What is the meaning of the parable Matthew 25:1-13? In particular, what was the purpose of 10 virgins visiting the bridegroom?
In the marriage customs of Jesus’ day, after a period of betrothal (generally about a year), there would be a ceremony (always held at night) in which the groom would come for his bride and escort her to the wedding feast. The bride and her bridesmaids awaited the bridegroom as soon as it began to get dark. When the bridegroom came, the wedding procession would begin. As the procession approached the groom’s house (or his father’s house, depending upon where the feast was held), others came out with lamps to meet the procession. All went into the wedding feast together and the doors were closed. In the story of Matthew 25, the bridegroom delayed and 5 virgins were not prepared for that delay. As they went off to get more oil, the bridegroom came, the procession took place, and the doors were shut.
In its context, Matthew 25 follows the discourse of Jesus regarding the destruction of Jerusalem in chapter 24 (there were no chapter/verse divisions in the original texts). The Jerusalem destruction is typical of all of God’s judgments, including the final judgment when Christ will return. The parable of the bridegroom illustrates what Jesus meant in 24:45-51: while the master is gone, be sure to keep His house in order, because when He comes, He will call us into account for the things we’ve done and said while we were in the flesh (2 Cor. 5:10, for example). Although the specific interpretation of this parable is not given here, there is enough information from the other parables as well as other Scriptures to understand what is being illustrated:
In Ephesians 1:23, the church (Gr., “assembly”) is defined as the “body” of Christ. Later, in chapter 5:22-33 Christ and His church are compared with a husband and his wife. Note that in verse 31, Genesis 2:24 is quoted, where it is stated that in a marriage “two become one.” The meaning is that as man and women are joined together in marriage, so also are Christ and His assembly—His church—joined together. In Rev.21:2, the “new Jerusalem” is described as the bride of Christ. This is important! Jesus had just been referring to the destruction of the “old Jerusalem” in Matthew 24 (His prophecy was fulfilled in 70 AD when the Romans completely destroyed the city and its temple), and in chapter 25, He speaks of a wedding. Galatians 4:26-28 says that the Christian’s “Jerusalem” is in heaven, not earth, because Christians are “children of promise” (vs 28). This final “union” will occur when Christ comes again (1 Thess. 4:1-18; Heb. 9:27-28).
The symbols used in the parables must never be stretched beyond their general intentions (everything in the parable is not necessarily symbolic of something). The general intention here is to “be ready for the wedding.” The fact is, all those who have obeyed the gospel of Christ are members of His body. The Lord Himself “adds together (to His church)” those who are saved (Acts 2:47). These will inherit His kingdom if they remain faithful unto death. In this case the “ten virgins” are not to be viewed as mere “observers” to the wedding, but as actually participating in the blessings of it.
By Doug Focht