The Parables of Jesus
by E.H. ‘Jack’ Sequeira

The Parable of the 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, whoever, 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.

This parable has to do with a wedding feast.  In this parable, we are told that the bridal party had to wait and, while this parable has been applied to what we call “The Midnight Cry” in the history of the Adventist church, if you look at the parable in its context, you will discover that Christ was applying this parable in reference to His second coming.

Now the Millerites were not wrong, because they linked it to the second coming.  They were wrong only in the date.  It is important as we look at this parable that we look at the context.  Remember that in the days when the Bible was written, they did not use chapter and verse division.  So this parable is really an extension, an expounding of what Christ has already touched on in chapter 24, especially from verse 26 onwards where He deals with the fact that when Christ comes the second time, even the believers will be caught off guard unless they are watching.

Let me give you the closing verses of Matthew 24 to give you an idea of the setting, because you will notice as you read these verses that this parable is dealing with these two groups within the church.  I’m going to read Matthew 24:44-51:

So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him [remember, he’s talking to believers].
Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the amster has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time?  It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.  I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.  But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, “My master is staying away a long time,” and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards.  The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of.  He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Then He says,

At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.

Notice, this is the context.  Now I think you need to know some of the background.  First of all it was quite common in the days of Christ among the common people, not among the wealthy, to have weddings at night.  It is unheard of here but it was common there.  There were two reasons.  Number one:  It was quite hot in the Middle East, especially some months of the year, so they preferred to have weddings at night when it was cool.  The rich could have it in the daytime because they had people to fan the guests.  But the poor could not afford the fanning.  Number two:  It was quite common for the bride and the bridesmaids to wait for the groom to come.

Here is the situation.  There was no public transportation in those days.  The wedding was held in the home of the bride.  The husband or the groom may have come from a long distance.  He had to travel either by foot or by horseback or by donkey or, if he was wealthy, by chariot.  But this wasn’t such a wedding.  It was a common wedding.  History tells us that sometimes the waiting of the bride and the bridesmaids would last two solid weeks.  Can you ladies imagine waiting for two weeks?  The groom normally gets jittery knees when the wife is late.  When I got married, my wife Jean was caught up in a crowd that was just coming out of a soccer game.  It was a very important soccer game which in England is a big thing.  I began to wonder if she had changed her mind.  Can you imagine waiting two weeks?

The reason I am mentioning this is because the bride’s party, the ten virgins, were all aware of this fact.  Keep this in mind.  All of them were looking forward to the coming of the groom.  All of them were aware of the delays that could take place.  All of them had lamps because that is the way you welcome the groom.  Now the Middle East lamp was very small.  You could hold it in your hand.  It was a clay pot with a wick and the oil in it would last only for a short period of time.  So it was wise to carry some extra oil with you.

The parable tells us that all of the ten virgins went to sleep.  We human beings have a very hard time waiting.  Patience is not one of our virtues.  Remember in the garden of Gethsemane in Matthew 26:40-41, what did the three disciples do while Jesus was praying in agony?

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping.  “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.  “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation....”

They went to sleep.  And Jesus said,

The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.

I told the children a story about how it is easy for us to sleep.  One day I was traveling in Kenya on my motorcycle.  I was doing 65-75 miles per hour and, believe it or not, I went to sleep.  You may think that is impossible but I was on the road for eight hours and I was drowsing.  I went to sleep and when I woke up there right in front of me was a huge elephant.

Well, I’m glad it wasn’t the second coming of Christ.  It took all my wit and I had to be calm because this wasn’t tarmac road.  This was very loose sand and there were two deep ruts where the trucks had gone.  I was in one rut and the elephant was covering both the ruts so I had to climb over the sandhill.  You try that and the moment you slow your bike down you’ve had it.  So I had to open up the throttle and climb that sand hill.  When I passed him, I could just barely touch him.  I said, “That’s what happens when you go to sleep.”

But all ten virgins went to sleep until the announcement was made that he was coming and this was a common part of their culture.  They would have a scout waiting at a distance looking for the coming of the bridegroom’s party and he would come running and announce it.  That’s why we link this with the midnight cry when Samuel Snow changed the date and said, “He’s coming on October 22.”  That was the midnight cry.

