The Parable in Context: Jesus has claimed, by his triumphal entry to be the true Son of David, the Messiah. He has acted on that claim by cleansing the temple and using it as a place of healing (21:14) and receiving praises of children who shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” After his curse of the unfruitful fig tree (a symbol of the unfaithfulness of the religious leadership of the Jews) he unveiled their utter lack of sincerity by putting them to silence on the question of the baptism of John the Baptist. He then told three parables, each of which illustrated intrinsic sinful hostility that these self-professed experts in the law had to the true purpose of God and their ignorance of the plain meaning of Scripture. As Jesus explained their ignorance of these things in John 5:37-47, he located the root cause in this: “You do not have the love of God within you.”
I. The King defines the nature of his kingdom. This parable describes the kingdom in terms of a wedding banquet that unfolds in a peculiar way.
A. Other images used by Jesus include the sowing of seeds in a field (13:1-33), a king settling accounts with his servants (18:21-35), hiring laborers to work and give care to a vineyard (20:1-16; 21:28-32; 21:33-45).
B. In this parable he prepares the way for our seeing the analogy of marriage in the relation between Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:28-33; Revelation 19:6-9).
C. In the parable of the unfaithful tenants of a vineyard, Jesus has the tenants killing the son (21:38, 39). In this parable, a king prepares a wedding feast for his son, and invited guests refuse to come. In both of these, one of the lead features is the concern that the father has for the respect people show to his son.
II. The giving of the invitation
A. Those to whom it originally came.
- The call to the wedding feast came through servants first to those who already had been invited. They would not come. As a reference to his present audience, Jesus probably has in mind the Old Testament calls to repentance and sincere worship such as may be found in 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” They ignored such warnings as Isaiah 31:1, “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many, and in horsemen because they are very strong, but who do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the Lord.”
- A second call from other servants went to those who had been invited. The response was more aggressively insulting and even hostile to the munificent invitation of the king.
- In the call to come, the king gives enticements by telling about what food has been prepared and reiterating that this is a “wedding feast.” He views it as a time of joy, celebration, and honor to his son. He asked them to enter into the joy and delight he has on this occasion.
- Some indicate an utter disregard for the privilege of this kindness of the king. Such a callous disregard for the joy of the king and his desire to include his subjects in this richly stocked banquet highlights the stoney-heartedness of his target audience.
- Some of the invitees go about life as usual. The farm and the business are more appealing than a banquet with the king in honor of his son.
- Others became aggressive and mistreated, even killed, the servants who had been sent to describe the great delight that the king had prepared.
- The king responded to this.
- He was angry. Anger as a just emotion may be measured in terms of the legitimate interest we have in an object according to its intrinsic worth and the degree of insult offered such a worthy object. God asked Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” Jonah responded, “It is right for me to be angry, even unto death.” The principle of personal comfort provoked his anger while he cared nothing about the people of Nineveh. A plant compared to people shows the misconstrued provocation of his anger. The king’s anger was generated by several accumulated offenses. The offenders spurned his gracious invitation to an event of abundant and costly provision in honor of the marriage of his son. Their hostility culminated in the abuse and murder of his servants. This corresponds to the lament that Jesus uttered only shortly after this parable, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” (23:37).
- He destroyed the murderers and burned their city. They had neither respect nor love for him, abused his authority and his representatives, so he treated them accordingly. They would have neither place nor life in the realm of his authority. In fact, a Jewish rebellion against Rome in A.D. 67 led to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, an event to which Jesus would refer later in Matthew 24:2.
- This coincides with the words of Deuteronomy 32:41, 42 – “If I whet my glittering sword, and my hand takes hold on judgment, I will render my vengeance to my enemies, and repay those who hate me. I will make my arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh, with the blood of the slain and the captives, from the heads of the leaders of the enemy.”
- In the application of the Jews’ rejection of the Son, this coincides with Psalm 2:10-12: “Now therefore, be wise O kings; be instructed, you judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.”
B. Those to whom it eventually is given. The king now opened the invitation to any that his servants could find on roads around the city. Those that had been prepared by an initial invitation and who had been informed that the time had come now gave way to those who had been outside the perimeter of preparation and invitation. Paul acknowledged this phenomenon when he spoke to the Jews in Rome in Acts 28:17-29. Their response fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 6:9, 10. He responded, “Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it.”
C. The types that respond
- They did not look for any endearing qualities in the invitation but went to all. All were invited to come to the king’s great banquet hall, both good and bad. Spurgeon said, “Jesus was setting forth the glorious freedom of the gospel invitation.” Before this parable, Jesus had told this group that they had not listened to John the Baptist and the tax collectors and prostitutes had listened. They go, therefore, into the kingdom before these supposedly qualified religious leaders (21:31, 32).
- Appropriate clothing for such an event would have been expected and even provided before one could enter into the banquet hall. When the king surveyed the group, one stood out as having not put on the appropriate attire. Again, Spurgeon remarked, “The man who had not on the wedding garment was out of sympathy with the assembly, out of harmony with its object, devoid of loyalty to the King; yet he braved and brazened it out, and thrust himself in among the wedding guests. It was a piece of defiant insolence, which could not be allowed to pass unnoticed and unpunished.”
