The Yom Kippur overlay: The parable of the Ten Virgins is centered around 10 Virgins awaiting a long-delayed Bridegroom who would arrive and open the doors to a Wedding Feast. It was important to be prepared for His arrival, for once he entered the doors would be locked.
To fully understand the parable, we must step away from our Christian belief of the Second Coming of our Messiah. The audience would instead have associated this parable with the feast of Yom Kippur. To that end, lets rewind our clocks to that feast at the time of Christ:
Two goats were presented to the High Priest as a sacrifice, both without blemish – one for God the other for Azazel. Both would die, but the goat for Azazel first bore the sins of the community.
At the time of Christ, a tradition specified the goat for Azazel be delivered to a gentile, who would then take it outside the city gates and throw it off a cliff. When the goat had died, the sins of the community were forgiven – and a scarlet thread affixed to the temple area turned white. The now white thread, having affirmed the atonement, cued the High Priest to reenter the Holy of Holies for a prayer of Thanksgiving.
The High Priest as Bridegroom
Afterwards, the High Priest shed his robes for a final water purification ritual. Once purified, he donned Bridegroom vestments along with a Crown and went into the streets for a wedding celebration.
The wedding feast of Yom Kippur was symbolic of the mystical wedding bond between God and the Jewish people. The bridal imagery of the people as the “Kallah” (bride) and the High Priest as the “chatan” (bridegroom) exiting the Holy of Holies, is still kept alive in Jewish Kabbalistic and Hasidic traditions.
Unmarried women would line the streets dressed in white as virgins awaiting their bridegroom. Not only were their sins atoned but God would be understood as renewing his marital relationship with Israel.
The virgins did not know exactly when the High Priest would make his appearance, because the community had no specific foreknowledge as to when exactly the goat for Azazel would die for their sins. So they waited, and sometimes waited, and waited a long time into the night.
The Marriage Proposal at the Last Supper
Jesus knew that at the Last Supper He would offer his disciples a cup of His blood for the forgiveness of sins, understanding as well how a future groom in the Jewish tradition, sealed a marriage betrothal by offering a cup of wine to his future bride as a sign that he was willing to die for her. If she then drank, she was accepting to be his wife, but not until he first went to prepare a place for her. (Jn 14:2).
“Is this a marriage proposal or a Passover cup?” some of His disciples might have wondered.
It was both.
The church Jesus was establishing would be His bride.
Putting It All Together
Jesus, the Bridegroom Messiah, would not only be the Passover Lamb, and the Yom Kippur goat for God, but also the goat of Azazel that would take away the sins of the world after being delivered to the gentiles to die. He was also Priest and Victim, dressed on His way to the cross in a Khiton, the seamless garment of a High Priest. (Jn 19:23).
This Davidic King would also wear a crown as the High Priest wore on Yom Kippur, symbolizing God as groom to His people.
Jesus’ crown would be a crown of Thorns.
We must remain vigilant as wise virgins, for as His bride, we do not know when our Bridegroom will call us to the Marriage Feast of the Lamb. (Rev 19:6-9). Until then, each Sunday let us renew our wedding vow to Jesus by faithfully receiving our Bridegroom in the Eucharist.