ESV Matthew 25:1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like aten virgins who took their lamps1 and went to meet bthe bridegroom.2 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were awise. 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 awas delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But aat midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and atrimmed 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 athose who were ready went in with him to bthe marriage feast, and cthe door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, a’Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 aBut he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, bI do not know you.’ 13 aWatch therefore, for you bknow neither the day nor the hour.
Perhaps you have planned a wedding—either for yourself or for one of your children? You know all the work that goes into it—securing the pastor, sending out invitations, planning the food, purchasing the clothing, getting the marriage license. What would happen if the day came and no one was ready? You’d see one upset bride!
In our Gospel today, Jesus tells a parable about a wedding feast. Everything we need to understand in this parable is in the first verse:
“Then the Kingdom of Heaven
Will Be like Ten Virgins Who Took Their Lamps
and Went to Meet the Bridegroom.”
This parable is about the kingdom of heaven. In this parable, the “kingdom of heaven” is the same as “the marriage feast.” What is this kingdom of heaven? Where is this kingdom of heaven? Is this a place where we go when we die? How do we get there?
The kingdom of heaven is wherever Christ is; it where God dwells with man. But where is the kingdom of heaven today if it’s wherever Christ is? Is he far removed on a golden throne watching from a distance? No! He dwells with us in three places: He is here in his Word. He is here in the waters of Holy Baptism. He is here in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. He lives and serves here in the world through every Christian, as St. Paul says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20).
And where Christ is there is the kingdom of heaven—forgiveness of sin, new life, resurrection, peace and comfort, hope and salvation, restoration as we are made new and freed from sin. And there, where Christ is, where the kingdom of heaven is, there is the marriage feast of the Lamb!
It is this kingdom to which Christ invites you. He invites you to be his. He invites you to receive his gifts of new life. He takes you out of sin and death by giving you forgiveness and eternal life. He invites you out of hell and into his eternal marriage feast.
But as long as Christians live in this broken, fallen world, we will see only a foretaste of the greater feast to come. It is true that Christ is with us even now, but as Paul says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully” (1 Cor 13:12). Or in the words of a post-Communion collect, “You have given us a foretaste of the feast to come in the Holy Supper of Your Son’s body and blood. Keep us firm in the true faith throughout our days of pilgrimage that, on the day of His coming, we may, together with all Your saints, celebrate the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end” (LSB, p 166). And while the whole world moans and groans in this sin-filled, suffering, and fallen world, the kingdom of heaven is God’s promise and rescue to all who repent and believe in him.
This parable is about the kingdom of heaven and ten virgins. These ten virgins are like bridesmaids today. At the time of Jesus, as the wedding day drew nearer, part of the festivities included the bridegroom coming to meet his bride. He could come in the daytime or at midnight. It would be a surprise. And for the bride—she was to be ready whenever he came, as her bridesmaids kept her company and helped her stay awake for his arrival.
In Jesus’ parable, five of the bridesmaids (virgins) were wise, and five of them were foolish (vv 1–4). In the event that the bridegroom delayed his coming, and if the hour got late, the bridesmaids would need lamps and therefore would need oil to keep their lamps burning. The wise virgins were prepared and ready for whenever the bridegroom came. They had ample oil to keep filling their lamps. These wise virgins are the believers in Jesus Christ, even to this day. Sinners—yes, repentant—yes, believers in Jesus Christ—yes!
The foolish bridesmaids were not prepared were not ready for the grand moment when the bridegroom came (vv 5–10). They ran out of oil, so when the bridegroom arrived, these foolish virgins were off trying to find oil to fill their lamps. When they came back, the doors of the feast were shut, and they were not allowed to enter (vv 11–12). These foolish virgins are unbelievers in this world. They care more for the world and themselves than for Jesus. Sinners—yes, repentant—no, believers in Jesus Christ—no!
