No Time Like the Present


Life Impact: You can take steps to see that you are prepared to meet Jesus and to encourage others to prepare as well.

“There’s Always Time” Matthew 25:1-5.

[1]  "Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. [2]  Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. [3]  For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, [4]  but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. [5]  Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep.”   [NASU]

Jesus continues to teach His followers the necessity of continual readiness as they await His coming again. From the emphasis He put on watchfulness He clearly regarded it as very important. [1]  Then is a favorite conjunction for Matthew. We are to understand that this parable was delivered on the same occasion as the teaching Matthew has recorded at the end of chapter 24, and that it refers to the time of the Lord’s return. For the last time in this Gospel we have the expression the kingdom of heaven. The general idea of God’s rule will be before us throughout this chapter, but the precise expression introduces this parable and is not used again. Jesus compares the kingdom to ten virgins who are waiting for the bridegroom with their lamps. This makes clear that Jesus is speaking of a wedding. It was preceded by a betrothal that was much more binding than is an engagement in modern societies. It was really the first stage of marriage, and it took divorce proceedings to dissolve it. At the end of the betrothal period the marriage took place, on a Wednesday if the bride was a virgin and on a Thursday if she was a widow. The bridegroom and his party made their way to the home of the bride, or to some other place. When the two groups came together the wedding took place. After this there was a procession, generally to the home of the bridegroom, where feasting took place that might go on for days. The processions often took place at night, when torches made for a spectacular display. Clearly this is presupposed in Jesus’ parable. The ten virgins were involved in going out to meet the bridegroom, which makes it appear that they belonged to the bride’s party.

[2]  The virgins fell into two groups, five of them in each, though there appears to be no particular significance to the fact that the same number were in each group. It seems to be no more than a convenient division. The important thing is that some of them were foolish and some were prudent. Matthew has an interest in people who behaved foolishly, and he has half the occurrences of the adjective foolish in the New Testament. But he is also interested in the prudent, and interestingly he also has exactly half the New Testament occurrences of this word. Jesus sets the scene, then, with a wedding procession and a group of young women waiting to take part in it with lamps for the procession, and the information that some of them were more foolish than the others.

[3-4]  For introduces the evidence for judging some of them to be foolish and some wise. They all had lamps and to that extent were prepared, but the foolish took no oil with them. It was necessary to pour oil on the rags at the end of the torches to get them to burn brightly, but these women had not bothered to bring the necessary oil. The rags would have been oily to start with, but in a society where people set little store on punctuality and where preparations for a wedding were extensive and time-consuming this might well not be enough. It was foolish to think that the amount of oil the rags in a torch could hold would be sufficient. But is adversative; it sets the prudent over against the foolish by referring to the oil. These women apparently reasoned that there was no way of knowing when the bridegroom would make his appearance and that he might well be late. Since oil was needed to ensure a bright and lasting flame, these sensible women took additional oil in flasks.

[5]  The bridegroom was late. No reason is given for this, and none, of course, is necessary. The bridegroom would take his time, as everyone knew. A wedding was important. Everything else would be set aside for it. The bridegroom was in no great hurry, so the ten women waited. Evidently all their preparations had been made, and there was nothing for them to do but wait; so they slept. In the circumstances to sleep was a good idea. All their preparations had been made, and from the time the bridegroom made his appearance they would be kept busy for a long time. To sleep while they could was an opportunity not to be missed.

Time’s Up: Matthew 25:6-9.

[6]  "But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’

[7]  Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. [8]  The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ [9]  But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’”    [NASU]

[6-7]  In the middle of the night the bridegroom made his appearance. The bridegroom had not actually arrived as yet, but he had been sighted and there was a shout. Behold, the bridegroom! Indicates that someone in the place where the ten women were had sighted the approach of the party. So the command is given, Come out to meet him. The bridegroom is the center of attention; they should give him the appropriate welcome. Then is used with precision; the shout got immediate action. At this point there is no difference among the ten. All of them woke up and all got to work on their lamps. This probably entailed putting more oil on the oily rags to make sure that the torch would burn steadily and give out its maximum light.

[8-9]  Now the difference between the two groups begins to appear. It is not necessary to hold that the lamps were kept burning during the time the women were sleeping. A torch would hold only a small amount of oil, and it could be consumed between the time of the shout and the arrival of the bridegroom. The foolish women now found themselves in trouble, for their lamps were going out (the present tense indicates that the lamps were even then going out). There would be no place in a torchlight procession for women whose lamps gave no light. But there was no immediate panic because there were other women there who had oil. So they asked them to give them some of their oil. To the careless women that must have seemed the obvious solution. But it did not appeal to the prudent women. They did not think that their supply of oil would be adequate for them all. So they refuse to give any of their oil to the other women but instead tell them go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves. All this would take time and may explain why the foolish women did not suggest this to one another in the first place. It is possible to argue that the women with the oil ought to have been kinder to those without and to have shared what they had. To this more than one thing might be said. One is that the possibility that there would not be enough oil to get any of them to the banquet was evidently real. It would have been silly to have excluded them all, foolish and sensible alike, from the festivities. The bridegroom had to be welcomed and if all the lamps went out the procession would be a disaster. Another is that a parable does not cover all the options. It is there to teach a specific lesson, and in the case of this parable it is the lesson of being ready. A story about sensible women who shared their oil and stayed with the foolish in being unable to go to the banquet might have taught a lesson about being ready to sacrifice for the irresponsible. But it would not have taught the necessity for being ready, and that is the point of this story. Jesus is teaching the importance of watchfulness, not going into all the possibilities in the life of the believer. And, in the sense of being ready for the coming of the Christ, being ready is not something that can be shared or passed on. It is an individual matter.

Unknown Time: Matthew 25:10-13.

[10]  "And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. [11]  Later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’ [12]  But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’ [13]  Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.”


[10]  The delay was fatal. What happened was that while they were still on their journey to buy more oil, the bridegroom came. Jesus omits all that followed until they went into the place where the feast was to be held. He says nothing about what happened when the bridegroom arrived, nor about the procession for which the lamps were required. His hearers were well enough versed in what went on at weddings to understand this for themselves. He goes immediately to the time when the women who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast. Their forethought was justified, they had the oil they needed, and they took their appointed place in the wedding festivities. That the door was shut indicates that at this wedding feast there was a time to join the festivities and those who were not there when the time expired were totally excluded.

[11-12]  In time the careless women evidently got their oil and arrived at the banqueting hall. They called to the bridegroom, which is interesting, for one would think that it would be someone else who would have the responsibility for keeping the door. But the story is about the bridegroom and the ten women, so it is what the bridegroom says and not what some subordinate does that is important. Lord, lord is a respectful form of address and one that was suitable for the Son of God. Jesus may be using the term with a glance at the time in the future when it was to Him as Lord that petitions must be addressed. The women in the parable plead, open up for us. They have no lack of desire to be numbered among the guests. And they are there, on the spot. Presumably they had been invited earlier and they are sure that there must be a place for them. The door shut in their faces is mystifying. There must be a way for them to get in, so they plead to the bridegroom. But is adversative; far from opening up as they request, the bridegroom utters words that make it clear that they will be firmly excluded from the rejoicing throng. Truly I say to you is a solemn beginning and emphasizes that the words that follow are important. I do not know you is devastating. They had been expecting to be on center stage with their lamps in the procession. But their failure to be ready when the time came meant that they were excluded finally. If we reason that no bridegroom would say that he did not know some of the invited guests, we miss the sting in the story. Jesus is not telling a story about something that actually happened; He is warning people of the dreadful fate of those who know that they should be watching for the coming of the Son of man but who do not do this. Thereby they exclude themselves from any place among the people of God. The Savior cannot recognize them among the saved. While there was time they shut themselves out. There is no way by which they can now come in.

[13]  Jesus hammers home the lesson of it all. Be on the alert then, He says, employing a verb that He has used twice before in this discourse [24:42,43]. It is important. And He repeats that His hearers do not know the day nor the hour. It is a condition of life here on earth that we cannot know how long it will last, and it is similarly a condition of life in the kingdom of God that we cannot know when that kingdom will be consummated here on earth.

Summary.  What does it mean to be ready? Notice that the difference between the wise women and foolish women was revealed by the coming of the bridegroom. That is, it was revealed in the crisis moment. During the days before the wedding or the night leading up to the start of the feast, few would have noticed that five women had adequately prepared for the bridegroom’s coming and five had not. But suddenly the bridegroom came, and the difference was immediately disclosed. The same will happen when Jesus Christ returns. Many who have considered themselves true children of God will be shown they are not, and many who have perhaps not even been regarded as His children will be revealed as believers. How are you to know whether you are in one camp or the other? One answer is whether you are faithful in serving Jesus. Another is whether you are serving others because of your love for Jesus. These are the answers the next two parables suggest. If the return of the Lord Jesus Christ and the division it will cause will bring out the true condition of those who profess Christianity but are not actually born again, isn’t it also the case that their condition may be revealed by lesser but, nevertheless, real crisis experiences now? If this is so, you can anticipate the results of the final judgment by the way you react to the problems that come into your life day by day. Nothing will more correctly reveal what is in a man than the coming upon him of some crushing and unlooked-for crisis. Other lessons to be learned from this parable: (1) The Lord will come without warning. This is why the parable ends with the words: Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour. Jesus will come without warning either at the end of time or on the day of your death. (2) Being prepared is not transferable. No person can get by on another’s faith. You cannot be saved by the life of Christ in someone else. The parable reveals that when Christ returns, each person must stand on his or her own. (3) Lost opportunities cannot be regained. The foolish women set out to buy oil, but the bridegroom came, and they were too late. So it will be when Christ returns in judgment. Those who are ready will be taken in to the marriage feast, and those who are not ready will be shut out.

Questions for Discussion:

1.          What is the point of this parable? What does Jesus intend for us to learn? What warning is He giving to His followers?  

2.          This parable of the ten virgins teaches a final division among mankind. What is the basis of that division? What is the importance of the wise virgins not sharing their oil with the foolish virgins? How should this impact the way we pray for and witness to unbelievers?

3.          How do you obey the Lord’s command to be on the alert? What are some practical steps you can take to keep watch, to be alert for the Lord’s coming?


Matthew, volume 2, James Boice, Baker Books.

The Gospel according to Matthew, Leon Morris, Pillar NTC, Eerdmans.

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