Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lampsand went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Palm Sunday is usually a time for marking the kingly entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem at the end of his life. He comes riding on a donkey. And Matthew says, “This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying . . . ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, andon a colt, the foal of a beast of burden’” (Matthew 21:4-5). The people spread their cloaks on the road, and cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road, and went before him and shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
Hosanna means “salvation” or “deliverance.” So they were saying: “Here comes our Deliverer, our Savior! Salvation belongs to the Son of David, the Messiah! Here he is. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Jesus Is a Betrothed King
So on Palm Sunday the focus is usually on Jesus the King. Today I want to say that—but also say something more. I want to focus on this truth: Jesus is not just a king; he is a betrothed King—an engaged King. And soon he will be a married King. His betrothed bride is the people of God—the people who trust him, elect from every race and nation, the church. He came the first time 2,000 years ago to die for his bride—to pay a dowry, as it were, with his own blood. And he will come a second time to marry her and take us—his church—into the gardens and the chambers of his love and joy forever.
Paul puts it like this in Ephesians 5:
“‘A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her [there’s the price he paid!], that he might sanctify her . . . so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.” (Ephesians 5:25-27)
King Jesus came into the world to take a wife. Not a harem. And not for sex. But to give her pleasures that make sex taste like cardboard. He paid for her with his life. And he is now at work by his Spirit and by his word purifying and beautifying her for himself and for her joy.
Ministers as Go-Betweens for Christ the Groom and the Church His Bride
This is why Paul saw his ministry as a kind of go-between for Jesus Christ, the suitor, and the church as the one Christ is wooing to himself. Paul said to the Christians in Corinth, “I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:2). One way to describe the Christian ministry is to say that ministers of the word are agents of God in betrothing the church to Christ. We seek to awaken faith in Christ, which creates his bride; and we seek to deepen love for Christ, which purifies his bride. It sobers and humbles this pastoral staff. The church is not ours. You belong to Jesus, not us.
John the Baptist saw this and dared not lay any claim to Jesus’ bride. Someone asked him how he felt about the fact that his ministry was waning and Jesus was making many more disciples than he was. He answered, “I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom . . . rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete” (John 3:28-29).
And Jesus spoke of himself in this way when the disciples of John asked him, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast,but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast” (Matthew 9:14-15). One of the functions of fasting is to say with our hunger that we miss the bridegroom and want him to come back and take us into his gardens and chambers forever.
Revelation 19 describes that event like this: “I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb’” (Revelation 19:6-9).
So on this Palm Sunday our focus is not simply on the fact that Jesus came 2,000 years ago as king and is coming again as King, but on the fact that the King of the universe came into the world to betroth to himself a bride at the price of his own blood, and that he will come a second time to marry his bride and take us into the infinitely beautiful chambers and gardens of his love and joy forever.
Everyone who trusts in Jesus belongs to that bride. Not every person will be a part of the marriage supper of the Lamb. Some will be outside wishing they could get in. So I urge you, “Trust Christ. Love Christ. Be a part of his bride.” The joys he will give us are beyond anything experienced or imagined on this present earth.
The Parable of the Ten Virgins: Jesus’ Word to Us as We Await the Wedding Day
Now I ask, “What does Jesus want to say to us this morning in our position between the betrothal and the marriage?” What does he have to say to us who are the blood-bought bride of Christ? One answer is given in today’s text, Matthew 25:1-13. This is Jesus’ word to us about how the time between his coming to betroth us and his coming to marry us. Let’s walk through this passage together verse by verse.
Matthew 25:1, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lampsand went to meet the bridegroom.”
Notice three things in this verse. It is about a Kingdom, and about a bridegroom. This is where I got the idea that Palm Sunday is really about a betrothed King who is coming to be married. There is a king, and there is a bridegroom. The king is betrothed, he has gone on a journey, and he is going to return to be married.
Second, notice that this is a parable about the time between the first and second coming. We will see that more clearly as we move along through the text.
Third, notice that the virgins represent the visible church, that is, they represent those who profess to be Christians. They are going out to meet the Bridegroom. They are not those people who want nothing to do with the Bridegroom. But whether they represent those who are truly Christian we will see shortly.
Don’t stumble over the fact that in the parable itself these ten are not the bride. The bride makes no appearance. The details of the parable should not be pressed. Look for the larger point. In some texts the church is pictured as the bride. Here the church is pictured as the ones who go to meet the Bridegroom and bring him in. Jesus doesn’t want us to stumble over that difference. The parable is still about how we, the bride of Christ, should prepare to meet him.
