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The Parables of Jesus: The Wise and Foolish Maidens

Johan Smulders has a . B.A, B.ED and M.A in Education, Theology and Counselling. Works as an evangelist and counsellor.


Readiness for his return was an important part of the teaching of Jesus and this parable illustrated this clearly.

The Parables of Jesus: Ready for His Return

Jesus taught clearly that he was leaving this world but that he would return. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may be with me where I am” (John 14:3 – NIV used with permission). At the same time Jesus gave the disciples a mission and encouraged them to be ready for His return. Several parables deal with the need for his followers to be ready, so readiness was something that they needed to understand and make provision for as we do.

Recorded in Luke, Jesus also warned them to: “be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning” (Luke 12:35), and in 21:35, 36 Luke records the warning of Jesus about the Second Coming: “For it will come upon all who live on the face of the earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

In the parable commonly known as the Parable of the Ten Maidens (Matthew 25:1-13), Jesus uses an event that was a common experience in Palestine in his time to drive home this warning to be ready. Although we do not know much about the actual procedures in a wedding in those days, there are some parts of this event that are known. The choice of marriage partners was made by the parents, often at a young age. The two were then eventually betrothed and a dowry was paid. At this stage the marriage was binding and only a divorce could end it. A year later the actual marriage ceremony took place, followed by the wedding feast. This was a time of celebration, of eating, drinking and dancing. This was something the whole family and friends looked forward to and to be excluded was a very sad situation.

The arrival of the groom for this particular wedding was at an uncertain time and so in the parable, the guests had to be ready and waiting when he arrived. The doors to the celebration were opened and then closed once the invited guests had entered. Imagine the excitement in the community at this time! Dressed and ready, those invited waited patiently for the groom. (In the parable the groom, who arrives from a distant land, obviously represents Jesus.) The ten invited young women, possibly bridesmaids, were dressed and ready, but as night came they became tired and fell asleep. Then the call came: “Here he is! Light your lamps and stand ready to enter the room where the feast is to be held”. But sadly 5 of the 10 had not prepared adequately and the oil in their lamps was finished. The other 5 had enough oil and so they filled their lamps, lit them, and made their excited entrance. “Help us with some oil”, the 5 foolish maidens tried to borrow some oil at the last minute, but to no avail. So they missed out of the time of joyous celebration. It is a parable that must have brought tears to the eyes of the listeners as they realised the disappointment that the 5 foolish maidens must have felt.

The warning by Jesus at the end of the parable is obviously intended for his disciples and then also for us today: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Matthew 25:13). Readiness is an essential part of the Christian life and sadly many today live in a foolish way having failed to make the necessary preparations. The disappointment will be even greater than missing out on a wedding feast. Later in closing the same chapter in Matthew, Jesus describes the fate of those who are not ready: “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (25:46). The parable of the thief who comes in the night is teaching the same basic message.

Being ready does not happen when the time of crisis arrives. It takes thorough planning and preparation at a much earlier stage. These principles are clearly taught in the parable of the wise and foolish builders (Matthew 7:24-27). When the storm waters arrive nothing can be done to rebuild the foundation of the house that was built on the sand. The proper planning and building of the foundations had to take place at an earlier stage. The same principle applies to the Christian life. Regular worship, prayer and study prepare an individual for crises that will arrive in every life.


There are some basic important facts that can be learned from the parable of the Wise and Foolish Maidens and other parables on the same subject:

  1. Without proper preparation one cannot be ready for any crisis or opportunity that arrives. That includes the Second coming of Jesus.
  2. We cannot borrow from others what we need to receive ourselves through faith and obedience to the gospel.
  3. We cannot recall missed opportunities. Be ready and take every opportunity to hear God’s message (The Good News) and to take his light into the world.
  4. The most important event in any life is to prepare for a meeting with Jesus when he comes to be the final judge. He has already come as a savior.


References: NIV Translation of Bible

Dodd, C.H. The Parables of the Kingdom

Lightfoot, N. The parables of Jesus.

Scriptures taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

The "NIV" and "New International Version" trademarks are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by International Bible Society. Use of either trademark requires the permission of International Bible Society.

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