12. The day of judgment, 24:1-25:46

iv] The parable of the ten bridesmaids


Having dealt with the destruction of the temple and the signs of his coming, Jesus sets about encouraging his disciples to be watchful, here, with the parable of the ten bridesmaids.


Keep watch to your faith, otherwise you will be caught out!


i] Context: See 24:1-11.


ii] Structure: The parable of the ten bridesmaids:

Parable, v1-12;

Saying, v13:

"keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour."


iii] Interpretation:

In the parable of the ten virgins we learn that the dawning of God's eternal reign can be compared to the situation where a bridegroom arrives late to a wedding and some of the assisting maidens are caught unprepared. Therefore keep watch to your faith, otherwise you will be caught out..


The parable of The Ten Bridesmaids is a kingdom parable, a riddle where the gospel is hidden within an illustrative story. As such it announces the immediacy (realization / inauguration) of the kingdom of God. Such parables do not openly proclaim the gospel, but rather do so in the form of a riddle; See the introductory notes for the parable of the sower, 13:1-9, 18-23, and the purpose of kingdom parables, 13:10-17. So, kingdom parables primarily serve as gospel presentations to those who have rejected a clear word from God, and as such, they serve to draw out those with ears to hear, prompting a response of repentance and faith. None-the-less, Matthew sometimes uses kingdom parables for a teaching / didactic purpose and this is one such example. In v13 Matthew provides an unambiguous application for believers by restating Jesus' saying concerning the necessity of wakefulness in the face of the unexpected return of the Son of Man, 24:42, cf. Mark 13:35-37. Also, the formulaic introduction, v1, takes an unusual future tense, rather than the usual aorist tense ("the kingdom of God is like ...."). This is probably down to Matthew.

So, Matthew's didactic intent for believers sits within the immediacy of God's heavenly reign in Christ; everything is go. A disciple's response to this reality must be to "keep awake" (a durative present tense). Like a watchmen in the late night hour, eyelids heavy with sleep, the task is to stay awake, be alert, be vigilant. Given that the primary response to a kingdom parable (gospel riddle) is faith, then staying awake is all about holding on to that faith - trusting Jesus day by day. Christ's reign is about to be realized and in that day many who wait for it will not be part of it, so, hold onto your faith. So, the message of the parable of the ten bridesmaids is simple enough; in the face of the imminent realization of the kingdom of God, keep watching to your faith.


What do the commentators have to say about this parable? The tendency is to treat the parable allegorically - it tells us something about Jesus the bridegroom, and faithful / unfaithful disciples, see Jeremias Parables.

Luz: the parable is all about keeping watch and the oil is "good works" - "love";

Patte: "be watchful" means to "do right now what is required as a member of the wedding party - a disciple";

Filson: the parable simply teaches that everyone needs to be ready to meet the Lord;

Blomberg: the parable concerns a believer's preparation during a time of delay = faithful discipleship;

D&A: "be prepared" means "doing the will of God";

Mounce: being prepared involves "responding to the needs of the disadvantaged";

Schnackenburg: the parable is about the church's need to remain "watchful" during the time of Christ's delayed return;

Fenton: that the church be "prepared" and "ready" for Christ's return;

Hagner: "constant readiness" is required such that the believer will not be caught out by Christ's "inopportune" return;

Gundry: watchfulness during the tribulation prior to Christ's return, when there will be a temptation to indulge in antinomianism;

Keener: "a disciple must watch and be ready";

McNeile: a disciple must be faithful and prudent in readiness for the parousia;

France: preparing for the master's return during a time of delay by "service to others." At least France doesn't try to identify the oil, but as with most, the bridegroom is Jesus;

Nolland: "check your equipment now because who knows how much longer it will be before you have to be sure that you are ready" (what does this mean John???);

Morris: continual readiness is required as we await Christ's return;

France, in NICNT, having a second crack at this gospel, rejects an allegorical approach. He underlines readiness so that we don't get the "I don't know you", a readiness which is obviously not "ethical correctness", but a "long-terms provision" which will enable the disciple to "sleep secure" (a touch of allegory?);

Schweizer: the parable reflects the state of the church, its long wait for the return of Jesus has quenched its fire;

Carson, who gives a nice overview of various interpretations of the parable (so also Luz), states that this parable "stresses the need for preparedness in the face of an unexpectedly long delay."


iv] Form:

Dodd, Parables, argues for the immediacy of the kingdom in this eschatological kingdom parable. As with the other kingdom parables, this parable reveals the "tremendous crisis" now realized in Jesus, a crisis which confronts "faithful and unfaithful, wise or foolish" alike. Dodd goes on to argue that some kingdom parables were reinterpreted and adapted "by the church to enforce its appeal to men to prepare for the second and final world-crises which it believed to be approaching." Matthew's use again of Jesus' saying on wakefulness, v13, certainly specifies an interpretation suitable for believers, without undermining the parable's primary intent, namely, to announce the immediacy of the kingdom.


