The Jewish Wedding and Jesus – The Parable of the Wedding Feast

The Jewish Wedding and Jesus – The Parable of the Wedding Feast

The Jewish Wedding and Jesus – The Parable of the Wedding Feast.

“I delight greatly in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God! For he has clothed me with the garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, like a bridegroom wearing his garland, like a bride adorned in here jewels!” (Isaiah 61:10).

Jesus tells another parable in Matthew 22:1-14, this time His story looks more like an allegory in which most of the details of the story represent something else. The audience for this story appears to be chief priests and Pharisees. Jesus had just told them the parables of the Two Sons and the Wicked Vinedressers. And then Scripture states that “Jesus spoke to them again.” So the context of this parable is that Jesus is once again facing off with the religious establishment. Jesus has more to say to them in particular, and perhaps the best way to say it is through this story.

This is clever little story about the kingdom of heaven. Jesus wants this parable to be like a firecracker that is tossed into the midst of the cynical audience and explodes, to startle them, to make them think. Jesus wants the religious leaders to take this personally.

A certain king “arranged” a marriage of his son, and as usual is throwing a big celebration for the occasion. So the king sent out some servants to distribute invitations to those of the king’s choosing. This first attempt was surprisingly unsuccessful. The king was not about to give up of course, so he sent some more servants out with invitations to another group of people. With this second round of invitations, he tried to convince the invitees to come by announcing that the dinner is prepared, complete with royal oxen and fatted cattle. These invitations once again fell on deaf ears, and the people rejected the king’s kind offer to celebrate with him in honor of his son’s wedding. To make matters worse, some of the invitees went so far as to kill some of the king’s servants. They mistreated and murdered them even though they represented the king. Naturally, the king was furious and executed all these murderers as well as the cities they lived in. The king then sent out the servants for a third time, this time with instructions to go out to the highways and randomly invite everyone they see, both good and bad. So the servants obeyed, and they succeeded in filling up the huge wedding hall with guests.

The king was very pleased with the full hall, until he saw a man who was still wearing his old traveling clothes, dirty, worn, thread-bare. This man had not put on the wedding garment graciously provided by the king, as all hosts do at wedding celebrations. This ill-dressed man had no excuses, and the king bound him hand and foot and sent him to the outer darkness, far away from the celebration. The story then closes with Jesus declaring a well-known phrase, “For many are called, but few are chosen.

Jesus in this story is accusing the Jews of rejecting the king’s repeated invitations to the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is telling them that the Jews were invited first, and have continued to reject God’s invitations. It is widely accepted that the servants extending the first round of invitations represented Moses and the patriarchs and Torah. The Jews rejected them, so He sent a second round of invitations through the prophets and apostles. These servants were not only rejected but killed for their efforts. The third round finds the king inviting the sinners and the Gentiles, the people out on the streets. They were finally included in the invitation list as well, and they eagerly accepted the king’s invitations. These were the people who eventually were included in God’s call to the kingdom, and they will be in attendance at the wedding feast. The feast in this story reminds us of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, when the Son, the Messiah, marries all His believers in the New Kingdom. The very people who were considered unworthy of heaven by the religious were graciously included by the King of heaven, even though they were not the first people called to attend.

Early church theologians believed that the oxen in the feast represented the Old Covenant, and the fatted cattle represented the New Covenant. This is a picture of how both the Old and the New Covenants are fulfilled at the Wedding of the Lamb, when Jesus will marry His Bride, His world-wide church. The fatted cattle is actually better translated as a “bull-calf formed from wheat.” In Jewish law, it was the male calf raised on wheat that were used for sacrificial offerings. Christ offered himself on the Cross to reconcile God and man in the ultimate sacrificial offering. So it is believed that the cattle “formed from wheat” is representing the broken body of the Eucharist bread, formed from wheat, the offering for the world.

Jesus’ reference in the story to the destruction of the rebellious cities is widely accepted as His prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Because of this reference in the parable, many have come to believe that Jerusalem’s destruction was an act of God for Israel’s rebellion and rejection of Christ, and not simply an act of war decided by man. Early theologians go on to claim that God showed patience in this act of destruction by waiting a full generation after Christ, forty years, in order to give time for the rebellious to repent and accept the King’s invitations.

