1 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables:
2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.
3 He sent out his slaves to summon those invited to the banquet, but they didn’t want to come.
4 Again, he sent out other slaves, and said, ‘Tell those who are invited: Look, I’ve prepared my dinner; my oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet. ’
5 But they paid no attention and went away, one to his own farm, another to his business.
6 And the others seized his slaves, treated them outrageously and killed them.
7 The king was enraged, so he sent out his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned down their city.
8 Then he told his slaves, ‘The banquet is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy.
9 Therefore, go to where the roads exit the city and invite everyone you find to the banquet.’
10 So those slaves went out on the roads and gathered everyone they found, both evil and good. The wedding banquet was filled with guests.
11 But when the king came in to view the guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed for a wedding.
12 So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.
13 Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him up hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
14 For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
A similar parable is found in Luke 14:16-24.
Jesus has made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem and cleansed the Temple complex, driving out those who are buying and selling. He has received the praise of children and cursed the barren fig tree. He has answered the Pharisees’ challenges to His authority and provided the parables of the two sons and the vineyard owner to illustrate the Jewish leaders’ hardness of heart. Stung by Jesus’ rebuke, they look for a way to arrest Him.
Now, as chapter 22 begins and Jesus’ crucifixion draws near, He remains in the Temple in the presence of the Pharisees and tells the parable of the wedding banquet.
The central theme of this parable is that Israel will be judged for its rejection of the Messiah. The kingdom of heaven has been opened to the Gentiles – a joyous event the Jews should have anticipated and celebrated as friends of the King and His Son, the Bridegroom. Yet, because the generation of Jews witnessing Messiah’s appearance has rejected Him, God’s wrath will fall. This prophecy is fulfilled in 70 A.D.
The central character in this parable is the king, who represents God the Father. He chooses the nation of Israel as His own special people, and invites them to the wedding of His Son through the prophets. Yet their hearts grow hard, and when the time comes for the Son of God to appear, they will not receive Him. Therefore, the Jews are set aside as the Gentiles are welcomed in.
The wedding banquet, in all likelihood, is an evening meal. In Jewish culture, two invitations are sent out. The first asks the guests to attend, and the second announces that all is ready and provides the time at which the guests are to arrive. In this story, the king offers a third invitation, but the invited guests respond by treating the king’s slaves cruelly – even killing them. There is little doubt that the banquet is a picture of the covenant fellowship between Christ (the king’s son) and the church (his bride) in the current age. The Jews under the old covenant are the invited guests, who disregard the Father’s invitation, treat His slaves (the prophets) cruelly, and despise His Son. There also is a sense in which this refers not only to Jews, but to all people and cultures that have closed their eyes to the light of the promised Messiah.
“The king was enraged,” according to verse 7, “so he sent out his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned down their city.” This is Jesus’ prophecy of the judgment that would befall the nation of Israel in 70 A.D., when the Roman armies under Titus sacked Jerusalem, completely destroyed the Temple, killed more than one million Jews, and scattered the rest of the Jewish nation. Jesus also speaks of this terrible day in Matt. 24:1-2.
Now, the king directs his slaves to go “where the roads exit the city and invite everyone you find to the banquet” (v. 9). Luke adds the word “hedges” or “lanes” (Luke 14:23), “to point out the people to whom the apostles were sent, as either miserable vagabonds, or the most indigent poor, who were wandering about the country, or sitting by the sides of the ways and hedges, imploring relief. This verse points out the final rejection of the Jews, and the calling of the Gentiles” (Adam Clarke’s Commentary).
So the slaves fill the banquet hall with “everyone they found, both evil and good” (v. 10), a picture of the visible, or professing church. Scripture is abundantly clear that not everyone who claims the name of Jesus truly knows Him, despite appearances to the contrary (Matt. 7:21-23). In the same way, the church throughout this present, evil age will consist of professors and possessors – those who profess to know Christ and those who truly have His Spirit within them as the distinguishing mark of the true believer (Rom. 8:9).
Now, we come to the guest “who was not dressed for a wedding” (v.11). In ancient times, kings and princes provided fresh clothing to their guests. Normally these were long white robes. To refuse such gifts, or to appear at the banquet without them, was an expression of highest contempt. Albert Barnes comments in his Notes on the New Testament:
“This beautifully represents the conduct of the hypocrite in the church. A garment of salvation might be his, wrought by the hands of the Saviour, and dyed in his blood. But the hypocrite chooses the filthy rags of his own righteousness, and thus offers the highest contempt for that provided in the gospel. He is to blame, not for being invited; not for coming, if he would come – for he is freely invited; but for offering the highest contempt to the King of Zion, in presenting himself with all his filth and rags, and in refusing to be saved in the way provided in the gospel.”
The king confronts the guest in verse 12: “Friend [companion is a better term], how did you get in here without wedding clothes?” The man is speechless — “muzzled, or gagged,” according to Adam Clarke’s Commentary. Just as the guest is silenced by his own conscience, the unbeliever will stand before God one day “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). As a result, the king orders his guest to be bound hand and foot and thrown into “the outer darkness,” away from the fellowship of the wedding party, perhaps even into a dungeon. In a similar way, Christ will cast unbelievers out of His kingdom into everlasting punishment on the day they are summoned before the great white throne (Rev. 20:11-15; see also Matt. 7:21-3; 8:12; 25:30).
“It will aggravate their misery, that … they shall see all this plenty with their eyes, but shall not taste of it,” writes Matthew Henry. “Hell is utter darkness, it is darkness out of heaven, the land of light; or it is extreme darkness, darkness to the last degree, without the least ray or spark of light, or hope of it, like that of Egypt; darkness which might be felt … Hypocrites go by the light of the gospel itself down to utter darkness; and hell will be hell indeed to such, a condemnation more intolerable; there shall be weeping, and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew Henry Unabridged).
Finally we come to the phrase Jesus uses often in the Gospels, “For many are invited [called], but few are chosen” (v. 14). This is an allusion to the Roman method of raising an army. All men are mustered, but only those fit for duty are chosen to serve. Many are invited to the wedding feast, but most ignore the invitation, make light of it, find themselves otherwise engaged in worldly matters, abuse the King’s messengers, or show up in the filthy rags of their own righteousness; a comparatively small number enter the kingdom through the narrow gate (Matt. 7:13-14).
To enter the fellowship of the King we must make sure we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ – true possessors of the Holy Spirit and not merely professors of the faith.