The Parable of the
Rejecting God's call?
This parable draws a contrast between the Jewish Age and the "present evil world'' during which God is preparing his people for the work of world conversion. That is the purpose of the age to come, the "new heavens and new earth, wherein dwells righteousness" (2 Pet. 3.13). There is personal instruction for the individual Christian, in the fate of the man who rejected the proffered wedding garment; there is also illumination on the outworking of the Divine purposes in this description of an invitation that was rejected by those to whom it was at first offered, so that the honour passed to others who did accept it.
A certain king negotiated the marriage of his son and invited guests to the marriage feast. That is the basis of the story and what follows shows that the son and his marriage are not the essential part of the parable's teaching; they serve merely to explain the reason of the feast being held. The story really begins when the king's servants went out to call the guests to the feast. They refused to come. Not only so, some of them ill-treated and even slew the servants, wherefore the king sent his army and destroyed their city.
Determined that his feast should be replete with guests he commissioned his servants to go out again, this time to the open streets, and gather in all who would come, without discrimination. So the banqueting hall was filled. At this point, conforming to the customs of Jewry in the First Century, each guest was provided with a white festal garment so that inequalities of social status, as evidenced by distinctions of dress, would no longer be apparent and all the guests would mingle on a common level. One man arrogantly refused to don the garment, whereupon he was expelled from the festivity, the warmth and light of the banqueting hall, and thrust into the "outer darkness" of the cold Syrian night.
That was the story, and its intent and meaning was so obvious to the Pharisees and priests in whose hearing it was spoken that they once again took counsel, how they might limit or destroy Jesus' influence (Matt.22.15).
Once it is realised that God is working to a plan, and that the successive ages of world history are epochs marked out in that plan, the interpretation of this parable is not difficult to find. The first call, to those invited guests who refused to come, was the call of God to his chosen people of old, Israel, selected at Sinai to be a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation' (Ex.19.6). After Israel's rejection of the call, a rejection made absolute at the First Advent, a second invitation went out, this time to those who by reason of their acceptance of the call became the Christian Church of this present Age. In this framework the first ten verses of the parable fall easily into place.
The king "sent forth his servants, to call them that were bidden... and they would not come... he sent forth other servants... but they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise" (22.3-5). In these few words is enshrined the story of Israel's unbelief and hardhearted response.
Called to be a covenant people, to declare God's glory to all men, recipients of Divine favour, they rejected all out of hand. The scathing words of the Lord to Isaiah when the youthful prophet received his commission of service were true of Israel all through their history. "The heart of this people has become gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted" (Isa.6.10 LXX). The writer to the Hebrews shows that there is a "rest" awaiting the people of God, but they to whom it was first preached ‑ Israel ‑ entered not in because of unbelief (Heb.4.6).
The parable is exact even to the sending forth of the servants twice to call in the originally invited guests; one very plain feature of Old Testament history is the distinction drawn between Israel before the Babylonian Captivity and Israel afterwards. That seventy years in Babylon marked a climax of the first Israelite Age and a judgment involving the destruction not only of their city and Temple but of their whole national existence. Their restoration in the 6th century BC gave them a fresh start and a new succession of prophets, the 'other servants' of the parable, but the second set of servants fared no better than the first. The post-exilic prophets were given only the same scanty and half-hearted attention that was the lot of the pre-exilic prophets, and most of them suffered or were put to death in much the same manner. "Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted?" was the scornful accusation of Stephen at his trial before the Sanhedrin (Acts 7.52). The parable of the vinedressers in the previous chapter (Matt.21.33-44) has the same succession of two consecutive sets of servants, in that case followed by the sending of the vineyard owner's son, who was killed by the wicked vinedressers. The application is the same in both cases and it is an obvious one.
So the "king was. . . wroth, and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city" (22.7). At this point the history of the parable passes into prophecy; these words came terribly true forty years after Jesus' death, when the Roman emperor Titus besieged, captured and destroyed Jerusalem, and scattered the nation to the four corners of the earth. Simultaneously with the rejection of that people which, though "bidden, were not worthy" (v.8) the next section of the parable came into the picture with the going forth of the king's servants into the highways to call in all who would come. That invitation had its commencement in history when Peter baptised Cornelius, the Roman centurion who is the first recorded Gentile convert to the Divine call in Christ (Acts 10). Not many years afterwards the Apostle Paul, preaching at Athens, gave formal testimony to the fact that God was now calling upon all men everywhere, without distinction of nationality, to repent (Acts 17.30). "Of a truth I perceive" Peter had said to Cornelius "that God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation he that fears God, and works righteousness, is accepted with him" (Acts 10.34‑35). Paul in his own ministry declares the same truth. Writing to the Ephesians, he says that the Gentiles "are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God" (Eph.2.19). So the servants went out "witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem and in all Judea .... and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1.8). For nearly two thousand years those servants have been going forth ‑ and they go forth still.