This parable is about the kingdom of heaven and ten virgins with lamps of oil. The lamps are faith. The lamps of the foolish virgins are filled with one thing. The lamps of the wise virgins are filled with another thing. If faith were an oil container, with what does the world fill it? In what does the world put its faith? What does the world believe in and fear and love and trust above all else? What is it that fills your faith?
This world’s foolish people fill their faith with anything and everything except Jesus Christ: with belief in other gods—self, money, government, technology, Hollywood, sports heroes… They fill their faith with total apathy—not knowing what they believe, not caring that they don’t believe in anything, taking a chance that if there is some god out there he’ll let everyone in and wouldn’t punish anyone.
Some of these foolish people may be downright vile, even mocking God and persecuting those who truly believe in him. But most of them are good, upright citizens who are humanitarians, polite, and kind, but their faith is not filled with that “oil” which is Jesus Christ. Nor will they enter the marriage feast. The doors will be slammed shut. They will not enter the Kingdom because their faith was not filled with Christ (v 13).
Like the foolish virgins, the wise virgins too are sinners (like you and me); they don’t deserve to enter God’s marriage feast any more than do the foolish virgins. But something is different about their vessels of faith. They are filled with Christ. Consider Luther’s words, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith” (explanation of the Third Article). The true faith is that of the wise virgins; the Holy Spirit feeds and fills our faith with Christ, making us holy and keeping us in the one true faith until the Last Day, the Day of Judgment, when the Bridegroom comes for his bride. When Jesus Christ calls the faithful, repentant believers to the eternal marriage feast. And when he comes, O believers, you will have been filled with Christ, which means you are prepared. Your lamps are filled with Christ in his Word, which has sustained your faith through life’s trials and temptations and given healing and forgiveness to you in your sinful life. It has strengthened your faith to endure even the day of persecution. Your lamps are filled with Christ in his font, where faith in him was created and you first entered into his kingdom; where he washes you clean of your sins every day, and where he shields you from the deadly attacks of Satan. Your lamps are filled with Christ at this Table, where Christ enters your body and your soul to forgive your sin, to strengthen your faith in this difficult, fallen world, and where he promises you a place at the greater feast to come.
On the Last Day, O Christian, your Bridegroom comes for you and takes you into his eternal kingdom, where there is no more death or sin or sickness, no more crying or tears or despair or pain or suffering. And when he comes, no matter when he comes, your lamps, your faith, your lives will be filled with Christ—the “one thing needful.”
So do not “grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. . . . Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess 4:13–14, 17). These are the gifts of those whose faith is filled with Christ.
This parable is about the kingdom of heaven and ten virgins with their lamps of oil, but most of all, this parable is about the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ! Jesus is the Bridegroom. God uses this image to picture the beautiful relationship he has with us. In the Old Testament, Yahweh, the Lord, was the Bridegroom, Israel the bride. Then Israel committed adultery by worshiping idols, so that God speaks of divorcing her (Is 50:1; Jer 3:8). We, like Israel, are an adulterous people as daily we go chasing after other gods, as we forget about the true God, as we fail to love our neighbor. Therefore, God must divorce us; we must be separated from him forever. He can longer be the holy Bridegroom of a rebellious people; a sin-stained Bride.
But the Bridegroom comes to be divorced from God in our place. That’s what’s going on when Jesus hangs on the cross and says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He buys back his Bride, you and me, with his own blood, and he presents us to his Father as a radiant, white, holy, sinless, and glorious bride.
The angel says to John in Revelation, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?… These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:13–14). See what the Bridegroom has done for you? He makes you his forgiven, holy Bride fit for the kingdom of heaven, prepared for the marriage feast of the Lamb. This parable is about the Bridegroom who prepares you for the marriage feast on the Last Day as he fills your lamp of faith with himself—his death and his resurrection—and in him you are ready and prepared to enter the feast . . . no matter when he comes. Hear the announcement of our Lord’s invitation, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And we say, “Even so, Lord Jesus, quickly come!” And he says to you, “Yes, I am coming soon.” And those who were ready went in. Amen.