But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen. (Matthew 22:11-14 ESV)
Weddings are a very special occasion in the lives of those getting married. For couples, the wedding is the most important day of their lives, and they want to share in that joy with friends and family as they begin their lives together. Not surprisingly, the Bible uses the imagery of marriage to represent the bond between Christ and the Church, and at the end of this age when Christ returns and calls the Church to be with him in the eternal state, the Bible uses the imagery of a wedding feast to depict that joyous day when the Kingdom of God has come in its fullness (Revelation 19:6-10).
Jesus also used the imagery of a wedding feast in this parable (Matthew 22:1-14), but his purpose in doing so was quite different. The setting for this parable is passion week. Jesus has just entered Jerusalem for the final week of his life. He has already predicted three times that he would die at the hands of the Jews and the Romans. He enters Jerusalem to resounding choruses of “Hosanna!” as crowds give him a greeting fit for a king. After his triumphal entry, he begins his final confrontations with the Jewish leaders. He cleanses the temple, a sign against the false religion of Pharisaical Judaism. He curses the fig tree, a sign of the unfruitfulness of the Jewish leaders. Finally, the Jewish leaders begin to challenge his authority to do these things. That’s when Jesus begins to tell them a number of parables, all with the theme of judgment against the Jews rejection of him as their rightful King and Messiah.
The parable presents several figures. There is a king who is throwing a wedding feast for his beloved son. This is clearly a reference to God the Father and Jesus Christ, his Son. Then there are the original guests who were invited to the banquet, which are representative of the Jewish leaders. When it comes time for the feast, the king sends out his servants to gather the guests, but the guests snub their invitations. This is no small act of defiance for the wedding guests to ignore their king’s summons. Consider what an insult this would be. If the king summons you, you show up! To refuse the summons is to insult the king and to court death. The illustration is simple; Jesus is coming into Jerusalem as their King and Messiah, but the Jewish leaders demonstrate their hard-heartedness by rejecting their Messiah — the Messiah that was promised by their very own scriptures long ago, and demonstrated his authority through word and deed, and with many signs and miracles. Yet despite this clear display of the power of God in their midst, they harden their hearts and reject (and ultimately kill) their Messiah.
In righteous anger, the king in the parable sends his soldiers to slaughter the original guests for their insolence and to destroy their city (a clear foreshadowing of what would occur in 70 AD). The invitation for the feast was extended to others, those found on the main road both good and bad. The Kingdom of God, which was rejected by the proud and self-righteous, is now being offered to sinners and outcasts. The self-righteous show themselves unworthy of the king’s largesse, whereas the lowly and outcast humbly accept the invitation to the feast.
However, the story does not end there. Not all who were invited to the feast were welcome. One does not simply show up to the king’s court inappropriately dressed, one must still be properly clothed to attend the feast. The question that needs to be asked is this: How could the king expect the lowly and outcast to have the proper wedding garments? The answer, while not explicit in the parable, is obvious: The king provides the wedding garments for his guests. We are not worthy for heaven based on our own merit. We must have a righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees; i.e., a perfect righteousness, not a self righteousness. The invitation to the wedding feast is worthless unless one is properly clothed. Similarly, though the offer of the gospel promises salvation and eternal life to all who believe; one must believe! Righteousness (Justification) comes through faith; we believe and it is counted to us as righteousness. Justification by faith alone in Christ alone is the garment we must wear for the wedding. And this garment is graciously given to us by God!
Soli Deo Gloria!