“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins ...” (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. 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. 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.’ 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. Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’ But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’ Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” (Matt. 25:1-13)

What does Jesus' parable of the ten virgins mean?

Jesus' parable is discussing spiritual life using an analogy. He spoke this during a time when an eligible bachelor would be greeted by potential wives - who according to custom were also virgins. The meeting would allow the bachelor to choose his wife or wives from among the group of maidens.

In Jesus' parable, he divides the ten virgins or maidens into two groups. One group took extra oil out with their lamps when they went to meet the bridegroom.

The other group of maidens did not bring any extra oil with their lamps. This means they only had the oil that was in the lamp.

As shown below, the analogy or parable is being used by Jesus to encourage his followers to redevelop their relationship with God.

The symbolism Jesus is using illustrates the mistake we can make in the physical world if we are not prepared to reconnect with the Supreme Being. If we are not resolute in this effort, according to Jesus our time will be wasted.

Let's discuss the symbolism of this analogical story - or parable - of the ten virgins and the bridegroom: 

Who are the 'virgins'?

The virgins represent each of us in Jesus' parable. We are each spiritual beings who were created by God to care for Him and exchange a relationship of loving service with Him. However, God also gave us the freedom to love Him or not. Love without freedom isn't really love after all.

Yet because love is part of our essence, each of us is constantly looking for love.

This is why the virgins were anxious to meet up with the bridegroom, just as we are all anxiously looking for someone to love.

They all fell asleep symbolizes how many of us have fallen asleep spiritually. Some of us may wake up and search for God.

Notice that some of the virgins missed the bridegroom because they were searching for oil. This symbolizes how some of us miss finding God because we are looking for love and happiness elsewhere among the people and places of the physical world.

Who is the 'bridegroom'?

The bridegroom in Jesus' parable represents the Supreme Being. God gathers up those who have used their physical lives to redevelop their loving relationship with Him. God wants all of us back, but only those who choose to return to Him become ready to resume our natural position of being His loving servants: Only these are let back.

This is because God only wants us back if we want to return to Him - and become committed. He never forces Himself upon us. If we want to continue our self-centered existence trying to enjoy ourselves and ignore Him, then we simply are not prepared to return to God. 

Those of us on this path remain in this hellish physical world by continuing to take on other physical bodies. This fate is symbolized by the five virgins that didn't have enough oil and had to go get some, thereby missing the arrival of the bridegroom.

What do the lamps and the oil symbolize?

The lamps of Jesus' parable symbolize the ability of those who love God to gain knowledge. Light has been used by Jesus in other analogies to represent wisdom, because with light one can see in the dark.

This physical world is in darkness because our senses and mind block the spiritual vision of our spirit-person. The concept of light in the darkness is analogous to being given the vision to understand God and the spiritual realm. 

Light also symbolizes the ability to help others with that wisdom. Those who have redeveloped their relationship with God can help others see - and gain wisdom.

The oil for the lamps symbolizes our relationship with God. No oil signifies no relationship, or a relationship of disdain, doubt or simply a state of ignoring the Supreme Being. Those of us who try hard to ignore God and His various lessons and signals throughout life have no oil, and thus give off no real light.

Jesus was very clear about this message. He didn't teach love of God just to entertain himself or be trendy. Many sectarian teachers focus on Jesus as though his mission was to die for our sins. This couldn't be further from the truth. Why did Jesus bother to teach, then? If the death of his physical body saves everyone, why did he spend years traveling the countryside preaching to people then?

And why did Jesus tell his disciples to also go out and teach to others, then?

This teaching that Jesus died for our sins avoids the necessity of this parable. Sure, we want an easy way out. We want to continue being focused upon ourselves and the goodies of the physical world, and then spend an hour in church on Sunday making sure that Jesus' death cleared out all our sins. The problem is, Jesus himself clarified that this would not work:
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" (Matthew 7:21-23)
Notice Jesus refers to "that day" in this statement, just as he does above. Again, Jesus is talking about that moment in time when we must face God and/or His angels - the moment after the death of this physical body.

What is 'the day or the hour'?

After Jesus' parable, he comments, "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” What does this mean?

The parable spoken by Jesus is yet another analogy that explains the importance of our preparation for the moment of death. "At that time" refers to the time of death, just as "the day or the hour."

Many sectarian interpreters have taught that Jesus is referring to some time in the future where the world will end, and he'll come galloping through the sky to save those who have followed him.

This speculative interpretation has many holes, however. Remember that Jesus is discussing this privately with a few of his close disciples. Now if we consider that the world has yet to end, some two thousand years later, how are these disciples supposed to remain prepared, having died two thousand years before?

Some sectarian teachers have tried to cover this inconsistency by creating a fictitious "purgatory" state, where everyone who has died before the world ends supposedly waits. How are they waiting? And what are these billions of people doing while they wait? Just standing around, like its a cocktail party or something?

Some sectarians have supposed that people will be waiting in their graves for this end of the world scenario. In what form will they be waiting? Their bodies have thoroughly decomposed. For most, even their bones are now part of the surrounding soil.

In fact, many of Jesus' disciples that he was speaking to here, as did many Jews during the Jewish-Roman wars that Jesus foretold, were burned in fires, as the Romans burnt down Jerusalem and many other villages throughout the region. These burnt bodies decomposed even more quickly. Their remains are thus part of today's dirt of that region - all soil is made up of decomposed dead organisms.

Rather, Jesus is discussing the moment of death: That moment when each spirit-person within the physical body leaves that body.

Why is the time of death important?

Jesus discussed the time of death in his teachings frequently. Why?

Every body in the physical world will die. Every person will experience the moment of death within a few decades at least. Some of us will experience the moment of death within a few years, some even a few months, weeks or even days. Are we prepared for that moment?

This is the point of Jesus' discussion here.

A significant amount of evidence from scripture indicates - and clinical death experiences confirm - that just following the moment of death, we will be judged on the results of our physical lifetimes. Our lives will be reviewed, including every event that hurt someone and every event that helped someone.

As such, the moment of death has been called "Judgement Day" and the day we "Meet our Maker".

More importantly, our spiritual progress will be reviewed at the time of death. Did we use our lives to redevelop our relationship with God? Or did we squander our lives away chasing after money, fame, the opposite sex and other accomplishments that all vanish upon the moment of death?

Our spiritual accomplishments during this lifetime are permanent, however.

In Matthew 7:21 above, Jesus spoke of doing the "will of my Father who is in heaven". This means developing a loving service relationship with God.

It is not as if we simply do what God wants so that we get something in return. It is not a business transaction. It is supposed to be love. Doing what pleases another is part of a loving relationship.

If we love someone, we don't do what pleases them so we get something in return. We do what pleases them because we love them and care for them.

Jesus is asking us to redevelop our loving relationship with God. This was Jesus' most important teaching, and the teaching that if we follow will indeed save us:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-40)