One of the more humbling experiences from my days in corporate life was being told that my reserved seat on a company jet was revoked at the last minute to make room for a late-arriving executive. Not to worry. I was offered the one remaining seat, located in the plane’s lavatory, where the toilet came equipped with a safety belt. Rather than cool my heels on the tarmac, I swallowed my pride and took my place on the aluminum throne.
It reminded me of Jesus’ parable rebuking those who reclined at the choicest seats at a wedding banquet. Even more, it brought to mind the future humiliation Jesus said would come to those boasting of a place in the kingdom of heaven, yet being cast out. Though the kingdom is open to all who receive Christ by faith, the day is coming when those who falsely stake their claim will be unceremoniously shown the door.
There are at least three types of people who will be cast out of the kingdom of heaven.
1. Those that trust their lineage. In Jesus’ day there was great expectation the Messiah would come – a charismatic military and political leader who would restore Israel to its Davidic glory. Overlooking the necessity of the Suffering Servant, many Jews wrongly assumed that when the kingdom of heaven came, they would be welcomed as citizens by reason of their Abrahamic heritage.
Jesus confronts that false notion after healing a Roman centurion’s servant: “I tell you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom [unbelieving Jews] will be thrown into the outer darkness” (Matthew 8:11-12).
Salvation is not a matter of race, national boundaries or language. As the apostle John notes, people of every “tribe and language and people and nation” are standing before God’s throne in heaven (Rev. 5:9). How did they get there? The Lamb of God was “slaughtered” and “redeemed people for God” by His blood (Rev. 5:8).
2. Those that trust their location. In the parable of the wheat and tares (Matt. 13:24-30), those of God’s kingdom and Satan’s kingdom live side-by-side and are practically indistinguishable. Only at harvest time, when the tares stand ramrod straight but bear no edible fruit, and the wheat is bowed with heads of golden grain, does the harvester separate them. The wheat goes into the barn but the tares are burned.
In the parable of the dragnet (Matt. 13:47-50), good and bad fish swim in the same waters and are taken in the same net, yet they are meticulously separated on the shore. The good fish are gathered into baskets while the bad fish are tossed aside.
Many people, by virtue of their “location” in a church, believe their association with Christianity will save them. But just as living in a garage doesn’t make you a car, joining a church doesn’t make you a Christian. In fact, only the trained eye of Christ knows the wheat from the tares and the good fish from the bad.
Some are so experienced at playing the game, they are convinced their good deeds merit eternal life. They will be startled on judgment day when they are separated from God. They will argue that they preached in Jesus’ name, cast out demons and performed miracles. Jesus does not deny their works but replies, “I never knew you! Depart from Me” (Matt. 7:23).
3. Those that trust their laundry. In the parable of the wedding banquet (Matt. 22:1-14), the king’s invited guests fail to show. To add insult to injury, they treat his slaves harshly, killing some. After dealing with these murderers, the king sends his servants to the far reaches of his kingdom, welcoming the outcasts and indigent to his son’s wedding celebration. But then he spots a man improperly dressed and has him bound and taken away.
Not fair, you say. After all, the king invited him. How can this vagrant be blamed for his dirty clothes? The answer is that in a Jewish ceremony of this type, the king provides wedding garments for every guest. Therefore, the man has no excuse. He dishonors the king and his son by rejecting the wedding garment and preferring his own filthy rags.
In the same way, no one will enter the kingdom based on personal righteousness. Only the righteousness of Christ – the garment of salvation – is acceptable attire for those before the throne of God and the Lamb (Rev. 7:9). As Paul declares, “He saved us – not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).
Those who hope to enter the kingdom of heaven by virtue of their natural birth, church membership or personal righteousness will find themselves outside, facing a closed door. They have rejected Christ, their only hope of eternal life. We may grieve over those who are cast out, but from God’s perspective they are “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).
This column appeared Feb. 12, 2013, in The Pathway, the news journal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.