So far, outwardly, there was no difference between the five wise and the five foolish virgins.  They were all sleeping.  They looked alike.  They were dressed all in the same uniforms.  You can never tell who will be able to stand from the outward appearance because they all looked alike.  It’s only when the announcement was made and they woke up that we see a difference and the difference is within.  One group was wise enough to have extra oil with them; the other was not.  Remember that both groups knew that the delay could take place.

Now the big question is, “What did the oil represent?”  Most people would immediately say the oil represents the Holy Spirit and that is right, but there is the context that we must be clear on.  The oil does represent the Holy Spirit but it represents the Holy Spirit dwelling in you by faith.  I want to give you a couple of texts that will help you.  Turn to 2 Corinthians 4:7.  I want to read a statement there made by the great apostle Paul:

But we have this treasure [which is Christ in you and Christ in you is by the Holy Spirit] in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

The second passage I would like to read is Ephesians 3.  I want to remind you of the background that caused the apostle Paul to make this statement.  Ephesians was a prison letter.  Paul had witnessed — preached — at Ephesus for approximately three years.  It was the longest time he had ever spent in one area.  Then he was taken prisoner, not for some crime he had committed but for preaching the gospel to the Gentile world.  While in prison, he wrote this letter and, in chapter 3, he shares with the Ephesian Christians his concern.  What was this concern?

The Ephesians Christians came to reason this way.  They said, “If God cannot protect the great apostle Paul who is now languishing in a Roman prison, what hope is there for us lay people?”  So they began to lose confidence in the gospel and in Christ.  Paul heard about this and he writes to them of his concern in Ephesians 3:13:

I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

“Please don’t get discouraged; I am in prison because God wants me there.”

If you read this letter, you will notice that he never calls himself a prisoner of Rome.  He calls himself “a prisoner of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  For example, look at Ephesians 4:1:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

He says don’t faint because I am in prison for preaching Christ.  Then he says in Ephesians 3:14:

For this reason [because you are discouraged] I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.

He is praying earnestly and this is his prayer.  Verse 16:

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being....

That’s the oil dwelling in the inner man and Paul’s prayer is that we should be strengthened with might through the Spirit who dwells in us.  But the very next verse he switches from the Spirit to Christ.  Verse 17: that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith....

To Paul the Spirit dwelling in you and Christ dwelling in you are synonymous. You’ll find it in many places, for example, Romans 8:9-10 makes it absolutely clear that Christ dwells in the believer.

You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.  And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.  But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive becasuse of righteousness.

The oil, which is the Holy Spirit — which represents Christ also — dwells in you through the Holy Spirit and Paul is saying that his prayer is twofold.  The Spirit dwelling in you may strengthen you and this is only when Christ dwells in you by faith.  Now the word “dwell” — in the Greek there are two words for dwelling — is very important because Paul uses the word that means, “to dwell permanently.”

The Bible never preaches “once saved, always saved,” even though this bush preacher has been falsely accused of doing it.  I would recommend that those who have accused this bush preacher of it to read the reformed position of what the basis of this teaching (once saved, always saved) is.  It is based on predestination.  It is not based on justification by faith.

The idea of “once saved, always saved” is based on the fact that God has predetermined some people to be saved and some people to be lost — they call them reprobates — and that if you have been chosen to be saved you can never be lost because God is sovereign and what He chooses will happen.  This is a far cry from justification by faith.  Christ dwells in us by faith.  Is it possible for your faith to be destroyed?  The answer is, “Yes.”  The moment you say good-bye to your faith, you are saying good-bye to Christ.  Remember, the oil is in you by faith.

Because the groom had not come early enough, the virgins went to sleep.  There is no rebuke in the parable against them sleeping.  The rebuke is that they did not have oil.  Their faith dwindled away while they were waiting.  That is why I read to you Matthew 24:48.  These foolish servants which represent the foolish virgins are saying, “My lord delays his coming.  Let us go back to the world, enjoy ourselves, and, when we hear the announcement, we can come back.”

