The first of these parables concerns the wise and the foolish virgins and their oil. We should remember, before diving in, Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:40ff. He has been warning his disciples of a time approaching within a generation in which God will return to His people as promised, but will turn ill for some who expect blessing.
1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.”
It should be asked, at the outset, Who is the bridegroom? We are accustomed, in the church, to associated this with Jesus, the Christ. This is rightfully so on the basis of Revelation 21:9, among other passages. But I wonder if in Jesus’ own day, the bridegroom might have more accurately represented God himself. It is an image the prophets used often enough for Yahweh, as a God married to His people (Isa 54:5; 62:5; Hos 2:7, 16). The kingdom of heaven is the people of God waiting for His triumphant arrival.
2 “Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.”
If indeed the virgins represent Israel is Jesus’ telling, all of them eagerly anticipate Yahweh’s return, though only half do what is necessary to endure a long wait.
5 “As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 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.’ 10 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.”
This is proving a sobering parable indeed. All of Israel longs for God’s return, for their nation’s vindication, for the restoration of all their hopes, from rescue from centuries of great evil. And yet, when He does return, half will find that they are thoroughly unprepared. They may have thought themselves within the family of God, but they will find, likely to their unfortunate surprise, that they are in fact on the outs, shut out of the family after all.
11 “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
There’s the rub. Yahweh is forced to answer half the people of Israel, “I do not know you.” This is quite the opposite effect of another famous parable, the prodigal son (Luke 15:11ff). The son, to change metaphors, is here not welcomed, but spurned.
Again, Jesus provides this warning to his disciples, to whom he is speaking, remember. He has just informed them of terrible events to come, but they must (1) be patient and (2) not be swayed off course. They are, by their association with the true Christ, Jesus, currently “in,” but they ought to watch and wait for the vindication they anticipate.