LEARNING BASIC BIBLE STUDY METHODS
An Inductive Guide to the Study of the Bible,
Using the Gospel of Matthew
THE PARABLE OF THE WEDDING BANQUET
(Also called THE PARABLE OF THE KING’S SON)
(Note: This is the 32nd lesson in the series on Methods of basic Bible Study in the Gospel of Matthew. To review the principles of Bible study as they have emerged in the lessons, see the earlier lessons in the archives. For a complete study of the principles, and the book, begin with the introduction and work through the lessons in sequence).
Since this parable follows the triumphant entry and precedes the teachings of Jesus on the signs of the end times delivered on the Mount of Olives (called the Olivet Discourse, Matthew 24, 25) on the Wednesday of the Passion Week, the experts in the chronology of the Gospels put this time of controversy on Wednesday morning (along with all of Matthew 21:19b through 23:37-39; see the chronology chart at the end of this lesson).
But a lot of modern commentators think that this parable and the one in Luke 14:16-24 are two separate tellings of the same tradition. Of course, Jesus himself could have used the same, or similar parables at different times in his full teaching ministry; but these commentators usually mean that Jesus told the parable once, and the Gospels re-used it with changes.
The differences between Matthew and Luke are significant though. In Luke the story starts with "a certain man," but here it is the King. In Luke it is a great supper, but here it is a wedding banquet. In Luke there is one invitation, but here there are two. In Luke the invited guests make excuses, but here they refuse and turn violent. In Luke the invited guests are passed by, but here they are destroyed. These are major differences. Each passage fits its context very well, and so if one were to conclude that it was originally one story, there would have to have been significant editing to make the parable work in the contexts. Matthew’s parable is harsher than Luke’s, but then it comes later in Jesus ministry in Matthew, at a time when he was facing severe opposition from the Jewish leaders. It is most likely that this parable was a separate story, not a re-telling of the one in Luke, although in some ways the two are similar.
The Text1 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying, 2"The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
4 Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’
5 But they paid no attention and went off--one to his field, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
8 Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless. 13 Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
14 "For many are invited, but few are chosen."
Observations on the Text
The meaning of this parable in the context of the Lord’s Passion Week, in which he was to be betrayed and crucified, is pretty clear--it condemns the contempt that Israel as a whole (and everyone in general) had (and has) for God’s gracious invitation through Jesus the Messiah.
The focus of the parable is on the wedding banquet of the Son. The reference is naturally to the Messianic banquet, which is not only mentioned in the New Testament (Rev. 19) but also in the Rabbinic Literature. At the end of the age, the Jewish tradition held, all the people of God--Israel--would enjoy a Messianic banquet in their transition from this life to the life to come. The details of that banquet, or the New Testament’s marriage supper of the Lamb, cannot be pressed too much since the circumstances are different, as we shall see.
We may also observe that the parable clearly intends to portray Israel’s spiritual indifference to the invitation in the sharpest way, culminating in their killing the messengers of the covenant. In Matthew 23 Jesus will accuse the hypocritical leaders of killing the prophets.
The imagery of a wedding banquet turns to the serious message when the man without the proper wedding clothes is not merely thrown out of the banquet, but is bound hand and foot, and cast into darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. This is obviously the judgment scene that Jesus repeated so often with these very words. Thus the banquet is the celebration of those who enter the kingdom, and the exclusion is the judgment of God for those who reject the invitation of grace.
The Development of the Argument
We could break down the passage into several parts, but it seems that there are three natural stages in the story--the invitation refused (vv. 1-3), the second invitation violently opposed (vv. 4-8), and the invitation given to any who would come (vv. 8-13). In this last section we have sub-points that we can use: the wider invitation (vv. 8-10) and the rejection of the guest who was not clothed in the proper attire (vv. 11-13). The parable ends with a short maxim (v. 14).
I. The people invited to the wedding banquet of the Son
refuse to come (22:1-3)
A. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a wedding banquet (1, 2).