v] Synoptics:

The parable is unique to Matthew and so is obviously drawn from his own source, M. There are some thematic reflections of the parable found in Luke, 12:35-38, 13:25. Some critical scholars suggest that the parable is a product of Matthew's own hand, but this fails to recognize the respect our gospel writers gave to their received tradition - the words of Jesus have the same weight as revelation. It is far more likely that Matthew has drawn the parable from his own received tradition, most likely oral. As for the saying in v13, used by Matthew to focus didactic intent, see Mk.13:35, Matt.24:36.


vi] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 25:1

Keep awake, v1-13: i] The parable of the ten bridesmaids, v1-12. The parable describes a typical Jewish wedding. The bridegroom prepares at his parent's home and the bride at her parent's home. The bridegroom then processes to the bride's parent's home where the festivities begin. In the early evening, the bride, groom and guests process to the grooms home. On the way they are joined by the bridesmaids, although probably just for this story. All members of the party must provide their own lamps, but some of the bridesmaids are unprepared. The shout rings out and the bridegroom comes. The bridesmaids prepare to light up, but five have no oil. The preparedness of the five wise bridesmaids cannot help the ones who are unprepared. The bridegroom appears and the wise enter with the wedding party. The foolish bridesmaids are locked out and cannot enter, for the groom does not know them. As with all parables, it is tempting to turn this story into an allegory, assigning meaning to every element. Is the bridegroom Christ? Is the delay referring to Christ's delayed return? Is the oil good works, the Holy Spirit or the grace of God,....? We are best to look for the central idea and leave it at that - the day of judgment is at hand, don't be caught out!

Tote adv. "At that time" - then. Temporal adverb. The term is vague and should not be treated as expressing consecutive time here; "at that time." Matthew uses the word a number of times in chapters 24 and 25 to express the general idea of something happening around the time of the end of the age. So, as NIV.

twn ouranwn (oV) gen. "[the kingdom] of heaven" - The genitive can be classified in a number of ways, but technically is adjectival, limiting "kingdom", attributive, "the heavenly kingdom", or subjective, given that "the kingdom" is dominion, as well as a domain, and "heaven" is but a deferential reference to "God", so "the kingdom of God" = "the dynamic reign God"; see 3:2.

oJmoiwqhsetai (oJmoiow) fut. pas. "will be like" - will be compared to. An unusual future tense is used instead of the usual aorist for this introductory statement to a kingdom parable. "The kingdom of Heaven will be compared to the situation where ........."

parqenoiV (oV) dat. "virgin" - [ten] maids. Dative of direct object after the verb "to make like." Here a bridesmaid without necessarily being a virgin.

labousai (lambanw) aor. part. "took" - [who] having taken. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "went out."

taV lampadaV (aV adoV) "[their] lamps" - the lamps [of them]. Accusative direct object of the participle "having taken." Possibly the common pottery ship-shaped bowl with a hole at one end for a wick, although a "torch" for outside use is more likely. The important thing is to have some lamp oil.

eiV + acc. "to [meet]" - [went out] to [meeting]. Possibly expressing purpose, "in order to meet", although with uJpanthsiV, the sense is usually "coming out to meet"; here of joining with a procession to the groom's house.

tou numfiou (oV) " gen. The bridegroom" - Genitive complement of eiV uJpanthsin, "coming out to meet", although it usually takes a dative. Albright accepts the variant kai numfhV, "and the bride", since he interprets the "bridegroom" as the messiah and the "bride" as Israel. Kingdom parables and allegory don't mix!!!


ex (ek) + gen. "of [them]" - [but/and] out of, from [them]. An example of language development where a preposition is being used to clearly express a partitive genitive.

mwrai adj. "foolish" - [five were] dull, stupid, sluggish, foolish. Predicate adjective. They were foolish because they were unprepared, which observation often colors the interpretation of the parable, although it is not the point that Matthew makes, cf. v13. They didn't have spare oil, or better, as some commentator's have noted, they didn't have any oil; they took their lamps, but without oil.

fronimoi adj. "wise" - [and five] wise. Predicate adjective. The sense is "practically wise."


gar "for" - because. Here explanatory rather than causal, so not translated.

labousai (lambanw) aor. part. "took [their lamps]" - [the foolish] having taken [the lamps of them]. The participle is adverbial, possibly concessive; "for although the stupid took their lamps, they took no oil with them", Moffatt.

eleion (on) "oil" - [did not take with them] oil. Probably olive oil, although any oil was used for lighting, especially something no longer useful for cooking, something now rancid.

meq (meta) + gen. "with [them]" - Expressing accompaniment.


