Gospel: Matthew 25:1-13
Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Lesson: Amos 5:18-24
Psalm: Psalm 70
CLB Commentary – Dr. Gaylan Mathiesen
This passage is clearly eschatological in its teaching, and it is in response to a question about the end times that the disciples asked in chapter 24:3: “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus said in 24:42, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” That chapter includes a succession of parables that call the listener to “watch,” and chapter 25 continues in this stream, “…the kingdom will be like…” As with all of Jesus’ parables, we see here a teaching about the Kingdom.
The setting for our parable is a marriage celebration, which took place one year out from the betrothal ceremony. At that time, the marriage festivities began, which included the bridegroom and his friends going to the bride’s father’s home to get his bride and bring her to his own home where the marriage feast was held. The bridegroom was required to have one of his friends go on ahead to shout out “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” It was the role of the 10 virgins in our parable to meet the bridegroom at his arrival, which could be at any unexpected moment, even in the middle of the night. Since no one was to be out on the streets after dark without a lighted lamp, having one’s lamp ready was important. (William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 2, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1958, 319-320. R.V.G. Tasker, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1967, 231-232.)
Part of the fun would be to catch the bridal party napping. In this parable too, the bridal party grew drowsy in waiting, and fell asleep. At the arrival of the bridegroom, the 10 young women awoke and began to light their lamps. (The number 10 was a sacred number to the Jewish people. 10 bridesmaids were usually chosen, 10 is the number of people that was required for a family celebration of the Passover feast, and 10 members were required to found a synagogue.)
Notice that all of them fell asleep—the wise ones and the foolish ones. Being found asleep here is not the problem that Jesus addresses; rather, it is the unpreparedness for the unexpected coming of the bridegroom that he calls our attention to. Some of the women anticipated that the arrival of the bridegroom may be long in coming, and they brought enough oil with them should that happen. The others, however, for whatever reason, did not, and unfortunately found their supply depleted.
Another point of the parable is that the oil could not be borrowed from another—one had to have their own supply ready at hand. Thus, while the prepared ones were allowed into the banquet, the others had to go out in search of oil, and tragically found themselves outside the door and unable to enter the festivities. The words “And the door was shut” have a sense of finality, much like the words in the account of Noah and his family entering the ark: “Then the Lord closed the door…” When the bridegroom arrives, it is too late to do anything but to meet him with our lamps lit. The image of the bridegroom appearing is of course a reference to Christ and His coming. Whether we meet Him at our death or at His second coming, the time for preparations will be already past. When He arrives, we meet Him with whatever is in our lamp at that moment. There can be no borrowing of the oil of salvation from another—salvation cannot be borrowed, but must be personally possessed (v. 9). “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’ Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” One does not enter the Kingdom on another’s supply of oil.