Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids/Virgins: Matthew 25:1-13
The parable of the ten bridesmaids, also called the parable of the ten virgins, is one of several parables Jesus gives in response to a question his disciples ask.
When this parable was written, any woman who was not married would be assumed to be a virgin. Therefore, when someone says virgins when speaking of a wedding, it would be understood that they meant the bridesmaids since the bride would be referred to as such.
For this reason, many Bible Translations use the word bridesmaids, since that is what the parable is talking about.
Previous to this parable of the ten bridesmaids, Jesus refers to the buildings of the temple when he says to his disciples, "You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down." (Matthew 24:2)
The disciples then ask, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" (Matthew 24:3)
Jesus then gives them a long answer, which includes these parables:
One of the main subjects, that Jesus discusses in his answer, is the necessity to be ready for his return. In order to illustrate this need to be ready, he tells this parable of the ten bridesmaids.
Jesus says, "Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise." (Matthew 25:1-2)
The wise bridesmaids take oil with their lamps, and the foolish bridesmaids only take lamps, with no oil. However, the bridegroom is delayed in coming, and so both groups fall asleep while waiting.
Suddenly, the ten bridesmaids are awoken by a shout, "'Look! Here is the bridegroom!'" (Matthew 25:6) The five wise bridesmaids have their lamps ready, but the five foolish bridesmaids don't have any oil to light their lamps.
The five foolish ask the wise to borrow some oil, but the wise bridesmaids refuse because there isn't enough oil to share. The foolish ones are instructed to go buy oil, and the bridegroom returns while they are gone.
Jesus says, "And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.' But he replied, 'Truly I tell you, I do not know you.'" (Matthew 25:10-12)
Jesus then says, "Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming." (Matthew 25:13)
The message of this story, especially in its context, is pretty straight-forward: be ready for Jesus' return. Those who are ready will be saved, and it will be too late for those who are not ready because they had plenty of time to get ready.
Jesus concludes this parable with his point:
"Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming." (Matthew 25:13)
Both groups in the story fall asleep and neither group is criticized for it, but only for being unprepared, which is another indication that when Jesus says "Keep awake therefore..." he means "Be ready."
This message of the parable is similar to what Jesus says in Matthew 7:21-23, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?' Then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.'"
Those who are rejected are the ones who are evildoers and who do not obey God and who are unprepared. These people are unprepared because they do not obey God.
In the Bible "Keep awake" is often a reference to not sinning, as seen in Revelation 3:3, "Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you."
The message of this parable of the ten virgins (bridesmaids) is similar to several other parables Jesus teaches:
Just before the parable of the wise and foolish builders is when Jesus says, "Then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.'" (Matthew 7:22-23)
Jesus then tells the parable of the wise and foolish builders to illustrate his statement that, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven." (Matthew 7:21)
With the two builders, Jesus shows how the wise heed his words whereas the foolish do not listen.
In the parable of the wedding banquet, Jesus relates the kingdom of heaven to a wedding due to the fact that a marriage is the initiation of a covenant.
This 'wedding theme' is likewise in this parable of the ten virgins, because of a wedding covenant's similarity to God's covenant with Christians.
There are some who attempt to find meaning in other details of this parable of the ten virgins; however, doing so is taking the interpretation too far.
For example, the main purpose Jesus told this parable isn't to communicate that the oil means anything, or that whatever the oil represents must be something that is impossible to share.
Jesus is only telling us this parable in order to say, "Be ready!" He uses the concept of oil to communicate the lack of readiness of the foolish bridesmaids, because it is a logical way to say they were unprepared.
Trying to figure out what Jesus supposedly means by oil is an aimless goal for two reasons:
(1) There is no clear indication that the oil represents anything, so anyone's thoughts on what it represents would be just as good as the next person, since there is no foundation for determining the meaning.
(2) And it appears that Jesus is only using the word and concept as a way to show that the foolish were unprepared.