Here we see the true nature of a parable--it is an extended simile. The Kingdom of Heaven is compared to a wedding banquet. But the point of this comparison will be the details of the story to follow, answering what there is about the wedding banquet image that was intended by Jesus to describe the kingdom. The parable will focus on who responds properly to the call.
The parable says that the King gave a wedding banquet for his Son. In the claims of Jesus, God the Father would be this King, and Jesus, of course, was the Son. The presentation of the King’s Son, the Messiah, as a bridegroom is not uncommon (see 9:15; 25:1; John 3:29; Eph 5:25-32; and Rev. 21:2, 9). This is the New Testament counterpart of the Old Testament usage of marriage as a symbol of the covenant, i.e., that Israel was the wife of Yahweh, and in the end, an unfaithful wife (see Hosea) who followed after other lovers (gods). The imagery in the New Testament does not focus on God’s relation to a nation in general, but on the special relationship between Christ and true believers. The anticipated union with Christ in glory is portrayed by John as a marriage supper (Rev. 19). Here and elsewhere Jesus uses the same idea to warn people not to refuse the invitation, and not to be found unprepared for the coming of the Bridegroom.
B. The special invited guests refuse to come (3).
The guest list was drawn up ahead of time, and when the time came for the feast, they were notified that it was ready. But these guests refused to come (they persistently refused, the tense is imperfect). These special guests would be the Israelites who were expecting the Messiah; they claimed to be closely related to the King, God. But when the King prepared the banquet for his Son, they would not come. In the New Testament Christ is often portrayed as the stumblingstone--people might have embraced an offer of the kingdom, but they had to determine what to do about Jesus? For help in this section, one need only look at the end of Matthew 23 to get the point: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing" (Matt. 23:37). For many reasons, but one primarily, the Jewish people did not accept Jesus as their Messiah when he came and extended to them the invitation to come to him (Matt. 11:28). They could explain it in so many ways, but it simply was that they did not believe in him.
This parable, then, portrays the expected guests as refusing the gracious invitation to attend the banquet. By refusing the offer of grace they refused a share in the banquet, and in the world to come--if they continued to refuse.
II. Those who continually refuse the invitation become violent (22:4-6).
A. The King graciously repeats the invitation (4).
The King extends his gracious invitation again, although this time he makes it even more appealing. He sent other messengers out to invite them again. This is so true of the way that the Lord calls people to himself, repeatedly and with all the incentives to appeal to people. In this parable the incentives are portrayed in the description of the banquet. The word used technically refers to a morning meal, like a breakfast but eaten mid-morning. However, the translation of "banquet" can be used because the wedding feasts often went on for days. So this would be the beginning of the days of feasting. And here there would be plenty to eat--the King says that his oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered and everything is ready for the feast. What could be more appealing?--the King himself extends the invitation, it is for a joyful time of celebration, and there will be so much there to enjoy. One is amazed that the invitation needed to be repeated at all! The invitation of the King was both a great honor--and a sovereign command (one does not refuse the King).
B. Those who continue to refuse turn violent (vv. 5, 6).
The response to this second invitation is rather surprising, to say the least. The people paid no attention to the messengers, but went off on their own business. But others seized the messengers and mistreated them and killed them! The King was so outraged by their treatment of his messengers that he sent his army to destroy the murderers and burn their city.
The violent and harsh conclusion of the story sets this parable apart for the one in Luke. In this context the opposition to Jesus had grown violent; and Jesus warned his enemies of the coming judgment they would receive. So the focus of the parable, although severe, is true to history. The Hebrews had often harmed and killed the prophets that God sent to them; and they were about to do the same with Jesus. But to refuse the offer of the King and murder his messengers was the same as committing suicide. That would even have been true in their days. But in the story this was not any king, but the King of Glory.
