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In the parable of the 10 virgins, why are they all sleeping before the time comes?  What does this sleep mean or represent?


This parable is found in Matthew 25:1-13 (click here to read it).

Based upon the context, this story is a portrait of Christ's final return to this planet.  Jesus ends this parable by saying in verse 13, "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming."

In this parable we have 10 women who represent God's people.  The Bible often uses a woman to symbolize the Lord's church.  In the Old Testament, the Jewish nation was God's special people.  This is why He says in Jeremiah 6:2 "I have likened the daughter of Zion (or the Israelites) to a lovely and delicate woman." 

The New Testament often uses this same symbolism as well: Ephesians chapter 5 is a perfect example.  In verse 25, Paul says "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it."  Here, the relationship between a husband and wife is compared to the bond between Jesus and His people.  Verse 32: "This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church."  Jesus is often referred to as the bridegroom (see Luke 5:34-35, John 3:29, and Revelation 21:1-2) because He is coming back to marry and receive His bride, which is the Christian church.

The women in this parable are sleeping when they are supposed to be waiting and ready for Jesus, the bridegroom, to come.  This sleep does not represent physical sleep, like when we lay our head down on the pillow each night, but this is a symbol of spiritual sleep, the kind that Romans 13:11-14 talks about: "now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.  The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light."

A sleeping Christian is one who isn't truly abiding and walking with the Lord Jesus, but instead, their only acting as if they are; they're only "going through the motions".  They may attend church each week and even read the Bible, but they aren't living in the presence of God and communing with Him in a real way.  You can know that something isn't right if you begin to love the things of this world more than you love the Lord.

Paul talked about the Lord's return and sleeping in 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8  "But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief.  You are all sons of light and sons of the day.  We are not of the night nor of darkness.  Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.  For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night.  But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation."

In Mark 13:15-37, Jesus warns us to not be asleep when He comes: "Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning, lest coming suddenly, he find you sleeping.  And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!"

As Christians, how can we stay awake until the Lord comes?  Paul gives us the answer in Romans 13:13-14  "Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts."  We need to "put on" Jesus, meaning that we need Him leading our life as we follow in His footsteps (1 John 2:6). 

If we really want to be ready for Christ when He comes, then we need to stop trusting in ourselves and what we can do to improve our life.  Instead, we need to trust and depend upon Jesus, the one "who is able to keep you from stumbling, And to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, To God our Savior, Who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen." (Jude 1:24-25)

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