(1) Introduction.

When a man got married in the time of Jesus he organised a wedding banquet to be held in the house he had bought or built for himself and his new wife. He journeyed to his wife's parent's home to escort his beloved to the wedding banquet. The ten virgins could have been waiting to accompany the groom to his wife's home and then back to the wedding feast. The other possibility is that they were just waiting to escort the groom and bride from the bride's home to the banquet.

The difference is of some significance when it comes to explaining why the groom was so late. He could have been delayed by the antics of some of his male guests before he left his new house. Even today it has been known for a marriage to be disrupted by the best man and his allies. But the other possibility is that he got to his wife's parent's home on time only to be delayed there. His parents-in-law may have hidden their daughter to show how reluctant they were to part with her; to demonstrate how much they loved and valued her.

The ten virgins with their lamps probably expected the bridegroom to appear from one direction or the other in the evening - in good time for the wedding banquent. They hadn't reckoned on him to be delayed for so long by the antics of others.

The delay was so long and tedious that the virgins fell asleep. They were not blamed for this. It didn't matter because the bridegroom was accompanied by a herald who announced his coming. What did matter was that five of the virgins had not brought reserves of oil for their lamps. They did not have enough left in their lamps to accompany the groom and his bride to the wedding banquet. The consequences for them were disastrous - they forfeited their right of entry to the feast.

Jesus told this parable to illustrate certain truths about the kingdom of heaven - the heavenly king and his faithful subjects. The main point Jesus makes in this rather severe parable is that NOW is the time to get prepared for his coming again. It will be too late to prepare for his coming after he actually appears.

(2) The state of the virgins at the bridegroom's appearance.

All the virgins were asleep. This is not something they were blamed for. The fact is that the greater part of Christ's subjects will be dead when he comes again. They will be asleep. Only a fraction of believers will be alive at the second coming of Jesus. So, the parable teaches us that we must get ready for Christ's return BEFORE we die.

It may not be possible to predict the day or the hour of Christ's return. However we know that prophecy must be fulfilled before the end of the age. It remains for the Jews to repent and be converted. The cosmic signs of Christ's coming will be a final warning that the end is nigh. But as far as death is concerned it can come without any warning. I am alive today as I write this but I could be dead tomorrow. This means we should ALWAYS be ready for death and the second coming.

In my final years as a teacher schools were given little warning of a short Ofsted inspection. Once the inspection was announced the teachers did not have time to get ready - they needed to be ready before the inspection was announced. The great advantage of spot inspections is that they discover how things usually are.

(3) How to be ready.

The wise virgins had a reserve of oil for their lamps. They were equipped to please the bridegroom and light his way to the wedding banquet. The wise young ladies were prepared to meet the bridegroom. They satisfied the conditions for entry into the feast.

It is important to live in the NOW:

  • Now is the time to show appreciation.

  • Now is the time to tell your wife how much you love her.

  • Now is the time to pay your parents a visit.

If you don't do it NOW - you may be too late!

After Christmas I received a letter from an old pupil of 20 years ago. The letter contained a more than generous appreciation of my abilities as a teacher. It brought a tear to my eye. I am glad my pupil wrote to me in the now - before it is too late. Tributes at my funeral - supposing them to be forthcoming - will do me no good.

It is vital that in the here and now we trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: Behold, now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation. 2Cor6v2. AV. But it also necessary to be living aright in the here and now. We should be living by kingdom values - the Beatitudes; we should be laying up treasure in heaven; See Lk12v13. we should be making our calling and election sure. See 2Petv5to10. Perhaps the biggest challenge is found in what Paul writes to the Corinthians about approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; by pureness, by knowledge, be longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth ... . 2Cor6v4to10. See exposition on 2Cor6v3to13.

(4) Why didn't the foolish virgins provide themselves with a reserve of oil.

There are several reasons:

(a) It required too much effort and expense to fill their flasks with oil. Olive oil was not cheap.

It requires a lot of effort to be a true disciple of Jesus - to practice what he taught! Jesus Sermon on the Mount is very, very demanding.

(b) The reserve of oil might, on the balance of probability, not be needed.

Some Christians are under the misapprehension that because salvation is by grace there is nothing they need do. This ignores most of Christ's teaching recorded by Matthew which suggests there is plenty to do. He said: "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus by their fruit you will recognise them." Mt7v19and20.

(c) Perhaps the five foolish virgins were guilty of wishful thinking. They probably thought the oil in their lamps would be enough. They had the same attitude as the car driver whose petrol gauge stands at, 'Empty,' but who keeps going believing there is enough in the tank to get him home! Or to take another example: many of my pupils through the years thought they could pass their GCSE Geography exam with flying colours without any revision.

