Parable of the Wedding Guests
a.k.a Parable of the Wedding Feast
Approximately one-third of the teachings personally conveyed by Jesus Christ as noted in the Gospels were in the form of parables. In the following passage He gave His reasons for using the parabolic form in teaching truth:
And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Matthew 13:10-17)
Jesus Christ used parables to illustrate truth for the following reasons:
Parables are unlike allegories. While an allegory may be a story constructed without a basis in reality in order to convey truth, a parable is based on a known realm (reality). The truth to be learned was gained from transference from reality to the unknown. It becomes the hearer’s responsibility to properly understand what truth is being transferred from the reality of the parable that is told. When Christ used a parable, He expected the believer to understand the parable by making the necessary transference from it reality to the truth that He was seeking to convey.
It is interesting to note that of all the parables delivered after the Jewish leaders of the day registered their rejection of Christ as Messiah (Matthew 12), only two parables were interpreted by Christ—the parable of the sower and the parable of the wheat and tares (Matthew 13). It is conjectured that He explained these two parables to set a pattern of interpretation for all His parables. The fact that He did not interpret His subsequent parables indicates that He fully expected His disciples to understand what He taught.
Certain principles should be followed in the interpretation of parables, as follows:
This parable is most often referred to as the “Parable of the Wedding Feast.” Here it is labeled “Parable of the Wedding Guests;” because although the feast is mentioned in verse 4, the primary focus of the parable involves those individuals who are invited to the wedding as guests.
It would be helpful for the reader to have a proper understanding of the three tenses of salvation, i.e., past tense pertaining to the salvation of a person’s spirit and which is immutable (unchangeable) and based solely on grace through faith in Christ, present tense pertaining to the salvation of a person’s soul (life as it relates to the millennial kingdom and which is mutable (changeable) and based on divine good works during this life, and future tense pertaining to the salvation of a person’s body at the Rapture. A review of these may be gained from the topical study entitled “Rule of Three,” which may be accessed from the topical section of studies at www.bibleone.net.
The parable of the wedding feast is one of several parables that reveal the structure and rulership of the coming kingdom of heaven. The occasion for it is found in the preceding chapter (Matthew 21) in which Christ announced that the kingdom of heaven would be taken from Israel and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof (Matthew 21:43)—the believers (gentile and Jew) of the age of grace.
Three items of interest that must be considered, as follow:
But Israel didn’t and it became a nation set aside with only future earthly blessings given to them through the unconditional Abrahamic covenant. Individually they cold be saved and become a member of the Church, but as a nation they lost their right to the kingdom by rejecting Christ.
The Parable and Its Interpretation
And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said: “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.”’ But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm and another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them.
As previously commented upon, the covenanted kingdom had been offered by Christ to the nation Israel, which offer had been authenticated by both His words and miraculous works. Yet Israel’s leaders rejected Christ and His offer. So the questions arose as to what would happen to Israel due to their rejection of their Messiah, and who would be accepted into the kingdom. Christ had addressed Himself to a portion of these uncertainties, specifically the rejection by Israel, in Matthew 21:33-45; and now, He again gives clarification in the parable of the wedding guests/feast.
In the previous chapter Christ had made the statement: “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it (Matthew 21:43).” The nation to which Christ’s kingdom offer would then be extended is the Church, as identified by Peter: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation . . . . (1 Peter 2:9a).”
But it appears that not all the Church will gain the kingdom. It is to be given to those individuals of the Church age who are saved and who bring forth spiritual “fruit.” Hence, those who will be in the kingdom will be those who are the “chosen” (saved, with fruit) out of those who are the “called” (saved, without fruit).
In this case Christ used familiar Oriental wedding customs to teach kingdom truth. Due to the custom of the day, at the time of the betrothal (engagement), an announcement was sent to the bridegroom’s friends to inform them of the forthcoming wedding and to invite them to the wedding banquet that would follow. Normally, a minimum of a month to twelve months intervened between the betrothal and the wedding, giving the invited guests ample time to prepare for it (Midrash On Lament IV. 2). The second invitation was given, sometimes, as little as one hour before the feast. Thus, those invited were to begin preparing themselves at the first invitation, which included making their own wedding garments and then were to wait expectantly for the second invitation.
