In Matthew 25:1-13, are the five virgins Christians? If so can they lose their salvation? (v12 truly I tell you I don't know you) or are they losing their inheritance, as they all had lamps?
One of the difficulties of this passage is that we must work to read it as a first-century listener would hear the parable rather than a later reader looking back. In the early church - particularly Augustine - there was a tendency to allegorize Jesus' parables into thinking that wouldn't have been with Jesus in the original setting. This was a popular way of interpreting parables for many years.
We also have the tendency to read information back into the text or ask questions of the text that aren't really there - called eisegesis. It takes some work to avoid this because we just aren't familiar with the cultural, historical, or religious context of the 1st-century Jewish thinking of Jesus' audience.
The parable in question concerns being prepared at any moment for the coming judgment of God.
Jesus is using the "known" concept of engagement/wedding from the first-century culture to help explain the "unknown" timing of God's judgment. His 1st-century Jewish audience would be familiar with this metaphor.
The metaphor of God as the groom and Israel as the bride goes far back in Israel's history. This metaphor is used to describe the relationship between the two parties. Since God is abstract - they use a concrete metaphor to help our minds understand the nature of the relationship better. For instance, the prophet Jeremiah uses the metaphor of the bride and groom in Jeremiah 2. The New Testament extends this metaphor to Jesus and the Church.
The second cultural metaphor is the engagement/wedding party which has been explained elsewhere in this forum so I won't go into it fully. The main idea is that in ancient Israel an engagement period would last about a year, but in reality, it was only the groom's father who knew the exact date or hour that he would allow his son to go get his bride.
If you happen to be a bride pledged to be married then you must wait patiently for your groom to arrive. You also must be prepared. In a larger village - there may be any number of young women waiting for their groom.
A parable about the "wise" vs the "foolish" would be familiar to Jesus' audience as well. Here is another example of a parable comparing the wise and foolish from the Jewish Talmud:
Similarly, Rabban Yoḥanan ben Zakkai said the following story as a parable to this lesson: The situation is comparable to a king who invited his servants to a feast and did not set a time for them to come. The wise among them adorned themselves and sat at the entrance to the king’s house. They said: Is the king’s house missing anything necessary for the feast? Certainly, the king could invite them at any moment. The fools among them went to attend to their work and said: Is there such thing as a feast without the toil of preparing for it? While the feast is being prepared, we will attend to other matters.
Suddenly, the king requested that his servants come to the feast. The wise among them entered before him adorned in their finest clothes, and the fools entered before him dirty. The king was happy to greet the wise ones and angry to greet the fools. The king said: These wise servants who adorned themselves for the feast shall sit and eat and drink, but these fools who did not adorn themselves for the feast shall stand and watch. There is a similar outcome for people who think that their day of death and judgment is far away and do not prepare themselves for it.
Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 153a
Jesus' parable (Matt. 25:1-13) is a call to be prepared for the "unknown" day and hour of one's death and judgment. Jesus ends the parable with the command to "keep watch!"
"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour." Matthew 25:13
Ellicott cooments on the general framework of this famous parable:
On the general meaning of the symbolism of the Wedding Feast enough has been said in the Notes on Matthew 22:2. Here, as there, we have to remember, that while the bride is the Church in her collective unity, the contrasted characters of the members of the Church are represented here by the virgins, as there by the guests who were invited; and for this reason, probably, the bride herself is not introduced as part of the imagery of the parable. As far as the frame-work of the figure is concerned, the stage in the marriage rites which is brought before us is the return of the bridegroom, after the espousals have been completed in the house of the bride’s father, to his own abode, bringing the bride with him. Jewish custom required the bridesmaids to wait at the bridegroom’s house, to receive him and the bride, and as this was commonly after sunset, they were provided with lamps or torches.
It is significant that this parable sets up two classes of people called the wise and foolish virgins. They have great similarities:
- All were invited to the wedding (see above)
- All were virgins symbolising purity, see Rev 14:5.
- All had lamps, ie, lights symbolising Christ as the light of the world, John 1:4, 9, 8:12, 9:5, Matt 5:14-16.
