The first word of this chapter is important, "Then." There was no break in His discourse. What He now said in this parable followed immediately upon what He had been saying before, when He had used the illustration of the householder, and the wise and faithful servants therein, and those who were unwise and unfaithful in the household. He had ended that illustration by saying those unfaithful and unwise were to have their portion appointed with the hypocrites, "there shall be the weeping and gnashing of teeth." "Then shall the Kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins." Jesus selects a particular time in the marriage ceremonial, to illustrate the uncertainty of His Coming, and the consequences of heeding or not heeding the cautions He already had given respecting it. It is the time after the wedding at the house of the bride's parents, and after the wedding festival there (which lasted several days, we are told seven for a maid and three for a widow), when the bridegroom, with the nuptial guests, conducts the bride to His own house or to that of his father, that is chosen.
The procession generally started in the evening or night with great pomp, having torches, songs, and music. This company with the bridegroom, was met by another, friends of the bridegroom and bride, which, at or near the bridegroom's house, waited, ready at the first notice of approach to go forth, meet the procession, unite with it, enter the house, and participate in the entertainment or marriage supper. This last company (friends of the bridegroom and bride) not knowing precisely the hour or time when the procession would come, made preparation and watched for its arrival, so that it could enter in with the bridal party, its union with the other and privilege of admittance, being indicated by the bearing of lamps, or burning torches, thus showing that they were friends, and as such could properly be admitted as guests at the marriage feast. After the procession entered the house with those who actually participated in the escort and manifested their friendship and respect for the bridegroom and bride, the door was shut and admittance refused. Now Jesus takes this parabolic representation from actual life, and shows from the uncertainty of the bridegroom's arrival with his bride and the preparedness of the company awaiting him, how it will be (as the word "then" implies) at His future Advent, and, consequently, enjoins watchfulness.
Some of the versions expressly indicate the time. Thus the Syriac, Vulgate, Coptic, the Cranmer Bible, and also Van Ess, Alioli, Knapp, three mss., etc., read, "the Bridegroom and the Bride." This, of course, locates the period to be when the Bridegroom is going to His own house with the Bride.
"Then," when the Lord shall come to deal with His people anxiously awaiting His return concerning their communal responsibility, as was revealed at the end of the previous chapter, "Then shall the Kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins." What was the subject which our Lord was illustrating? He was looking on to the consummation of the age, created by the coming of the Bridegroom with His Bride. The warnings given by Jesus respecting the condition of parties at the Second Advent are here realized in the position of the Ten Virgins. We are told that there will be a judgment "of quick and dead," Acts 10:42, “of the quick and the dead at His appearing and His Kingdom,” 2 Tim. 4:1; 1 Pet. 4:5.The figure employed is very simple, and Eastern. This Eastern scene was commonplace. Everyone who heard Him would understand it. Moreover we must not strain it in exposition.
There is no mention of the bride in this account. That may give some pause. It is interesting how many people have tried to find the bride in the account, and have said that the wise virgins were the bride. There may be an element of truth in it. But the figure here is not of the bride, but of the bride groom (although she comes with Him). Such an undoubted scholar as Trench and others interpret this whole parable as referring to the homecoming of the bridegroom with his bride. But the procession picks up the friends to take to the prepared home He has made for her.
We need not go into the particulars of the Eastern picture, because it is so simple and familiar. It is significant that Jesus does not take the bridegroom and his friends as they proceed to the wedding, but in coming from the wedding, which is fully enforced by Luke 12:35-38, "Let your loins be girded about and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their Lord, when He shall return from the wedding; that, when He cometh and knocketh, they may open unto Him immediately. Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when He Cometh shall find watching; verily I say unto you, that He shall gird Himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them. And if He shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants."
This then, while the main idea of watchfulness is of general application (as the context and analogy of Scripture show), is specially designed for a class of persons who await the Lord's return from the wedding. Who these are will appear. Some assume a "modification of the usual custom and a procession of the virgins to meet the bridegroom on his way to the house of the bride." But this is against the general usage (comp. Trench, Notes on the Parables), Lange's Com. loci says: "It was the custom among the Jews and Greeks that the bridegroom accompanied by his friends, went to the house of the bride to lead her to his own house, and was joined by the virgins, the friends of the bride, not on his going to fetch the bride, but on his returning with her to his own house." (Comp. De Wette, Meyer, Lightfoot, Wetstein, etc.). Such a custom prevails even to this day in Sicily (Hughes's Travels in Sicily, vol. 2, p. 20). Hence it is that some of the old readings add to the first verse "and the bride," which Trench (On Par., p. 237) thinks the sense requires.