Plenty of folk are guilty of wishful thinking so far as their eternal wellbeing is concerned. They have lived respectable lives and that should be sufficient to earn them a place in paradise!

(d) Doubtless the foolish virgins thought they knew best. Perhaps the wise virgins had warned them to bring a reserve - but to no avail. The foolish girls knew it all.

Many years ago now I used to take my A level Geography students to the upland regions of England to do field work. In the early days quite a lot of my Suffolk sixth formers had no experience of mountains. So I gave them a lot of advice on clothing and footwear suitable for the conditions. I shall never forget watching Susan Carruthers tottering over a Cumbrian boulder field in high-heeled shoes! She had paid no heed to her teacher; the sweet young thing new best!

Lots and lots of people in England know best when it comes to their eternal wellbeing. It will be enough to believe in God a little, to attend church occasionally, to work hard and provide for the children. No attention is paid to what Jesus said about being totally committed to him: to deny ourselves, to take up the cross and follow him.

(5) The inflexible deadline.

Miss a deadline and you miss an opportunity. Deadlines exist in all walks of life: a deadline for submitting a news item to a newspaper; a deadline up to which goods are on special offer, a deadline by which GCSE Geography projects need to be handed in; a deadline after which old currency is no longer legal tender; a deadline for making application for a job.

Up until the deadline, opportunity exists but once the deadline is reached opportunity is lost. For most of us the deadline for making preparation for Jesus' second coming is death. This is what Jesus taught when his disciples asked about the man born blind. He said: "As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work." John9v4. We must work for Jesus while it is still day - while we are still alive. It will be too late to make ready after death and at the return of Jesus.

The five foolish virgins had money for oil; they had the resources but had not used them to make ready for the arrival of the bridegroom. So they hurried off to buy oil in the middle of the night when shop keepers would be fast asleep. By the time the virgins arrived at the wedding banquet their lamps were no longer required. They were too late, the deadline had passed; the door was shut.

Some might argue that the dying thief on the cross made scant preparation for Christ's return. He didn't lay up much treasure in heaven. The thief, along with his companion in crime, hurled insults at the crucified Christ. However, in the space of a short period of time one of those thieves repented, believed, witnessed to his fellow thief and showed every confidence in Jesus as king. Lk22v39to42. He provided a gleam of light on the darkest day of human history. The thief who repented beat the deadline. He took steps to prepare for Christ's coming into his kingdom.

It is a dreadful thing to leave it too late - to miss the deadline and to find the door to the wedding banquet shut.

(6) Some things cannot be shared.

The foolish virgins discovered that their lamps were going out and, lacking a reserve of oil, asked the well-prepared, prudent virgins for some of theirs. The request was denied because it was unlikely that there was enough oil to keep all ten lamps alight during the procession of bride and groom to the wedding banquet.

William Barclay observes in his commentary on this passage: A man cannot borrow a relationship with God; he must possess it. A man cannot borrow a character; he must be clothed with it. We cannot always be living on the spiritual capital which others have amassed. There are certain things which we must win or possess for ourselves, for we cannot borrow them from others.

(7) Disowned in perpetuity.

The five foolish virgins knocked on the closed door to the wedding feast only to hear the bridegroom say: "I tell you the truth, I don't know you."

Sometimes I am asked by an old teaching colleague, "Can you remember Sally Smith?" I may have taught Sally years ago but I have no memory of her. She made no lasting impression upon me. There was nothing remarkable about her work, her attitude or her appearance. I don't know her.

Five foolish virgins made no impression upon the bridegroom. They were not present when they were needed. They did not do the work expected of them. The way was darker for their absence. The foolish virgins played no part in the preparations for the wedding feast and so they forfeited the right of entry.

The five unwise virgins had not acted as loyal subjects of the king. They forfeited the benefits of the kingdom of heaven by failing in their obligations to the king. Jesus makes it clear what he wants of his subjects. He wants them to do the will of his Father in heaven. Those who fail will hear the grim words of judgment: "I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers." Mt7v15to23.

It is terrible to think that at Jesus' second coming he would have to say to us: "I don't know you. I am afraid you have done absolutely nothing to capture my attention. Never once did a good deed of yours get credited to your heavenly account."

There was no way for the foolish virgins to gain admittance to the wedding banquet. The opportunity to impress the bridegroom had passed. The day of Grace was over. The deadline missed and the consequence tragic: barred from eternal bliss.

If we use the opportunities Jesus gives us to serve and please him then at the final assessment of our worth we shall hear the Master say: "Well done good and faithful servant." See Mt25v14to30