1Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which [who] took their [own][FN1] lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.[FN2] 2And five of them were 3 wise [foolish], and five were foolish [wise].[FN3] They that were foolish[FN4] took their lamps, and took no oil with them: 4But the wise took oil in their [the][FN5] vessels with their lamps 5 While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered [nodded, ἐνύσταξαν] and slept [fell asleep, ἐκάθευδον]. 6And at midnight there was a cry [a cry was] made, Be hold, the bridegroom cometh;[FN6] go ye out to meet him 7 Then all those virgins arose,and trimmed [adorned, ἐκόσμηοαν] their [own, ἑαυτῶν] lamps 8 And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out [going out, σβέννυται].[FN7] 9But the wise answered, saying, Not so [Not Song of Solomon, μήποτε·];[FN8] lest there be not [there will not be, οὐ μή[FN9] enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves 10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut 11 Afterward came also the other virgins [the rest of the virgins, αἱ λοιπαὶ παρθένοι], saying, Lord, Lord, open to us12, 13But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore; for ye know neither [not, οὐκ] the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.[FN10]
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
Matthew 25:1. Then shall be likened.—Fritzsche rightly notes a hint of sequence in the τότε. After the judgment upon the servants and the office, following the judgment upon the people generally.[FN11] The figure introduces females, in conformity with the idea of the Church.
Ten virgins.—Ten, the number of developed secular life; and thus the number of the completed secular development of the Church. It was termed by the Rabbins the “all comprehending number.” What goes beyond ten returns to units again. Hence the ten commandments, the harp with its ten strings,[FN12] the ten Sephiroth of the Cabbalists, etc[FN13] (Comp. Nork: Etymologisch-symbolisch-mythologisches Real-wörterbuch, sub Zehn.) Five, the number of freedom as half-consummation, and of the course of the world in motion: hence also the number of punishment or compensation, Exodus 22:1 (five senses, five fingers, etc.); compare Luke 19:19. The virgins are not merely companions of the bride, but representatives of the bride, the Church.[FN14]Seethe prophetical type in 2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 14:4. Virginity signifies Christianity as separation from the world, as restraint from all worldly contamination. See Ezekiel 23; Hosea 1.; Revelation 17.; comp. Matthew 14:4.[FN15]Concerning the relation of the virgins to the bride, we must bear in mind the analogy of the marriage supper of the king’s son and his guests. The Church, in her aggregate and ideal unity, is the bride; the members of the Church, as individually called, are guests; in their separation from the world, and expectation of the Lord’s coming, they are His virgins. Virginity, waiting for the Lord, and festal joy, they share with the bride. Bengel, in his Discourses on the Revelation (p1039), distinguishes between such Christians as belong to the bride and such as belong only to the number of guests. This is so far true, as the perfect experience of Christianity finds its proper centre only in the elect. But we are not authorized to make a full separation between the two, but must assume a gradual rising.
Their own lamps.—A feature of the custom which is significant. Propriety, individuality, preparation, independence of others. Vocation to a peculiar and personal spiritual life. There was a kind of torch amongst the ancients, which consisted of a long, thick wooden staff, in the upper end of which a vessel was inserted, having a wick sustained by oil: thus they were at once lamps and torches. [Alford on the contrary: These were not torches or wicks fastened on staves, but properly lamps, and the oil vessels (which is most important to the parable) were separate from the lamps; the lamps being the hearts lit with the flame of heavenly love and patience, supplied with the oil of the Spirit.—P. S.]
And went forth.—“Here the customs of a solemn bridal procession in the night are presupposed. 1 Maccabees 9:37 gives us an example of such a procession in daylight. Among the Greeks and Romans, the bride was brought home by night: hence the torches of which so much is said. Comp. R. Salomo, ad Chelim, ii8 (see Wetstein and Lightfoot) witnesses the same practice in Palestine. Ordinarily, the bride was fetched by the bridegroom and his friends (domum ducere); but here it is the office of the virgins (comp. Psalm 45:15, Grotius) to fetch the bridegroom, and the wedding seems to take place in the house of the bride, as in Judges 14:10.” De Wette. Similarly Meyer. The figure generally is modified by the circumstance, that the bridegroom comes from afar, as in Judges 14. This brings in the festal going forth to meet him, in which the virgins represent the bride; it also indicates the long tarrying of the bridegroom; and finally, though less markedly, that the marriage takes place in the house of the bride. Compare the art. Hockzeit in Winer’s Bibl, Realwörterbuch [and the art. Marriage in Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. ii. p240 sqq.]
