis might indicate? I think yes.
I believe there is a different perspective when one takes a closer look at the parable, a perspective that more surely “penetrates to the dividing of soul and spirit” by getting to the “thoughts and attitudes of the heart” by the power of the Holy Spirit who does such things for us and in us because of Jesus.
See what you think.
A CLOSER LOOK–THE LONGER VERSION
When I research, I take a look at a verse of interest in the original language and context, and I study commentaries based on the same. My studies usually start with the “interlinear Bible,” which is the one I linked to for Jesus’ parable in the opening paragraph. In that context, then, I offer the following illumination on the parable for the believer’s edification–confidence, and hope. First, the key words:
Then (tote): “in the future, when the thing under discussion (end times) takes place.” Jesus was addressing, here, his followers’ concerns about the end of the age and warning them to be on the lookout for His return. He also compared the time with ten virgins awaiting the appearance of a bridegroom; however, only half of them were “ready”.
Virgin (parthenos): a young woman has who has not had sex; figuratively, believers, when they are pure, i.e., faithful to Christ. That there are ten virgins in this parable is significant in that ten indicates a number of completeness (as in the completeness, or fullness, of the number of Gentiles to come into the fold, maybe?). (Note: spiritual “virgins” connotes male as well as female believers.)
Foolish (moros): imprudent, without forethought or wisdom. Five virgins were foolish and did not take enough oil with them to light the way when the bridegroom appeared.
Wise (phronimos): intelligent, prudent, sensible, wise. Five virgins were wise and took enough oil and declined to deplete their supply to help their foolish counterparts.
Oil (elaion): literally, the oil used to keep lamps lit; figuratively, the indwelling empowering of the Holy Spirit.
Buy (agorazo): “(‘acquire by purchasing’) stresses transfer – i.e. where something becomes another’s belonging (possession). In salvation-contexts, (agorázō) is not redeeming (‘buying back’), but rather focuses on how the believer now belongs to the Lord as His unique possession (J. Thayer). Indeed, Christ purchases all the privileges and responsibilities that go with belonging to Him (being in Christ).” In other words, it’s not what WE “buy” (as in earning our own way to salvation), but what Jesus Christ bought FOR us (on the cross…that day at Golgotha….with His blood…as the One and Only Perfect Sacrifice for our sins…)
Ready (hetoimos): prepared to receive one coming because the necessary preparations are done. Spiritually, we are ready because of Jesus’ new life in us.
Know (eido): a metaphor comparing physical seeing and knowing to spiritual comprehension. When Jesus knew not the foolish virgins, He in a sense did not recognize them spiritually, in the spirit, although He may have seen them literally, thus they were left out of the wedding feast intended for His bride. How does this “spiritual knowing” happen? It happens when we receive the Spirit of Jesus Christ within us when we ask Him “in” as our Lord and Savior. Physicists liken this to being “quantumly entangled” with Him. We know it as our new life, being born again of the spirit, being saved.
Watch (gregorio): “Metaphorically, to watch i. e. give strict attention to, be cautious, active: — to take heed lest through remissness (negligence, carelessness) and indolence (laziness, inactivity) some destructive calamity suddenly overtake one.” In the modern vernacular, “you snooze, you lose”.
Why try to stay awake?
Because “nobody knows the day or the hour that the Son of Man comes,” that is, the return of Jesus Christ could be at any time, which translates to the Doctrine of Imminence.*
This ought to keep believers on their toes and awake!
But how?! THIS is the focal question, the point of anxiety for many hearing only surface preaching and still looking to their own behavior to solve this apparently big problem.
My own testimony might shed some light on the conundrum.
In the early years of my new life in Christ (in my twenties, then) I was often dismayed that I hadn’t “thought about God” for days! I prayed for God to help me be more mindful of Him because when I DID spend time with Him in Scripture studies, prayer, and conversations with other believers, I always came away renewed, refreshed, and corrected.
After over forty years from then to now, I can’t honestly say there is a moment (unless I’m teaching or occupied mentally with some other task or occasion) when I am NOT in one way or another, mindful of God’s presence, looking for His guidance, asking for clarification on this or that Scripture, or just basking in the peace of, and thankful for, some awareness He has revealed.
And I am nobody special in this new life. God’s all is available to all who avail themselves of God.
It is like a relationship with anybody with whom you have a close, personal tie: you grow mindful of them more and more, too.
So, how to “stay awake”? How to be mindful of God and the things of God so that you don’t “miss out,” or in the context of the parable of the ten virgins, “stay out”?
Ask Him for help.