Now the second part of the story becomes the focus, taking place in the king’s royal wedding hall during the celebration. The hall is filled with the guests who have accepted the king’s invitations, and they are all wearing the wedding garments provided by the king. These guests, of course, just came off the street, so they were not properly attired for the occasion. As usual, the gracious host, the king, had exquisite, beautiful garments provided for all to enjoy.

But the king was outraged to notice a man who didn’t bother to put on one of the king’s provided wedding garments for the feast. This man was invited and came to the feast but for some reason continued to wear his old daily clothes, nothing special, and totally inappropriate. Perhaps the man was ignorant of his situation. Maybe he didn’t bother to read the room. Perhaps he was simply arrogant, and he impudently thought he was above it all. Maybe he thought the wedding feast wasn’t important enough to go to the trouble of donning a new garment. Whatever the reason, the king was justifiably furious. This man’s dress was shameful and disrespectful, a slap in the face of the host. To reject the king’s garment was considered a rejection of the king’s graces. So the king confronted this man and asked him, What are you doing dressed here like that? Didn’t you take my invitation seriously? Why are you choosing to be separated from everyone else at the feast? The garment I provided is free, and you couldn’t stoop to wear it? This is an insult! So the king took this man outside the hall, bound him hand and foot, and threw him into the outer darkness, far away from the celebration.

Most readers of this part of the story interpret the wedding garment as the believer’s robe of righteousness promised to all who follow the King and His Son. The kingdom of heaven will only accept the King’s official wedding garment, the robe of Christ, which is provided by the grace of God. Our human righteousness would be inadequate for heaven, nothing but dirty traveling clothes. We must put on the garment provided in order to take part in the wedding celebration. Those who choose not to put it on, who want to gain heaven on their own terms, will be refused. The robe is a free gift for those who follow the Son. We just ask God for the robe, and it will undoubtedly be a perfect fit.

The joyful reality is that we don’t have to wait to start attending the Feast of the Lord. We can begin now to celebrate Him and His presence as Bridegroom. We can put on his robe of righteousness now, and heaven’s celebration can begin right now. We can be clothed in the garment of Jesus. We can begin to put on God’s goodness and start enjoying a life that is in right standing with the King. When we wear his robe, we are never in danger of getting expelled from the wedding hall. When we put on His robe, we are identifying with the Person of Christ, as if we are wearing heaven’s uniform. As we wear Christ, we will be transformed into His likeness. As we put on Christ, we will echo Job, “I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; My justice was like a robe and a turban.” (Job  29:14, NASB).

In many of Jesus’ parables, He exaggerated to make a point. The audience listening to this story would have understood the exaggerations. They would have said… That’s ridiculous! Who would have rejected an invitation from a king? That’s crazy! An invitation like that means we drop everything and make sure we attend! It would be an honor to go that wedding! What are they thinking? And for them to kill the king’s servants! That’s over the top! That would never happen. Do they have a death wish? And how about the arrogance and indifference of that man wearing dirty clothes to the king’s wedding feast! No one would do something stupid like that! There’s no excuse for that!

And at this point the listeners have walked right into what Jesus has laid out for the them. Those who reject God’s invitations to join his kingdom are not making good sense! Who wouldn’t want to be a part of the King’s life and celebration? Who wouldn’t want to join the kingdom of heaven? To refuse the invitations of God makes about as much sense as refusing the invitations of the king. And that impudent man who wouldn’t put on the wedding garment? That’s just as nonsensical as refusing to wear a robe of God’s righteousness! To reject the King’s robe is to refuse Christ’s call to salvation. The logical, the wise, the sensible thing to do is accept the invitations of the King to enter his kingdom. Wear the robe of the Son, the Messiah, and join the party.

The closing words of Jesus here included the familiar phrase “For many are called, but few are chosen.” It is helpful to know that the phrase “for many” is an Aramaic expression that actually means “for all.” “Many’ is another way of saying “all,” and is meant to imply something universal. “Many are called” is a figure of speech that means “everyone is called, is invited.” Regarding the last part of the phrase, “few are chosen,” there are unfortunately many who choose not to respond to the King’s invitation. And if they are thinking about it, they don’t go as far as putting on the robe of Christ. So the paradox here is that there are some who choose not be chosen.