The Jewish Wedding and Jesus – The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids

The Jewish Wedding and Jesus – The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids

The Jewish Wedding and Jesus – The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids.

“While the five foolish bridesmaids were out buying oil, the bridegroom appeared. Those who were ready and waiting were escorted inside with him and the wedding party to enjoy the feast. And then the door was locked. Later, the five foolish bridesmaids came running up to the door and pleaded, ‘Lord, Lord, let us come in!’ But he called back, ‘Go away! Do I know you? I can assure you, I don’t even know you!’ That is the reason you should always stay awake and be alert, because you don’t know the day or hour when the Bridegroom will appear.” 

Please read Matthew 25:1-13.

THE CONTEXT. a. Just prior to this parable, in Matthew 24, Jesus is seated at the Mount of Olives, teaching his disciples. They asked him about the consummation of the Age, when will the End come, when will they see Jesus usher in the New Kingdom at last? Jesus proceeds to give one teaching after another about the End of the Age, that it will come unexpectedly, quickly, decisively, that no one knows when it will occur. Even Jesus the Son and all the angels don’t know. Only the Father knew. And, there’s nothing anyone can do to bring it all about. So Jesus gave many warnings, and said to be ready for its coming, be prepared, plan ahead, be watchful, careful and expectant. One of his summary statements is in Matthew 24:42: “Watch, therefore – give strict attention, be cautious and active – for you do not know in what kind of day (whether a near or remote one) your Lord is coming.” (Amplified Version). It is in this context that Jesus gives his disciples this parable, which is basically an illustration of what he has just told them.

b. The return of Jesus as Lord at the End is an important doctrine in the Christian Faith. Jesus talked about it often. In fact, one of every 30 verses in the New Testament is about his return. The coming Event should influence how we live each day.

c. To understand the parable better, here is what a first century wedding in a Jewish village would look like. On the day of the wedding, the groom would go to the home of the bride with family and friends, in order to take her to the groom’s home for the wedding and banquet. He would place her on a donkey or other riding animal at her house, and they would parade through the village so that everyone could take part in the celebration. When they approached the groom’s home, the bridesmaids were to be ready at the entrance to the house with lamps a-burning, to escort the wedding party to the feast. The bridesmaids were the official welcoming party, a very important part of the whole wedding process. It would be highly embarrassing if there were no lamps burning at the groom’s home. The welcome escort would be deeply disappointing for everyone.

THE BRIDESMAIDS. a. They are often called young women, or virgins in this story. They are an important part of the wedding experience, and need to be ready for the return of the bridegroom with the bride, if they want to take part in the banquet. In a Jewish wedding ceremony, it was stated that ten men were needed to be in attendance to make it official. Jesus chose ten women to balance the scales in the gender gap of the day.

b. The Church is always feminine in the Gospels. The Bride of Christ, with Jesus the Bridegroom. These young women represent the Church, the disciples and followers of Christ. These maidens are the believers waiting for the return of the Groom, all with lamps, all in the wedding party in the beginning.

c. Five of the bridesmaids brought extra oil, and five did not. The wise and prudent maidens were ready for the delayed wedding party to arrive. The five foolish maidens, the unfaithful disciples, were not. At midnight, when they least expected it, the groom arrived with his party. The wise bridesmaids were able to light their lamps and escort the group to the feast. The foolish were not able to light their lamps, having run out of fuel, and so were not a part of the welcome and escort to the feast.

d. The five wise bridesmaids didn’t share their oil with the five foolish. The wise ones were not being mean or selfish. It made sense. There wasn’t enough extra oil for all ten lamps. And it was much better that there at least be five lit lamps, as opposed to ten unlit lamps. The wedding festivities could continue with the lamps that were burning. Also, this shows that readiness is an individual responsibility, not a group project in the faith.

e. It was okay that the virgins fell asleep. There was no rebuke from Jesus for that. But the wake-up call was a victorious moment for the wise virgins who were ready. And it was a disastrous call for the foolish virgins, who were not ready.

THE GROOM. a. The time has come. He has returned. Some are ready, and some are not. There comes a time when the door is shut. The door is not open forever. When the Kingdom comes, there will be a door. All ten virgins were in the wedding party initially, but only five were ready for the groom to appear. Sadly, it appears that it’s possible to be too late.

b. When the five foolish maidens knocked on the closed door, they demanded for the Lord to open it. The groom’s response is clear and unambiguous: “I do not know you!” In the Judeo-Christian Faith, knowledge is not limited to head-knowledge. To know something or someone was experiential, personal, intimate, relational. Adam “knew” Eve. Knowledge implies a relationship, a deep personal one, in which each partner truly knows and loves the other at the heart level. The five foolish bridesmaids were bumped from the wedding party as they looked for oil, so the groom didn’t know them personally, and the door was shut.

c. The parable is left open-ended. Did the groom finally relent and let the five foolish virgins into the wedding feast? We don’t know. The final decision is up to the Bridegroom.

