Summary of the Text
This parable of Jesus is like the other two before it (cf., Matt. 21:38–32, 33–44) in that its focus is on kingdom reversals. Continuing the theme begun in Matt. 20:1–16 where the last become first and the first last, the unexpected guests at the wedding of the king’s son illustrate a fundamental principle of the kingdom of God — those who might otherwise have been expected to inherent the kingdom due to their status, religiosity, or ethnicity find themselves unworthy heirs of what God is establishing in the eschaton.
Jesus’ parable here, as with every other, invites its readers to establish ostensive references to the characters and events it purports. This is sometimes difficult in Jesus’ parables, but less so in this Parable of the Wedding Banquet. Here, the “king” is God the Father, the “son” is Jesus, and the “wedding” is the eschatological consummation of the Church at the end of time (cf., Rev 19).
In this parable, a king’s servants are sent out to alert those invited to his son’s wedding that the time to begin the celebration has arrived. In this way, the would-be guests would already have been invited, but when the time came to attend the event, they did not want to go (v.3), to which the king responded with additional inducements, detailing the lavish spread guests would encounter at the feast. In response to both appeals, the wedding invitees responded at first with apathy (v.5) and then with outright hostility, treating the king’s servants horribly and even killing them (v.6).
The language of the story takes a slight twist in v.7 for the king sends out “his troops” who “destroyed those murderers, and burned down their city.” This description is more akin to military actions undertaken by a state as opposed to those of a scorned party host, but more importantly are reminiscent of forms of God’s judgment in the Old Testament involving the military occupation of Israel by a foreign invading army.
This is an important point because in this parable the servants who are killed in their mission to summon the wedding guests very explicitly represent the Old Testament prophets and ultimately Jesus. As such, Jesus’ explicit prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem in Matt. 24 is foreshadowed here and its leaders who failed to recognize and respond in repentance to God’s messengers are assigned blame.
As a result, this wedding of the king’s son, now attended by everyone hanging out “where the roads exit the city” (v.9) is a picture of the Church, where everyone — Jew/Gentile, rich/poor, male/female — have been invited (cf., Gal. 3:8). Thus, this wedding feast, which began as an “invite only” event, reserved for those who had been chosen, becomes open to all, even to those who are “evil” as well as “good” (v.10).
Nevertheless, despite being open to all, not everyone at the feast will ultimately be able to enjoy its rewards. The king finds one “not dressed for a wedding” (v.11), and is thrown out where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (v.13). This reveals that even though the invitation to the wedding is open to all, there still remains an expectation to conform to the standards set by the king.
Thus, the open invitation to all and the eviction of the inappropriate guest are at once a picture as well as explanation of the Church’s gentile mission and ultimately, her final sifting at the end of all things. All are invited to attend the wedding feast of King Jesus, but that does not mean entry into His Kingdom is unconditional, but rather depends on having put one’s faith in Christ alone proving that “many are invited, but few are chosen” (v.14).
Angle for Preaching: The struggle of many churches can be plotted on a spectrum between the dual poles of legalism on the one side and “easy-believism” on the other. The former tends to manifest in church cultures that are highly biblically literate and comprised of seasoned believers, but often struggle with being judgmental or with Christian walks that do not match the passion with which “truth” is embraced. The former on the other hand, might tend toward being so open and welcoming that no Christian distinctives what-so-ever can be found.
This passage offers a warning to both and the preacher would to heed a caution typically attributed to Haddon Robinson: “the novice preacher begins by asking ‘What should I preach?’ while the seasoned preached first asks, ‘To whom am I preaching?’” (paraphrased). Just like Jesus’ parables themselves that invite the reader to identify with characters in the story, thoughtful and prayerful consideration should be given to which characters need to be emphasized and identified with in the story.
Jeff Volkmer has served in a wide variety of both academic and pastoral positions over his 25-year career in ministry, with most of these spent as a professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages.
Jeff has a passion to help others see the wonder and beauty of the Scriptures in a way that allows them to know the Lord more fully and love Him more deeply, and simply put, to help make the Bible make sense to believers and non-believers alike. He holds a ThM in Old Testament from Dallas Theological Seminary and is in the final stages of a doctorate in Semitic Linguistics from the University of Oxford.
The key to interpreting most allegories [i.e., parables] lies in recognizing what a small handful of characters, actions or symbols correspond to and then fitting the rest of the story in with them.
Craig L. Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables, 2nd Edition (Dowers Grove, IL: IVP Academic), 64.
My wife and I did a portion of our honeymoon in Central Oregon, and as an English major in college, I desperately wanted to attend a performance at Ashland’s renowned Shakespeare Festival. As newlyweds, my wife was a great sport as we drove from Bend to Ashland to try to get tickets to see one of Shakespeare’s plays. However, this was at a time when the internet was in its infancy and so the only way to purchase tickets was to physically travel to the box office and pick them up.
You can imagine how bummed we were when, after a long drive, we were informed by the attendant at the booth that all of the shows were already completely sold out. The despair and disappointment were evident on our faces when an older man walked up to inform us that he had two tickets for the evening’s next play, but he was not able to attend and wondered if we’d like his tickets. I immediately said “yes!” and asked how much he would like for them, to which he responded, “they’re free, enjoy!”
This was tremendous news and we entered the theater and tried to find the seats and row written on the ticket, but were having no luck. So we went to one of the ushers, showed her our ticket, and she said that she would walk us to our seats.
We were not prepared for the fact that we were to be led all the way to the front of the theater and seated in the middle two seats in the very front row — the best seats in the entire theater! We could not believe how blessed we were by this ticket owner’s generosity!
Our invitation into the theater was indeed free, but those prime seats were nevertheless contingent upon tickets that demonstrated the legitimacy of our claim to those seats. That legitimacy, in turn, was purchased by someone else and accorded to us. Just like the unexpected guest at the wedding, our invitation into the kingdom is free, but it is nevertheless contingent upon the sacrificial gift of our Lord Jesus Christ.