The following is the sixth in a series of articles giving greater detail from the stories behind the hidden things in our Treasures from the Life of Jesus jigsaw puzzle. If you haven’t gotten yours yet, BUY IT HERE.

If you already have yours, bookmark or print this page so you can hang on to the story to share with your family as you come upon the hidden image when you do the puzzle. Read the previous article in the series HERE.

The oil lamp was one of the earliest hidden things we thought to include in our Treasures from the Life of Jesus jigsaw puzzle. Not only is it a compelling image of the ancient world, it also symbolizes light and Jesus Christ is, of course, the light of the world. But the oil lamp also brings to mind a parable that Jesus shared with his followers in Matthew 25. And it is a parable that comes with a warning.

Jesus said,

Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.

And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.

They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:

But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.

Now what do we know about the people being discussed here? It’s easy to assume that the five foolish virgins must be naysayers or doubters from society in general, but these are ten virgins who were going out of their way to meet the bridegroom, which is Christ. They knew he was coming and they anxiously sought to be at his arrival. All ten represent Church members.

So, how did five out of ten find themselves so unprepared? They showed up, they took that step. So, what were they missing?

First, let’s explore what the oil could represent.

According to a March 2009 article in the Ensign[i], the process of making this oil involves first soaking the olives in water to purge them of their bitterness before they can be crushed to extract the oil. That concept of “purging them of their bitterness” feels significant to me. Whatever else the oil represents, it must be purged of its bitterness to be pure and serve its highest use. We too must be purged of our bitterness.

That same article says, “The oil in the parable represents our faith and testimony, our purity and dedication, our good works, and our keeping of covenants—all of the ways in which we have “taken the Holy Spirit for [our] guide” (D&C 45:57).

As President Spencer W. Kimball put it, “Attendance at sacrament meetings adds oil to our lamps, drop by drop over the years. Fasting, family prayer, home teaching, control of bodily appetites, preaching the gospel, studying the scriptures—each act of dedication and obedience is a drop added to our store. Deeds of kindness, payment of offerings and tithes, chaste thoughts and actions, marriage in the covenant for eternity—these, too, contribute importantly to the oil with which we can at midnight refuel our exhausted lamps.”[ii]

It is crucial to note that President Kimball talks about adding drops over years and years. Faith and testimony are not something you either have or you don’t, they are something that needs careful and continuous cultivation.

Even our grandest spiritual experiences cannot stand up to years of casual complacency. The original building of the Salt Lake Temple was a process full of miraculous intervention and careful, faithful precision, but that hasn’t stopped its foundation from eroding and being in need of additional fortification. Likewise, we can have a testimony that was built with vibrant experience and exploration in our youth and the oil of those experiences may burn low when we begin to experience the new heartaches of parenthood, careers, failing health or financial challenges.

If you seek to depend on just one lamp’s worth of testimony, the light will burn out before the bridegroom comes. We must work to fill our vessels, not just hope that early lamp of oil will be enough.

An image taken from the Treasures from the Life of Jesus jigsaw puzzle.

In an Ensign article from June 2007[iii], Elder Lynn G. Robbins takes the symbolism of this oil a step further and says, “These parables have more than one possible interpretation. However, one wise way to “liken [these parables] unto us” (1 Nephi 19:23) is to study them with the temple in mind. This perspective reminds us of the urgent need to have and to be ever worthy of a current temple recommend.”

Carrying a current temple recommend is emblematic of someone possessing of the preparation and commitment that would fill their vessel with oil. Elder Robbins even shares the story of Sister Coy Manning whose temple recommend expired while she was in the hospital with cancer:

She knew she had only days to live and realized she would never visit the temple again in this life. Still, she told her physician, who was a member of the Church, that she wanted to have a current temple recommend when she died. He replied, perhaps in jest, “I don’t think they use them over there.” Of course her bishop and stake president were happy to visit her. With her renewed recommend she was content knowing that she had been judged worthy by the Lord’s earthly representatives to enter the temple, or symbolically to enter into His presence. She was at peace for the journey that came just a few days later.

I am inspired by the people who go out of their way to keep a current temple recommend even when the nearest temple is too far to attend regularly or during COVID closures when no one could attend the temple, no matter how near.

I absolutely agree with Elder Robbins’ assessment that the daily efforts required to live worthy of a temple recommend, regardless of our proximity to an operating temple, is a central way we can be sure of continuously filling our vessels with oil. But having a temple recommend is also, itself, a vessel. A temple recommend is an invitation to increase our spiritual understanding and access personal revelation in ways unavailable to us without the temple.

Not long ago, Lynne Perry Christofferson wrote an article for Meridian entitled “What if I Don’t Love the Temple?” in which she gave suggestions for improving the temple experience, particularly for those who don’t necessarily understand or enjoy it. Her suggestions are an extension of President Russell M. Nelson’s recent admonition: “If you don’t yet love to attend the temple, go more often—not less.”[iv]

From her own experience, Lynne said, “The day I got serious about the temple was the day the Lord got serious about me: serious about sharing His power, increasing my understanding of covenants, increasing my spiritual gifts, and purifying my desires. No, it didn’t happen all at once, but I testify that the holy temple has changed my life. As you patiently persist in your efforts to understand and appreciate God’s holy house, your life will change too.”

Too often, we are surrounded by resources and opportunities to fill our vessel with oil, but we just don’t reach out and take advantage of them. Why? Perhaps like the five foolish virgins, we think we already have what we need. We live below our spiritual privileges because we lack the imagination to see how much more the Lord could give us if we showed we were willing to receive it.

But the five foolish virgins showed a weakness beyond just being ignorant to the Lord’s capacity to fill their vessels.

Returning to the story:

While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.

And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.

Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.

And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.

But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.

10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.

The obvious misstep here was the unprepared virgins believing that they could borrow from someone else’s power and worthiness when their own ran out. (It can’t be done) But reading between the lines, a secondary and perhaps more fatal error was that the five foolish virgins had depended on their own understanding rather than being prepared for a Lord whose ways are not our ways.

A traditional Herodian lamp that would’ve been used at that time had enough oil to burn for perhaps two hours. The lamps would be lit at dusk, the five unprepared ones probably believed that the bridegroom would surely come within two hours of dusk. They were caught unawares by a bridegroom who didn’t arrive until midnight. But the bridegroom—the Lord—never works on our timetable. It is up to us to be spiritually prepared for any outcome. We are to follow the example of Abraham and the other prophets mentioned in Hebrews 11 who had been given great promises of the Lord and yet, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13).

None of us knows when the second coming will happen; when the bridegroom will arrive. I once sat in a Sunday school class where someone raised their hand and said he knew when everyone in the room would see Jesus again. For a moment, I thought, “Oops, this guy is not all there”, but then he said, “Within 70 or so years, everyone in this room will meet Jesus on the other side of the veil.” I had to admit, it was true.

We don’t know if the second coming will happen sooner than our mortal lifespan on this earth, but this parable isn’t just about making sure we aren’t caught unawares when we see the Savior again, it is also about making sure we aren’t walking through this mortal sphere in darkness in the meantime. So when you find the oil lamp in the Treasures from the Life of Jesus jigsaw puzzle, remember that none of our vessels is full to capacity, but we don’t have to be like the five foolish virgins. We know how to get the oil, we have but to turn to the Lord and ask for His light.


[ii] President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985), Faith Precedes the Miracle (1972), 256.