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Parables Bible Study 8: The Ten Virgins

Title: Parables Bible Study 8: The Ten Virgins

Subject: The Second Coming

Age: 13+ years

Location: Matthew 25: 1-13

Handout for note taking: Bible Study Worksheet

Begin the bible study with a prayer. Read the passage, and then allow time for quiet reflection. Share the following notes on the parable.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins is about the Second coming. The virgins represent the race of humanity, while the Bridegroom is Christ. This is a parable that led to the formation of services of anticipation and waiting, verse 6, "And at midnight a cry was heard: "Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!"

The parable factors heavily in the idea of Christian vigil services, which are held in the middle of the night. It also factors heavily in the services of Holy Week: Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday of Holy Week recount the coming of the Lord and the necessity for preparedness and watchfulness. These services of Holy Week are collectively known as the services of the Bridegroom.

Let's review the context of this parable. In Matthew 21 we read of our Lord's triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Upon entry our Lord is shown to be in direct confrontation with the religious leaders of the Jews: Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians. All of them were upset over the people's acclaim and ascribing of Messianic titles to Jesus. Chapters 21-25 of Matthew's Gospel are a continuous series of dialogues between Jesus and the leaders of the Jews. At task is Jesus' condemnation of their hypocritical and legalistic religion. Jesus condemns their duplicity, falseness, and unfaithfulness to God and the crimes they commit in God's name. This entire section seems to lead up to Matthew 25.31-46, the climax, and a little apocalypse.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins comes "in-between" Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, ch. 21, Palm Sunday, and His public trial, conviction, beating/scourging and crucifixion. Some argue that we find a synopsis of Jesus' teaching and message in this parable, namely that the Lord will return again in the parousia, and we must prepare for this event.

Matthew 24:44 is a key verse to the understanding and explanation of this parable. It must be kept in the background of our minds as we explore this passage. "Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect." Other key verses to understanding this passage in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 24:

  • "And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Take heed that no one deceives you.'" v4.
  • "For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, eve the elect." V24
  • "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only." v36.

There are two obvious meanings of this parable:
"The obvious meaning of this parable is that the person who has [their] faith in our Lord Jesus Christ must always live in expectation of His coming again, in a state of readiness.[1]"

It is also obvious that this parable is connected with the parable of the Judgment, of the sheep and goats.

In terms of symbolism from the parable, what can be gleaned from the Lord's use of virgins in this parable? Virginity is a state highly esteemed in scripture, see 1 Corinthians 7:25 – ff, and Matthew 19:12. We can speak of virginity allegorically or symbolically; to do so would be profitable but we can not ignore the high value placed on virginity in the Christian tradition in the literal sense. In the literal sense, a connection is made between virginity and purity, and a connection is made between virginity and watchfulness, a state of preparation. This being said, we must also see that virginity is a way of speaking about one's spiritual condition, of stressing the importance of spiritual purity, and a spiritual watchfulness and preparation.

Oil is also a symbol in this parable. In Greek the ancient word for oil was "elaion" while the word for mercy was "eleos." Even in English we can see their close similarity in spelling and sound. A very practical use for oil is understood within this parable; it is needed to light the lamps. At the same time we must see beyond the mundane and practical use of the oil, otherwise this story appears to be more about the obstinacy or mean spirited behavior of five virgins; why didn't they just share? After all that seems to be the Christian thing to do.

However, there is a symbolic meaning for oil. In the Fathers and Saints of the Church oil comes to symbolize good works, almsgiving, help for the needy and humaneness. Oil is compassion and the interior quality of being illumined that the five wise virgins had attained through their good works, acts of love and mercy prompted by their faith. They have joined to their faith good works.

See Luke 6.46, "But why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord," and not do the things which I say?" Oil is the holiness and this can't be shared, only acquired. God is holy and He requires of His people that they too become holy like He. The word holy in Greek is "ayios" and compound word, pre-fix a, meaning not, and yee, meaning earth. To be holy is to be not of this world.
A hymn from the Bridegroom service of Holy Week:

  • "Let they lamp shine brightly, O my soul; and, like the lamps of the five virgins, may it overflow with the oil of compassion; and so thou shall find open before thee the door of Christ's bridal chamber."

In verses 9 and 10, we hear how five virgins went to purchase oil, a last minute rush. A last ditch or token effort to serve the poor will not suffice, nor can those who have served the needy transfer their credit to those who have ignored the poor.

This powerful image of Christ as the Bridegroom helps us to better understand how our souls will and should relate to the Lord:

  • Our beloved
  • And likewise we are loved
  • A union of deep intimacy and connection
  • Union with Christ is like a wedding, and the wedding feast.

Additionally, He is delayed in His coming, and He comes in the middle of the night, v. 6. The depiction of the Bridegroom is that of Christ in His passion who dies out of love for His Bride, the Church. See Ephesians 5.25-27:
"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish."

Ideas about the Kingdom seem best connected to a wedding feast, a party, a gathering. The Old Testament prophets certainly "portray the covenant between God and Israel as a marriage covenant. The marriage will finally be consummated when the Bridegroom returns at the end of the age and the righteous form a wedding party to go forth to meet Him.[2]" What do we know about the Second Coming, the end? First we must realize that the Church says very little about the end, however, she is certain of a few things.

  • First, no one knows the time nor the hour of the end, Mk 13.32.
  • Next, there will be a general falling away of faith before Christ comes, 2 Thessalonians 2.3-4.
  • Finally, before Christ's return the Anti-Christ will appear, 2 Thess 2.3-4.

When Christ does appear we know that He will come again physically to judge the living and the dead. Everyone will be brought forward to be judged based upon their works, Romans 2.6-10. Some western Christians falsely teach that the elect will not have to undergo the Day of Judgment; such teaching is unfounded and directly contradicts scripture.

What happens after we die? Think of a soccer tournament; we know whether we have won or lost, yet we don't receive our trophy until the end banquet. When we die, our body dies, but not our soul. Yet the body will be resurrected so that we can as a psychosomatic whole, experience the joy of the Uncreated Glory of God. The soul does not go to sleep or into limbo, it grows eternally towards God, while feeling satisfied at the same time, a sort of paradox of feeling complete and evolving eternally.

There will be a new heaven and a new earth. What is heaven? It is not just a place but a relationship. What is hell? We are not sent there, so much as we choose it. When we meet God, we will either say to Him, thy will be done, or He will say to us, your will be done. There is a sense that the love of God is the same in heaven as it is in hell. We experience that love as joy in heaven but as pain in hell.

At this time, read the passages once more and allow time for quiet reflection. If there is time, you may have a discussion about the parable.

End the bible study with a prayer.

[1] The Parables, Archbishop Dmitri, p. 47.
[2] The Orthodox Study Bible, notes on the parable of the Ten Virgins, p. 68

Prepared by Fr. Evan Armatas

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