By the power of His Holy Spirit within you, gifted you at your rebirth and enhanced by the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, you will be led, guided, instructed, corrected, inspired, and you will grow in your “knowing” of Him even as He “knows you”.
Isn’t that what He inferred in the parable? That there were those He “knew” and those He didn’t “know”?
A knowing relationship takes genuine interest on both parties, an initiation into the partnership to begin with, and ongoing interest in maintaining interaction.
Thus, what “work” we need to do is inspired, enabled, enhanced, and empowered by God, through Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit.
For the asking–and the receiving.
A CLOSER LOOK–THE SOMEWHAT SHORTER VERSION AND A LOOK AT “SEEDS”
To put the parable of the ten virgins another way:
There were these ten believers who had all seemingly begun a relationship some time prior with the bridegroom whose coming was imminent, and they were supposed to keep their “light” “shining” so as to light the way to the wedding feast. This was really a spiritual illumination, as it were, from within that was bought and paid for for them by Jesus Christ Who had purchased it on the cross.
But because, well, they were human, they knew they might nod off from time to time, grow a little slack in their awareness of what they had to do. So, the wise ones maintained their “fill” of the Holy Spirit through prayer and meditation and study of God’s Word and fellowship with other believers while the foolish ones slept in the darkness of the world, you might put it, gradually losing the clarity of God’s Word and the “closeness” of their relationship with Him. And the more they “slept,” the more it got harder to comprehend what He was revealing, in that darkness, where all kinds of dreams and fantasies and other-worldly philosophies and belief systems and workings disturbed their sleep which dimmed the “light from within” until, at the surprise of Jesus’ return, there wasn’t enough “oil” of the Holy Spirit left to show the way…
But here’s the thing: whereas they thought they had the “right light,” the “right relationship” with God, turns out they did not, or due to too much “sleep” they lost or even denied what they first had.
Or for all we know, perhaps what they thought was the real light was really a deceptive illumination from another source altogether…
But for those who did receive the truth, another parable, the one about seeds (as in the seeds of God’s Word) explains what can happen to destroy the first “planting” or, later on, cause the fruit to die on the vine.
Here is a good explanation of the message in The Parable of the Sower–and what can happen:
Jesus’ explanation of the Parable of the Sower highlights four different responses to the gospel. The seed is “the word of the kingdom.” The hard ground represents someone who is hardened by sin; he hears but does not understand the Word, and Satan plucks the message away, keeping the heart dull and preventing the Word from making an impression. The stony ground pictures a man who professes delight with the Word; however, his heart is not changed, and when trouble arises, his so-called faith quickly disappears. The thorny ground depicts one who seems to receive the Word, but whose heart is full of riches, pleasures, and lusts; the things of this world take his time and attention away from the Word, and he ends up having no time for it. The good ground portrays the one who hears, understands, and receives the Word—and then allows the Word to accomplish its result in his life. The man represented by the “good ground” is the only one of the four who is truly saved, because salvation’s proof is fruit (Matthew 3:7-8; 7:15-20). From https://www.gotquestions.org/parable-sower.html
So, how does that all tie in with the parable of the wise and foolish virgins?
Once again, and always, if one is worried about “getting in” to the eternal feast, or being “cast out” (because the fruit withered or died on the vine or was never genuine fruit to begin with) asking God for help is the answer.
Indeed, if worry is present, may I suggest that that is actually good news that the Good News is still alive within, prompting the believer to draw near, once again, into a closer relationship with God.
And one can then rest assured in hope and confidence that He will take it from there, ever leading, guiding, directing, clarifying, correcting, encouraging, and supplying the “light” of His Word that has the power to dispel the darkness that desires to extinguish the light, destroy the seed, and lead as many away from God as “it” can.
God, Himself, as it were, will “wake us up”.
Again and again, as needed.
Ask at will.
As the Word of God puts it:
“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (near as in eggizo: “God draws near to one in the bestowment of his grace and help” bolding mine)”… (James 4:8)
We seek Him, He responds, and “the light of the path of the righteous (shining) like the morning sun, (shines) ever brighter till the full light of day” (day as in kun: “appointed, established, made ready”–the day the eternal celebration begins, perhaps?).
Considering what the prophecy scholars tell us about the current age, now would be a good time to initiate or re-kindle a relationship with God, to seek shelter underneath His proverbial wings–and leave all that suspense behind for confidence in the hope in what lies (soon) ahead.
*For an excellent explanation of this doctrine, though it is controversial in some camps, view below. Dr. Missler discusses this in the context of the plans and preparations for a Jewish wedding feast which is the same analogy drawn by Jesus in His parable: