Parable of the Wedding Feast - Matthew 22. 1-14
John Heading, Aberystwyth
6. PARABLE OF THE WEDDING FEAST Matthew 22. 1-14
Matthew 22. 1-14 forms the last of the three parables that we are considering. The self-righteous religious Jews thought that they were in the kingdom, whereas really they were on the outside; others morally on the outside are brought in through grace. The lessons behind these three parables are repentance, fruitfulness and Christlikeness.
The parable contrasts with a similar one in Luke 14. 16-24. There, it is spoken in the house at supper to those who wanted a reward for well-doing; the Lord’s lesson for them was “lest they also bid thee again”, v. 12. The two parables are similar, but spoken on different occasions for different purposes.
The Wedding Feast Empty, vv. 1-7.
Verse 1. Although the chief priests and Pharisees “sought to lay hands on him”, Jesus did not seek to escape or depart as in John 8. 59; 10. 39. In the present incident, He continued in His parabolic teaching, knowing that these events furthered the near approach of His hour.
Verse 2. The king who made a marriage for his son stands for the Father drawing souls unto Himself, John 6. 44, to communion in the joy of His Son. The bride is not mentioned; this is not the subject of the parable; confusion of thought and interpretation may arise if extraneous concepts are introduced by the reader. In interpreting a parable, it is sometimes not wise to seek to find an exact spiritual counterpart to every word and detail of the parable; certainly words and ideas in the parables in Matthew 13 are omitted in the Lord’s own interpretations. When Scripture does not explain a parable, we can but make suggestions, allowing another expositor to see other truth in the same parable. Moreover, in this case, the parable was spoken to the Jews in relation to “kingdom” truth, and so we must not expect complete parallels to what we now know as the more distinct “church” aspect of truth, even though we interpret the parable to refer to Gentiles being brought in to replace the Jewish nation in unbelief.
Verse 3. The servants sent by the king to call the guests were really “bondservants”, as the apostle Paul often called himself in the Epistles. These servants were essentially the apostles sent forth to call the Jewish nation during the Lord’s lifetime; they were to go neither to Gentile nor Samaritan, but to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel”, 10. 5-6. At the same time, on account of the previous parable, 21. 34-36, we must not rule out that the Old Testament prophets may also be implied.
Nevertheless, the consistent testimony of the Gospels is that “they would not come”. The Jews had no pleasure in the thought of the Son being their Messiah. Hence the world knew Him not, and His own people received Him not, John 1. 10-11. When the implications of the divine teaching became too spiritual for them, they went back, and walked no more with Him, 6. 66; although the Lord would have gathered them unto Him, yet “they would not”, Matt. 23. 37.
Verse 4. A second attempt is made to gain the heart of the nation. “All things are ready” implies that the basis of communion has been accomplished; the oxen and fatlings point to His death as the basis of grace, so the period immediately after His cross is here visualised. Hence the “other servants” sent forth speak of the further testimony to the Jews in the book of Acts; for example, Philip, Stephen and Paul appear as newly chosen servants of God. Originally, they still testified to the Jews, and the testimony as a whole still circulated amongst the Jews, “preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only”, Acts 11. 19. Even Paul’s manner was to preach to the Jews first, 17. 2; the divine order in the beginning was “to the Jew first, and also to the Greek”, Rom. 1. 16; 2. 9, 10.
Verse 5. Making “light of it” means “being negligent of it”, similar to thoughts in Hebrews, “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation”, 2. 3; “not being mixed with faith”, 4. 2. In fact, the Jews went “their ways”, which contrasts with the similar parable in Luke 14, where we read “my house” and “my supper”, vv. 23, 24. The motivation of man contrasts sharply with the divine plan. The ways of men consisted of farming and merchandise; the cares of worldly enterprise came first; affections were set on things of self and not on things pertaining to Christ. The Lord had already set the proper perspective in Matthew 6. 31-34, where they were not to seek what to eat nor wherewith to be clothed at the expense of failing to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. See Matthew 6. 19-21; Luke 10. 40-42; 12. 13-21.
Verse 6. The remnant would be those who lived apart from business and mundane things, but their attitude in dealing spitefully with the Lord’s servants and killing them shows that they were religious men whose hard tradition caused them to eliminate the spiritual. The servant would not be above his Lord was the warning that Jesus gave His own in Matthew 10. 24; in the midst of wolves, they would be delivered up and scourged, vv. 16-17, even to death as hated of all men. The Lord suffered at their hands first of all (as in the previous parable), and then the book of Acts shows clearly that this persecution even unto death was perpetuated. Paul’s witness to this treatment is that he was “buffeted . . . reviled . . . persecuted . . . defamed . . . made as the filth of the world . . . the offscouring of all things”, 1 Cor. 4. 11-13.
Verse 7. Hence the king in the parable destroyed these murderers and their city. This is the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70 by the Romans, so often foretold in the New Testament. Their house would be left desolate as there would be left not one stone on another, Matt. 24. 2. Jerusalem would be compassed with armies, and its desolation was nigh, Luke 21. 20. The Lord’s last public utterance referred to the destruction of the city, 23. 28-31. The Chaldeans were the destroying invader in Habakkuk 1. 5, and Paul quotes this in Acts 13. 41, “Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish”, as referring to what would come upon the nation. The Romans in the present parable are visualised as being “his armies”, being used of God for His purposes in judgment; cf. Isaiah 10, where the Assyrian army was “the rod of mine anger”, vv. 5, 15.
The Wedding Feast Filled, vv. 8-14.
Verse 8. The wedding being ready and those bidden not being worthy refers to the testimony after the Lord’s death. These were men of the Jewish nation, “contradicting and blaspheming”, from whom Paul turned away, since they had judged themselves “unworthy of everlasting life”, Acts 13. 45-46. There was nothing good in themselves, and they were unwilling to avail themselves of the grace that justifies freely. Their eyes were closed, lest they should be converted, 28. 26-27.
Verse 9. Hence others would be bidden to the marriage from the highways. The above two quotations from Acts lead to the same result; “lo, we turn to the Gentiles”, 13. 46; “the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, . . . they will hear it”, 28. 28. In other words, we find here the whole purpose of God to maintain a testimony on earth, in spite of rejection by the nation He first called to Himself. It corresponds to the other nation in the previous parable, Matt. 21. 43.
The “highways” refers to “all nations”, Matt. 28. 19; Luke 24. 47, and to “the uttermost part of the earth”, Acts 1. 8. We should notice that, on these highways, the servants had to “bid” men to come; this is the proper work of the evangelist. On the other hand, in Luke 14. 23, the one servant had to “compel” men; this is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Verse 10. Both “bad and good” were gathered in. We see that Christendom responds to the invitation for its own ends. The wheat is found, but also the tares, Matt. 13. 24; both good and bad fish are caught together, 13. 47-49. All came in for the gain of communion, either spiritual or merely religious. Simon of Samaria came in for gain in his power of sorcery, Acts 8. 9-24; false brethren came in to spy out the liberty of the saints, Gal. 2. 4; Diotrephes loved the pre-eminence, casting many out of the church, 3 John 9-10.
But the reality of all who come is tested. The “wedding garment” is the distinguishing feature of those who are His own. Such “have put on Christ”, Gal. 3. 27; they “have put on the new man”, Col. 3. 10; Eph. 4. 24. The “form of doctrine” is like a mould, fashioning the believer under its influence unto Christlikeness. In the parable, the grace of possessing such a garment is provided by the king. Believers today do not supply their own garment; even in the beginning God supplied garments through death, Gen. 3. 21. In Luke 15. 22, “the best robe” is provided by the father for the prodigal son, while in Zechariah 3. 4, the promise is made, “I will clothe thee with change of raiment”.
Verse 11. There is now a second sifting. The first sifting had been those who refused the invitation, namely the Jewish nation on the outside, but a mixture of Gentiles coming in. The second sifting concerns those who come in, but not in the fitness of Christ. The wedding garment speaks of being made fit for the Lord’s presence. Believers possess imputed righteousness, this being the work of grace. Others may seek to establish their own righteousness, Rom. 10. 3, but this is not valid before God. In our verse 11, the Lord comes in “to see” the guests, that is, to scrutinize them earnestly and attentively. At the present time, such a man still has the opportunity of taking the wedding garment unto salvation, since the Lord, whose eyes are as a flame of fire, lingers in grace. But in the future, the opportunity is lost, and judgment follows.
Verse 12. The king calls this man “Friend”, a word occurring four times in the New Testament, all in this Gospel by Matthew. For example, in Matthew 26. 50 the word is spoken to Judas, and means “companion, associate”, clearly of opposite character. It has the same meaning in the parable; the man fails to display Christlikeness, and is of opposite character to the Lord. The man becomes “speechless” before this scrutiny, reminding us of Romans 3. 19, “every mouth may be stopped”. Here fear is unrelieved in judgment, unlike the hand of grace that lifts up His own when fear strikes for other reasons, Rev. 1. 17.
Verse 13. The word “servants” is quite distinct from the previous use of this word in the parable. Here the word means “ministers”, and the evangelists suggested by the previous word in the passage are not meant. In fact, the New Testament is often silent as to who accomplishes this fearful act of casting into outer darkness. In Revelation 19. 20 and 20. 15, the act is in the passive; the one who casts in is not indicated. Admittedly the saints shall judge the world, 1 Cor. 6. 2, but this is millennial, and not touching upon outer darkness.
This is the principle of gathering out of the kingdom all things that offend, Matt. 13. 41; the angels there are described as casting them into a furnace of fire . “Outer darkness” is solemn to contemplate, since this is “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord”, 2 Thess. 1. 9, and a “mist of darkness” reserved for ever, 2 Pet. 2. 17; Jude 13.
Verse 14. “Many are called, but few are chosen” also occurs in Matthew 20. 16, though some editors of the Greek text omit the phrase there on manuscript evidence. But the phrase is completely genuine in the present parable. The many called are those bidden in verses 3 and 9, and it seems to be implied that although only one man representatively occurs in the parable without a garment, nevertheless many will pass that way. The few chosen are the “good” having taken by grace the wedding garment. The many are on the broad way, but few on the narrow way leading to life, Matt. 7. 13-14.
End of the series.