When the guests arrived at the wedding feast, properly attired, they were then seated at the feast table according to their rank. Those who were closer in friendship to the bridegroom sat closer to him, with his bride, at the head of the table. This order is taught in a similar parable in Luke 14:8-10; where (1) there are ranks of honor in the heavenly wedding feast that correspond to the ranks of rulership in the kingdom to which the wedding guest may attain, and (2) the sin of pride (i.e., the lack of it) will be a, if not the, chief determining factor of rank of each guest at the feast (Proverbs 11:2; 29:23).
This parable commences with the second invitation announcement to the invited guests to now come to the wedding and feast. The invited guests were now expected to come. The “certain king” is God the Father, and the “son” is Jesus Christ. The wedding will take place in heaven when Christ will take His bride (not in view in this parable), as will the feast. The “servants” would be God’s prophets and later, probably the apostles. And although God’s servants and His invitation were rejected, God in His mercy and grace sent them out a second time only to face eventual extreme rejection in the form of ridicule and death.
“But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.”
In these verses God is so angry over the treatment of His messengers that He withdraws His invitation and sends out His armies to destroy those that were invited and their city. God did this with the Roman army under Titus, who in A.D. 70 destroyed Jerusalem and scattered the Jews throughout the world, i.e., the “Jewish dispersion.”
This part of the parable, which is now historical, points out the prophetic accuracy of the coming kingdom and to Israel’s original place in it. It is this writer’s belief that God’s plan called for Israel to be the “wedding guests.” This is so, because Israel was the Lord’s brethren according to the flesh and as such could not be the bride. This is born out in a study of typology in the Old Testament that clearly sets forth the bride of Christ as a “Gentile” bride. As examples, the brides of Isaac, Moses, and Joseph, who are types of Christ, all had “Gentile” brides. In view of this, Israel could have none-the-less held a high ruling position in the coming kingdom as the “wedding guests.” This position of rule would have allowed them to rule over the cities of the millennial earth. But instead, they rejected this privilege by rejecting the king. However, the faithful ones of the Old Testament, will be there (Matt. 8:11, 12) in the capacity of “the friends of the bridegroom.” Precisely what their rank of rule will be is not known. (Shock & Surprise Beyond the Rapture by Gary T. Whipple, Th.M., Schoettle Publishing Co., Inc., 2003)
After Israel is rejected by God, He then sends out His servants to places outside of the city of the Jews (the highways) to invite everyone to the wedding. This they did, inviting everyone, both bad and good, to the wedding. And the wedding hall was filled with guests. Now everyone is invited to the marriage, other than national Israel. This reflects that now anyone, both Gentiles and Jews, have access to God. It introduces the beginning of the Church and teaches the plan of salvation going out to all the nations of the world, by the Apostle Paul and all witnesses of Christ—all the “servants” of verse eight.
It is important to notice that the invitation was by “grace” and without works. This is the reason that the “good and the bad” were invited. Thus, by grace through faith, anyone could be saved; no matter what kind of life they may have lived (Eph. 2:8, 9). All the hearer had to do was to accept the invitation to “come” (believe). However, we learn in this parable that after they were saved and then raptured (arrived in heaven), they were to have on a wedding garment in order to “enter” the marriage supper. This garment represents the righteous works, or fruit of the Christian, after he was saved. We learn this by comparing it to the wedding garment of the bride of Christ. In Revelation 19 verse 7 and 8, the bride’s wedding garment is called the “righteousnesses [plural] of the saints,” which speaks of the righteous “works” of those chosen to be in the bride. Therefore, the wedding garments of both the bride and the wedding guests represent the spiritual “fruits” from their lives. (Shock & Surprise Beyond the Rapture by Gary T. Whipple, Th.M., Schoettle Publishing Co., Inc., 2003)
It should be noted that the “inviting” (gathering) of those from the “highways” (those other than national Israel) reflects their salvation by grace through faith. The designation of “good and bad,” in addition to reflecting that all may be saved, may also reflect their condition (spiritual maturity after being saved) before the Judgment Seat of Christ
(2 Corinthians 5:10).
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Misunderstanding elements of this portion of the parable is primarily why so many evangelical Christians are prone to differ in their interpretation of it. Although most all correctly see the king as God and the son as Christ, there is disagreement as to the guests and the one attendee who was without a wedding garment.
