“Addressing them again through parabolic teaching, Jesus says the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who prepares a feast for his son’s wedding. He sends forth his servants to summon those he has invited to the banquet, but they refuse to come. He then sends more servants who are instructed to tell the invited guests, ‘I have prepared my feast and my prize calves have been slaughtered; hurry and come to the banquet.’ But they turn away indifferently, one to his farm and another to his business. The rest seize his servants, shamefully abuse them, and then kill them. When the king hears this, he is furious. He sends his military forces to execute them and sets fire to their city.
He then tells his servants, ‘Those I invited to my banquet are unworthy. Therefore, go to the public roads and street corners and invite everyone you find to the feast.’ So the servants bring in all the people they meet, whether of good character or bad, and the bridal hall is filled.
When the king comes to inspect his guests, he spots a man not wearing a wedding garment. He says, ‘My friend, why do you presume you can be here not clad in the proper attire?’ But the man makes no reply. The king then tells his attendants, ‘Tie him up and throw him into the darkness outside, the place of weeping and grinding of teeth.’ For many are invited, but few are accepted.” (Matt. 22:1-14, paraphrased)
For three years, Jesus has spoken in parables, many of which target religious bigotry. The Pharisees are determined to seize Him, but fear what the people might do (vv. 45-46).
The parable is prophetic, for it deals with man’s response to the Gospel message till the end of time. However, it must not be confused with a similar one in Luke 14. Although both parables picture attendees at a feast, they are taught on different occasions.
<> Jesus shares the parable recorded in Luke in Perea, but the one in Matthew is given in Jerusalem.
<> Luke’s parable is taught in the home of a Pharisee, but Matthew’s is spoken in the Temple.
<> The parable in Luke speaks of one invitation: Matthew refers to three.
<> The feast in Luke is provided by a citizen while Matthew pictures a marital celebration of a prince.
Because the audiences and settings are so different, the parable of the royal wedding feast is not redundant.
Jesus’ “answer” to the Pharisees is not a response to what they have verbally asked, but a response to the question in their minds. This parable is bracketed by key verses that clearly state its purpose (Mt. 21:45-46 & 22:15). Jesus addresses those who see themselves as God’s exclusive guests. By telling this story, He answers the prevailing attitude of the religious leaders.
In this dramatic narrative, the union of Christ and His Church is epitomized as a festive celebration of marital happiness (Eph. 5:22-33). As the focus of this parable, the king is the only one who speaks. He hosts the celebration, sends messengers to deliver invitations, commands soldiers to punish murderers, interacts with His guests, and determines punishment. The fact it is a royal wedding depicts the riches of God’s Kingdom. The Gospel fills hungry hearts with “good things” (Lk. 1:53).
According to the Oriental custom of the day, two invitations are sent. The first is an invitation to the event and the second specifies the date and time. In Jesus’ parable, the king sends his servants to call them who are bidden but they will not come. The terminology suggests an obstinate, adamant rejection of the invitation.
The king sends more servants and gives the invitees another chance. He has his best animals slain for the banquet. Because refrigeration is unknown in those days, meat spoils quickly. An additional note of urgency is thus attached to this second invitation.
It is one of the great mysteries of the Kingdom that God pursues even those who demonstrate callous indifference to Him. Even after Adam and Eve have blatantly disobeyed the Lord, He comes down into the garden to commune with them (Gen. 3:9).
The Jews accepted Jehovah’s national invitation by entering into covenant relationship with Him, but most reject His personal invitation to honor His Son. When viewed prophetically, the parable divides itself into three distinct sections:
1. The Jewish invitation (vv. 1-3)
2. The renewed Jewish invitation (vv. 4-7)
3. The Gentile invitation (vv. 8-14).
The prophets urged the Jews to attend God’s feast of divine mercy. Since the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit has invited all nations to attend.
To ignore a royal summons is a direct affront to the one extending it. “They made light of it” does not infer they lampoon the king’s gracious invitation, but rather regard it with indifference. Their unconcern stems from their love of worldly things; they are preoccupied with farms and businesses. The king’s invitation is spurned, not because they cannot come, but because they will not come.
The reluctance of the invitees soon gravitates to apathy and finally to open hostility. The king’s servants are captured, treated spitefully, and killed. These three increasingly brutal forms of persecution become common in the early Church. God’s enemies incarcerate His servants (Acts 4:3), beat them (Acts 5:18), and murder them (Acts 7:60).
