Parable of the 10 Virgins Explained

Our small group Bible study is reading a book about the prophecy of Jesus’ return. The author quotes Jesus’ words from the Parable of the Ten Virgins, which intrigued me. I know of the parable, but I would like the Parable of the 10 virgins explained clearly as it relates to end times.

The Parable of the 10 Virgins Explained- ancient oil lamps on table, one in forefront clear, the rest behind are blurred

Many are seeing signs in the world right now that make us wonder if the end times are near. I’ve been hearing about it for years, so I’m a bit skeptical. But I want to be ready. I think I know what to look for. Do you? Are you ready?

Background of the Parable of the Ten Virgins 

This Parable is immediately preceded by Matthew Chapter 24 when Jesus gives what has been called “the Olivet discourse.” It was so named because Jesus was teaching about His return from the Mount of Olives, the exact place Zechariah prophesied that the Messiah would establish His kingdom.

This was just two days before Passover and His death on the cross. Jesus tells His disciples about the future, signs of His return, and to remain watchful, for no one except the Father knows the day or hour.

He then tells the Parable of the 10 Virgins.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins 

The setting of this Parable is a wedding, and it is also known as the Parable of the Bridesmaids, or the Parable of the Bridegroom.

Matthew 25:1-13 

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.” v1.

Jesus was describing a custom from a first century Jewish wedding which followed the engagement (formal agreement of the fathers), and then the betrothal (a ceremony where promises are made.) The actual wedding was about a year later.

The bridegroom and his friends process from his home to meet his bride, where the wedding and banquet would take place.

The Ten Virgins in the Bible 

The ten virgins may have been what we now consider bridesmaids- those who assisted the bride, and in this custom, were expected to go out and meet the groom and his procession: escorting them into the wedding venue.

“Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.” vv2-5.

All of the women expected to escort the groom and participate into the wedding feast. Some of the wedding party showed wisdom by being prepared for the unknown time of the bridegroom’s arrival; some were foolishly unprepared.

Ten Virgins Lamps 

Each member of the procession was to carry his/her own lamp. It was a way to distinguish those who were invited from those who were not. It was common for “wedding crashers” and robbers to attempt to gain entrance.

“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ ‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ “vv6-9.

The Foolish Virgins 

But as the five foolish virgins scurry away to hurriedly buy more oil, the bridegroom arrives.

“But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.” v10.

The consequence for the foolish virgins was dreadful. They were not able to attend the wedding and the door was shut tightly, barring them from entry.

Upon their late arrival, they called out to the bridegroom, “’Sir! Sir! – Open the door for us!’ But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’” v11.

Jesus ends the parable by telling the disciples its main theme: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” v13.

We need to be ready for His return. But how do we do that?

Parable of the Ten Virgins Meaning 

OK, time to unpack this parable.

Jesus had previously emphasized (in Chapter 24) of  the need for remaining watchful and being ready for His return.

This parable continues that idea, and shares the importance of not only being prepared, but having a personal relationship with Jesus when He arrives. To do that, He uses the analogy of a wedding.

Jesus is the Bridegroom

The bridegroom is Jesus and this parable describes His return. We don’t know exactly when He will come (we may even be asleep!), but we must be ready for that day.

The metaphor of Jesus as the bridegroom is used many times in the Bible. Jesus answers a question from the Pharisees with an analogy of a bridegroom- speaking of Himself in Mark 2:19-20. John the Baptist uses the same analogy in John 3:29.

Who Do the Ten Virgins Represent? 

Jesus refers to ten virgins most likely because it was a favorite round number in the Bible, meaning completeness. Also, by Jewish custom, ten referred to the number of members required for some religious obligations (prayer services, etc.)

The ten virgins can also be seen as representing the entire number of those who profess to be Christians. They are waiting for the return of Jesus, the groom.

By all outward appearances, each virgin was prepared and ready for the groom; each had brought their lamps with them.

When the cry went up at midnight (a symbol of the end of time), they all arise and ready their lamps.

What Does the Oil Represent in Matthew 25? 

