Written by: Alexander Bolotnikov

The Ten Virgins, Jewish Wedding, and the Second Coming

The twenty-fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew contains two important parables: the parable of the ten virgins and the parable of the talents. The parable of the virgins, presented at the beginning of the chapter, is intended to illustrate not only the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven but also one of the most serious problems for any follower of the Messiah: waiting for the Second Coming.

On the one hand, Matthew 24 speaks in detail about the signs of the coming; on the other hand, verse 42 reads,

“Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.” NKJV

We do not know the time of the Second Coming. The Teacher strictly warns all those who, speculating on the signs of the coming, try to calculate its time:

“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (Matt. 24:36, NKJV).

This is why an episode from a traditional first-century Jewish wedding is used to illustrate this concept. Thus, in order to correctly interpret this parable, it is necessary to understand the religious and cultural context of Hebrew society, in particular the features of the Hebrew wedding. The wedding ritual consisted of three parts. An example of such a structure is the wedding of Isaac and Rebekah.

  • Abraham sends a servant with gifts to find a bride for Isaac. The servant finds Rebekah in Haran, and she leads him to her home.
  • Rebekah’s relatives and Abraham’s servant draw up a marriage contract (ketuba). After this, Rebekah goes to her groom, Isaac.
  • Isaac introduces Rebekah to the wedding tent.

The first stage of the wedding ritual was the betrothal. The Gospel, according to Matthew, says that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was betrothed to Joseph. In Hebrew society, the wedding began with this part, which was called kiddushin, from the Hebrew verb kadash, which means “to sanctify [oneself] wife.” In ancient Israel, the betrothal ceremony was not just an engagement but literally meant “sanctification or separation.” Therefore, it was said that a man who entered into a marriage “went to consecrate his wife.” During the kiddushin ceremony, a man had to give his bride a piece of gold sized as at least half a barley grain (later the equivalent became a gold ring), and if the girl accepted this piece of gold, she became holy, that is, forbidden to everyone except the one from whom she accepted it.

The next element determined the status of the wife. At this time, the bride was endowed with legal rights, unlike a powerless concubine. In modern society, there is an opinion that cohabitation and “civil marriage” are concepts equivalent to marriage. However, the Bible says that a woman who is in a constant intimate relationship with a man has two socio-legal statuses (as opposed to fornication): concubine and wife. A man could buy himself a concubine for a couple of sheep without documenting his relationship with her. When a man got married, he gave gifts to the bride (he gave gold or later put the ring on her right index finger). Then he publicly announced to her: “You are dedicated to me [with this gold, subsequently a ring] according to the law of Moses and Israel (you are holy to me).” After this, the groom went to her father to fulfill the next important part of the marriage ceremonies.

Conclusion of a Marriage Contract

In the next part of the wedding ritual, the groom drew up a marriage contract with the bride’s father, which was called ketuba. The bride’s father had to sign this document, and until he did this, the marriage was not considered legitimate.

In this regard, it becomes clear why, in the parable of the ten virgins, the groom is delayed: the bride’s father has not yet signed the marriage contract. Yeshua used the example of the wedding because it was appropriate to illustrate the reasons for the delay of the Second Coming in this way.

Wedding Feast

After the groom returned the signed ketuba to the bride, the final phase of the wedding ritual began. It was the wedding feast. From the words of Yeshua, it is clear that the start time of the wedding feast mentioned in the book of Revelation depends only on the Heavenly Father.

And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’ ” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God” (Rev. 19:6–9, NKJV).

The wedding feast was the third stage of the wedding ceremony, during which the bride would become a legal wife. From this moment on, the marriage was considered concluded, so the newlyweds, parents, and guests were filled with joy.

Considering this illustrative parable in the context of the Second Coming, we can conclude that until Heavenly Father signs the ketuba, the wedding supper of the Lamb and the bride will not occur. Therefore, no one has the right to say when Yeshua will come. Even indirect signs do not give us the right to say anything about this. That is why Yeshua says, “Be ready...”


As we study this parable, we are left with a number of unanswered questions:

  • What is the role of the virgins who came with lamps?
  • What is the purpose of the oil that the foolish virgins did not have enough of?
  • What do their lamps and oil symbolize?
  • Why, in this parable, cannot the image of lamps and oil from the book of the prophet Zechariah be used by analogy?

First of all, it should be noted that not every time we see biblical texts in which the word “oil” is used, we should automatically assume that we are talking about the Holy Spirit. Indeed, in Zechariah's vision, we read about the temple’s seven-branched candlestick, whose light indicated the presence of the Holy Spirit. But the parable does not say that the virgins came to the wedding with the temple’s seven-branched candlesticks. The Hebrew word menorah, a seven-branched candlestick, in Greek sounds as luxia, and in this form it is found in the Greek translation of the Old Testament when describing the temple lamp in the book of Exodus (25:31, 26:35, 27:20), as well as in the book of the prophet Zechariah 4:1. In our study of the parable of the virgins, the Greek word lampas is used. The Greek translation of the Old Testament and even Zechariah 12:6 NKJV have this word: “In that day I will make the governors of Judah like a firepan in the woodpile and like a fiery torch in the sheaves; they shall devour all the surrounding peoples on the right hand and on the left, but Jerusalem shall be inhabited again in her own place—Jerusalem.” The words “fiery torch” in Greek translation sound like lampada puros and render the Hebrew phrase lapid esh. The Hebrew word lapid is better translated as “torch” or “flame.”

It was the torches that were in the hands of the girls, who, singing in a torchlight procession, were supposed to accompany the groom to the bride, who, after signing the ketubah by her father, would become the legal wife. In Israel in the 1st century CE, such processions were popular. In the territory of the women’s courtyard of the Jerusalem Temple, rebuilt by Herod, there was a torchlight procession on the Day of Tabernacles (Sukkot). The foolish virgins did not have enough oil, and therefore, with their torches extinguished, they were unfit for the role that was assigned to them. Having gone to the closed market in the middle of the night in an unsuccessful search for oil, they, of course, missed the arrival of the groom and found themselves behind locked doors.

What is the lesson for us in this story of the lamps?

As disciples of Rabbi Jesus, waiting for the Second Coming, we must be the light of the world. This is the fundamental role given to us. Our burning torch demonstrates to the whole world that we are waiting for the Second Coming, and this is our greatest hope. If our torch goes out, we will become useless, and therefore, we need God’s constant support and daily presence in our lives. This is given to us by the Holy Spirit, who dwells in our hearts while Yeshua does His work in heaven.

To summarize, it is important to be prepared for the Second Coming, but only the Heavenly Father can set its date since it is known only to Him. The return of Yeshua will put an end to evil, injustice, and corruption, but the setting of this important date by people is wrong and leads to disappointment and unbelief.

The famous 12th-century Jewish philosopher Moshe Maimonides, known as the Rambam, said: “I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even if he is delayed, I will still wait every day for him to come.” Likewise, we should always anticipate the Second Coming of the Messiah and be constantly prepared for it. He will return unexpectedly, and we need to wait constantly, being dressed in readiness and having burning lamps.



Alexander Bolotnikov, PhD

Director of the Shalom Research Center

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