Those who have been a part of the Church have most likely heard the parable of the ten virgins. What the majority of Christians don’t realise, is Jesus is referring to two groups of people within the church at the end of the age: the wise and the foolish. The end of the age is now; we are transitioning into the Millennial Kingdom and Jesus is warning His Church, the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-27) to not become lazy with their salvation (Philippians 2:12) and clearly shows us that a simple “sinners’ prayer” is not going to cut it.
First, let’s take a look at the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus gives this parable to His disciples:
“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. “And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps.
And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’
But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming. (Matthew 25:1-13)
A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. (1) Jesus spoke in parables throughout His whole ministry on the earth (Matthew 13:34), to determine who had (spiritual) eyes to see and ears to hear, to give them the understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 13:10-11). We cannot fall into the trap that Jesus was just telling a story, no, it’s a warning to the church for those with illuminated understanding. According to the scripture above, the difference between the wise and foolish was the possession of oil. Those without oil Jesus calls foolish and to be foolish means to be morally worthless, concerning heart and character. (2) The word for “oil” means “As oil is used to give light, so the Holy Spirit enlightens men’s hearts concerning their need of God, namely Jesus Christ.” (3) The oil is referring to the Holy Spirit, the teacher and counsellor (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit is what enlightens us to the understanding of the revelation of Christ. It is much more than just knowing we need Jesus, as we will discover in the writings of the Early Church.
From the Constitutions of the Apostles we start to get a deeper understanding of what was missing in the foolish virgins:
. . . the Divine Word exhorts, speaking to thee by the wise Solomon, “Prepare thy works against thy exit, and provide all beforehand in the field,” (Pro 24:27) lest some of the things necessary to thy journey be wanting; as the oil of piety was deficient in the five foolish virgins (Mat 25:1-46) mentioned in the Gospel, when they, on account of their having extinguished their lamps of divine knowledge, were shut out of the bride-chamber. (4)
Here we read that the oil of piety was missing from the foolish. Another word for piety is virtue, (5) which speaks of the character of Christ. A little further along the same passage states that the foolish were devoid of divine knowledge. If we call ourselves Christian’s and profess to know Jesus, the Divine, how is it that we can be lacking divine knowledge? Unless we have a wrong understanding of what divine knowledge is?
Origen, a third-century Early Church Father explains how divine knowledge is more than just knowing of, or about Jesus, or simply understanding a Christian concept:
But as long as the lamp of the faithful shines ‘before men’ after the Word has been received ‘so that they see their good works and glorify their Father who is in heaven’, (Mt 5:16) these are the ‘wise’ who take oil as fuel for their lamp, that is, the Word of doctrine, which is always poured on good actions, and they fill the vessels of their souls from this Word from instructors and teachers who sell that which is sufficient for them even if the departure is delayed and the Word lingers and comes at the time of their consummation, so that they hasten there, perfected and situated beyond the world. But the ‘foolish’ are all who had no concern after they began to be Christians to take as much instruction from the Word as would suffice for them to endure until the end, and who neglected the reception of teaching that would reinforce their faith, and the lamp of good actions that would illuminate it (For what is so reinforcing as a moral discourse that is called the oil of the lamp?). These took lamps lit, indeed, at first, but ‘they did not take oil’ for so great a journey when they went forth to meet the bridegroom. (6)
Origen explains that the wise, or the faithful, are those who are constantly receiving true doctrine, or the revelation of the Word and applying it in their daily life. This is true divine knowledge, where the knowledge, or understanding of the virtue of Christ brings transformation to the soul. On the other hand, the foolish are those who profess Christ and might even continue to receive knowledge of the Word of God, but not enough to keep changing them from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). They do not apply the Word they understand to their everyday walk.
More from Origen…
The ‘kingdom of heaven’ is compared to ‘ten virgins’ in all, who have come to know the Word of God. And if, in fact, there are among them some who believe and live correctly and are, therefore, justly compared to the five wise virgins, and others who profess faith in Jesus but do not prepare themselves for salvation by good works, it is not unreasonable to say that they are the understandings of all who have learned divine teachings in whatever way they have received the Word of God, ‘whether in pretext or in truth’, (Phil 1:18) since virgins are made virgins by the Word of God in whom they have believed or wish to believe. (7)
Origen plainly states above that all ten virgins are souls who have come to know the Word of God, not people living in the world. Belief in the Early Church wasn’t just to understand and agree with something. Origen shows us here that to believe the word is to live by it. He also states that salvation comes by good works, which is very contradictory to a lot of Christian theology today, but lines up completely with Scripture (see Matthew 5:16, Ephesians 2:10, Titus 2:7, Hebrews 10:24).
There is no disputing that the wise and the foolish are two groups of people in the Church, at the end of the age. Based on whether we are faithful in storing up oil (walking out the Word, or not), is entirely conducive to our salvation. The wise are those with true knowledge of Christ which is understanding who He is and being transformed into His image (2 Cor 3:18). The foolish are those who profess to know the revelation of the Word but are not changing into His image. Let us press on toward the goal for the high calling and not be caught lacking the transformation that comes by the Holy Spirit.
1. Thayer’s Greek definitions: ‘Parable’ (G3850)
2. Complete Word Study Bible: ‘Foolish’ (G3474)
3. Complete Word Study Bible: ‘Oil’ (G1637)
4. Constitutions of the Apostles, Book 2, Pt 1, Ch XIII
5. Merriam Webster Dictionary: ‘Pious’
6. Origen, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Ch 25
7. Origen, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Ch 25
All scripture references from The Holy Bible: New King James Version: NKJV. Thomas Nelson, 2010, unless stated otherwise.