1 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.”
If the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast, then . . .
The king is God the Father.
Who is the king's son?
Who is God's Son? Jesus Christ.
Who are "those who had been invited" in verses 3, 4, and 8?
Who are the first people on a wedding guest list? Family. Close friends. Relatives.
Jesus was sent first and foremost to the Jews. The Jews were the ones who had received the oracles of God, whom God had blessed with His statutes and ordinances and promises. They were His own people, by His own choosing. Through the Old Testament, God had called the Jews to be His own people. In the New Testament, He sends His own Son to be one of them, to be their son and their brother and their friend.
The Jews are "those who had been invited." They were the first to be invited into the kingdom of God:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)
There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God. (Romans 2:9–11)
The king's slaves are God's prophets. They are the the messengers of His invitations, His promises, and His judgments.
In the parable, those who were initially invited show themselves to be "un worthy" of the king's invitation. In what way were they unworthy? It's plain to see why the murderers who killed the slaves were unworthy, but let's not pass over the unworthiness of the first group, who "paid no attention and went their way."
If you are going to attend a wedding, you absolutely have to stop what you're doing. You can't keep working the farm. You can't keep running your business. You can't have your own wedding and go to someone else's wedding at the same time. You can't go to class and go to the wedding.
The same reality exists spiritually when it comes to entering into the kingdom of heaven. Many things have to be set aside in order to attend the wedding feast of God. Which is to say, your earthly vocation must submit to your heavenly calling. There will inescapably be an order and a hierarchy between these two things in your heart. One or the other will have preeminence. And Jesus is teaching us here, that to enter into the kingdom of God as a second priority is to not enter into the kingdom at all.
It is true, that both farmers and merchants must be diligent in their business but not so as to keep them from making religion their main business. . . . These lawful things undo us, when they are unlawfully managed, when we are so careful and troubled about many things as to neglect the one thing needful. (Matthew Henry, comments on Matthew 22:5)
Even holy marriage, and fields, and other riches, are so many snares to bind every man more closely to the earth. (John Calvin, comments on Matthew 22:5)
There is a consequence for that refusal, both in the parable, and in real life. Jesus is not afraid to compare God to a king who "sends his armies to destroy those murderers and set their city on fire." He's not shy about this, because this is eventually exactly what happened to Jerusalem. God sent armies to destroy it and set it on fire in AD 70. And it was because they rejected and murdered not just the king's slaves, but the King’s own Son.
Who gets invited in verses 9–10?
Upon the refusal of the first guests to come to the wedding, the king extends the invitation far and wide. Matthew Henry says that the new invitation is "universal and undistinguishing." The close family and friends chose not to come, but the feast was already prepared! And the king won't have his feast wasted, so he sends the slaves out to the main highways. In real life, God sent His apostles out to call the Gentiles (non-Jews) to the wedding feast. Though not part of the family and "strangers to the covenants of promise" (Ephesians 2:12), God graciously invited the Gentiles into the kingdom of God.
Who are the "many" who are "called" in verse 14?
In the parable, the many includes both those who were initially invited and refused to come, and those who were invited later and decided to show up. In real life, this represents those who hear the call of the Gospel: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2). It includes both those who reject that call, and those who claim to be Christians, which is to say, members of God's kingdom. However, not all those who are called are chosen . . .
Who are the "few" who are "chosen" in verse 14?
In the parable, the chosen few are those who were invited, who attended, and who were properly dressed for the wedding feast. In real life, this few is those who hear the preaching of the Gospel, who profess their faith in the Gospel, and then who are ultimately appropriately dressed for the kingdom.
What are "wedding garments"?
First and foremost, our wedding clothes are the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ" (Galatians 3:27). To be truly united to Jesus Christ is to be dressed in His righteousness. Ultimately, God Himself is the only one who can see this inward spiritual reality. However, corresponding to this righteousness, there is a real, lived-out righteousness evident in the life of a true believer. At the marriage supper of the Lamb in Revelation 19:8, we are told that it is given to the bride to "clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints." The Apostle Peter commands us, "Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another" (1 Peter 5:5).
Here's Matthew Henry:
If the gospel be the wedding feast, then the wedding garment is a frame of heart, and a course of life agreeable to the gospel and our profession of it, worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called, as becomes the gospel of Christ. The righteousness of saints, their real holiness and sanctification, and Christ, made Righteousness to them, is the clean linen. This man was not naked, or in rags; some raiment he had, but not a wedding garment. Those, and those only, who put on the Lord Jesus, that have a Christian temper of mind, and are adorned with Christian graces, who live by faith in Christ, and to whom he is all in all, have the wedding garment. (Comments on Matthew 22:11)
Jesus teaches us here, as in many other places, that there will always be a mixture among God's people of those who are truly united to Christ by faith, and those who merely put on a show of faith.
Jesus also teaches us that those who are true wedding guests will be "few." The fact that it's "few" should be a strength to Christians in a dark day. As you pursue Christ and take up your cross to follow Him, you will feel alone in this world. You'll feel weird and out of place. People will think your crazy, fanatical, and ignorant. If you're faithful to your Lord, many professing Christians will set themselves against you too. You will be tempted to look at the outward success of other churches and ministries, and think that they must be doing something right, and you must be doing something wrong. That might be true, but it may also be true that that church or ministry is large because they are choosing the wide path that leads to destruction, dressing themselves in worldly success, rather than in the righteousness of our Lord. If we make our judgments by numbers, we are not taking Jesus at His word when He says, "Many are called, but few are chosen."
There are thousands of hearers of the gospel who derive from it no benefit whatever. They listen to it Sunday after Sunday, and year after year, and do not believe to the saving of the soul. They feel no special need of the gospel; they see no special beauty in it; they do not perhaps hate it, or oppose it, or scoff at it, but they do not receive it into their hearts. They like other things far better. Their money, their land, their business, or their pleasures, are all far more interesting subjects to them than their souls.—It is an awful state of mind to be in, but awfully common. Let us search our own hearts, and take heed that it is not our own. Open sin may kill its thousands; but indifference and neglect of the gospel kill their tens of thousands. Multitudes will find themselves in hell, not so much because they openly broke the Ten Commandments, as because they made light of the truth. Christ died for them on the cross, but they neglected him.” J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Matthew (1856; Banner of Truth, 2015), 226.
Very simply, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a wedding feast in order to entice us. He entices us by holding out to us the fullness and generosity of God.
Notice the king's kindness and tolerance and patience.
If you've been invited to a wedding, you know it's quite a process. First comes the save-the-date. Then an actual invitation. Then Facebook updates. Then an email from the bride's mother asking you to please RSVP.
Why so many communications? Hopefully, it's because those inviting you really want you to be there!
God does the same with those He invites to His feast. He's not stingy or unreasonable. He gives ample notice with ample opportunity to respond. And His desire is for the table to be full.
I once went to a wedding where about 100 more people showed up than had RSVPed. Not surprisingly, the hosts (by no fault of their own) ran out of food. That's not how it is with God's wedding feast. Everything is prepared, and the invitation is open. There will be enough to feed every soul who appears. If there's a problem, it will be that many who could have feasted decided they had better things to do.
God is kind and generous. His invitation into the kingdom of His beloved Son is "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Will you be at the feast? Will you be dressed appropriately?