A couple of weeks ago we began to look at an exchange between Jesus and the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. There we saw that Jesus told them the first of three parables designed to challenge them and to expose their hypocrisy, the Parable of the Two Sons. Then, last week, we looked at the second parable, the Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers.
This week, we will examine the third parable in this trilogy, the Parable of the Wedding Feast, which is introduced in verse 1 with the simple statement, “And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said ….” No other introductory statement is necessary, since the context of the previous two parables and the situation that occasioned them is assumed.
Introduction: Thomas Constable summarizes well the focus of this trilogy of parables:
The three parables in this series are similar to three concentric circles in their scope. The scope of the parable of the two sons encompassed Israel’s leaders (21:28-32). The parable of the wicked tenant farmers exposed the leaders’ lack of responsibility and their guilt to the people listening in as well as to the leaders themselves (21:33-46). This last parable is the broadest of the three. It condemned the contempt with which Israel as a whole had treated God’s grace to her. (Notes on Matthew, e-Sword)
I agree that we will see a widening of perspective in this parable, as Jesus anticipates not only the destruction of Jerusalem but also the final judgment. We will examine this parable by dividing it into four scenes. In the process we will make our way verse by verse through the story, seeking to understand the lessons Jesus is teaching.
Scene #1: The First Invitation and Refusal
The first scene is found in verses 2-3.
NKJ Matthew 22:2-3 The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, 3 and sent out his servants to call [καλέω] those who were invited [καλέω] to the wedding; and they were not willing to come.
There are three things we must notice here.
First, a marriage in first century Palestine involved more than just a wedding ceremony; it also involved a banquet, a point which will become clear in verse 4. Such a banquet could go on for days, with successive meals being offered to the guests. To be invited to such a banquet by a king for the wedding of his son would have been considered a great honor. But, in addition to the honor bestowed, it also indicates the idea of fellowship with the king. To be invited is to be treated like a friend of the king. So, the invitation should not have been viewed as an onerous duty, but a joyful privilege. What a great analogy for the kingdom to which we have been called!
Second, the king’s son here must stand for the Messiah, Jesus, especially given the earlier references to Him as a bridegroom, not only given the context in which the parable is given here, but also because of the larger context of the Gospels, in which Jesus is repeatedly identified as the bridegroom. For example:
NKJ John 3:25-30 Then there arose a dispute between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified — behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!” 27 John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”
NKJ Matthew 9:14-15 14 Then the disciples of John came to Him [Jesus], saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.”
Third, the unwillingness to accept the invitation of the king would have been considered an insult to the king and would be tantamount to rebellion. This means that Jesus is using this parable to accuse the Jewish people who have been rejecting Him as having a rebellious heart toward their King and His Son, the Messiah.
Application: This is a point we must always remember. God’s invitation into His kingdom is a privilege and an honor, and those who refuse only show their rebelliousness toward Him. We are simply the messengers who tell people they are invited. When we faithfully issue the Gospel invitation, their rejection of it is not so much a rejection of us as it is of the King who has invited them. This reminds me of the days of Samuel the prophet, when the people of Israel asked for a king like the other nations had:
NKJ 1 Samuel 8:6-7 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” So Samuel prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.”
Even so, when people reject us when we proclaim the Gospel of the kingdom of God, we must remember that it is really God himself that they are rejecting. But He is patient in continuing to issue repeated invitations, as we see in the rest of the parable.
Scene #2: The Second Invitation and Refusal
The second scene is found in verses 4-7.
NKJ Matthew 22:4 Again, he sent out other servants, saying, “Tell those who are invited [καλέω], ‘See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.’”
Notice that the second invitation gives details about the greatness and the readiness of the feast in order to further entice the guests to come. So, even if they do not care about the king’s son, they might perhaps at least want to enjoy such a great feast that has been prepared for them. But this was not the case, as the following verses show.
NKJ Matthew 22:5-6 But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. 6 And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them.