Did it seem selfish of the wise virgins to refuse to share their oil? It might, at first glance, but oil is consistently used in Scripture to represent the Holy Spirit, and that is how it is used here.

The five foolish virgins appeared to be ready for Christ, but they lacked a true born-again relationship with Him- the “anointing oil” which was used as the outward symbol of the empowering of the Holy Spirit within us.

Just as the oil gives the lamp it’s ability to give off light, the Holy Spirit lives within the true believer empowering us to be a light for Jesus.

We can’t give this “oil”, the Holy Spirit, to anyone.  The decision is personal. The foolish virgins found themselves without oil, having never received the Holy Spirit by a confession of faith in Jesus.

The meaning for us is that spiritual preparation can’t be borrowed- each relationship with God must be our own.

“If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” Romans 8:9.

We can’t slide into Heaven on the coattails of our parent’s faith or by going to church.

The distinction in this parable is of true Christians and false believers- those who may have put off a decision for Christ or are waiting for the “right time.”

the parable of the 10 virgins explained- brunette woman wearing a short white dress sitting on rocks looking out onto water. Matthew 25:13 text overlay

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Lessons from the Parable of the ten Virgins 

•Fill Your Lamps with Oil 

The Holy Spirit comes to live within us when we are born again into a new life with Christ. We are to continually fan the flame of the Holy Spirit through study of His Word, prayer, and loving others in His name.

Keep your lamps burning bright. Be in fellowship with those who help you be “on fire” for God. 

Listen for the Spirit’s convictions and guidance; living each day as if His return is imminent.

•Matthew 25:12

When the door shuts, it’s too late; you cannot get into the wedding feast (Heaven.) What a tragedy to hear the words, “I don’t know you.”

Jesus uses this phrase in other parts of Scripture to differentiate between those who sound religious but have no personal relationship with Him.

He also encourages us with these words: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” John 10:27.

Does Jesus know you?

•Therefore Keep Watch Because You Do Not Know the Day Or the Hour

Jesus’ point was quite simple- Remain watchful for His return and wait expectantly, content with not knowing the hour or day. Don’t become weary in the waiting, but trust in His perfect timing.

Signs of the End of the Age 

It is important to know prophecy so that we won’t be deceived. We need to know the truth that is in His Word.

When Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple, His disciples came to Him later and asked, “Tell us, when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and the of the end of the age?” Matthew 24:1-3.

Jesus goes on to speak of many specific events and general conditions happening in the world to watch for. We can pay attention to these, but they do not give us a precise timeline.

There has been and will continue to be disagreement on their meaning even among Biblical scholars who have tried their best to understand them.

We do, however, know two things for sure:

•“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Matthew 24:36.

If Jesus Himself did not know the day and hour (? during His earthly ministry?), it only cements the idea that anyone today would be foolish to pin down an exact time.

•We won’t miss His return!

“For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Matthew 24:27

“They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” Matthew 24:30-31.

Be Ready When the Bridegroom Comes

The Parable of the Ten Virgins reminds us a personal relationship with Jesus is necessary to enter Heaven. 

It’s been almost 2,000 years and we are still waiting for His return, but this parable also highlights the need for us to share the Good News of the Gospel. We don’t want anyone left behind knocking on a door that is tightly shut! 

“This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Matthew 24:14.

The bridegroom is coming! Are you ready to meet your Savior?



All Scripture is taken from the NIV unless specified otherwise.

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6 thoughts on “Parable of the 10 Virgins Explained”

    1. “Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.” Matthew 25:2-5.

  1. Thank you for allowing the Holy Spirit to use you. It reminds me that I can’t play the middle, I’m either Hot or Cold.

    1. You are most welcome. The enemy loves for us to play the middle, doesn’t he? Jesus wants us to be with Him forever- what a love! I want to be ready on the day He returns or He calls me home. 🙂

  2. That was EXCELLENT!
    Can you imagine being alive and living on this earth when He returns?!? I try to envision what that will look like. Matthew 24:30-31 gives quite the incredible imagery! Love our Bible Study topic!
    Thanks so much, Ann!

    1. You’re so welcome! I read those chapters and can hardly imagine seeing what He describes 🙂 Very fascinating topic!

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