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Ten Virgins and Other Parables

A consideration of their profound spiritual meanings

By Ronnie Bray I have surveyed many commentaries concerning this parable, and found that most scholars and ministers admit they are unsure of its meaning. And yet, the meaning seems crystal clear if we put the subject of the parable into its Palestinian cultural context in the time of the earthly ministry of Jesus. By this means, much of the confusion that surrounds it is dispelled, and its simple message stands revealed, shorn of all eisegetical and homiletic meanings that have been tagged onto it down the years. Eisegesis is the personal, subjective application of material when it is taken out of its context and put to uses for which it was not originally intended. That this kind of usage does violence to the text is clear, especially in cases where a popular preacher uses it for his sermons. Homiletic is the misappropriation of material to use in sermonising in ways that often ignore original contexts and intended meanings of passages and verses. While granting that some leeway can be given to sermonisers in the way they use scriptural material, when it comes to exegesis, which is the establishing of the meaning of the text before us, no leeway can be given, for unless there is obvious corruption of the text it must be taken to read as it is written, in its context and in the zeitgeist or spirit of the age of the time in which the document was written and agreeable with the customs of the time. A further exercise must be mentioned, which is hermeneutics. The terms exegesis and hermeneutics are sometimes used interchangeably because exegesis focuses primarily on the written text to form our udbnerstanding of what it meant when it was originally written. Hermeneutics however is a more widely defined discipline of interpretation theory including the entire framework of the interpretative process and, encompassing all forms of communication and expression; written, verbal, artistic, geo-political, physiological, sociological etc. Having said that, when we read what the text says, we engage in exegesis, when we restore a passage to its original context we practise hermeneutic, and between

the two, the answer to our enquiry is often extremely simple. It is when we assay to discover hidden meanings that we walk through the valley of the shadow of doubt and difficulty. That some have shot beyond the mark in so doing is undeniable. That by overshooting the mark they have also missed the mark is equally indisputable. Thus, the parable of the ten virgins can be understood when it is re-attached to its scriptural context, which is supplied by Matthew 24: 1 And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple. 2 And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. 3 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? NB: This is the question whose answer occupies the remainder of chapter 24 and all of chapter 25, and these chapters cannot be separated without wresting the scripture. 4 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. 5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. 6 And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. 8 All these are the beginning of sorrows. 9 Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my names sake. 10 And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. 11 And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. 12 And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. 13 But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. 15 When ye therefore shall see the

abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (Gloss: whoso readeth, let him understand) 16 Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: 17 Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: 18 Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. 19 And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! 20 But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: 21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22 And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elects sake those days shall be shortened. 23 Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. 24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. 25 Behold, I have told you before. 26 Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. 27 For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 28 For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together. 29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: 30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. 32 Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: 33 So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. 34 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. 35 Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. 36 But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

37 But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 38 For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, 39 And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 40 Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. 41 Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. 42 Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. 43 But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. 44 Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh. Having set out the conditions that will prevail in the world when he shall return in glory to rule and reign, he turns his attention to the proper state of readiness in which true disciples must be found if they are to experience his coming as joyful. 45 Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? 46 Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. 47 Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods. 48 But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; 49 And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; 50 The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, 51 And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Jesus sets out two scenarios representing the two kinds of servants, by which he means those that worship God, one of which is faithful and wise and the other who is evil. The distinction between the two is that one does as his master bade him do and provides meat or food for the household of the absent master, and the other one abuses his fellow servants and if a reveller.

The faithful and true servant is made ruler over all his masters goods. In other words, he inherits the kingdom of God. The evil servant is cut off from his inheritance and sent to be with hypocrites that shall spend eternity bemoaning what they have lost, which is their eternal heritage in the kingdom of God. That is the first warning! The second warning is: [Chapter 25] The kingdom of heaven is likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Nots that as in the previous warning, there is a separation into two kinds. The first kind, Jesus calls, They that were foolish and they took their lamps, and took no oil with them: The second kind, Jesus calls the wise, and these took oil in their vessels with their lamps. Now he speaks of both kinds, foolish and wise, saying, While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight [when it was dark] there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins [both foolish and wise] arose and trimmed [the wicks of] their lamps. Then they checked their lamps to see how much oil they had. Now, a lamp without oil is like a candle without tallow, or a flashlight without batteries. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. Then, the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy oil for their lamps, the bridegroom arrived at the doors; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut, locked, barred, and bolted. No one else was going in that night! So, what happened to the foolish virgins? The answer is that they were excluded from the kingdom.