- All, at least initially had oil - but this is the crux of the parable - five virgins had enough oil and five did not have enough. Therefore, the key to understanding this parable is to understand the symbol of oil as far as the Christian life is concerned.
The symbol of oil in ancient Israel was significant because it was used to anoint kings and priests, etc, to sacred office, Ex 30:23-25; see also Gen 31:13, Ex 28:41, 29:7, 36, 30:26, 40:11, Lev 8:12, 16:32, 1 Sam 9:16, 15:1, 16:3, 12, 2 Sam 2:4, 5:3, 1 Kings 1:34, 19:16, etc. However, in the NT, this symbol was taken as a representing the anointing of the Holy Spirit, Luke 4:18, Acts 10:38, 2 Cor 1:21, 22, 1 John 2:20.
Thus, the distinction being made here is the adequacy of the supply of the Holy Spirit's anointing which is not limited by the will of God but by the decision of the recipient. Ellicott observes in commenting Matt 25:3 -
Took no oil with them.—In the interpretation of the parable, the lamp or torch is obviously the outward life of holiness by which the disciple of Christ lets his light shine before men (Matthew 5:16), and the “oil” is the divine grace, or more definitely, the gift of the Holy Spirit, without which the torch first burns dimly and then expires. The foolish virgins neglected to seek that supply, either from the Great Giver, or through the human agencies by which He graciously imparts it.
Barnes makes a similar conclusion, presumably based on Gal 5:22, 23 about the fruit of the Spirit in the life of the Christian when he comments on Matt 25:3:
The one part was "wise" in taking oil, the other "foolish" in neglecting it. The conduct of those who were "wise" refers to those who are "prepared" for the coming of Christ - prepared by possessing real piety, and not being merely his professed followers. The conduct of those "without" oil expresses the conduct of those who profess to love him, but are destitute of true grace, and are therefore unprepared to meet him.
Note that, as shown above, the foolish virgins are members of the church who are "called" (= invited) to the marriage and even have oil (the gift of the Holy Spirit) but conduct their lives so as to final extinguish the regenerating influence of the Spirit in their lives and thus are finally excluded from the marriage.
The foolish virgins had oil in their lamps to begin with, because at midnight they said, “Our lamps are going out.” They just didn’t have extra jars of oil to replenish their lamps halfway through the night. Like the servants who become hypocrites (Mt 24:48-51) and the talent-burying servants (Mt 25:18, 24-30), the foolish virgins apostatize.
The important question is, why? It’s certainly not about buying the Holy Spirit or reserving Him for future days. I believe there are two possible reasons.
- They thought they had enough oil because they believed He was coming back earlier in the night. (Think about this...)
- They didn’t know what to expect as far as when He’d come, but they assumed it would all pan out.
I discuss this parable some more on my website. I invite you to check it out more here: https://overcomingthetribulation.com/about
Also, on the subject of apostasy, I recommend my blog, “Count the Cost and Stay Salty”: https://overcomingthetribulation.com/count-cost-stay-salty/
Yes the five foolish virgins, as well as the five wise, are Christians, as this parable isn't about the coming judgment of God in a general sense, or toward nonchristians (nondiciples); but about
"the sign of Your coming and of the consummation of [this] age," Mt 24:3.
This is the context for 24:1--25:30. Nor is the parable about the coming of death.
"And while the bridegroom delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, Behold, the bridegroom! Go forth to meet him! Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their own lamps."
25:5-7 seems to signify that these virgins of Christ (cf 2 Cor 11:2---though that may address the entire church in Corinth) died before Christ returns, then resurrect to meet Him (cf Jn 11:11-14, 43; 1 Thes 4:13-16). Needless to say, John was a first-century Jewish listener to Jesus' parable, as well as a first-century writer, and Paul also should have been a first-century Jewish reader and/or hearer of Matthew's record. Jesus the Jew, the One who spoke Mt 25, spoke in Jn 11:
"He said to them, Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going that I may wake him out of sleep. The disciples then said to Him, Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover. But Jesus had spoken about his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep. So Jesus then told them plainly, Lazarus has died...And when He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, Lazarus, come out!" "We do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, concerning those who are sleeping, that you would not grieve even as also the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so also those who have fallen asleep through Jesus, God will bring with Him. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are living, who are left remaining unto the coming of the Lord, shall by no means precede those who have fallen asleep; Because the Lord Himself, with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first."