A survey of the Gospels as a whole is necessary to draw together the reasons for the Jews’ rejection and hatred of Jesus. Again and again Jesus called them to come and follow him and he would give them eternal rest. Their unbelief in him lay behind their refusal. But perhaps as the repeated appeals of Jesus made the call clearer to them--that Jesus was the divine Son of God, that they would have to submit to him, and that they could only enter the Kingdom of Heaven through repentance of their sins and faith in his provision--they became more aware of what he was saying about himself and therefore what he was saying about them. Their violent response in killing the messengers the LORD sent anticipated their desire to kill Jesus--they did not want to hear anymore of their guilt and his grace.
And so, just as Jesus explained in the last section, the kingdom would be taken from them and given to a people bearing fruit. Those who angrily refused the gracious invitation to the wedding feast would be insulting and minimizing the King, and so his wrath would fall on them.
III. The King invites others to the wedding feast
but expels those who do not prepare properly for it (22:8-13).
A. The King invites as many as would come to the feast (vv. 8-10).
Because the ones who were invited refused to come, the king now turns to others. He sends his servants out into the streets to invite all that they could find, whether good or bad. The banquet hall was soon filled with people wanting to have a share in the King’s wedding feast for his Son. The call is not for the wise and the learned, certainly not for the smug and self-righteous, but for all who would come. He came into the world to seek and save that which was lost, not those who had rigorously kept the Law (or who said they did) and could claim to have the righteousness to enter the Messianic banquet. What is drawn into the hall are both good and bad people--but all in need of God’s invitation to escape the sin and bondage of this world.
B. The king expels anyone who did not prepare properly (vv. 11-13).
The parable tells how the King arrived to see the guests who wanted to be at the wedding feast for the Son. But he found a man who was not wearing the proper wedding clothes. The King addressed him as "Friend"--but do not be mislead by this word in Jesus’ teaching, for when he called someone "friend" it was always in an ironic sense and a word of judgment followed. Whenever Jesus called anyone "Friend," he usually made it clear they were not. In our story The King wanted to know how the man got in without the proper attire, but the man was speechless, a sign of his guilt.
Many interpreters take the proper wedding attire to be righteousness, and find many passages that seem to support that. But that may be pushing the symbol a little too much in this story. Where would he get the righteousness?--the King expected him to have it to join the wedding feast! Some have suggested that the King provided the attire (i.e., righteousness) but this man refused to have it. That is adding quite a bit to the parable, and such an addition is not necessary. We can leave the symbolism a bit general and just say that the man did not prepare properly to act on the invitation he received. So there was an invitation to the banquet, but not all who responded to the invitation were allowed to remain. The King had the man tied and cast out into the darkness, where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The outcome of this man’s situation informs us of the true meaning of the symbolism. We have to say that the proper attire would correspond to all that Jesus said was required for entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven--true repentance for sin and faith in Christ, and then a commitment to love and obey the Lord as evidence of saving faith. In Jesus’ day many people certainly wanted to enter the kingdom, but when Jesus started telling them to come to him and take his yoke upon them and learn of him, they went away. And in the day of judgment many will claim to have done good deeds, but Jesus will turn them away because they will not have dealt properly with the basic issue of salvation--they will not be prepared properly and spiritually to be received by the King at the wedding of the Son.
The lesson closes with an explanation ("for"). Many are "called," but few are chosen. The word "many" is not intended to be a restricted number; it is used several times in Isaiah 53 to speak of those for whom Christ poured out his blood. The invitation has gone out to all who care to listen, but some just refused, and some wanted to come but refused to submit to the requirements of entrance into the kingdom. So none of these will be present in the kingdom. Those Jesus refers to as "chosen" are the people who respond to the invitation to come, and respond in the proper manner so that they are prepared to enter the kingdom. Because the Bible refers to the recipients of grace as "chosen," we may conclude that it intends to say that God is not surprised by the acceptance of some and the rejection of many--in other words, sovereign grace is still at work, even though on the human level we see how some refuse and some accept and prepare.
In Jesus’ experience the invitation to the Messianic banquet had been extended to the Jews first, those who had the promise of the covenant, the kingdom, and the King; but they refused. But then Jesus began to turn to the Gentiles, and as many as believed in him would enter the kingdom in the place of the others, even if the ones who believed were formerly prostitutes and sinners rather than scholars and sages.
