The parables of Matthew 25 are about future judgment: the ten virgins, the talents or the unprofitable servant, and the separation of the sheep and the goats. They follow chapter 24 with Jesus teaching His disciples many signs of His second coming. Jesus’ emphasis is in 24:42: “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.” Verses 43 through 51 teach the same lesson also taught in Luke 12:39-46 (The Faithful Steward). Matthew 24:44 reiterates, “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
It is important to remember that this is a parable. Its cast of characters and the circumstances that occur are not real, and the story is deliberately exaggerated to make its point. The parable (25:1-13), paraphrased is this: the kingdom of heaven is compared to ten virgins. In the Bible, virgins were young women of marriageable age, pure and chaste. A bride is not mentioned here, and these women are more likely part of the wedding ceremony, such as bridesmaids. Their lamps were an important part of the wedding procession. Five are called wise and five are called foolish. The wise ones had extra oil for their lamps, and the foolish ones had no extra oil.
Jesus spoke of the bridegroom being delayed, and while all the women waited, they dozed off. At the most unlikely time, midnight, the bridegroom arrived, and the women were summoned. The foolish five asked the others for oil, because their lamps were going out. The wise women refused, because there wasn’t enough for all ten, and they told the foolish five to go buy their own oil. In their absence, the bridegroom came, and those that were ready went in with him to the wedding, “and the door was shut.” When the five foolish females showed up, they were too late. They cried out, “Lord, Lord, open to us!” But the bridegroom answered, “I do not know you.” Then Jesus made His point again, in verse 13: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”
The parable the Wise and Foolish Virgins, also known as the ten virgins has volumes written about it. The point of the parable is in verse 13. Watch. Be prepared. Stay awake. The Greek word for watch (and wake in 1 Thessalonians 5:10) is gregoreo, and is where the name, Gregory, comes from. It means watchful or vigilant. It appears in 1 Corinthians 16:13: “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong.” Also in 1 Thessalonians 5:6: “Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.”
In the Bible, there were three watches mentioned in the Old Testament: the beginning, middle and morning watches (Lamentations 2:19; Judges 7:19; Exodus 14:24 and 1 Samuel 11:11). In the New Testament, likely due to Roman influence, there are four watches, night watches, all mentioned in Mark 13:35. The context is another parable Jesus taught, with the same message. “Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning— lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” (Mark 13:33-37)
There are more implications in the parable of the ten virgins, but the final thrust is clear. Stay awake and watchful spiritually. Be ready for anything. For the Christian, this is accomplished first and foremost by staying in God’s Word and in prayer. “And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.” (Romans 13:11, 12)