Though the Lord explains his use of the word "sleep" for death, in Jn 11, death is universal enough such that we, 20 centuries later, or folks 20 centuries prior, should've understood the metaphor. If anything, the first-century disciples in Jn 11 seem not to have understood initially that He was using a metaphor. I am fascinated and appreciate much to hear and learn of customs from distant times and places. But, like idioms or similes for death, marriage and marriage celebration are culturally universal phenomena, that, especially in the Gospels and Bible (divinely-composed and meant to communicate good news and truths around the world, cf 2 Tim 3:16; Mt 28:18-20; Ac 1:8; Jn 20:30-31), require no special or imaginary 'first-century-Jewish-audience understanding' to grasp.
"But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and unto the uttermost part of the earth."
Ac 1:8 should be a word that Matthew the apostle grasped. Augustine's interpretation, at least in his Sermon 43 on the New Testament, identifies the oil possibly as love or a good conscience, "five" as our senses, lamps as good works; he correctly identifies that the virgins have died physically; he correctly identifies them as Christians, also quoting 2 Cor 11. He ties Christ's coming with the Day of Judgment. He maybe discusses sin too much in his discussion of the judgment. I'll stop here with Augustine.
For certain, marriage is 'the' theme of the Bible, which begins and ends with one, Gen 2:18-24; Rv 19:7-9; 21:2; 22:17, and, as others here point out, is riddled with throughout (Isa; Jer; Exo; Eph; Cor; Mt; Jn; Hosea...). It's no one less than God, in the Lamb, as the Lamb, who gets married in the Apocalypse, who courts and sanctifies Israel and the church, and who was "put to sleep" to produce a counterpart, typified by Eve at least 6,000 years ago.
"Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her that He might sanctify her, cleansing her by the washing of the water in the word, that He might present the church to Himself glorious," Eph 5:25-27.
The second, compound, question interpreting the parable was: Can [believers] lose their salvation, or are they losing their inheritance, as they all had lamps? It seems the questioner already has interpreted Jesus' word "lamps," and so I'd love to hear it. It's midnight, the darkest time, one can say, so I can see why the women need lamps. What is it that all believers possess related to containing the light? Actually all human beings possess a body, soul, and spirit, since that's how God made us, Gen 2:7; 1 Thes 5:23. But I'd love to hear the questioner's understanding of "lamps." An answerer answers that the lamps symbolize the light, and yet to me, whether in first- or 21st-century context, more finely: lamps hold or contain light. One verse is Proverbs 20:27 which reads:
"The spirit of man is the lamp of Jehovah searching all the innermost parts of the inner being."
The five foolish virgins also had lamps lit. Which to me means that they're born again. Born anew. Born from above, born of God and of the Spirit (oil's symbolism). Where? In their human spirit (Mt 5:3; Jn 3:6; Rm 8:16). In other words: all are New Testament disciples, believers. Like Matthew, Peter, John themselves all became regenerated when they breathed in the Christ in Jn 20:22. The "vessel" then should be the [extra] container of the oil, which in Biblical anthropology is our human soul. Our person. Us. "Vessels" in both the Old and New Testament are people. God's the Potter, we're the clay. "Vessels" also are particularly our bodies, in 1 Sam 21:5 and 1 thes 4:4. But here, in Mt 25's parable, the Spirit of God must firstly indwell our soul before He transfigures and glorifies us by reaching our body. If these virgins are deceased, none of them as yet would be resurrected and have 'much' oil in their bodies. What is "trimming"? I believe it equates to turning to one's spirit, Rm 8:2. Setting the mind on the spirit. Who are those who sell? What does buying mean? I believe it equates to losing the soul-life. That we may gain it in the next age. Losing our life to gain His life. How to go to those who sell? I'll try to leave those unanswered for now. All must be meaningful and relevant to our Christian life in a specific way. Another Scripture where "buying" is referenced is Rv 3:18-21, to the complacent local church:
"I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined by fire that you may be rich, and white garments that you may be clothed and that the shame of your nakedness may not be manifested, and eyesalve to anoint your eyes that you may see. As many as I love I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, then I will come in to him and dine with him and he with Me. He who overcomes, to him I will give to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat with My Father on His throne."