So the wedding feast was furnished with guests. This is not a feast of the future, beyond the skies. This feast is here, on this earth and in this life. It has been proceeding ever since the first Christians entered into heart communion with their Lord and began to feast at his table. It is the feast which Israel could have enjoyed in their own day, and failed to enter because of unbelief. "It remains that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief... there remains therefore a rest to the people of God ... let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief" (Heb.4.6-11). That is the verdict of the writer to the Hebrews on the matter.
Here the dispensational aspect of the parable comes to an end. The remaining teaching is individual. Of the guests who have been gathered one is unworthy. "When the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment" (22.11). This was the greatest insult a guest could offer a host; the man preferred to display his own finery rather than accept the covering provided by his host. When questioned about his offence, he had nothing to say. "He was speechless. "
What is the wedding garment? Clearly the free gift of justification by faith, consequent upon our acceptance of Christ, by whose righteousness the gift comes. "By the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life."... "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Rom.5.1-2.18). This is the common covering which renders us all alike acceptable to God despite our own imperfections and shortcomings, and hides the defects which are impure in God's holy sight. "All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment" cries Isaiah (64.6), but "wash you, make you clean; put away the evils of your doings... though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow" (1.16-18).
We come to God in faith, accepting the finished sacrifice of Christ on our behalf, even though we may not with our limited human minds understand just how his death is efficacious for our redemption. But some there are who come, not having accepted Christ in that sense, trusting more in their own endeavours to maintain a standing before God. They maintain that man needs no personal Saviour to reconcile him to God, that a profession of good works and good intentions is all that is necessary. There are "both bad and good" (ch.22.10) gathered into the feast, but the king's inspection speedily discerns those who have spurned the wedding garment and trust rather in the "filthy rags" of their own righteousness; and He commands his servants to expel all such from the feast.
"Cast into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (ch.22. 13). This is the class of text that used to be related to the final destiny and punishment of the wicked and on that account this parable used to be considered a word picture of the separation of righteous and wicked, and the final doom of the latter. There is however no justification for identifying "outer darkness" with the ultimate penalty of sin. The expression occurs only three times in the New Testament, all of them in Matthew's Gospel. In none of these cases is the ultimate fate of incorrigible sinners in question. Jesus in Matt.8.11-12 said that many would come from east and west and sit down with Abraham and other men of faith in the kingdom of God, whilst the "children of the kingdom" would be cast into outer darkness where is weeping and gnashing of teeth. In Matt. 25. 30 the unprofitable servant who had wasted his talent suffered the same fate. In all three instances the idea is that of rejection and separation from the purpose of God in this present Age through unworthiness, unfitness. The ultimate fate of the individuals concerned is not in question and is left undecided. What is certain is that they are unfit for inclusion in the band of disciples which God is selecting from both Jew and Gentile during the present and past, that He might use them in his plans for world conversion in the next Age. Separated from the body of believers because of unworthiness now, they are cast into outer darkness in the sense that they have been excluded from the light and joy of that spirit-filled society which ultimately becomes the "light of the nations". Such will eventually realise what high privilege they have missed, hence the typically Eastern hyperbole "weeping and gnashing of teeth".
For it is very true, as Jesus said in conclusion of his parable "Many are called, but few are choice" (not "chosen" as in the AV). The Greek here is eklektos, which means the valuable or choice part of a thing. Jesus did not say that God would call many and then arbitrarily choose only a few of them. What He did say was that of all to whom the Divine call comes in this Age, in whose hearts the Word finds some lodgement, only a few, after the testing of a lifetime, prove worthy, worthwhile, choice. Because God is seeking characters of sterling worth to be his ministers in that day when He sets before mankind the final decision, the choice between good and evil, He is rigorous in excluding the unworthy. They are not necessarily lost They revert to the mass of unsaved mankind from which they came, to listen afresh in a future day to the appeal of the Gospel, but they have lost for ever the opportunity of sharing with those who live and reign with Christ a thousand years (Rev.20.4) and who in the course of that reign will labour with their Lord in the conversion of all nations. That is the lesson of this Parable.