Notice that the second refusal also gives details as to some of the reasons the guests refused to come. They were more concerned about their own lives and business than they were about honoring their king. Their own selfish concerns left them apathetic about the king’s concerns.
Yet such apathy was mild in comparison to what the others did. They actually severely mistreated and even killed the king’s servants. And this action was the most pronounced statement of rebellion thus far. But there is another reason that Jesus includes such a detail in the parable, namely that it further stresses a point made in the preceding context. For example, recall the previous parable – the Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers – in which Jesus had highlighted the way in which the Jews had mistreated and killed so many of the prophets who had been sent to them:
NKJ Matthew 21:35-36 And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them.
But then, despite the warning of the Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers, the Jewish leaders still plotted to kill Jesus! Recall the end of chapter 21, which directly precedes the parable before us this morning:
NKJ Matthew 21:45-46 Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. 46 But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet.”
Application: Perhaps many people today would not see this parable as applicable to them, since they do not seek to kill the messengers God has sent them to offer them His gracious invitation, but their rejection is still rebellion, even if it is nothing more than a self-centered apathy toward the things of God. May the Lord prevent any here today from such an apathetic, rebellious, unbelieving heart! Especially since such a heart deserves the wrath of God, as Jesus emphasizes in the next verse.
NKJ Matthew 22:7 But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.
I think this reference to the destruction of their city pertains to Jerusalem, which itself represents the people of Israel as a whole. Not only does the language recall the earlier destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians due to the peoples’ rejection of God’s messengers, but it also hints at the coming destruction of the city in A.D. 70 for the same kind of rebelliousness.
But the judgment of the king is represented not only by this act of destruction; it is also seen in his offering the invitation to others, which leads to us to the next part of the parable.
Scene #3: The Third Invitation and Acceptance
The third scene is found in verses 8-10.
NKJ Matthew 22:8 Then he said to his servants, “The wedding is ready, but those who were invited [καλέω] were not worthy.”
Notice that their unworthiness was due to their rejection of the invitation. They were not invited because they were considered worthy in the first place. Their rejection of the invitation revealed how unworthy of it they actually were. They rebelled because they were rebellious people to begin with, and thus the invitation offered to them was an invitation of grace all along.
NKJ Matthew 22:9-10 “Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite [καλέω] to the wedding.” 10 So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.
The key point here is that, since those who should have been expected to accept the invitation in fact refused it, then those who otherwise would not have been offered the invitation were invited instead.
When Jesus refers to this invitation as being extended to “both bad and good,” I think He has in mind those who were good or bad in the sight of men, those who would have been considered faithful by the Jews and those who would have been considered sinners by the Jews. This reflects an emphasis found earlier in the context, in which, after telling the Parable of the Two Sons, Jesus had warned the Jewish leaders, saying, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him” (21:31-32).
Those considered bad by the Jews would, of course, also include Gentiles, who we now know are also invited to the great wedding banquet of the Son, a fact for which I am supremely grateful!
Application: What a good reminder to us that the kingdom of God is for everyone. And we are told to share the invitation to the kingdom with everyone, whether they are society’s accepted ones or those regarded as the rejects of society. All are invited, and all that accept the invitation may come.
But there will be some who appear to accept the invitation even though they do not really accept the King’s terms of inclusion. This is seen in the last part of the parable
Scene #4: The Guest Without a Proper Garment
The fourth scene is found in verses 11-14.
NKJ Matthew 22:11-13 11 But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. 12 So he said to him, “Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?” And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the servants, “Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Thomas Constable has offered what I believe to be a sound interpretation of the meaning of the guest without a proper garment:
These verses have spawned several different interpretations. One view is that the man who tries to participate in the banquet but gets evicted represents those whom God will exclude in the judgment that will take place before the kingdom begins. This view takes the man evicted as representing a Jew who hopes to gain entrance to the kingdom because he is a Jew. Since he does not have the proper clothing, the robe of righteousness, he cannot enter the kingdom. The lesson Jesus wanted to teach was that individual faith in Jesus, not nationality, was necessary for entrance. This view seems best to me. (Notes on Matthew, e-Sword)
Indeed what is needed is to be properly clothed is a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, and this is the righteousness of Christ. Remember Jesus’ earlier warning that, “unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20).