The icy response to the invitation is answered with the hot fury of the king. The killing of his servants is an insult aimed directly at him and he responds with a vengeance. Centuries earlier, God uses the Assyrians as “the rod of His anger” (Isa. 10:5). He employs the Medes and Persians to destroy Babylon (Isa. 13:4-5). In this parable, sending his soldiers to kill the murderers and burn their city is a reference to God’s use of the Roman legions to ravage Jerusalem in 70 AD.
Their contempt for the king causes them to forfeit all the privileges attached to his invitation. However, ingratitude and hostility do not sway the king from his purpose. He is neither surprised nor unprepared. He knows some will reject His offer, so he sends messengers into the highways. If the original invitees spurn his grace, he will fill his banquet hall with those willing to come.
The Jewish rejection of the Gospel does not alter God’s plan for global evangelism (Rom. 9-11). Their unworthiness is directly related to their blatant disregard for the king’s message. Although God declared the Jews worthy to attend, those who do not honor their Messiah are deemed unworthy.
Because the original invitees are found to be unfit, new guests are sought. Servants are commissioned to go into the bustling highways where roads converge and gather men and women of all classes.
• It is a desperate plea, for the wedding feast is prepared and ready.
• It is a universal plea, for men and women of all ethnicities are invited.
• It is an unbiased plea, for whosoever will may come (Rev. 22:17).
• It is an opportune plea, for one may attend by invitation only.
Sending messengers to the crossroads is reminiscent of the Great Commission (Mt. 28:19-20). After Israel murders her own Messiah, God opens wide His door of grace to the Gentiles. The first two invitations were delivered by the prophets to the Jews. The final invitation is delivered by Christians to every nation. Jesus states that publicans and harlots will enter the Kingdom of Heaven before the Pharisees (Mt. 21:31). The devaluation of God’s entreaty in this parable explains the contempt many have for the Gospel message today.
The king does not let the messengers decide who to invite. Those morally challenged as well as the morally upright can attend. The universality of the Gospel message is seen throughout Jesus’ teachings. In other parables, both good and bad fish are netted (Mt. 13:47-48). Weeds grow alongside wheat (Mt. 13:30). Some virgins are wise while others are foolish (Mt. 25:2). Grain is mingled with chaff (Mt. 3:12). There are withered branches even on a good tree (Jn. 15:2). Goats graze among lambs (Mt. 25:33). It is the king’s desire that people from every nation honor his son.
The concept of “covering” God’s people is found throughout the Old Testament. Isaiah says he will rejoice greatly in the Lord because He clothes him with the garments of salvation and covers him with the robe of righteousness (Isa. 61:10). We should array ourselves with the garment of praise (Isa. 61:3). The figure is carried into the New Testament where we find the father putting a robe on his prodigal son (Lk.15:22). Saints walk with Jesus in white, “for they are worthy” (Rev. 3:4). Others wash their robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:14). Paul encourages us to “put on the new man” (Eph. 4:24) and to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 13:14). Whoever desires admittance to the king’s presence must dress according to His standards.
It is an oriental custom in that era for the wealthy to supply their guests with festive garments. Compliance with his “dress code” signifies respect. But people snatched suddenly from intersections and street corners cannot obtain wedding garments for themselves. Loyalty or disloyalty is proven by either accepting or rejecting the robe provided.
The king now enters the banquet hall to greet his guests. It is the highlight of the feast, for without him the festivities are meaningless. It is his prerogative to scrutinize his guests. The word “see” (theasasthai) means to intently review, examine, inspect, and closely observe the true character of a person or object. He immediately detects the only man improperly clad and speaks personally with him. He is not a party crasher, for he was invited with the rest of the guests. The focus is not on what he wears but on what he refuses to wear. His drab attire will not be allowed to dim the joyous atmosphere. Although this man should have felt out of place, he persists in remaining in his present condition. His silent presumption mocks the king, his son, and his guests in the king’s own palace.
The royal host knows the heart of each guest by their compliance with his wishes. The wedding garment represents the uniformity required to please the king. The donning of the garment has nothing to do with one’s past, but everything do with their future. Wearing it signifies one’s conformity to the requirements the occasion demands. Who today would dare attend a royal wedding in ragged jeans and a T-shirt?
The wedding garment is emblematic of true righteousness. Jesus states our righteousness must exceed the legalism of the Pharisees (Mt. 5:20). The Lord tests our commitment, for He searches our hearts (I Chron. 28:9). When the King enters, His presence reveals those unworthy of his presence. Righteousness is not required to be invited to the King’s house, but it is mandatory in order to remain there. Everyone who wears His garment is welcome to stay.