Matthew 25:3. They that were foolish took their lamps.—We must carefully note the contrast: In the case of the foolish virgins, the taking of the lamps is everything (λαβοῦσ αι τὰς λαμπά δας ἑαυ τῶν); but in the case of the wise, it is the taking of oil in their vessels. The foolish are thus represented as being vain and thoughtless, looking only at appearances, and only in haste going forth through excited feeling.
Matthew 25:5. While the bridegroom tarried.—Meyer supposes that the virgins had set forth from the house of the bride, and had gone into another house by the way. This strange notion is needless, when it is considered that the virgins secretly provide their own lamps, and then betake themselves to the bride’s house. The ἀξῆλθυν of Matthew 25:1 does not mean that they had already gone forth some distance on the way: it is a preliminary description of the great event of the parable.—They all nodded and fell asleep.—An intimation of weakness indeed, yet expressing the great delay of the bridegroom rather than censure.[FN16] Certainly the slumbering was perilous, since it took away the possibility of repairing, in haste, the lack of oil. [Nast: The expression denotes the gradual approach of sleep to such as occupy a sitting posture, and strive at first to withstand the disposition to slumber. These virgins made efforts to keep awake, but finally yielded to the influence of seep. Alford: Being weak by nature, they gave way to drowsiness; as indeed the wakefulness of the holiest Christian, compared with what it should be, is a sort of slumber. D. Brown: Two stages of spiritual declension—first, that half-involuntary lethargy or drowsiness which is apt to steal over one who falls into inactivity; and then a conscious yielding to it after a little vain resistance.—P. S.]
Matthew 25:6. At midnight.—Significant, The most unfit time to obtain what they had omitted.—A cry was made.—The greater the apparent delay, the more intense the surprise at the cry of the heralds sent forward.
Matthew 25:7. Adorned their own lamps.—The trimming[FN17]had probably taken place before. The adornment of the lamp was the kindled festal flame, in the light of which it shone. Hence, afterward, extinction is spoken of at once, σβεννυται: they burn dimly, and will go out.[FN18]
Matthew 25:9. Not so!—Since οὐμή is the correct reading in the following clause, μήποτε is not dependent on ἀρκέσ ͅη, but has the force of a strongly repelling negative: By no means!
Matthew 25:10. They that were ready went in with him.—It is presupposed that they first went out to meet him with their festal lamps. It is not needful to explain, with Bornemann, “into the house of the bridegroom;” nor, with Meyer, to suppose that they had gone back from the imaginary midway house to that of the bride.
Matthew 25:12. I know you not.—SeeMatthew 7:23, p145. [Here—Non agnosco, I do not acknowledge you as mine. This as well as the ἐκλεισθη ἡ θύρα, bears rather strongly against the view of Olshausen, Alford, and others, who suppose that the foolish virgins were only excluded from the millennium, but not from the ultimate kingdom of glory in heaven. (See below, Doctrinal Thoughts, No5.) Alford tries to evade the difficulty by making an essential distinction, which is hardly justified, between οὐκοιδαὑμᾶς in this passage, and ουδέ ποτε έ̀γν ωνὑμᾶς in Matthew 7:23.—P. S.]