Verses 2-4: “Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.”
I don’t think the percentages here are intended to say that 50% of the church is foolish. The numbers ten and five is incidental. What’s crucial is how some were foolish and others were wise.
All ten had a job appointed for them to do. They were to be ready to welcome the Bridegroom with shining lights when he comes. That was their job, their calling—to be ready (v. 10). The means appointed for that calling were oil and lamps. It was their responsibility to use the means that were necessary for the work they had been given to do. They had been appointed to shine when he comes. Give light when he comes.
But five of them did not take seriously their calling to give light, and they neglected the only means by which they could do what they were called to do. They took no oil. They only had lamps. Their job was to provide light, and they had lamps without oil. Candles without wicks. Torches without fire. Light bulbs without electricity. The outward form of religion and no internal power. They liked their position, otherwise they would have left. But they did not have a passion to use the necessary means to fulfill their point of their position. Light! Their foolishness was to think that the mere form of a religious lamp would be sufficient. Or, perhaps, that the power to light a lamp could simply be borrowed at the last minute. In fact, it can’t be borrowed at all.
Verse 5: “As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept.”
Notice two things. Jesus gave us advance warning that his coming would be delayed. This has been a stumbling block for two thousand years. The apostle Peter dealt with it already in his second letter:
Scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” . . . 8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you,not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:3-9)
Jesus said in advance here in Matthew 25:5 that he would be “delayed.
Then notice secondly that it is not foolish to sleep. All ten slept, not just the foolish. This is not sleeping on the job of life. Sleeping is part of the job. What sleeping signifies in this parable is simply the ordinary activities of life. We are not called to go up on a mountain and gaze idly into the sky as we wait for Jesus. We are called to do our work. Then rest. Then do some more work. Blessed is the servant whom the master finds doing his work when he comes (Matthew 24:45). All ten slept because sleep is part of the normal rhythm of life that we should follow as we work and rest and wait for Jesus.
Verse 6: “But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’”
1 Thessalonians 4:16 says, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God.” The cry goes out: “He’s here! Go meet him! Let your lamps burn brightly as you go!” This is going to happen some day! And what we are about to see in the rest of this parable is a very sober warning to be ready.
Verses 7-9 “Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’”
A life of foolishness deepens foolishness. When the shout goes out that the bridegroom is here, they trim their empty lamps. Still no oil. Just outward form. They trim their empty lamps when the cry rings out! This is deep folly. They have neglected the means appointed for doing their duty, and not even the shout wakens them to their empty lamps—not at first anyway. They trim their empty—their useless—lamps.
And then they ask the impossible. Give us from your oil. The fact that the five wise virgins won’t give them any oil is not meant to teach selfishness. It’s meant to teach the impossibility of borrowing faith. It’s meant to teach the impossibility of borrowing the power of the Holy Spirit—the impossibility borrowing obedience and faithfulness. It’s too late. That is what we will see.
What the wise virgins mean when they say in verse 9, “There won’t be enough both of us, go buy your own oil,” is this: We can’t have faith for you and for us. We can’t have inner spiritual life for you and for us. We can’t give you obedience and the faithful use of God-appointed means. If you neglect them, in this life, we can’t create them for you. Each one bears his own load. So in desperation the foolish virgins, who wasted their lives, ran for the impossible: instant end-time obedience. Instant end-time faith.
Verses 10-12: “And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’”
These are terrifying words at the end of the age when Jesus comes back. “I never new you.” You were part of the church—one of the ten virgins—not part of the world. You had lamps. You had religion. You had form. But you took no care for what was inside. You carried the lamp. You kept it shiny. Others looked at you and assumed you had life, faith, inner reality. And all you had was an empty lamp. And now, you are about to face one who sees right through your lamp, and says, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” You don’t want to hear those words. Many will. But you don’t have to.
Verse 13 says, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
“Watch” does not mean look out the window at night. It does not mean go up on a mountain and wait. Even the wise virgins slept when it was time to sleep. Watch means: Be spiritually awake! Be alive and alert to Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit that he gives now. Use all the means God has given you to know him and love him and trust him. Be filled with the oil of faith and joy and hope.
Let this thought govern your life: Jesus Christ came to betroth a people to himself at the price of his own blood. If I am a part of that betrothed people by faith in Jesus, he will come to me (and all who believe in him) and say, “Come, O faithful bride, enter into my gardens and into my chambers and learn now for eternity what the dim shadows of earthly pleasures were all about.