More people will reject the invitation or fail to meet the requirement of faith in Christ than those who are chosen, that is, those who truly believe and enter the kingdom.
In our day the invitation goes out from the Church by the Spirit through the Church:. "The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come’." And whosoever wills may come and drink of the water of life freely. Those who refuse, whether violently opposed to Christ, or pretending to be in Christ, will have no part in the kingdom, but will be cast into outer darkness.
This is the message of the Gospel, the good news. It is only good news if salvation delivers us from darkness (if there is no darkness, no judgment, then there is no reason for good news). The Church must carry the invitation to the world, even if the world might refuse the invitation, or even treat them violently and kill them.
Principles of Interpretation
This is a parable. Not every detail of the story should be given a specific equivalent, only the main points and ideas. If there are similar stories, we need to notice the differences as much as the similarities.
In interpreting the parable, the context is so important. Throughout the events of the Passion Week leading up the crucifixion, the conflict between Jesus and the leaders became much sharper than it had been in Jesus’ public ministry before. Now everything was clearly set in order in the events and teachings for all to see, and in seeing the issue, the people would know that their decision to accept or reject the grace of God in Christ was truly a matter of life and death, eternal life and death. He made it clear that the only way they would ever see the kingdom of heaven was by him.
The story makes it clear that there is no reason, none at all, for people to reject a gracious invitation from the King to come to the wedding feast and enjoy all good things. The only reason they reject the invitation is that they do not believe the King, or they do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God. But since this is a call from the King, from God Himself, the people are not free to take it or leave it, even if they think they can be non-committal. To reject the invitation of God to share in the Kingdom is folly--it is to choose death; or, to reject the offer of grace is to reject God’s only provision for eternal life.
of the Passion Week
Matthew Mark Luke John
(March 29, 33 A.D.)
Great Crowd Gathers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12:9-11
(Nisan 10, Lamb Selected; March 30, 33 A.D.)
The Triumphal Entry 21:1-11 11:1-10 19:28-44 12:12-19
Jesus Visits Temple 21:10-11 11:11 . . . . . . . . . .
(March 31, 33 A.D.)
Cursing the Fig Tree 21:18-19a 11:12-14 . . . . . . . . . .
2nd Cleansing of Temple 21:12-13 11:15-18 19:45-48 . . . . .
Healing and Dispute 21:14-16 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Visit of Greeks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12:20-36
Discourse of Unbelief . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12:37-50
Return to Bethany 21:17 11:18-19 19:47-48 . . . . .
(April 1, 33 A.D.)
Fig Tree Withered 21:19b-22 11:19-26 . . . . . . . . . .
Day of Controversy
Authority Questioned 21:23-27 11:27-33 20:1-8 . . . . .
Parable of Two Sons 21:28-32 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Wicked Husbandman 21:33-46 12:1-9 20:9-19 . . . . .
Parable of King’s Son 22:1-14 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Render to Caesar 22:15-22 12:13-17 20:20-26 . . . . .
Sadducees’ Question 22:23-33 12:18-27 20:27-40 . . . . .
Great Commandment 22:34-40 12:28-34 . . . . . . . . . .
Jesus’ Question 22:41-46 12:35-37 20:41-44 . . . . .
Woes to Pharisees 23:1-36 12:38-40 20:45-47 . . . . .
Lament over Jerusalem 23:37-39 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Widow’s Mite . . . . . 12:41-44 21:1-4 . . . . .
Afternoon Olivet Discourse . . .
The identification of 33 A.D. for the crucifixion is based on all the data, but especially the notice that John the Baptist began ministering in the 15th year of Tiberius, which was 29 A.D. Jesus’ ministry covered four Passovers including the one in which he was betrayed and crucified. In the year 33 A.D., Passover, the 14th of Nisan, came on Friday (actually started Thursday evening and continued through Friday), so Jesus died on what we now call Good Friday. For the arguments and discussion of other views, see the work of Hoehner.