Matthew 25:1-12. The Meaning of the Parable.—The leading idea is the readiness of the Church for the coming of the Lord: but that rather viewed intenally than externally; not in its extension, but in its intensity.[FN19] The Lord had made it very clear that the question was not of a mechanical millennarian preparation; for He represented all the virgins as asleep, the wise in common with the foolish. Internal preparation is before all things dependent on the possession of the oil. The oil signifies the anointing of the Holy Spirit, which de Wette denies in vain, This explanation is founded upon the constant typical meaning of the oil in the Old and New Testaments. SeeHebrews 1:9; comp. Psalm 45:7-8; Acts 10:38. The name of the Messiah shows that the oil of unction was a symbol of the anointing of the Holy Spirit. But the oil which fed the lamps could have no other meaning; for even the olive-tree partook of the same significance. SeeZechariah 4:2-3; Revelation 11:4. Now, if the oil signifies the true inward life of faith, the spiritual life, the interpretation of the lamps is not far off: they denote the form of faith.[FN20] Hence it is significant that the foolish virgins were very careful to secure their lamps, but neglected the oil; while the wise virgins took oil in their vessels with their lamps. They did not neglect the lamps, but their chief concern was about the oil. Olshausen gives the right interpretation of the oil; but he improperly makes the lamp mean the heart;[FN21] observing that in the foolish virgins faith had its root only in the feeling. Chrysostom gives an arbitrary explanation: with him the oil is alms; and so on with the rest of the particulars. Luther inversely makes the lamps good works, and the oil-vessels faith. Meyer is against all interpretation of the details, and appeals to Calvin: “Multum se torquent quidam in lucernis, in vasis, in oleo. Atqui simplex et genuina summa Esther, non sufficere alacre exigui temporis studium, nisi infatigabilis constantia simul accedat.” But in this constancy, externally regarded, the foolish virgins are not by any means wanting. They pray, they even run in the very midnight to the sellers. It would be out of the question to suppose that even, after all, they obtained a supply, and came with their oil after the rest. This is not in the parable; and the simple point remains, that they troubled themselves about the oil too late. The division of the virgins into two classes must therefore have this meaning, that one part of the Church is living, while the other lives in only appearance, because it lives only to appearance. Hence the distribution into two halves must not be literally pressed. Midnight is a late and dark season, a season of sleep and the danger of surprise. “The ancient Church took the word literally; and hence the origin of the vigiliæ.” Heubner. The cry at midnight cannot refer to the ecclesiastical watchers exclusively; but, in connection with them, to the cosmical signs of the parousia which have been already mentioned. The sellers have been interpreted of the Holy Scripture and its writers.[FN22] The means of grace generally, or prayer, will obviously be thought of; but this is a trait in the parable which scarcely endures interpretation. The sleeping of the virgins was very inappropriately referred by Chrysostom to their bodily death;[FN23] and by Calvin to “occupationum hujus mundi distractio.” But it seems best to understand it of an involuntary entanglement in the world and its spirit of carnal security,[FN24] to which even believing Christians are liable. Heubner: “The sleepiness is not the relaxation or decline of Christianity, [FN25] but the remission of a definite expectation of the near approach of Christ’s coming. We can easily understand how this expectation has decreased with increasing ages; it is not found now among all faithful Christians, of whom very few can bring themselves to think that we may live to see the last day. But this sleepiness does not exclude the general preparation of Christians in other respects, that Isaiah, their faith and love.”
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
1. The Judgment on the Church.—The ten virgins signify not merely a part of the Church, as Olshausen contends for, but the whole of it. This is evident, first, from the number ten, which points to the perfect secular development of the Church. Further, the circumstance that individual traits are not at all exhibited; the five virgins on the one side, and the five virgins on the other, being altogether alike respectively. And, lastly, the position of this parable between that of the two servants and that which follows concerning the entrusted talents; that Isaiah, between the judgment upon the ministerial office, and the judgment upon individual Christians.
2. The Significance of the Individual Traits of the Parable.—The three most essential points are: 1. The ten virgins; 2. the delay of the bridegroom, and the midnight; 3. the oil in the vessels in relation to the lamps. Of the first we have spoken already. As it regards the second, the two great things—the delay of the bridegroom, and midnight—coalesce in one, the second being the consequence of the first. The midnights in the history of the kingdom of God, are each the last late season of a slowly-expiring age Hence, the time of the last kings of Israel, before the Lord’s coming in the Babylonian captivity, or in the Messianic prophecies; still more, the time of the crucifixion of Christ; the end of the Middle Ages; and especially the final period before the end of the world. It is midnight for the Church of Christ, when the worldly spirit is so far in the ascendency as to make it seem that the history of the Church will fall into the common course of the world and of nature, that the kingdom of heaven is not to be consummated in the judgment and renewal of the world, and that Christ is not to come or to return. In such a season the faithful are more than ever tempted to give up the feeling, that they live in the midst of the great preparation for the marriage supper, and the Christian glorification of the world; and gradually to surrender their firm hold on their vocation, which is to represent the solemn festive character[FN26] of the work of Christ. But more than once has arisen, in the midnights of Christian history, the cry, the Bridegroom cometh! The cry without doubt must signify, in. such cases, the prophetic warnings of faithful watchmen, in connection with the solemn signs of the times, which likewise preach. Heavy judgments and great awakenings testify the nearness of the Lord, until He really come. In such times the Church is sifted.