aiJ ... fronimoi adj. "the wise" - [but/and] the wise. The adjective serves as a substantive; "the sensible ones took oil along with their lamps", Barclay.

de "however" - but/and. The conjunction may be treated as adversative, "but the wise ...", although it is doing little more than indicating a logical step in the story line.

toiV aggeioiV (on) "jars" - [took oil in] the containers, vessels, flasks. The jars of (extra???) oil expresses preparation which is taken up by many commentators in the interpretation of the parable, namely, "be prepared." On the other hand, such details play no part in the interpretation of the parable if it is not an allegory.

meta + gen. "with" - with [the lamps of them]. Expressing accompaniment.


cronizontoV (cronizw) pres. part. "[the bridegroom] was a long time coming" - [but/and the bridegroom] being delayed, taking his time. The genitive participle with the genitive substantive "bridegroom" forms a genitive absolute construction which is usually translated as a temporal clause; "when the bridegroom was a long time in coming", Barclay. Possibly here a causal clause is intended; "because the bridegroom was ......" Although many commentators make much of the idea of delay, it is probably of no importance at all. A momentary delay in the bridegroom's coming is not the issue, rather, his coming is imminent and if you are not ready you won't get into the wedding banquet. As already noted, we should not treat kingdom parables as allegories.

pasai adj. "they all" - all [the maids]. Obviously "all the bridesmaids."

ekaqeudon (ekaqeudw) imperf. "fell asleep" - became drowsy, nodded off [and were sleeping]. The imperfect is probably chosen to express the durative nature of sleep, although Olmstead suggests it serves to express internal action as a process. "All the bridesmaids fell into a deep sleep", a fact which clashes slightly with Matthew's inclusion of the saying "stay awake", v13. This is only a problem for those who have approached the parable as if an allegory, but of course, the sleeping or otherwise of the bridesmaids bears no relationship to the exhortation. "Went on sleeping", Robertson.


meshV de nuktoV "midnight" - in middle of night. Rather than mesonuktion, "midnight", here less specific, "middle of the night." The genitive nuktoV, "night", is adjectival, partitive, while the genitive adjective, meshV, serves as a dative of time; "at a midnight hour." Midnight is often used as a symbol of the moment when God comes / appears in judgment.

genonen (ginomai) perf. "rang out" - [a shout, loud cry] has happened. Aoristic perfect tense expressing a stated action, rather than resultive. "In the middle of the night someone shouted", CEV.

exercesqe (exercomai) pres. imp. "come out" - [behold the bridegroom] go out. "Here is the bridegroom, go forth to meet him", Cassirer.

eiV "to [meet him]" - to [meet him]. The preposition here may express purpose, but eiV ananthsin + gen. (here autou, "him") is a similar construction to eiV uJpanthsin + gen., in v1; "out you go and meet him", Barclay.


tote adv. "then" - Temporal adverb; here expressing immediate sequential action.

hgerqhsan (egeirw) aor. pas. "woke up" - [all those virgins] awaken. "They all wake up."

ekosmhsan (kosmew) aor. "trimmed" - [and] they trimmed [the lamps of them]. They do what is necessary to get the lamps alight, including lighting them. This does not exclude the lamps being oiled cloth on the end of a stick.


de "-" - but/and. Possibly giving an adversative sense here, "but", although probably just indicating a logical step in the story line.

taiV fronimoiV dat. adj. "to the wise" - [the foolish said] to the wise. The adjective serves as a substantive, dative of indirect object.

hJmin dat. pro. "[give] us" - [give] to us. Dative of indirect object.

ek + gen. "some of [your oil]" - of [the oil of you]. Here serving as a partitive genitive, as NIV.

oJti "-" - that. Here introducing a causal clause explaining why they need some oil,"give us some of your oil because our lamps are out of oil."

sbennuntai (sbennumi) pres. pas. "are going out" - [the lamps of us] are extinguished. The present tense, being durative, expresses the thought that the lamps were spluttering and going out as the wick burned from lack of oil, but possibly just stating that they are not alight and this because they have no oil.


mhpote ou ou + subj"no [they replied, 'there may] not [be enough]'" - [but/and answered the wise ones saying] lest / perhaps no no [there would not be enough for us and for you]. This construction, the conjunction mhpote + a subjunctive of emphatic negation, is somewhat tricky. BAGD has "perhaps there might not be enough", but MM opts for the stronger negation "certainly there would never be enough"; "there would be certainly never enough to serve both us and you", Cassirer. The sentence seems somewhat elliptical, possibly a verb "to fear", so Burton, with mhpote indicating cause, "because" (Quarles suggests purpose); "You had better go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves because we fear that there is certainly not enough oil for us and for you." "Since there is not enough for us and for you", ESV, cf., Barclay.

aiJ fronimoi adj. "they" - the wise ones. The articular adjective serves as a substantive, nominative subject of the verb "to answer."

legousai (legw) pres. part. "replied" - [they answered] saying. Attendant circumstance participle, redundant; a Semitic construction.

uJmin dat. pro. "for us" - Dative of interest, advantage.

touV pwlountaV (pwlew) pres. part. "those who sell oil" - [rather, go to] the ones selling oil. The participle serves as a substantive. "Go to the dealers and buy for yourselves", Moffatt.

eJautaiV dat. ref. pro. "for yourselves" - [and buy] for yourselves. Dative of interest, advantage.


de "but" - but/and. An adversative sense works, as NIV, but primarily indicating a step in the story line. The foolish girls were out getting new supplies to meet the groom, when the groom came, entered the feast, and the doors were shut.

apercomenwn (apercomai) gen. pres. part. "while [they] were on their way" - [they] were going away. The genitive participle and its genitive subject autwn form a genitive absolute construction, best treated as temporal, as NIV; "while they were away buying it", Barclay.

agorasai (agorazw) aor. inf. "to buy" - The infinitive here is adverbial, expressing purpose.

aiJ e{toimoi adj. "the virgins who were ready" - [the bridegroom came and] the one's ready. The articular adjective serves as a substantive.

met (meta) + gen. "with [him]" - [entered] with [him]. Expressing association.

touV gamouV "the wedding banquet" - [into] the marriage [and the door was shut]. Obviously the wedding feast, as NIV.


u{steron adv. "later" - [but/and] afterwards, later. Temporal adverb.

ai loipai adj. "the others" - the remaining [virgins also come saying]. The articular adjective serves as a substantive; "the other bridesmaids."

kurie kurie "Sir! Sir! / Lord, Lord" - Double vocative is used to underline the urgency of the plea.

legousai (legw) pres. part. "they said" - Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "they came", "they came and said", or possibly classified as adverbial, modal, "they came saying."

hJmin dat. pro. "[open the door] for us" - open [to us]. Dative of interest, advantage, "open for us."


As a kingdom parable this verse serves as the punch-line, although for Matthew, the point he wants to emphasize comes in the attached saying, v13.

de "but" - but/and. Often translated here as an adversative, but primarily indicating a step in the story line. The girls asked to come in but the groom refuses to let them in. Some commentators, who identify Christ with the bridegroom, try to explain why he would be so mean, but of course, the parable is not an allegory!!!!

apokriqeiV (apokrinomai) aor. pas. part. "he replied" - he answering [said]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "said", redundant / pleonastic, again a Semitic construction.

amhn legw uJmin "I tell you the truth" - truly i say to you. A phrase which serves to underline the following statement, "I do not know you."

ouk oida uJmaV "I don't know you" - An Aramaic turn of phrase which takes the sense "I will have nothing to do with you", Fenton.


ii] The application of the parable - keep watching to your faith, v13. This saying of Jesus is repeated from 24:42. In verses 36-41 we learn that the coming of the Son of Man is unexpected, as was God's coming in judgment during the days of Noah, and so consequently many will be caught out; grhgoreite oun, "therefore be on guard." The Noah illustration serves to define the intended sense of this imperative. Noah and his family rested in faith on God's word, acted upon that word, and thus were saved through the flood. So, when the kingdom parable of the bridesmaids is applied to believers, the exhortation is simple, keep watching to your faith and you won't find yourself locked out of the heavenly banquet

oun "therefore" - for. Drawing a logical conclusion / inferential.

grhgoreite (grhgorew) imp. "keep watch" - be on the alert, on guard, awake. Literally meaning "be awake", "keep/stay awake", with a figurative meaning at times expressing vigilance, being alert, ready, and thus often treated here to mean "be prepared." The verb is used at 24:42, 43, the application of the illustration concerning being caught unawares, 24:36-41. As the watchman keeps watch, is vigilant, so that he is not caught out, so must we keep watch. Some commentators make the point that it can't be "keep watch" as all the girls went to sleep, but of course, the exhortation is for the reader. In fact, France and others argue that not only is v13 an editorial comment by Matthew, it is not a very good one, it misses the point. This is a rather brave comment since surely the point Matthew wants to make is God's word to us. So, let us keep watch to our faith, don't let it slip, for the day of judgment comes like a thief in the night, at a time when we least expect it.

oJti "because" - Introducing a causal clause explaining why a disciple should "keep watch"

ouk .... oude "[you do] not [know the day] or [the hour]" - [you] neither [know the day] nor [the hour]. A negated coordinative construction. Matthew again repeats this eschatological saying, cf., 24:36, 38, 44, 50. When it comes to the "not yet" of kingdom timing, only God knows the moment of fulfillment. And of course, unless the Lord comes in our lifetime, that moment will be the moment of our death. "You don't know the day or the time when all this will happen", CEV.


Matthew Introduction


TekniaGreek font download


[Pumpkin Cottage]