The parable being prophetic, and thus delineating what shall truly take place when the Lord Jesus shall return from His wedding, it must accord fully, be in perfect agreement, with all the other predictions relating to the subject; the unity of the Word, the integrity of Scripture, the truthfulness of Jesus as a Teacher, demand such a harmony. It must, e.g. accord with Rev. 19, in which is foreshown that the marriage of the Lamb, and the calling to the marriage supper, is something that appertains to His Second Advent and the commencement of His glorious reign on earth. But it must do more than this; it must correspond not merely to the general statements on the subject, but to the exact order of fulfillment pertaining to that future period. Thus the Second Advent, like the First, is expressive of a period of years; that its beginning is characterized by a thief-like, concealed Coming and its end by an open Advent.
The question, therefore, is with which stage of the Advent does the parable best correspond? To this there can be but one answer: it pertains to the last stage, the open Parousia. Let the following considerations be regarded.
(1) It does not relate to the thief-like Coming because that period, and the events connected therewith, do not correspond with the parable in the following particulars;
(a) There is no public Coming of the Bridegroom with open pomp and splendor;
(b) the resurrection of the first-fruits and the sudden translation of the little flock do not accord with such a public manifestation being secret and invisible in their nature;
(c) there is no return from a wedding, the first stage preceding it;
(d) believers in Jesus do not at that time all even profess to look for the Advent, much less go forth to meet the Bridegroom-the great lack of faith evidencing the contrary;
(e) the midnight cry (however applied by some to the past and the present) has not been sounded, as shown by its effects both on the wise and the foolish virgins, who recognized it, and all arose and trimmed their lamps, and it will not be true at this stage that the cry, "Behold the Bridegroom Cometh" will cause all believers, wise and foolish, to arise and indicate a looking for the Bridegroom, as seen e.g. in the predictions relating to the faithlessness of the Church;
(f) the cry is not raised by any of these virgins, for it comes outside of them, and hence the incongruity of persons representing themselves to be "wise virgins" and raising the cry, whom the Savior represents with the foolish to be drowsy and asleep, being themselves aroused by the cry; it follows that the illustration does not fit the particulars of the first stage;
(g) the parable does not express the condition of the Church in general as composed of believers and mere professors, or of two parties, but the image is drawn from a party who expected the coming of the bridegroom (took their lamps and went forth to meet the bridegroom"), made preparation for his coming (with lamps and oil in them), and when his coming was announced acted in response to their previous expectation ("then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps"), and simple analogy requires that it should be fulfilled in such a body of persons.
(2) But it does apply forcibly to the second stage of the Advent and to the events connected therewith as predicted:
(a) the open parousia of Jesus with His saints is after the wedding at Mt. Sinai-the figure of marriage being used to indicate the intimate Theocratic relationship of the saints with the King, or the inauguration of the saints there as co-kings and co-priests with Him in His Kingdom.
(b) the procession of the bridegroom after the wedding to his own house to have the marriage publicly consummated by a marriage supper, finds its exact parallel in Jesus Coming with His saints and the holy angels from the celebration of a Theocratic inauguration at Mt. Sinai;
(c) the bridegroom comes after the wedding to his own house, and his friends await him there to receive the procession and participate in the proposed marriage feast, finds its precise fulfillment in Jesus, after the Theocratic ordering instituted at Mt. Sinai, taking His course to His own inheritance, to Jerusalem, where He meets a body of His "own" people;
(d) those who thus waited all professed affection for the bridegroom, and thus this remnant of Jews, after experiencing the merciless persecution of the last Antichrist (whom they as a body had received in preference to Jesus) which restores them earnestly and longingly to the nation's hope of Messianic deliverance (as evidenced by the cordial manner in which they hail His Coming and yield obedience), turn their minds (influenced by Elijah) to a looking and waiting for the Messiah;
(e) those who wait expect the coming of a bridegroom (not themselves to be the bride) and a participation in the marriage feast in the bridegroom's inheritance, which indicates a marked change in their views (i.e. of the Jews), viz., that the terrible persecution endured, the proclamation of the truth by the Christian Church during the interval, the precise realization of the prophetic announcements in their own experience, the culmination of their tribulation as foreshown by the Spirit in connection with Jesus of Nazareth, has at length caused this remnant at Jerusalem to decide favorably to Jesus of Nazareth, and to await His Coming as the promised One, even as the bridegroom the entering in with the bridegroom and participating in the marriage festivities, finds a precise fulfillment in the announced predictions that the Jews shall at the personal Coming of Jesus experience the special favor of the Messiah, and be restored to Theocratic nearness to God, having an assured supremacy over the nations;
(g) the reception of some and the rejection of others, owing to that of preparation and attitude occupied, finds its exact parallel in the verifications of the predictions that a portion of the Jews will be accepted and another portion be rejected that a sifting and separation will ensue;
(h) the midnight cry, uttered by the escort with the bridegroom's procession or by believing Gentiles, so arrests the attention of the Jews, that they, in their extremity, begin to believe in Him whom they have pierced, exemplified by their willingness then to accept of Him;
(i) the posture occupied by the virgins is indicative of a belief in a Coming, expected Messiah, and this is in accord with the Jewish position then occupied, for seeing the accurate fulfillment in the distress accumulated upon them by the last Antichrist, they will also believe in the promised deliverance (as e.g. shown in Zech. 14), and some will be suitably prepared (morally) while others will neglect preparation;
(j) the prophecy preceding (comp. Mark 13 and Luke 21) had a special mention of the Jewish nation, of its long-continued tribulation, etc., and it is reasonable that in the final result Jesus should illustrate the condition of the Jews, addressing Himself to them;
(k) the Second Advent of the Messiah has a twofold specific relationship, first, to the Church which is associated with Him in the highest Theocratic relationship, in rulership, etc.; and second, to the Jewish nation which occupies a subordinate, but as to other nations a supreme Theocratic position; in view of this, it is reasonable to suppose that the duty of watching and being prepared would be enjoined upon both;
(l) the virgins are invited guests, specially called to participate in the marriage feast ushering in the Millennial Era, and so numerous predictions call and invite the Jews to that "feast of fat things," and we are assured of a response;
(m) the virgins who joined the bridal procession evidently congratulated the bridegroom on his marriage and expressed their wishes in his behalf and that of the bride, as implied by their attitude, by honoring the coming with their union with it, etc., and this finds a realization in the joy of the Jews, their honoring of the Messiah, their triumph and glory at the open Parousia of Jesus, the Christ;
(n) the time of Christ's Coming, at "midnight," i.e. at the very close of this dispensation, just when the glorious "day of the Lord Jesus" is to be ushered in, with which "day" the Jews, as we have shown, are inseparably connected, in view of their covenanted Theocratic relationship.
Other points might be presented, but we doubt the propriety, as already expressed, of pressing every part of the parable. That "they all slumbered and slept" is certainly not taken in a bad sense (as some suppose, who make it to denote being "cold and careless," "careless and insensible," "diminution of watchfulness, fervor and activity," "spiritual declension," or even "pre-occupied with the secular pursuits of life, " "engrossed with pleasures and cares," etc., for this would prove too much for their own application, showing that no one, for all slept, watched for the coming of the bridegroom), because the Savior does not criticize them for being asleep, a natural result of long waiting, but for the lack of previous preparation, so that they were not ready when the bridegroom, whom they all anticipated, came.
The imagery is drawn from actual life and natural sleep is not rebuked in the wise or the foolish, but the lack of oil, the neglect in laying in a suitable supply. Therefore the sleeping is not criticized, and the reason lies in the simple fact that the figure is derived from what actually transpired in usage at so long a delay, viz., when the parties had made suitable preparation, if the bridegroom was long delayed, they then deemed it not unsuitable, in view of their subsequent wakefulness at the coming of the bridegroom in the lengthy festivities, to snatch a little refreshing sleep. The watching that the Savior inculcates is not a self-denial of natural sleep, required to repair our strength, but a state of the mind which anticipates the Advent and makes previous preparation for it.
If an analogy should be pressed, then it might resolve itself simply in weariness and flagging of interest at the long delay. Storr (Diss. on Parables) says that the sleeping of the wise virgins is "introduced not as a defect in the wise virgins, who, on the contrary, are an example of vigilance and prudent circumspection; but on account of its being necessary to the order of the narrative."
It evinces the extreme carelessness of the foolish, who deemed their preparation ample enough for the occasion. Trench also (to which Nast, Com. is inclined) regards the falling asleep a circumstance required by the parabolic narration. To make this sleeping the universal condition of the Church (as some do because all slept) at the period of the first stage of the Advent, is virtually to declare that none are then found occupying the posture of watching, which is forbidden by declarations and the translation of the watching; if thus applied to the Church during the interval between the two stages, it is also forbidden by the preaching during the interval, the resistance against the Antichrist even to death, the multitude that come out of the great tribulation, etc. Dr. Seiss (Parable of the Ten Virgins, p. 41) makes the sleeping to be that "their enthusiasm on the near Advent of their Lord had abated. Their expectation had lost its ardor." To bring out an analogy, he has recourse to a history of our doctrine, its decline and revival, thus making the parable illustrative not of the period "then" to which it refers, but of the entire period of the Church's history. Our view avoids this and other (as midnight cry, by whom given?) incompatibilities.
This speaks not of the church but after its removal from this earth and the state of affairs in this world which many attempt to apply to the supposed church they have in their mind today with so many professing but not watching and praying. These verses lend no such support.