FINAL THOUGHTS. a. Does the oil represent anything in particular in this story? It certainly was a central prop, and the whole story pivoted on whether or not the bridesmaids had oil for their lamps. I believe that the oil is whatever is life-giving in the life of faith. The oil is a personal relationship with God, and whatever gives life to faith… prayer, Scriptures, meditation, worship, repentance, confession, study, community interaction. The light from the lamp, as Jesus has said elsewhere in the Gospels, is good works… fruitfulness, mercy, joy, hospitality. So whatever enables that light to shine is the oil. In other words, the oil is the Holy Spirit, the giver of life. The oil is our inspired love of God, with everything we have… soul, strength, heart, mind. And the light is love of neighbor. The oil fuels the light. The Spirit fuels the mercy. The oil gives life to the fire.

b. The wise bridesmaids knew how to wait properly, and the foolish ones didn’t. What does it mean to wait biblically? Waiting is an activity motivated and sustained by hope and readiness. Is waiting an empty, passive experience in resignation? No. An ulcerating, thumb-twiddling act of idle impatience? Nope. Is it the listless art of biding one’s time? No again. The root Hebrew word that Isaiah, for instance in Isaiah 40:28-31, used for wait actually means to combine, to bind together by twisting. So think of waiting as akin to twining rope or braiding hair. The patient waiter is one who, with not a small amount of concentration, braids together the scattered fragments and fragile strands of life into a unified, durable whole. The waiter patiently is prepared with a single-minded focus, ready to serve, ready for anything. The waiter is one whose work and rest and laughter and tears and success and failures are constantly blended into a lifestyle of hope, persistence and purpose. Active waiting is hopeful readiness, patient trust, unified focus, watchful preparation. Those qualities are alive and well in the wise bridesmaids. The foolish ones didn’t know how to wait, ready and prepared, braiding together what was needed to receive the groom whenever he came. They were not active waiters. The wise ones truly waited, and were ready for the unexpected, redeeming the time in preparation.

c. It seems crucial that in our braiding, our active waiting, we make the Lord one of the strands. Weave together Jesus with painful memories, and experience healing. Braid together God with present challenges, and find meaning. Tie together the Lord with anxieties about the future, and live in hope. “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Eccles. 4:12). One strand is me, you, the self. The central strand is the Lord. The third strand is whatever we are experiencing in our life… friends or enemies, school or career, difficulties or fulfillments. Weave the Faith in, and the braid is unbreakable. Active waiting, faithful braiding. That is the sensible thing to do, and this is what the wise bridesmaids did.

c. If we should fall asleep before the Lord returns, in other words if we die, then, the Lord’s wake-up call will be music to our ears… “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you; Christ shall give you light.” (Ephesians 5:14).


  1. Jesus is sitting on the Mount of Olives privately with His disciples , immediately after He scorched the religious leaders in the Temple. He called them everything from hypocrites to serpents, from vipers to blind guides, from fools to whitewashed tombs to children of murderers. Jesus didn’t mince words, He didn’t hold back out of respectful politeness. Jesus was definitely hot under the collar. Did He need some time to cool off? If you were approaching Jesus right after His severe tongue-lashing of the Temple leaders, what would you have been feeling? Is there any connection between Jesus’ words of judgment and His subsequent words about the End Times?
  2. A classic Sunday School song goes like this: “Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning, burning, burning. Give me oil in my lamp, I pray. Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning, burning, burning, keep me burning till the break of day.”  How do we get this oil? How can we keep burning?
  3. The bridegroom is coming at midnight in the story, late, when he is least expected. So we need to be alert, ready to follow the groom to the banquet. How can we actively wait in a state of readiness, and not be caught in a state of distraction, impatience, carelessness or laziness?
  4. And the door to the banquet is closed tight. Is all hope extinguished? What will happen to the foolish bridesmaids? How would you write the end of this parable?

Resources: A Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah; K. Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes; H. Thielicke, The Waiting Father; Rev. Dr. Mark Tumney, sermon; H. Lockyer, All the Parables of the Bible; J. Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus.