Parable of the Wedding Feast is a familiar one, but the classic interpretation
of it might be a bit strange to modern ears. So, please hear an old parable in
a “new” way.
Parable of the Wedding Feast
Mat 22:1-14 NASB
Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying, (2) "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king
who gave a wedding feast for his son. (3) "And he sent out his slaves to call those who had
been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. (4) "Again he sent out
other slaves saying, 'Tell those who have been invited, "Behold, I have
prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and
everything is ready; come to the wedding feast."' (5) "But they paid no
attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, (6) and the rest
seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them. (7) "But the king was
enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city
on fire. (8) "Then
he *said to his slaves, 'The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were
not worthy. (9) 'Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the
wedding feast.' (10) "Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered
together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled
with dinner guests. (11) "But when the king came in to look over the dinner
guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, (12) and he *said to him,
'Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?' And the man was
speechless. (13) "Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and
foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be
weeping and gnashing of teeth.' (14) "For many are called, but few are chosen."
of the time
our world lives are run by the clock – right down to the second. In the small
town of old the bus driver might have waited for you; no more. We use the
phrase, “ran like clockwork,” to mean something which performed flawlessly.
But it was not always so.
those days there were only three fixed times; sunrise, noon and sunset. These
were the only three that everyone could determine. So it was not uncommon to
receive an invitation to a feast for a particular day, but no particular time.
Those invited lived in the same town; it was a simple matter to send the slaves
out to say that all was ready. Refrigeration has altered much.
concept of “wedding clothes” hasn’t changed that much, though. We still hold
to the idea that wearing a particular type of clothing is a token of respect.
But they would also have been attuned to the idea that such a phrase had a
double meaning – not just physical clothing, but a metaphor. We still speak of
someone “wrapping himself in the flag,” for example. Paul uses the whole armor
of God; the Old Testament speaks of a man clothing himself with violence.
We shall see later that Christ picks up this metaphor and gives it in prophecy,
where white linen represents the righteous acts of the saints.
transition from small town to big city has changed something else: the sense
of social obligation. Social obligations were much stronger – especially when
they involved a king. Christ’s hearers would have recognized the refusal to
come to the supper as being intentionally offensive.
parable is not hard to interpret:
original invited guests are the Jews. The servants sent to them are the
prophets; their destruction would occur in AD 70.
“go therefore” represents the church and her evangelism – the Good News
taken to every place on earth.
feast is yet to come. It is the “marriage supper of the Lamb” spoken of
This will happen at the return of our Lord.
recent musings, this has been the simple interpretation of this parable from
the earliest days of the church. As we shall see, things have changed.
most sensitive part of the parable concerns the wedding guest who was not
wearing wedding clothes. Taken at face value (wrong clothes) the reaction of
the king seems harsh. But if we understand this to be the return of our Lord
for His church, the matter makes sense. A little.
throws some light on the question of predestination, for example. Was
this man predestined to be cast into hell – or is he himself at fault? The
classic interpretation is simply this: many are called – all we can
reach. Of them, some respond.
Of these, a fair portion go through the motions but ultimately do not
become solid Christians. Only those who wear the fine linen of
righteousness will be at the wedding supper of the Lamb.
how would I know? Easy. Look in the mirror – do you see the righteous
acts, or someone going through the motions doing just enough to feel
may note, therefore, the surprise of this guest. He thought all was
well. Didn’t he go to church often? How stunning to find that God wanted
devotion, not lip service and habit.
we may note his destination: hell. As we shall see, this is not a popular
destination these days.
in our Teaching
parable may serve as a landmark for us. By looking to it, we may determine
where our teaching has gone astray.
teaching about prophecy has changed greatly since the early days of the church;
it is instructive to ask if all such change is for the good.
ancients saw a mystery of God. We see a certainty. (Recall, a mystery in
Scripture might be better translated “top secret.”) Our teaching includes
much more detail that we read into matters – and much less reverence for
the mysteries of God.
old interpretation of prophecy held so much unknown – but this is
compatible with the soft and tender invitation of Jesus Christ. “You
never know” might have been the motto of the early interpreters; “Draw a
line in the sand” is ours. The ancients saw in the mystery a form of
older times prophecy was viewed as difficult, and therefore less likely to
be a topic for sermons. In our time it is the most socially acceptable
kind of sermon; it exudes confidence.
on predestination, election and grace
our views on prophecy seem to have varied, our views on predestination,
election and grace have also changed.
the older views, there were those who saw this as consistent with
predestination (the man was fated to wear the wrong clothes). Others saw
it as part of the election of God (the man was invited despite his
failings). The most common view was that time, being the creation of God,
was at his command, and therefore there is no contradiction between free
will and prophecy. These views were much argued.
the ill dressed man is seen as a Christian – but a hypocrite. But even
this is fading, as no one wants to admit that there might be a hypocrite
in our congregation. Hypocrisy is strictly reserved for other
most common view taught today is that all that are in the church are
saved; the line in the sand is at the sanctuary door. “We” are the
favored; “they” are not. Crossing the line is all that is really
this, of course, leads to the alternate destinations of heaven and hell.
is an almost unused word (outside of angry obscenities). The preferred
term is “Christless eternity.” It is preferred, I think, because we
really don’t believe in hell. We acknowledge it, but it’s not a major
player in our thoughts.
and brimstone? We don’t even like to mention the words, let alone preach
in that style. All is sweetness and light in the kingdom.
one must ask: are we really doing the sinner any favors in this? If
there is no hell, or hell is reserved only for Satan and his angels, then
our modern method is fine. But it is good to note that almost all the
references to hell come from our Lord himself.
attitudes and actions have changed as well.
towards the Jews
no area has Christian teaching undergone a more profound sea change than in our
thoughts concerning the Jews.
most of Christian history, it has been a common believe that the Jews were
responsible for the Crucifixion – and that their failure to repent and
become Christians means that they embrace what their ancestors did.
Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ? It was branded as
“anti-Semitic” for the simple cause that it told the truth. Jews are now
heroic. A goodly portion of the attitude change is due to our shift in
method of prophetic interpretation.
very positive development has been the arrival of Messianic Jews as a part
of the church. This has been a blessing to the church if for no other
reason that to separate the history of the Jews from the people around us.
is viewed as someone else’s responsibility. That person is usually in a
foreign country. Even in our own country, it’s a problem for other people
to solve. This is changing, however, as cheap travel makes the short term
mission trip more feasible.
the call” to evangelism – a commonplace concept to the ancient church – is
now rare. The call is now introspective, not a public thing.
curious enough is the demise of the sense of urgency in evangelism. The
ancient church thought of it this way: the Gospel must be preached, for
everyday men die without Christ. We now view it that the return of Christ
is very near; hence we must reach to our unsaved loved ones now.
acts of righteousness – detailed in Scripture
- are still with us. But there are some changes here, too.
the days when there was only one church, that church made such things as
hospitals, giving to the poor, feeding and clothing the poverty stricken,
functions of the church as a whole. That is, the church officials
organized these things and ran them. (This is still a major virtue of the
Catholic church, for example.) We see these as things that arise from the
pew, not the pulpit.
This perhaps reflects the change in doctrine concerning “social Gospel.”
teaching tends more and more to “faith, not works.” The early church saw
“faith and works”; later came “works, not faith” followed by the
Reformation giving rise to “faith, not works.”
I point out one particular difficulty? Did you notice what the king said to
the man without wedding clothes? His first word is “friend.” This is not
talking about those who do not know the Gospel. It’s talking about those who
are friends, but do not produce the fruit of righteousness. It is a warning to