This powerful monarch had recently sent soldiers to destroy those who killed his messengers. But the king now gently confronts this guest with a simple question instead of an accusation. “Friend (hetairos), how is it you are here not wearing a wedding garment?” Jesus uses this same form of address when speaking to Judas after he kisses Him in the Garden (Mt. 26:50).
The king questions the man’s motive for attending the party. The Lord knows our true reasons and rationale (Mt. 12:25). The guest expresses no gratitude or subservience to the king. The terminology here signifies the man is determined not to wear the garment provided. He is guilty of willful neglect of his duty and pays the penalty.
This guest is unprepared to meet the king and is therefore speechless (epsimothe). This Greek word means “to be muzzled or gagged.” He is struck dumb with shame and embarrassment. Peter uses this same term when he refers to silencing ignorant and foolish men (I Pet. 2:15).
Many presume they can partake of the Kingdom of God while ignoring the King’s rules. Jude calls such men “conspicuous spots” at feasts who dare to boldly stuff themselves (Jude 12). Many nominal Christians select their attire from the wardrobe of secular philosophy. But the Holy Spirit guides Believers to display evidence they are born again. While there is no question God’s invitation is universal, a liberal interpretation of grace results in presumption. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day and ecumenical Christians in our day seek to establish their righteousness apart from the righteousness of God (Rom. 10:3). The man who comes in without a wedding garment is the man clothed with humanism rather than humility (I Pet. 5:5). No one can defy the king and continue to enjoy his blessings.
Note the predicament of the ill-clad guest in Jesus’ parable:
• He cannot say he cannot afford the garment, for the king provides it.
• He cannot allege he cannot obtain one, for the king has already made provision for all the other quests.
• He cannot declare ignorance of the rules, for everyone else is appropriately attired.
• He cannot claim he is there against his will, for attendance is voluntary.
• He cannot accuse others of being ill-clad, for all the rest wear the robes the king provides.
• He cannot deny his guilt, for he flagrantly disregards the king’s standard of conformity.
• He cannot offer a defense, for he is without excuse.
His silence may have been due to guilt, pride, fear, or a combination thereof.
In this parable, great emphasis is placed on individual accountability. The king does not judge any other guest who comes to honor his son, but the interloper is immediately sentenced. Binding a man hand and foot bespeaks total incapacitation and the inability to resist. His punishment is banishment from the presence of the king, his son, and his bride.
Outer darkness is reserved for those who assume their own robe of self-righteousness is good enough. He is cast from the joyous illumination of the banquet hall into total darkness.
We are not told what the man thinks or says, only what he is bound to do. He weeps and gnashes his teeth in helpless despair. “Weeping” is not temporary anguish but perpetual remorse. Unbelievers will eternally regret their decision.
Although everyone is invited to the King’s feast, specific regulations must be observed. Those who disrespect the king’s invitation respond in one of four ways:
1. By refusing to come (v. 3)
2. By ignoring the invitation (v. 5)
3. By killing the messengers (v. 6)
4. By arriving inappropriately attired (v. 11)
“Many are called, but few are chosen” is a statement Jesus makes in an earlier teaching (Mt. 20:16). This phrase reflects the difference between God’s desire and man’s desire. The Lord willingly calls, but men must willingly come. Few ultimately find and enter the “narrow gate” (Mt. 7:13-14). Those called (kletoi) are those summoned, but those chosen (eklektoi) are those who are truly born again. Though everyone is bidden to the wedding feast, each person must come on the King’s terms in order to partake of His grace. While the King excludes no one who answers His invitation, individuals exclude themselves by ignoring His commandments.
God has made provision for every human being through His Son’s sacrifice on the Cross. In order to enjoy eternal life in His Kingdom, each person must put away their excuses, receive His invitation with gratitude, and humbly wear His robe of righteousness.
1. Read the related parable in Luke 14:16-24 and list the three excuses given for refusing the invitation. Also list the various types of people who are finally invited.
2. Why did the Pharisees not arrest Jesus? (Mt. 21:26 & 46)
3. Describe the attitude of the religious leaders (Mt. 22:15, 18 & 35).
4. Because the Jews rejected the Gospel message, what did Paul do? (Acts 18:5-6).
5. Summarize God’s attitude toward Israel (Rom. 11:1-5 & 11-21).
6. From Jude 12-13, paraphrase and describe the men he calls “spots” who presumptuously gorge themselves at Christian gatherings.
7. How does Peter describe these same “spots”? (II Peter 2:13-14)
8. What must you do before Jesus issues you His robe of righteousness? (John 3:3)