Co-Authored with Andrea Garzon
We both found the idea of writing something together irresistible when it surfaced. Early in the process we felt the Spirit challenging us to unravel a parable which so far had evaded both of us. Jesus likening the Kingdom with ten virgins seems a bit peculiar. Why would He use such imagery? What is He trying to convey to those who would read His words many centuries later? Is this parable of great significance to the believer? Does it bring new insights which will encourage and edify us in our daily walk? In order to answer those questions we knew we would have to rely solely on the Spirit trusting His guidance and His eagerness to reveal the secrets of the Kingdom. When Andrea got the idea that we should do some research on Jewish wedding traditions the parable began to yield, and those findings combined with what the Spirit has shown us is what we will present in this article. We entertain no illusions that we have exhausted the subject, but we are confident that we bring to light some wonderful truths that will bless our readers.
The Jewish marriage ceremony abounds with symbols and allegories which find parallels in God’s dealings with His people. Marriage in the Jewish tradition is a practical legal matter which is established by a contract or covenant. One of the terms in the contract deals directly with how much the bridegroom is willing to pay for his bride. If the terms were approved the groom and his bride would share a glass of wine. This was a most important part since it symbolized the groom’s willingness to pay the price and the bride’s willingness to marry him.
When the contract is made legally binding it is expected that the bride will do a lot of waiting. Convention stated that she had to be ready to leave on a moment’s notice when the bridegroom came for her. In case the bridegroom would come late at night it was essential she had an oil lamb ready and at hand. While waiting for her beloved one she was referred to as consecrated, set apart and bought with a price.
The bridegroom’s father decides when the bridegroom is to bring his bride with him. He will not permit the bridegroom to go for her before the bridegroom has finished the wedding chamber where the two lovers will spend seven days together to consummate the union. Custom demands that one of the bridegroom’s friends is to give the bride a warning when the bridegroom is coming by giving a shout. The bride doesn’t know when he will come so the shout is the signal she has yearned to hear during the long wait. Owing to this tradition she has to be ready at all times prepared to leave on a moment’s notice bringing her lamp with her.
Another fascinating aspect is that all Jewish brides were “stolen”. When the bridegroom came it was to abduct her carrying her into the night taking her to the room he had spent much time and energy preparing for her. When he finally came she was thrilled by the prospect of being carried off, not by a stranger, but by the one she loved and who had paid such a high price for her to become his. When Jesus told the parable all the aforementioned is the context into which His listeners interpreted it.
The Bible tells us that the eye is the lamp of the body. Paul called those eyes the eyes of the heart. How our inner eyes or our eyes of the heart, that is, our inner consciousness perceives its environment and its existence are crucial for how we behold ourselves as citizens of the Kingdom. Oil in the Bible refers to the Holy Spirit and He is the one who maintain and fuel our inner seeing by His ministry that takes place in every believer.
All the virgins bring something with them when they are to meet the bridegroom. All ten of them brought with them their own oil, but five of them also brought with them oil in vessels. The problem with our own oil is that it is an imaginary oil which soon is exhausted when we try to negotiate our way through this world and the kingdom by our own “powers”. In his writings Paul more than once likened us with vessels. When that vessel is filled with oil it is the Spirit of God who has filled it and whose oil lasts forever. Moreover, the Spirit’s oil is the only acceptable oil because it is of God.
Every one borne from above has the Spirit. We are therefore all anointed with oil. More precisely; we are soaked in oil in the similitude of Aaron. And by that same Spirit of love we are a spotless bride earnestly waiting for our lover to bring us home. It is the Spirit who is our guarantee that we have plenty of oil for today and until that day. The foolish virgins said: “Give us some of your oil for our lamps” The wise said: “…but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.” The thing is that the anointing, the revelation thereof and the expansion of our inner knowing cannot be bought or borrowed, but comes through a personal experience and encounter with the Person who speaks His truths into our hearts. To buy oil also alludes to wanting to make ourselves more presentable to the groom by our own works – the illusion that we somehow can add to His payment. But being married to Him is solely based on faith and not works. And it is not unlikely that the bride’s waiting is an allegory to our rest in Christ where we have ceased from our own works and by inner recognition acknowledge it is the Father who does the works as us.
What does Jesus mean by the word “know”? “I know you not”, He said. To know in Biblical terms often refers to know in the sense Abraham knew Sara when they conceived the child of promise. Know then refers to union. Two fused together – two become one! The parable does not say that the foolish did not enter the kingdom but they could not enjoy the feast. “…the bridegroom came, and those who were prepared went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut.” It is by faith that we penetrate deeper into the Promised Land and by the Spirit conquer new expanses which are subjected to our authority. It is by inner seeing we take possession of our inheritance and recognize Christ in us. It is by that same inner seeing we understand that we now are married to Christ and have thus entered His joy. This is wisdom in Biblical terms. Those who have not entered this level in their inner consciousness are shut out simply because they do not yet see! This conclusion is based on the assumption that all the virgins are new creations. It is most unlikely that Jesus would use the word virgin about someone still in union with the usurper, the spirit of error.
Some brief words on heaven and hell are fitting in this context. Romans 11:8-10 informs us that Israel has not obtained what it seeks, because God gave them a spirit of stupor so that they couldn’t see. Without the Spirit of God they had nothing to power their lamps so they remain in darkness until this day. However, Paul continues with saying: “For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved..” Norman Grubb maintained that heaven and hell are inside us, and without first being in hell we wouldn’t long for heaven. “We all started life in hell. The only way to heaven is through hell. Because it’s only when you’ve had hell you know there is a heaven and you want it.”
Has the kingdom come or will it come? Jesus told Nicodemus: “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3). This more than suggests that the Kingdom already is, but evidently not everyone sees it. “Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). By this Jesus firmly establishes a fundamental truth which stunningly proclaim that the kingdom has come, but it can only be recognized by inner seeing. Paul is in agreement with Jesus when he states that “The kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness, peace and joy in the spirit” (Rom 14:17).
“But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon
you” (Matt 12:28). The kingdom of God is not an event that will take place in a dim future. It has already happened. By using metaphors and parables Jesus would talk to people still living in the shadows of the Old Testament, and His message would fall to the ground because those still clinging to shadows can merely see separation, that is, God apart from man. However, the substance, as presented in the gospel, is Christ in us living as us! Even though there are events we have not yet seen with our inner eye, they have already taken place in Christ before the foundation of the world. That’s the substance to which the author of the epistle to the Hebrews refers.
The substance which is Christ within is so fundamental that it forced Paul to powerfully reprimand the Corinthians when they deviated: “For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your mind (eyes, focus, consciousness) may be corrupted (deviate) from the simplicity that is in Christ.” (2 Cor. 11:2-3) This verse implies that even though we are born again, we still face the same temptation Eve did. We can be deceived in our minds and thus return to the shadows of separation. We live by faith, which is choice; therefore wherever we put our faith or whatever we set our mind on will be our “lamp”; in other words the light we see which will be our point of reference on how we perceive ourselves and the kingdom.
The number ten usually represents a whole, so those “10 virgins” might refer to “everybody” or “all”, and if the lamp represents something that leads, lights our path or determines our course, because everything is inner consciousness, this evidently means that “everybody” has a focus. We all have faith in something: in the truth or in the illusion of separation. You can have a lamp that seems full, even the foolish had one that burnt for a while, but it is not a guarantee that the oil will last. Something might shine, might look desirable to obtain wisdom or “light”, but it will cease because this “fire” does not originate in the Spirit but in a deception – a false “fire”. Every virgin wanted to see the bridegroom, but not all could see Him because of the “light” they had. “If the light you think you have is darkness…”.