Afterward [when it was too late] came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Then, having made his point, Jesus warns his disciples: Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh. These two stories or parables address the situation of those that are prepared and those that are not prepared for the Lords coming. The use of the brides and bridegrooms in the second story would be instantly recognisable to a first century Palestinian, although two thousand years later it is unrecoverable to those not familiar with the marriage customs of that time. This is the custom to which Jesus refers in his parable. Wedding customs in ancient Palestine demanded greater than ordinary watchfulness and anticipation. The bride and groom did not travel for their honeymoon, but celebrated for a week among their family and friends. The custom was that the groom went to collect his bride at his own discretion to take her to the wedding party. There was no set time, so the wise bride made sure that all her essential preparations were in place lest she be called upon unawares and unready. If he came at night lamps were required. To show up for a wedding party at night without proper attire, such as a lamp and a wedding garment, is like showing up for an important event today which requires a reservation and a ticket. You just don't get in without the proper pass. Can you imagine the frustration one experiences in traveling abroad and finding out you can't get into some country because you don't have a valid passport or visa? Jesus warns us that there are consequences for being unprepared. Jesus stresses the similarities between wise and foolish servants, and wise and foolish brides, likening them to wise and foolish Christians that anticipate Christs return, but whereas the wise make early and appropriate preparations, the foolish fail to do so. It is a matter of the strength of an individual testimony and the importance to each of us in making ourselves ready for his coming.

Each class, servant, virgin, saint is expecting an important visitor, who, in the case of Christians is Jesus Christ. The question in each case, whether servant, bride, or disciple, is not: Who will be prepared? but rather, Who IS prepared? Jesus adds a dire warning when he describes the Day of his coming as terrible. By terrible we understand that that Day will strike terror into the hearts of some of mankind. But, which ones will experience his coming as a Great and terrible day, and which will experience that Day as one of Joy and Fulfilment? In these parables Jesus is giving instructions to the wise and to the foolish to make them prepared to be prepared for his coming, if they are not already prepared. Next, Jesus adds another warning in the shape of the parable of the talents, which was a certain weight of precious metal having a specific cash value. Note that in this parable Jesus identifies three servants. For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money. After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents besides them, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strewed or scattered: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that which is thine, in other words, here is your talent back just as you gave it to me with no profit! I hope you dont mind. His lord did mind and said to him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strewed: Thou oughtest, therefore, at least to have put my money in a deposit account exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with interest. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For, said Jesus, unto every one that hath developed his talents shall be given more, and he shall have abundance: but from him that has not developed his talents shall be taken away even that which he hath. So, cast the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Since it is likely that few of us have worked for an employer that doled out money and sent us forth to multiply it so that he could enjoy the profit, it might be difficult for us to put ourselves in the place of this mans servants. However, the parable is not about multiplying sums of cash, but about the condition in which we will return ourselves to Jesus either at his return, or when we stand before him in the event that we dies before his second coming. The proposition of the parable is that each individual that enters mortality does so with certain gifts, and that each person is not equally gifted but is uniquely gifted. Those of us that know Jesus Christ know that with our gifts and abilities comes the understanding that we will develop those gifts and capacities in order to bless others, discharge our duties as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ, and, thereby, fulfil the purposes for which we were born into mortality. The first two servants to give a reckoning before the Lord were able to say they had doubled the value of their talents, and for this accomplishment each of them received the same reward, which is, they were made rulers over many things, and were called to enter into the joy of the Lord, meaning that their calling and election was made sure in the kingdom of God by none other than the Lord Jesus Christ.

The case of the third man is different. He says he was afraid to risk expanding his talents and so he did nothing with them, which is the same as burying them in the ground. Jesus didnt care for his caution, because he did not develop his talents, and was an unprofitable servant whose sentence was not to enter into the joy of the lord but to enter forever that place called outer darkness. Jesus tells this story so that we can avoid sharing the same fate. Finally, Jesus lays out the case that, perhaps more than any other parable except, possibly that of the Good Samaritan, codifies the social behaviour of those of us that would enter into his rest. It is a story of separation and judgement like the foregoing have been, except that in this notification Jesus sets out principles that those that would be saved in the kingdom of God cannot neglect, except to their eternal damnation. When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Next, shall he say unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and

ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. Jesus is telling us that if we do not treat other people right and fill their needs, then it is as if we neglected him. He insists that when we give food to the hungry, clothing to the naked, shelter to the stranger, drink to the thirsty, or visit the sick or imprisoned, it is as if we do it directly to him, and our reward is salvation. But, if we neglect to do it unto the least of these, then it is as if we withheld needful things from the Saviour himself, and eternal punishment the reward of our selfish neglect. When Jesus comes again, or when we go to stand before him, and we give account to him of our lives, will we be as the wise and faithful servants, the wise virgins, the talent multipliers, and of the number of those whose hands are every day turned to bless their fellows, and who, in doing so, are worshipping God and his Christ? If we were called home in the next two minutes, would our account be ready to present to the Lord sure of his blessing? We have been warned, and better warned, and always for our blessing, to ensure our salvation, and to avoid spending eternity in the dark, hot place where our regrets are the constant theme of our thoughts, and our failure to trust heightens our disappointment because we know what might have been. It is our heavenly Fathers stated purpose to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life, and the Lords purpose in repeatedly warning us is so that we are not overtaken by events for which we have failed to prepare, and so that we can be prepared for eternal life and exaltation in Gods kingdom, having heeded the many

warnings, fled the wrath to come, and made ourselves at home in the place that our loving God has made for us in his many mansions that fill his holy dwelling place.