In Ethiopia, one young man at college told me, “Pastor, I’m young; I really want to enjoy life.  When I get your age, I’ll accept Christ.”  I said, “What guarantee do you have that you will reach my age?”  He said, “No problem.  I will reach your age; don’t worry.”  But he did not reach my age.  He was killed in the Marxist revolution in Ethiopia.  I hope that he had accepted Christ.  I was not there when he died.

There are two things that Christ is concerned about here:

  1. The coming of Christ will take even God’s people off guard.

  2. Only those whose faith has endured unto the end will be able to meet Him.

The plea of this is that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.  I want to turn to two passages regarding this.  Matthew 24 is in the context of the second coming.  While the delay takes place, the believers may be sleeping, but the devil will not be sleeping.  Because he is not sleeping, wickedness will increase and, because wickedness will increase, Jesus says in Matthew 24:12:

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold....

The love of His truth, the love of His coming, will grow cold.

The other passage is also dealing with the second coming of Christ and is found in Luke 21:34-36:

“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.  For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth [notice all will be taken by surprise].  Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

The only way you will be counted worthy is by faith alone.

Jesus is saying in this parable that even Seventh-day Adventists — remember, these ten virgins represent not only believers but believers who are waiting for the groom, so they are Adventist believers — will be taken off-guard.  The devil loves to have us predict specifically that certain events will take place and for us to think it will come.  Right now there is a movement that says that Christ will come in a Jubilee year.  Let me tell you what happens when we do this.  I’ll give you my own experience.

When I first became an Adventist in 1958, there was a Suez crisis.  Nasser had taken the Suez Canal from Britain and I remember the evangelists in those days saying, “This is the beginning of the war of Armageddon.  The end is here.”  I waited and waited; the end did not come.  Then came the Six-Day war and something else in between — I forget all the events — and at every crisis we say, “The end is here!”  Then came Cuba during President Kennedy’s time and I heard the same thing.  When you keep hearing that a specific event is the end, you get tired of it.  You have the “Peter and the Wolf” syndrome.  That, unfortunately, is happening to a lot of our people today.

Our young people are asking, “How soon is soon?  My grandfather believed in the soon coming of Christ.”  We have scholars today who no longer believe the coming is near.  I am talking of scholars in the Adventist church and that is exactly what the devil is causing us to do.  We need to be aware that we have to be flexible.  He may come in a way that is least expected.  Situations may take place that we least expected according to our predictions.  I am very concerned with speculating regarding the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation.

I want to give you an illustration of what I mean by “unawares.”  In Rwanda we had a missionary from Italy.  He was a young chap and, as many young fellows do, he loved to take long showers.  He was in an area where there was plenty of water and he was in the shower.  He thought he was Caruso because he was singing at the top of his voice, enjoying his shower.  While he was doing this, some thieves came in a truck and they emptied his house, believe it or not.  His bags, his furniture, his cooker, his fridge, his clothing, everything.  He was totally unaware; he was singing his head off and these fellows were having a wonderful time taking his things.

When he opened the shower door, all he had was a towel around him because the towel was all he had!  Nothing more.  Everything was taken, even his pants.  He was taken off-guard.  You may think this is impossible but it actually happened.  It hit him so hard that he gave up the mission field, came to this country, and took up dentistry.  He’s practicing as a dentist where he won’t be caught off-guard because he has his people on the chair.

Be careful that you do not have specific views of how events will take place.  There was a time when we would give our people charts; this would take place and this would take place.  The parable tells us that all ten virgins were sleeping and all ten virgins were taken by surprise but there was a difference between five of them.

The word “midnight” here is simply a symbol that means “unexpected time.”  If you read the passage in Matthew 24 above you will notice that one of the examples that Christ used is the thief.  The thief comes at midnight, because that’s when you are fast asleep.  When you read in your Bibles that Christ will come as a thief in the night, it simply means that He will come at a time when we least expect Him.

So it is wise to be flexible, but it is not the knowledge of the events and the signs that will be what will take you through.  The question is, “When Christ comes, will you have oil in your lamp?”  Let me put it in the words of Jesus Christ Himself.  Turn to Luke 18:8.  I am not saying this, Jesus is:

“I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.  However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Will Christ find faith on earth?  Can God produce a people who are willing to be patient?