4. But, as the wicked and the faithful servants are sundered, and the wicked are cut in two, so will the Church through that sifting be divided into a dying and a living portion. “This distinction is always present. But as time runs on it becomes more manifest; and at the end it will be seen in all its fearfulness, as the ground of the judgment which the Church must undergo. They all have the lamps: the forms of faith, ecclesiastical confession and position. But then the question comes as to whether the form is filled with the eternal substance of the Spirit of Christ. The foolish virgins lack the Spirit of Christ; they have no lights, no evidences of love, no hymns of praise to welcome the Lord in His coming.” (From the author’s Leben Jesu.)
5. According to Olshausen, this judgment is only preparatory, only an exclusion from the marriage of the Lamb ( Revelation 19:7).[FN27] But what else is the marriage of the Lamb, but the festival or at least the fore festival, of eternal blessedness? Olshausen thinks that the foolish virgins had faith (κύριε, κίριε, Matthew 25:11), and that they lacked only sanctification. But they are without the Spirit, and therefore without the reality of faith. The saving: “Lord, Lord,” saves not in the judgment. Only this much may be admitted, that this parable, like the preceding and the following, primarily delineates a historical judgment which introduces the final one, but is not the final and conclusive one itself. These three preliminary judgments, however, are introductory to the final judgment; and they are themselves so far final and decisive, as the want of the Spirit (oil), consummated unfaithfulness in office, and the squandering of the gifts of grace, fit the soul for condemnation. Only with reference to the possibility of individual conversions must a distinction be allowed between the preliminary judgments and the last end.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
The judgment of the Church.—1. The impending coming of the Bridegroom to the marriage; 2. the five foolish and the five wise virgins; 3. the delay of the Bridegroom, and the midnight, 4. the cry at midnight; 5. the want of oil, and the lamps going out; 6. the feast of the wise, and the exclusion of the foolish virgins.—What is the great essential for the Church, waiting for the Lord? 1. The vessel of oil with the lamps: the spiritual life and the form of faith2. The oil before the lamps: the spiritual life above the form of faith3. The oil in the vessel: the anointing of the Holy Spirit in the confession.—The Church always divided into foolish and wise members.—The characteristics of the foolish virgins: 1. Hasty external equipment for the feast, which takes care of the appearance (the lamps), but forgets the essence (the oil). 2. Relaxation and drowsiness after the first excitement, affecting even the wise also3. False and anxious efforts at last, to repair the irreparable loss of spiritual life.—The characteristics of the wise virgins: 1. Divine preparation for eternity: the oil and the lamps2. Human infirmity in the course of life (slumbering). 3. Christian conduct in every hour of decision: burning lamps; refusal of ruinous fellowship with the unprovided.—Comparison of the wise and foolish virgins: 1. The prevailing similarity in externals; 2. the unapparent and yet decisive difference in secret.—The judgments of the Lord, especially the last, make a severance between the dead and the living members of the Church.—The severe test which the Church sustains, through the increase of worldliness and the apparent delay of the Lord.—The midnight in the history of the Church.—The cry at midnight: The Bridegroom cometh!—Joyful expectation of the advent, the burning festal lamp with which the Christian goes to meet the Lord.—The right preparation for His coming.—The hour of judgment makes the internal difference between living Christians and hypocrites apparent1. The former find themselves prepared with the great essential, which the others lack,—the Spirit, and spiritual fellowship with the Lord2. The former lift up their heads, because their redemption draws nigh; the others are overwhelmed and abandoned3. The former advance toward their Lord with the festal light of joy and praise; the others seek their help apart from Him.—The seemingly severe word of the wise virgins, a word of truth and gentleness. For, 1. The spiritual life, which makes Christians what they are, cannot be externally transmitted, but must be internally experienced; 2. it cannot be divided and diminished without perishing; 3. every attempt of the wise to have fellowship with the foolish in the hour of judgment, must be destructive to both parties alike; 4. if salvation were yet possible, it would be only in the ordinary way of repentance and conversion.—Ruinous delay for the Lord’s feast.—What should be the effect of the Lord’s sacred delay: not a hurtful delay in caring for what is needful, but a saving diligence.—The highest internal life is the most extreme watchfulness.