The following points should be considered in determining the interpretation of this passage, which will then assist in determining the proper meaning of the parable:
For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:2)
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25-27)
But it should be noted that the focus on the relationship as “bride” is not one of grace through faith without works, but on being a “chaste virgin” and sanctity and cleansing by the “Word”—the presentation of a glorious church, “not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”
To have a clear assessment of this, the reader must understand the scope of Jesus’ ministry to Israel. The book of Matthew does not teach that He came to tell them how to be saved by the preaching of the cross, since He had not yet been rejected and crucified; the scope of His message to Israel was the kingdom. Seemingly, Gentile believers have a hard time understanding that Israel, as a nation, already belonged to God, though individually they had to believe. In the Old Testament, God calls them His “firstborn son” (Ex. 4:22). Therefore, being the national seed of Abraham and, as such, under the Abrahamic covenant (salvation by grace, see Rom. 4:1-4), the scope of Jesus’ message was not how to be saved from eternal death, but how to be saved into the “kingdom of heaven.” Those who repented and followed Him (brought forth fruit) would be in the kingdom; but those who failed to repent would be cast out into the darkness, i.e., obscurity outside of the kingdom, for one thousand years. (The Matthew Mysteries, by Gary T. Whipple, Th.M., Schoettle Publishing Co., Inc., 1995)
It is therefore important to note that the garmentless guest at the wedding does not represent a lost person. He was simply one of the “invited” who had accepted the invitation but was without a proper garment. The king therefore had him cast outside the banquet hall where he would suffer terrible grief because he had not come prepared.
Only saved people, who will have lost their reward will weep and gnash their teeth (experience extreme rejection and grief). And only after one thousand years, during which time God will refuse to heed their cries, will He raise them up and out of obscurity and wipe away all tears (Revelation 21:4).
The parable ends with the observation or, if you please, the warning: For many are called, but few are chosen. This is a stern admonition to all Christians who read this parable that the day is coming in which they will experience the revelation, judgment, and consequence of their lives up and until the time of their separation from this life by either death or the Rapture. The verdict of their actions will be revealed at the Judgment Seat of Christ where they will answer for every deed they performed in their earthly bodies, whether good (divine; in the Spirit) or bad (human; in the flesh)—2 Corinthians 5:10.
The parable is about the coming kingdom of Christ and who will participate (rule) in it. Christ will rule with His bride (the faithful) at His side, but those who have been chosen (who have passed the Judgment Seat of Christ with sufficient divine good works) will also reign and rule, although in lesser positions, along side of them. While those who are only able to be classified as the called (those saved without sufficient divine good works) will suffer outside in obscurity (no positions of rulership) during the kingdom age.
The cast-out guest represents those who are called (who are saved) but who fail to produce sufficient works of righteousness (garment) during their temporal life, all which will be revealed at the Judgment Seat of Christ. They therefore will not be of the chosen, i.e., those who in fact will have a proper “garment” (righteous works; spiritual fruit) after appearing before the Judgment Seat and who will be the properly attired guests at the wedding who will be seated in order of priority relevant to their works. The bride of Christ will be those to which all classifications apply—the called (saved by faith) and chosen (with many righteous works) and faithful (with the most righteous works—the highest order of those who have believed in Christ).
This commentator has grown to see the expression “kingdom of heaven” in a clearer light, since writing the above. For instance, the phrase in the Greek is plural, and is best expressed as the “kingdom of the heavens.” And this would be in line with both (1) the plural promise of the kingdom contained within the covenant initially made by God to Abraham as articulated by the passage in Genesis 22:17, in which God promises to multiply his descendants “as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies;” and (2) the structure of God’s rule over the earth in which there is a heavenly administration, which is presently occupied by the god of this world (Satan) and those angels that followed him in his fall; and an earthly administration, which is composed of all earthly rulers who have been permitted by God to occupy rulership positions throughout the world.
The coming kingdom of Christ that will last a millennium will be composed of two segments: (1) an earthly portion, which will be administrated by Israel as the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel from the very beginning; and (2) a heavenly portion, which although offered to Israel by Christ during His earthly ministry, was rejected by Israel and subsequently “given to a nation bearing the fruits of it” (Matthew 21:43) — that nation being those “in Christ” who are a “holy nation” and who are neither Jew or Gentile, but Christian (1 Peter 2:9; Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11).