Finally, lastly, the questioner's real, central, question, his crux, seems to be about "losing salvation." I repent and apologize that I didn't...begin with this question first. But then...other things came up. Perhaps someone else or I can. Suffice it to say now that, just as in the accompanying parable of the "talents," and the rest of the New Testament: it's impossible for one predestinated and born of God to become "unreborn." Just as it is to be unborn. Such a thing isn't real, doesn't exist. However, God judges His children, separately, and He will be fair and just. Not disturbing our eternal destiny, but whether we, for example, participate in His Millennial kingdom reign, or not. Rv 2--3's words about "overcoming" describe both rewards and punishments. And it is only by grace that one can both begin the Christian life, and overcome.
"Therefore receiving an unshakable kingdom, let us take grace, through which we may serve God well-pleasingly with piety and fear; for our God is also a consuming fire,"
Heb 12:28-29, (1-3)
The foolish (who are church goers who proclaim they know God) are those who will hear the “cry” made but will not rejoice in what they hear as the Lord comes to give us an understanding by the opening up of the Scriptures to our hearing ears. They will not praise Him as they do not “go out to meet Him” (outward praise of God).
They will have no joy (the oil of gladness) towards what they hear and will not outwardly praise God nor have thanksgiving. They will not joy nor be filled with the Holy Spirit….nor will they be able to as they turn away from what they hear and so are prevented from entering into to know the mysteries of the kingdom. They will not enter in to the fullness of the “joy of the Lord”.
Their “lamps are gone out” as they do not outwardly praise God for what they hear the Bridegroom saying as they do not have the inward joy (the “oil” of gladness) to motivate them to praise.
Matthew 25:6-8 KJV (6) And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. (7) Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. (8) And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
As John the Baptist said, the friend of the Bridegroom which stands and hears Him, rejoices greatly because of His voice…and so the joy is fulfilled greatly. One can then enter in to the fullness of the “joy of the Lord”.
John 3:29-33 KJV (29) He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. (30) He must increase, but I must decrease.
The wicked instead go back to the “earthly” men who preach their own private interpretations as those they hear retail the Word of God without understanding.
We are not redeemed with their things that they preach for money’s sake. We are not to return to those who “sell” and “buy” what they are preaching as there is no joy in those things…and we are not redeemed by their things preached in their earthly understanding nor can we enter in to know the mysteries.
(31) He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all.
The Son’s testimony of heavenly things (the Scriptures are interpreted in their true heavenly interpretation by His voice) is above all of earthly men’s private interpretations and we are to hear Him….receiving His testimony with joy so we can enter in to know the true sayings of God. He must increase and our own understanding...our own thoughts and ways...must decrease at the hearing of His knowledge. No earthly, natural man will receive His testimony as they consider what they hear as foolishness.
(32) And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony. (33) He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true.
We must not return to the “corruptible things” received by the transmission (“traditions”) of our church fathers. We must not buy what they have been selling for such a long time now. They preach another “Jesus” (many false christs) and another good news.
1 Peter 1:18-19 KJV (18) Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; (19) But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:
We must rejoice in what we hear the Bridegroom saying. The "new wine" is to be put in "new bottles"...those who renew their minds to His righteousness. They will receive what they hear Him saying in joy.
Luke 5:37-39 KJV (37) And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. (38) But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved.
But those who are used to the old teaching of the Scriptures of earthly men will not at once desire the new teaching of our Lord as they think that the "old" is better. They return back to their churches' teachings and commandments and reject what they hear if they cannot overcome.
(39) No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.
Why “buy” the things that they preach and command? Their things do not satisfy as there is no real joy in them. Why spend money for that which is not “bread”… which is not the Bread of Heaven…the testimony of the Son? The preaching of false prophets are motivated by the receiving of our money.