The reason the delay has taken place from our human point of view is found in 2 Peter 3:9.  Peter tells us that there has been a delay not because God is slack in keeping His promise; that is not the reason for the delay.  The reason is:

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness....

That’s exactly what many of our people are saying today.  In fact, I have had people say, “Why don’t you preach the second coming more often?”  When it comes, will you be ready?  What I need to preach to you is justification by faith because that will make you ready for the second coming.

I want to add something here and don’t misunderstand me.  When we preach the second coming of Christ we are not preaching the gospel.  We are preaching the hope of the gospel.  We must make a distinction between the gospel which is good news to all people and the second coming of Christ, which is good news only to the believer.  Do you know what the second coming is to the unbeliever?  Read Revelation 6.  It’s the day of wrath.  So how do we make the second coming good news?  It is not by preaching the second coming but by preaching the gospel.  Then to the believer we can say, “Your hope is in the second coming.”

The message to the believer is, “Be patient.  You have a hope but don’t give up that hope.”  Here it is in 2 Peter 3:9:

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

That is why in Matthew 24:14, Jesus said:

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come

That is because God wants none to perish.  Do you know He gave that job of preaching the gospel to us?  So if anyone is to blame for the delay, it is us.  Of course, God knows in His full knowledge the day He will come.  But the question here is that when the sound is given, “He is coming,” and it takes us off-guard, all of us, will you have oil in your lamp?  Will Christ still be dwelling in you by faith?  That’s the big question.

We are told five of these virgins were foolish and five were wise.  The word “foolish” here means “thoughtless” and the word “wise” here means “prudent” or “thoughtful.”  Young people, may I say this much:  We are aware that there is going to be a delay, but what is the solution?  Should we go into the world and enjoy ourselves until we think He is coming?  The answer is, “No.”  I’ll tell you why.  It is possible for us as believers to pray for each other.  It is possible for us to help each other.  It is possible for us to sympathize with each other.  It is possible for us to counsel each other.  But there is one thing we cannot do.  We cannot share with you our faith.  You cannot transfer faith from one person to another.  Everybody must have his own faith in Christ.  You cannot transfer that.

That is the issue here.  When these virgins woke up, the five foolish virgins discovered that their vessels were empty of the oil which is there by faith.  They go to the five wise and the say, “Can you share with us some of your faith, some of that oil?” What is the answer?  “I’m sorry, we cannot do that.  You go and buy for yourselves.”  This brings us immediately to the last message and to the last generation of Christians, Revelation 3:18.  Here Jesus, the True Witness, is saying that our works will not carry us through the crisis:

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

I would like to mention that the Roman Catholic scholars — not all of them, but many of them — identify the oil with the merits of the saints which they have obtained through their good works.  That’s unbiblical; that’s a Roman Catholic point of view.  The oil is not our merits; it is the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts by faith.  Jesus is telling the last generation of Christians, the Laodicean church, “You think that you are rich and increased with goods but you do not know that you are empty.  You are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.  Therefore, my counsel to you is to buy gold tried in the fire.”  What is that gold tried in the fire?  It is faith that has gone through the press and has come out refined.  It is the faith of Jesus Christ.  The rich robe is the righteousness of Christ, the white raiment.

In other words, when Christ comes to this earth, will He find a people whose faith is unshakable, whose faith has not disappeared?  Because this is the issue.  Jesus said in Matthew 10:22 that only those whose faith endures unto the end will be saved:

All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.

So I would like to remind you that one of the qualities that will be experienced by the last generation of Christians, the five wise virgins is this:  “Here is the patience of the saints.”

Yes, the delay is here because, to God, 150 years is nothing.  To Him a thousand years is like a day, but to us human beings, 150 years is too long.  But, young people, I plead with you, it doesn’t matter how wrong we were in presenting that Christ’s coming was soon because some of you don’t believe that soon is soon.  Remember, don’t you ever give up your faith.

