To begin, let’s take a look at the setting and circumstances wherein the Parable of the Wedding Feast is told: the land is being occupied by the Romans, who had permitted the Jews to keep their religion and way of life. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and Elders were still in authority over the people, but under the direction of and answerable to their Roman conquerors.
These leaders wished for the Messiah to come and rid them of their Roman oppressors, but they expected a powerful warrior-king to save them from Roman oppression, a king who would identify with them and come from their ruling class. They were not expecting a lowly carpenter who preached on loving your neighbor and exemplified that preaching with loving acts and miraculous signs. They did not expect a teacher who identified with tax collectors, who were considered traitors, and who associated with the dregs of society while accusing their ruling class of sin.
It is the last week before the crucifixion of our Lord. On Sunday, Christ had ridden triumphantly into Jerusalem, and, while the people wanted to proclaim Him King, their leaders wanted to get rid of Him. Christ knew He was going to His death (see Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:29-44; John 12:12-19; Matthew 16:21; 20:17-19).
On Monday, Jesus had cleansed the temple of the moneylenders (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-18). It is Tuesday, and Jesus is teaching in the temple. He is approached by the chief priest and elders of the people. These Pharisees and Sadducees, who are supposedly the religious elite of the day but in actuality were spiritually blind and had resisted Christ from early on in His ministry, have come to trap Him into giving some evidence they could use against Him.
They question His authority, and He confounds them. He gives them the Parables of the Two Sons and of the Tenants, tells them that tax collectors and prostitutes will enter the Kingdom of God before they (Matthew 21:31), and that the Kingdom of God will be taken away from them. By this time they are well aware that Jesus is describing them in the parables (Matthew 21:45-46).
The basic point of the Parable of the Two Sons is that doing is more important than saying, and that, while the tax collectors and prostitutes were repenting of their sins, the Pharisees were not. In their pride, they thought themselves to be sinless. The Parable of the Tenants speaks to how the prophets of the Old Testament had been treated by the Jewish authorities, who murdered them (Luke 11:37-54). Jesus further emphasizes all of this with the telling of the Wedding Banquet parable, and, while this parable provides a vivid message for the Pharisees drawn from current events and Jewish history, it is also prophetic in nature.
In Jewish society, a marriage contract was generally made between the parents of the betrothed. The bride and groom would meet, perhaps for the first time, when this contract was signed. Although considered married at this point, they would then separate. The bride would remain with her parents, and the groom would leave to prepare their home. This could take quite a while. When the home was finished and all was ready, the groom would return for his bride without notice. The marriage ceremony would then take place, and the wedding banquet would follow.
The wedding banquet was one of the most important and joyous occasions in Jewish life and could last for up to a week. In Matthew 22:1-14; Christ compares heaven to the wedding banquet that a king had prepared for his son. Certainly, a royal wedding would far surpass that of a commoner. The mention of the oxen and fattened cattle having been butchered in verse 4 indicates that this will be a royal feast where the best of everything is available and plentiful. Indeed, Christ’s first public miracle was at a wedding feast in Cana, where He supplied an abundance of the best wine (see John 2:1-11).
To the Pharisees, the sending of the first servants would have spoken of the Old Testament prophets, while the sending of the second set of servants is representative of John the Baptist, the first prophet in over four hundred years, and also Jesus’ disciples, mentioned in the tenth chapter of Matthew. It is also representative of God’s longsuffering nature toward man. The invitation is an invitation to salvation, first offered to the Jews, who, for the most part ignore it, and then to the Gentiles.
Note that it is not because they could not come to the wedding feast, but that they would not come, that some of the guests fail to respond to the invitation. This speaks not only of the Jews, but of mankind in general who fail to seek out God. Everyone at one time or another wonders about the big questions of life. Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? Everyone at one time or another wonders about the question of God, but we become so enamored with ourselves that we fail to seek the answers to these questions where they can be found, the Bible. We become so involved with the everyday practice of life that we fail to find its meaning. We take the path of least resistance and seek comfort. We answer those questions with what will please us, only to find that, after a lifetime of trying to satisfy ourselves, we are never satisfied. That is because we live in time, but were made for eternity (see Ecclesiastes 3:11).
The rest of the invited guests who fail to respond to the invitation take it upon themselves to mistreat and murder the servants. While this describes the Jewish ruling class of the day, it also represents mankind at various places and times throughout history—mankind, who has made God into its own image and will not tolerate the truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
The Pharisees and others throughout history have wanted people to believe that they were acting for their good while trying to achieve their own agenda—more often than not, an agenda that would place them above all others, an agenda that actually sought out wealth and power while the people they governed came in a distant second. John 11:45-53 is a most revealing passage pertaining to the true concern of the Pharisees. In that passage, the Pharisees plot to murder Jesus because of His popularity. Note verse 48; their primary concern is that the Romans would take away “their place.” For this type of people, both then and now, murder is preferable to losing “their place.”
The city in the parable is destroyed. This speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jewish nation in A.D. 70 and of the destruction of the cities of the world mentioned in the book of Revelation. God is longsuffering and patient, but He will not tolerate wickedness forever. His judgment is well earned by mankind, and it will come to those who have ignored His offer of salvation. Considering what that salvation cost Jesus, is not this judgment well deserved (see Hebrews 10:29-31)?
The wedding invitation is then taken and given to everyone at the crossroads, to strangers both good and bad. This refers to the gospel being taken to the Gentiles. The gospel message is available to everyone. This message was certainly not lost on the Jews, who considered Gentiles beneath their contempt (see Romans 9:30-33).
Now, when the king enters the wedding feast, he sees a man without a wedding garment. This would be a gross insult to the king. Considering the fact that no one invited from the street corners would have been expected to have had a wedding garment with him, it is evident that the king himself provided the garments for the guests. To refuse to put this garment on is insulting to the one who provides it.
This insult of refusing proper attire for the wedding feast would have been obvious to the Pharisees to whom Jesus was speaking, but this also refers to apostate Christianity. It speaks to those who are Christians in name only, to those who are depending on their own works, their own self-righteousness, to make them acceptable before God. Self-righteousness will not work (Ephesians 2:8-10). Just as the king provides the wedding garments for the guest, it is God who provides salvation for mankind. To refuse this salvation is insulting to God because the one who refuses is treading on the very blood of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. When the religions of the world are stripped down to their basic tenets, we either find man working his way toward God, or we find the cross of Christ. The cross is the only way to salvation. Our wedding garment is Jesus Christ Himself, and unless we put Him on, we will miss the wedding feast.
For his crime against the king, the improperly attired guest is thrown out into the darkness. For their crimes against God, there will be many who will be consigned to the darkness. That darkness is existence without God for eternity. Christ concludes the parable with a sad fact: “for many are invited, but few are chosen.” This deals with salvation and its offer being available to everyone, with only a few accepting it.
Put on the wedding garment that God has provided for you. That garment is the salvation found in Jesus Christ by His atoning death on the cross for your sin. We are all sinners (Romans 3:23), and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). This includes physical death for all mankind because of the sin of Adam, which we all inherit (Hebrews 9:27); spiritual death, which is eternal separation from God (Revelation 20:14); and functional death for the Christian living with unconfessed sin in his life, preventing him from serving God (Revelation 3:1).
With this garment, with Christ as your Lord and Savior, you will be attending the greatest wedding feast of all time and eternity—the wedding supper of the Lamb (Christ) mentioned in Revelation 19:7-9. The Parable of the Wedding Feast is a direct warning and pronouncement of condemnation on the Pharisees. The Parable of the Wedding Feast is also a message to us, to make sure we are relying on God’s provision of salvation, not on our own good works or religious service.