Isaiah 55:1-3 KJV (1) Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Those who will hear diligently unto Him will be able to eat that which is good as they will be able to receive all of the mysteries of Heaven as the Lord opens up the Scriptures to our hearing ears. "Let your soul delight in fatness"…that is, to JOY in what one hears Him say. Our “soul shall live”…..that is, it will rejoice greatly at the hearing of His voice.
(2) Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. (3) Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.
The wicked foolish will not hear and will not rejoice but rather reject what they hear and return to their previous church things and will not be able to enter in.
They will not have known the day nor the hour in which the Son of man came to their hearing ears. They heard His voice but did not rejoice in what they heard and went backward and not forward into the knowledge of the Lord.
Matthew 25:8-13 KJV (8) And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. (9) But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. (10) And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. (11) Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. (12) But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. (13) Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.
We must keep the loins of our minds girded with His righteousness and be “sober” and not drunk on the wine of wrath towards what we shall hear Him saying as He opens up the Scriptures….interpreting them….with His voice.
We are to respond to the hearing of His voice (the revelation of the true Jesus who is called the Christ) in holiness and not return to the envy and strife of our previous fighting over church things that were done in ignorance as they served "another jesus" as preached by their church fathers. Jesus "Barabbas" = Jesus son of the father=another jesus as preached by the church fathers.
1 Peter 1:13-16 KJV (13) Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; (14) As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: (15) But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; (16) Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.
The Son of man comes at an hour we think not…and so we must be always be waiting on the Lord having our minds girded with the Truth and doing things in His righteousness so that we may enter in immediately when we hear His voice. He will serve them with the "meat" of the Truth as they will be able to "eat" of the mysteries of the kingdom as there will be greater revelation of the Scriptures to their minds.
Luke 12:35-40 KJV (35) Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; (36) And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately. (37) Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them. (38) And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. (39) And this know, that if the goodman of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through. (40) Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not.
The wicked will not hear and will instead choose to do evil in the hearing of His voice. They will not be waiting and ready. They will not enter in to know the mysteries.
His servants will be able to drink in and “eat” what they hear and will rejoice (joy of heart) while those who will not hear and rejoice will be ashamed of what they hear and will grieve it and will not be able to enter in to know the mysteries. They will not be able to receive what they hear as they shall go “hungry” and thirsty.
Isaiah 65:12-14 KJV (12) Therefore will I number you to the sword, and ye shall all bow down to the slaughter: because when I called, ye did not answer; when I spake, ye did not hear; but did evil before mine eyes, and did choose that wherein I delighted not. (13) Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, my servants shall eat, but ye shall be hungry: behold, my servants shall drink, but ye shall be thirsty: behold, my servants shall rejoice, but ye shall be ashamed: (14) Behold, my servants shall sing for joy of heart, but ye shall cry for sorrow of heart, and shall howl for vexation of spirit.
His words…His "angels"..…the true and faithful sayings of God will sever the wicked from among the just.
The wicked will not receive His words when they will hear them. They will be ashamed of His words and will not rejoice. Their judgment then will be final as the hearing of His words will produce “gnashing of teeth” among the unbelievers.
Instead of rejoicing at what they hear, they will instead wail and gnash their teeth in rage at it and will persecute those who will receive it after they have been severed from among the just who will receive His words. Their own evil words shall bring themselves torment as their tongues are a "fire".
Matthew 13:49-50 KJV (49) So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, (50) And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
The oil is a fuel. "So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord".
"Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” Gethsemane means oil press.
We are saved by God's grace, but the fruits of repentance will show. How can our conduct surpass that of the Pharisees if we stand in the corner and say "thank goodness I am not like them"? We should not be at all dismissive of the Old Testament that foretold the coming of our Saviour. God set the flaming sword at the gate of heaven. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. He is the sword of truth.
He came as the 'servant'. The servant is also the central pillar of the menorah that upholds the central light, the Word of God, and is the light for the other branches. The almonds are the first fruits of the trees in the Spring of the Holy Land.
Some say the menorah represents the tree of life.