This dual aspect of God’s rule over the earth in this age, i.e., the permitted rule by Satan and his cohorts from the heavens through a parallel earthly rule; so in like manner will the earth be ruled during the Messianic Age, by Christ and His wife from the heavens through a parallel earthly rule by Israel. Christ and His bride will displace Satan and his angelic rule upon taking back the inheritance of the earth that was lost by the First Adam during the Fall in Genesis. Christ and His bride who then will become His wife will rule from the heavens while Christ with a restored Israel will rule upon the earth.
The fact that upon the redemption of the inheritance, as set forth in the type as seen in the book of Ruth, the Christ’s bride automatically becomes His wife is expressed quite competently by Arlen L. Chitwood, as follows:
The future marriage of Christ and His bride will occur exactly in accord with the type set forth in Ruth chapter four, not in accord with the way things are done in the modern world, whether in the East or in the West. As Boaz purchased Ruth through the process of redeeming a forfeited inheritance, so will Christ purchase His bride through the process of redeeming a forfeited inheritance (forfeited by the first Adam in Genesis chapter three [cf. Romans 8:20-22]). And, as Ruth automatically became Boaz’s wife through this redemptive process, so will it be with Christ and His bride. The bride (having previously been revealed at the judgment seat) will automatically become Christ’s wife through His redemption of the forfeited inheritance.
1. Redemption Completed
The redemption of the forfeited inheritance is seen occurring in Revelation chapters six through eighteen. The seven-sealed scroll in Revelation chapter five contains the redemptive terms for the forfeited inheritance (the earth), and chapters six through eighteen reveal the seals being broken and these terms being carried out (ref. Chapter 10 of this book).
Then, in chapter nineteen, after the terms set forth in the seven-sealed scroll have been carried out, after the inheritance has been redeemed, the bride is seen as Christ’s wife.
“Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to Him: for the marriage [‘marriage festivities’] of the lamb is come, and His wife has made herself ready.
And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness [‘righteous acts’] of saints.
And he said unto me, ‘Write Blessed are they that are called to the marriage supper [or, ‘marriage banquet, feast’] of the Lamb.’ And he said unto me, ‘These are the true sayings of God’” (vv. 7-9; cf. Revelation 21:9).
And note the reverential awe and excitement in heaven surrounding the redemption of the forfeited inheritance, which allows this statement concerning Christ’s wife to be made. The twenty-four elders, along with the four living creatures, “fell down and worshipped God that sat on the throne, saying, Amen; Alleluia” (v. 4). Then “a voice came out of the throne, saying, Praise our God, all you His servants, and you that fear Him, both small and great” (v. 5). Then a voice was heard, described as that of “a great multitude… many waters… mighty thundering, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigns” (v. 6). And even John, having seen all this, could do little more than fall at the feet of the one showing him these things (v. 10).
Thus, the book of Revelation, up to this point in the book, centers far more around the Church in heaven than around Israel and the nations on the earth. This book begins with the Church removed into heaven and judged, followed by the twenty-four elders casting their crowns before God’s throne (chaps. 1-4). Then it continues with the search for One found worthy to loose the seals of the seven-sealed scroll — containing the redemptive terms of the forfeited inheritance (chap. 5). And, in succeeding chapters, covering Daniel’s unfulfilled Seventieth Week, the book deals with the inheritance being redeemed, with the bride then being seen as Christ’s wife at the end of this redemptive process.
The redemption of the inheritance in chapters six through eighteen has to do with the domain which Christ and His wife, His consort queen (chap. 19), will rule over during the succeeding Messianic Era (chap. 20). And it is in the preceding respect that events in these chapters really have to do far more extensively with the Church than with Israel, though the Church will be in heaven when these events unfold on earth.
(Note Revelation 5:1-7 in the light of events surrounding the nearer kinsman and Boaz in Ruth 4:1-8. The Father, in possession of the seven-sealed scroll, will be unable to redeem the inheritance [vv. 1-4]. It would mar His Own inheritance. These redemptive rights will have to be passed on to the Son [vv. 5-7].)
2. The Marriage Festivities
When Scripture deals with the “marriage” of Christ and His bride, as in Revelation 19:7-9, the reference is always to festivities surrounding the marriage, not to a marriage itself. There will be no marriage per se, as we think of marriage in our modern-day culture. There wasn’t one in the type, and there won’t be one in the antitype either. And this is an easy matter to see in both the type (Ruth 4) and the antitype (Revelation 5-19).
