There is some debate regarding the parable of the 10 virgins in Matthew chapter 25. Here’s the first verse:
The debate is who do the 10 virgins (some translations call them bridesmaids) represent? Some think they represent the church, others think not. Here’s my take…
I think it’s both.
In essence, I think the wise virgins are becoming part of the church, and the foolish virgins are unbelievers. Let me explain.
First we need to consider context. For two chapters, Jesus has been talking about His Second Coming and the time up to it. So He is describing in various fashions the signs of His coming and the end of the age.
With this parable and others, He starts out with, “The kingdom of heaven is like….” Some people think when Jesus says this it’s a reference to heaven, and thus a reference to the believing church. While that may seem to be the case upon first glance, further examination will show that it’s not. For example, look at a similar parable in Matthew 13, the parable of the tares. Here, Jesus tells the parable to the masses, then a bit later, His disciples ask Him to explain it to them, and He does. In explaining it, Jesus makes it obvious that He is not talking about heaven or the church. Check it out. What jumps out at me with this is in verse 41. He says:
He said His kingdom; He’s saying that He’s going to cleanse unrighteousness out of His kingdom, and then the righteous will shine forth as the sun. So when He says “the kingdom of heaven is like,” it is not heaven, but His world… specifically THIS world, that needs a cleansing.
The parable of the 10 virgins is similar to the parable of the tares in that God will separate the evil from the good; so the 10 virgins, initially, are not the church.
If the parable of the 10 virgins in full were written about the church, it would be the parable of the 10 brides. A bride is spoken for, especially during the time when this parable was written; they were as good as married. The church is the bride not the bridesmaids (virgins), and God will not leave any of His bride behind when He comes again. A virgin is not taken or spoken for, and eventually has a choice to make, like the 10 did. Look at these words, bride and virgin in the original Greek and the parable becomes clearer. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul says there is a difference between a wife (bride) and virgin, and goes on to explain the difference:
Too, when Paul wrote of presenting us as chaste virgins to Christ in 2 Corinthians 11, you must key in on the word chaste to fully understand his meaning:
A chaste (pure) virgin is different than simply a virgin, or Paul would not have qualified virgin as he did. A virgin can be as corrupt as anyone, regardless of virginity. Not so of a chaste virgin.
Also consider this. A bride is doing what? Preparing to meet her groom. Who helps the bride in this preparation? Bridesmaids! Believers today are brides as the Bible says, and we are preparing to meet our bridegroom for the promised wedding feast. Bridesmaids are helping us do that today. In this context, bridesmaids are unbelievers, and as we live with and deal with unbelievers, we are to conform to the image of Christ as we live our lives among them. This is what Jesus did; the Bible says he learned obedience through suffering… suffering often at the hands of unbelievers. It’s no different for us today. We have hardships at the hands of unbelievers. The Word tells us to turn the other cheek, to pray for those who persecute us, to love our enemies. That is the ultimate preparation to be with Jesus, is it not?
Another bit of evidence that all 10 virgins don’t represent the church is the fact that five of them don’t have any oil. Oil, throughout the Bible, frequently represents or is analogous to the Holy Spirit. Believers have the Holy Spirit living inside of them; unbelievers don’t. They are without that most important indwelling that Jesus promised to those that put their faith in Him.
The word foolish offers a little information here as well. In certain usages, it means someone who is morally worthless as related to heart and character (see Matthew 7:26 as an example). This definition holds the same meaning in this context.
The parable of the 10 virgins gives us a glimpse into how God will deal with His creation… how He will separate unbelievers from believers so that those who love Him can proceed into eternity with Him. The “kingdom of heaven” as portrayed in this parable is not that of God’s dwelling place… it’s the here and now.