I want to close by giving you an example that took place in New Testament times.  In Hebrews, Paul is writing to Jewish Christians.  I want to use this text in Hebrews 10 to persuade you so that you will not make the same mistake as some have done.  Paul describes this in Hebrews 10:25:

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Don’t stop coming to church because there is a delay, especially as we realize that the end is near.  The tragedy is that 50 percent of the membership of our churches in our North American Division no longer attend church.  There was an article in the Ministry magazine on the celebration churches, which are causing a tremendous stir.  I have never been to one so I am not giving any judgment, but I have read articles on both sides.  The article made a statement which, of course, gives us something to think about.  At least one thing positive about the celebration churches is that a lot of backsliders are coming back.  I’d rather see a backslider in a celebration church than not in church at all.

But it will take more than music to prepare our people for the crisis.  We have to ground you in Christ.  Now, look at Hebrews 10:35:

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.

Notice the word “confidence” is synonymous with “faith.”  I will show it to you as we go along.  Verse 36:

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.

The Jewish Christians were becoming a little bit — to use the expression — “miffed” because they thought that Christ was delaying His coming.  Paul is saying here, “You need to be patient.”  Verse 37:

For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay.”

So they were saying the same thing that we are saying today.  He is delaying His coming.  But Paul is saying, “A very little while and He will come.”

These words “little while” can mean two things.  They can mean a “little while” from God’s point of view, which I think is what he is saying, or, from man’s point of view, the “little while” is too long.  A “little while” means tomorrow.  Verse 38:

“But my righteous one will live by faith.  And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.”

Here is a clear text that does not teach “once saved, always saved.”  If you draw back from your faith in Christ and in your hope in Him, God says, “I will not be pleased with you.”

Then, in verse 39, he makes this prayer and I hope it is our prayer, too:

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed [so it is possible to shrink back and be destroyed], but of those who believe and are saved.

Until Christ comes to fulfill that prayer, Paul spends a whole chapter in Hebrews 11 giving you incidents, historical accounts, of men and women who were burnt, fried, eaten by lions, and killed in all kinds of ways.  But they had one thing in common.  They had a faith that would not give up.

Then he ends Hebrews 11:39-40:

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.  [They were waiting for the first coming of Christ and they died before He came.] God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

That means they would not see the coming of Christ except through the grave.

Having done this, he persuades his readers in Hebrews 12:1-2 by these words:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles...

Please read that text in its context.  What is Paul saying here?  Paul is saying, “Put aside any weight, any sin that is responsible for destroying your faith or that is pulling your faith away.”

...And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us...

What is the race?

...Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith...

From beginning to end, He is my righteousness.  He is the Author, the Finisher, and the Source of our salvation, of our faith.

...who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Paul is saying here that Jesus went through all this to make sure that you and I would be in heaven.

Please don’t disappoint Him by throwing away your faith.  Yes, He may have delayed His coming from our point of view, but I can guarantee you, He will come and He will have a people.  Do you know what He will say about these people who are wise?  “Here are they who have the patience of the saints and the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ” [Revelation 13:10b].

It is my prayer that no matter how discouraged you are and how tempted you are to stop going to church or to believe the message of our pioneers, you will never give up your faith in Christ.  Because when you say good-bye to faith, you are saying good-bye to Christ.  When you say good-bye to Christ, it doesn’t matter whether your names are on the books or whether you have been a church officer in the past, you’ve had it.

There are some backsliders who, when we call upon them and say, “Would you like us to remove your name from the books?” say, “Please don’t do that.”  They have the idea that, because their names are in the books, they have a ticket to heaven.  I’m sorry, you may have it in gold letters in our books but that doesn’t qualify you for heaven.  The question is, “Will your faith endure unto the end?”

Will you, while you are sleeping — that’s not physical sleeping but spiritual sleeping — turn your backs to the only hope, Jesus Christ?  Will you say, “He has delayed His coming; I might as well enjoy myself and, when I get old like Pastor Sequeira or like some of these retirees, then I will join the church.”

I am really happy to see so many young people in church.  I appreciate the retirees; I feel they are doing a tremendous work, but I really appreciate the young people coming to church.  I pray that you will never give up your faith in Christ, because that’s your anchor.  It is my prayer that everyone reading this will be among the five wise virgins and that, when Christ comes — even though we are caught off-guard — we will still have faith that will carry us through, is my prayer in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Study Materials