"Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight a cry was heard: 'Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!' Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the wise answered, saying, 'No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.' And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding, and the door was shut. Afterward, the other virgins came also, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open to us!' But he answered and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.' Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming" (Matt. 25:1-13).
Jesus' use of the word "then" shows that the context from the end of Matthew 24 has continued into this chapter. Jesus is still talking about His second coming, and He is using this parable to illustrate what will happen on that final day.
There are "ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom." The specific details regarding the role of these virgins in the wedding feast is not known, but we do know that they were expected to be ready to go out and meet the bridegroom when his approach was announced. Symbolically, the virgins represent those in God's kingdom, and all of God's children should be "pure" (cf. II Cor. 11:2). The "lamps," which were small earthenware vessels with flax wicks, represent the faith of Christians. The reason why there are "ten" virgins is probably because the number ten often implies fullness or completeness numerically.
It is interesting that the bride is not mentioned in this parable. Some have suggested that the unmentioned bride is the church. Without a doubt, the New Testament church is the bride of Christ (cf. Rom. 7:1-4; Eph. 5:23ff). However, most understand the virgins in this parable to represent the church. This matter, though troubling to some, should not be a serious concern, and it certainly should not hinder a proper understanding of the parable. The main thrust of Jesus' words in this parable is the necessity of preparedness. Although there are other lessons that can be gleaned, one is not wise to overanalyze every detail of an illustration that was intended to convey a fundamental spiritual truth (this is the case for all of Jesus' parables). We must take caution not to get lost in attempting to understand every detailed symbol of any parable, otherwise we will "find" (i.e., invent) things that our Lord never intended.
Matthew 25:2 implies that there are both wise and foolish Christians in the kingdom of God (cf. II Cor. 13:5). The foolish virgins brought their lamps but no extra oil. Since the time at which the groom would come was unknown, they should have brought extra oil in a separate vessel. Although some preparation had been made by all of the virgins, the preparation of these five was insufficient.
The virgins who brought extra oil in a separate vessel were prepared for a delay; they were the wise ones. The extra oil represents the active, living faith of these Christians (cf. Eph. 2:10; James 2:14ff). Such is possessed by those who are striving to make their calling and election sure (cf. II Pet. 1:10).
"But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept" - There was nothing wrong with the virgins drifting off to sleep while waiting for the bridegroom, as long as they were prepared to immediately go out and meet him as soon as his coming was proclaimed. The sleep of the virgins represents death (cf. Matt. 27:52). If the Lord continues to "delay" His return, then all of this generation will eventually go to "sleep," and at the resurrection we will be "awakened" and commanded to go meet the groom (cf. Dan. 12:2)!
We will continue studying this parable in our next lesson.