I think that Jesus may also have a couple of Old Testament passages in mind here. For example, in the days of Josiah, the prophet Zephaniah made use of the banquet metaphor when he warned of God’s coming judgment on Jerusalem:
NKJ Zephaniah 1:7-10 “Be silent in the presence of the Lord GOD; for the day of the LORD is at hand, for the LORD has prepared a sacrifice; He has invited His guests. 8 And it shall be, in the day of the LORD’S sacrifice, that I will punish the princes and the king’s children, and all such as are clothed with foreign apparel. [Remember that the Jews were not supposed to dress as the other nations did, but, for example, had to put tassels on their garments – see, for example, Num. 15:38; Deut. 22:12] 9 In the same day I will punish all those who leap over the threshold, who fill their masters’ houses with violence and deceit. 10 And there shall be on that day,” says the LORD, “The sound of a mournful cry from the Fish Gate, a wailing from the Second Quarter, and a loud crashing from the hills.”
Here the wearing of the wrong apparel clearly connotes rebelliousness toward God and His standards of righteousness.
In addition, the idea of God providing the proper garments for His people may be found in a Messianic passage from the prophet Isaiah:
NKJ Isaiah 61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
The righteousness with which we are clothed is the very righteousness of God which comes through Christ alone and results in our being conformed to His image and then actually living increasingly changed and righteous lives before Him by the power of His Spirit. This is reflected in the the revelation that John received while on the island of Patmos. In it we are told that, when Jesus returns, His followers will themselves be guests at a great wedding banquet, which is referred to as the Wedding Supper of the Lamb:
NKJ Revelation 19:6-9 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! 7 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.” 8 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. 9 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.”
Application: Those of us who know Christ should always be thankful that we are not only invited to the kingdom banquet by the King to celebrate the wedding of His Son, but that we are also found worthy not because of any righteousness of our own, but only through the righteousness of Christ.
However, those who may profess to know Christ and to have accepted the invitation, but who are trusting in their own righteousness rather than being clothed in the righteousness of Christ, should beware of the great judgment that awaits them. For when Jesus refers in verse 13 to persons improperly clothed as being cast “into outer darkness” where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,” He is referring to the final judgment. This is His typical language to describe the judgment of hell as one of intense anguish and pain. It describes the fate of all who reject His invitation or who may profess to accept it while rejecting the garment of His righteousness. This is also why He goes onto warn the hearer in verse 14:
NKJ Matthew 22:14 For many are called, but few are chosen.
D.A. Carson has summarized the meaning of this conclusion quite well:
Many are invited; but some refuse to come, and others who do come refuse to submit to the norms of the kingdom and are therefore rejected. Those who remain are called “chosen” (eklektoi), a word implicitly denying that the reversals in the parable in any way catch God unawares or remove sovereign grace from his control. (EBC, Vol. 8, p. 457)
Application: So, those who are chosen will accept the offer of salvation on God’s terms! They will renounce their own self-interest and their own righteousness and will gladly agree with the Apostle Paul when he declares, “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith ….” (Phil. 3:7-9)
Conclusion: I will conclude by asking all here today, Have you accepted the invitation to participation in God’s kingdom? Have you seen that you have been given a great honor in that you have been extended an invitation to joyful fellowship with Him? If so, then you will also have accepted His terms and rejected your own self-interest and self-righteousness. And you will have accepted the righteousness of Christ as a free gift. If so, then join me in praise and thanksgiving. If not, then I hope you will recognize that today the invitation has been once again offered to you, and it is not too late to accept it. Trust in Christ as the one who died for sinners, rose from the dead, and is seated at the right hand of God to reign over all things.