And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son,and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy.Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.
“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.”
From time to time in our study of the parables I have noted that a particular parable is difficult to interpret, and have mentioned several ways the details of the story could be taken. That problem does not exist with the parable of the wedding banquet, however. On the contrary, it is all too clear. It speaks of God’s gracious invitation to us in the gospel and of the indifferent and arrogant way men and women sometimes respond to it. It speaks of hell, the end of those who attempt to enter the king’s presence without the wedding garment of Christ’s righteousness. Wise is the man or woman who learns from it.
This parable occurs in more than one place and in slightly different form in each place. The fullest form is in Matthew, so we will use Matthew as a starting point. But it also occurs in Luke 14:15-24, which contains elaboration on the excuses of those who refused the king’s invitation.
The story begins with a certain king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son, and sent servants to those who had been invited to tell them that the feast was now ready and that they should come. But they refused to come. Their refusal was a great insult, of course. It was dishonoring to the son, the king, and even to the servants who carried the king’s message. But the king did not get angry. Instead, he sent other servants to repeat the invitation: “Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet” (v. 4). Again they refused, but this time, those who had been invited did not merely reject the invitation. They also mistreated the messengers and killed some of them. The king sent an army to destroy the murderers and burn their city (vv. 1-7). After that he invited others.
The thing that makes the parable so easy to understand is that nearly every part is discussed in plain terms elsewhere. The king is God, sitting upon the throne of the universe. The son is his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. The messengers are the prophets and early preachers of the gospel. The banquet is the marriage supper of the Lamb. Those to whom the gospel was first preached were Jews and those who actually came to the banquet were Gentiles, as is taught in John 1:11-12. “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
As with the preceding parable, this is one of a special class of parables that deals with the refusal of Israel to respond to the Lord Jesus Christ when he came first to his own people. That was a major issue during the lifetime of the Lord, as well as afterward, so it is not surprising to find a number of parables dealing with it either directly or alluding to it indirectly. The character of the older son in the parable of the prodigal represents Israel (as well as those Gentiles who possess the same spirit of resentment). So do those workers in the vineyard who were hired early but were paid the same as those who came late. So does the Pharisee in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18). Those stories explore the thinking of people who supposed they had worked long and faithfully for God, unlike others, and who were envious and resentful when the grace of God was shown to those they considered unworthy.