The wedding festivities surrounding the marriage of God’s Son will occur in heaven following the redemption of the forfeited inheritance, for the entire redemptive process must be carried out before the bride can become Christ’s wife. And this can be clearly seen from the context of Revelation 19:7-9, where these festivities are mentioned. In this passage, these festivities are seen occurring immediately following the redemption of the forfeited inheritance (chapters 6-18) and immediately preceding Christ’s return to the earth (19:11ff).
Near the end of Christ’s earthly ministry, He gave a parable concerning a whole panorama of events surrounding these marriage festivities. And this parable was given within the framework of the offer of the kingdom of the heavens, first to Israel, then to the Church.
A. The Parable (Matthew 22:2-14).
This parable begins with a King arranging all the various festivities for the wedding of His Son, a royal affair (v. 2). Then, following these preparations, the King sent forth His servants to call those who had been invited; but they wouldn’t come (v. 3).
Another call was issued, but those who had been invited still wouldn’t come. And not only did they ignore this second call, but they made light of the whole matter, even going so far as to mistreat and kill those extending the offer (vv. 4-6).
And when the King heard what had happened, His anger was such that He sent forth His armies to both destroy those individuals and to burn their city (v. 7).
Then, the call was sent forth to an entirely different group of individuals. Some from this group heeded the invitation, but others paid little to no attention. And, in the end, two types of individuals are seen — “both bad and good.” Those spoken of as “bad” hadn’t prepared themselves to attend the wedding festivities, and they, resultantly, didn’t possess wedding garments; but those spoken of as “good” had prepared themselves, and they, resultantly, did possess wedding garments (vv. 8-10).
And the end result of this invitation is then presented. Those who had heeded the call and had made proper preparations, possessing wedding garments, were allowed to participate in the marriage festivities. But those who had disregarded or had rejected the call, not having made proper preparations, not possessing wedding garments, were not allowed to participate in the marriage festivities. They were not even allowed within. Instead, they found themselves in the darkness outside (vv. 11-14).
B. That to Which the Parable Refers
The parable of the marriage festivities in Matthew 22:2-14 covers the whole panorama of that seen in the New Testament, from Matthew chapter one through the first half of Revelation chapter nineteen. This parable covers God’s complete dealings, throughout the New Testament, with both Israel and the Church in relation to the kingdom of the heavens; and it extends up to and includes the marriage festivities in Revelation 19:7-9, preceding the Messianic Era.
The kingdom of the heavens (with a view to the wedding festivities, seen in the parable) was extended to Israel through the gospel accounts, Israel rejected the offer, and the kingdom was taken from Israel (Matthew 21:33-43). Then, another entity (the Church) was called into existence to be the recipient of that which Israel had rejected (Acts 2:1ff; cf. Matthew 16:16-19).
But, as in the parable, there was a re-offer of the kingdom to Israel, something seen throughout the book of Acts. The one now in possession of the kingdom (the infant Church) reoffered it to Israel, beginning in Acts chapter two.
However, as in the parable, rejection again occurred; and the servants extending the offer were mistreated, and even killed (Acts 4:17-21; 5:40, 41; 7:54-60). And, because of this, the same thing again occurred as seen in the parable. Between 66 and 70 A.D., Titus and his Roman legions were allowed by the Lord to come against the Israelites in Jerusalem after a manner that resulted in both the destruction of the people and the burning of their city.
The call was then extended only to those seen in the parable as other than the Jewish people, those out in “the highways,” Christians. This part of the parable is covered in the New Testament by the epistles, though some of the epistles were written during the Acts period when the offer was still open to Israel (for the offer was also open to Christians, as well, throughout this period). And, as in the parable, some Christians would heed the call, others wouldn’t.
(The epistles — all of them — center on the offer of the kingdom of the heavens to Christians during the present dispensation. And the central subject of all the epistles has to do with various facets of information surrounding this offer.)
And, as in the parable, the end of the matter will witness some Christians prepared to attend these festivities and others unprepared to attend. Proper or improper preparation is given in both Matthew 22:10-12 and Revelation 19:7, 8. It has to do with possession or non-possession of a wedding garment.
Those properly dressed will be allowed to participate in the festivities, looking forward to that which lies ahead — the Son’s coming reign over the earth, with His consort queen. But those improperly dressed will be denied entrance into these festivities and left in the darkness outside, with nothing to look forward to during the Son’s coming reign, for they will occupy no place in His kingdom. They will occupy no place among those forming the Son’s wife, His consort queen.
(Mysteries of the Kingdom by Arlen L. Chitwood)