- As symbolized by “the best robe” in the parable of the returning son, so justification by imputed righteousness is symbolized by the wedding garment. One seeks to find comfort by a mere presence among religious people and under the pretence that he is acceptable in his own merit and in his natural condition. Neither “you must be born again,” nor “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” has appealed to his conscience, but only the idea that free food is available, and though he still maintained disrespect toward the king and the beauty of this event, he sought the comfort and the prestige of the environment. “This man without the wedding garment,” so Spurgeon observed, “is the type of those who, in these days, pretend to be Christians, but do not honour the Lord Jesus, nor his atoning sacrifice, nor his holy word.”
- To be at the wedding supper of the Lamb, one must receive a new nature, abandon his own righteousness, turn from his sin, and comply joyfully with the standard of divine righteousness found only in the merits of Christ.
- Many in our day cry up the power of free will and desire to be left to their free will, that is, to the powers of choice resident in each son and daughter of Adam. Having forsaken the teaching that each of us is, by nature a child of wrath, they say that in that condition one can receive the invitation of the gospel in sincerity and truth and be accepted by God. So this man received what many think is desirable. He was left in his natural condition and did not receive the transforming operation of the Spirit of God, did not, therefore, exhibit true repentance from sin and love for God’s holy righteousness, and so missed the justifying imputation of the obedience of another, the man, Christ Jesus. Left to himself, therefore, he was bound hand and foot and cast into outer darkness to experience the weeping and gnashing of teeth.
III. An explanation of the difference in levels of response
A. Many are called
- One kind of call is the effectual call. The call that results in salvation is the internal call that comes in an effectual manner. An immediate work of the Holy Spirit on the affections gives birth to a renewed spiritual nature which brings forth repentance from sin and faith in all the provision for salvation as revealed in the gospel. It follows necessarily from the Father’s election and the Son’s perfect provision. The New Hampshire Confession states, “Regeneration consists in giving a holy disposition to the mind; and is effected in a manner above our comprehension or calculation, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in connection with divine truth, so as to secure our voluntary obedience to the Gospel.” It continued, “We believe that repentance and faith are sacred duties, and also inseparable graces, wrought in our souls by the regenerating Spirit of God.”
- Paul referred to it in 1 Corinthians 1:26, 27: “For consider your calling brothers: not may of you were wise according to worldly standards, . . . but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.”
- Paul again showed its relation to election in 1 Thessalonians 1:4, 5: “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”
- Peter indicated that one’s election is demonstrated through the characteristic of one’s call in 2 Peter 1:10: “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” Election can be ascertained by investigating the effects of one’s calling in producing a life in pursuit of godly living. “As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:15).
- There also is a general call that is present to all to whom the divine attributes and glory are made clear.
- The entire created order witnesses to the glory of God and proclaims that this God should be known and worshiped. In our inherent unholiness, we shun this call to pure worship.
- More specifically, a general call comes to all who hear the gospel in every situation. The gospel sets forth the person and work of Christ as the only manner of reconciliation with God consistent both with his nature and ours. It embodies within it a call for turning from sin and obedience to all the truths intrinsic to the gospel. It calls its hearers to rely no longer on their own works or supposed goodness to render them safe before God’s judgment, and to look only to the sacrificial death and perfect obedience of Christ as their ground of standing before God.
- Every conscientious minister of the gospel sets forth this gospel and urges his hearers to receive it. To this general call Jesus is referring when he says, “Many are called.”
B. Few are chosen. He does not say “Few choose” although that is implied and is certainly the truth. His words are explicitly affirming the sovereign prerogative of God to grant his gift of salvation to those of his own choice.
- Jesus’ ongoing contest with the unbelief of his generation of Jewish leaders provides a clear illustration of this biblical truth.
- In John 5:39, 40, to the Jewish leaders he spoke: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”
- In John 6:37, He said, “All that the Father gives to me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out,” and verse 44 he explained further, “No one can come to unless the Father who sent me draws him,” and later when confronted with the same incredulity, “That is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (John 6:65).
- The relation between election and calling forms the invincible connection between God’s eternal and determined affection and the effectual call: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified, he also glorified” (Romans 8:29, 30). This calling is not the general call, although it includes it, but is specifically the effectual internal call that leads ineluctably to a bestowal of full salvation.
C. John A. Broadus in his commentary on this verse said: “This is a general fact added as accounting for the particular fact described in the parable (notice ‘for’.) Many are called to share the Messianic benefits, but few are selected actually to attain them; a large portion of the called utterly refusing to accept and some even of those who profess acceptance not developing the corresponding character and life. This selection of the actually saved may be looked at from two sides. From the divine side, we see that the Scriptures teach an eternal election of men to eternal life, simply out of God’s good pleasure. From the human side, we see that those persons attain the blessings of salvation through Christ who accept the gospel invitation and obey the gospel commandments. It is doubtful whether our minds can combine both sides in a single view, but we must not for that reason deny either of them to be true.”