Starke:—Zeisius: The visible Church of Christ upon earth consists of true and false, dead and living, members,—of wise and foolish Christians.—The Church is divided into two halves: the true and the hypocritical.—The externals of Christianity are nothing before God, where the heart is not truly sanctified through the Holy Spirit.—The slumbering must be explained with a difference. With the ungodly, it is a godless security: with the faithful, it is a spiritual lethargy; which, however, is consistent with true love to Christ.—Canstein: The tarrying of the Bridegroom is not delay; but a pausing, in merciful desire to save.—Christ will come at a time when the Church is secure and asleep.—Quesnel: The pious are reputed fools and miserable; but the time will come when men will wish to be sharers of their goods and blessedness.—Every man must live by his own faith.—The sacred oil of joy may be bought without money but it must be in time.—Cramer: Let him who would repent, take it in good season.—The Lord knoweth his own, 2 Timothy 2:19.—Spiritual watchfulness is most needful.
Gossner:—The same judgment will come upon all Christians, who hold only to the form of religion (the lamps) without caring for the spirit (the oil in the lamps).
Gerlach:—Every soul is accepted for himself, and cannot represent others in judgment[FN28]—Jesus knows those only for His own who have lived and persevered in living fellowship with Him.
Heubner:—To be a virgin, is the destination of a Christian: he is called to purity, sanctification, abstinence from spiritual whoredom, idolatry.—He is consecrated to the Lord.—Not all who have externally left Babylon, or the world, are true virgins.—Christ does not speak of unbelievers, but of those who once had faith.—perfect unbelievers, who are without any expectation of the Lord, belong to neither class[FN29] of virgins.—Expectation of the Lord’s advent a necessary mark of the Christian.—The lamp is the external form, the vessel for inward Christianity.… Without the lamp the oil is wasted, but without the oil the lamp will not burn.—Take care not to despise external Christianity (baptism, confession, church-going, partaking of the holy communion); but take care also not to be satisfied with it, and to rest upon it.—The two olive-trees, Revelation 11:1-6.—True Christians unite both external and internal Christianity.—The extinction of the lamps, the painful feeling of emptiness in the spirit.—Hence the anguish and despondency of to many dying people.—How many send for the minister, and frantically desire spiritual good, when too late!
Fritsch: The constant preparation for death.—Schenkel: The false security of the converted.—Lisco: The parable an exhortation to true preparation for the end.
[Quesnel (in addition to those extracts given by Starke above):—Man’s life is one continual preparation for the marriage-supper of eternity. His heart is his lamp. [So also Olshausen and Alford, but not Lange, see above.] By the motions and desires of his soul, he goes forth to meet the bridegroom, and hastens toward heaven by the virgin purity of his life.—The Church, before the marriage-supper of eternity, is always divided and mixed.—True wisdom consists in being always ready, and in constant remembrance of the bridegroom’s coming.—A heart without charity [faith] is a lamp without oil.—The holiness of others will not avail us at the hour of death.—The door is shut! Dreadful and fatal words! No hope remains. Nothing but death shuts this door; but death may surprise us in our sins, and then de spair is our portion.—To watch is to employ ourselves chiefly about the business of our salvation. But, alas, how many who slumber! How many asleep! How many seized with lethargy! How many quite dead!—Burkitt:—Some Christians, like foolish virgins, content themselves with a blazing lamp of an outward profession, without securing an inward principle of grace and love, which should maintain that profession, as the oil maintains the lamp. Hence the true wisdom consists in taking care that the vessel of his heart may be furnished with the graces of the Holy Spirit, as a prevailing and abiding principle.—The Bridegroom will certainly come, though at His own time: 1. Reason says: He may come (God is just and will reward, etc.); 2. faith says: He will come; 3. happy are those who go forth to meet Him.—The lamp of profession will certainly go out, which has not a stock of grace to feed it.—Those who would have grace, must have timely recourse to them that sell, i.e., to the ordinances and means of grace.—The door is shut against them: the door of repentance; the door of hope; the door of salvation; shut for ever; shut by Him that shutteth and none can open.—Nast:—Three great evils fell upon the unwise virgins: 1. Their labor was lost, all the preparations they had made, the lamps which they had purchased, the amount of oil consumed, the cold, dark hours of watching; 2. the opportunity of redress; 3. their hope was lost for ever.—P. S.]