NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Verses 1-2: Jesus used some more parables to teach the people. He said, “God’s kingdom is like a king who prepared a wedding feast for his son.”
Jesus was not through illustrating for the Jewish leaders the great error of their not accepting Him or John the Baptizer as messengers sent by God to usher in the Kingdom of God. As Matthew reminisces about this occasion, he points out that this was the primary method our Lord used in teaching the people, where as when He sat with His disciples He was more direct and went straight to the point. This can be a cue to any minister, Bible teacher, or layman. When you share the Gospel with those who are unconverted and unfamiliar with Scripture, it is permissible to do as Jesus did and give them the good news in anecdotal form. But when expounding on the Bible to believers, it should be more expository and to the point. However, it is certainly allowable to use illustrations to show how the message in the Biblical text is applied to everyday life.
The important part of this parable is its connection between the father and his son’s wedding. It was every man’s dream that he have sons who would then have sons to keep the family tree alive and growing. In the Psalms we find this advocated: “The children born to a man when he is young are like arrows in the hand of a warrior.”1 So this was an important day in the life of a Jewish family, especially if the son getting married is the first born to whom the birthright was given. If the father was an elder, a wealthy person, a tribal leader, or a king, it was crucial that those who served him would continue to serve his son. Therefore, in order for his son to know who to trust and who he could rely on, it was often demonstrated by those who accepted the wedding invitation and who brought the most desirable gifts.
Verse 3: “He invited some people to the feast. When it was ready, the king sent his servants to tell the people to come. But they refused to come to the king’s feast.”
The wording here sounds somewhat familiar to what Laban did for Jacob’s wedding, except with a different outcome.2 We find this same parable repeated in one of the non-canonical Gospels. However, in one case these words are added: “Buyers and merchants will not enter the places of my Father.”3 Those are obviously not the words of Jesus, but those of the writer of that Gospel. We also find out from Jewish writings, that this was done at the expense of the father.4 This certainly helps us understand why the king was so interested in getting people to come so as not to waste the time and money he spent for preparations and food.
This parable is designed to teach more than just a mere comparison between an earthly kingdom and God’s kingdom. It is quite plain that a certain number from a distinct group were first invited to the wedding. We also find a similar parable in the Zohar, a highly respected Jewish book of enlightenment, that goes like this: “There was a king who ordered all the inhabitants of the city to appear in his presence on a certain day, at a certain place. While the people were preparing themselves, one came early to that location. Meanwhile, the king came and found the person who has arrived early. He said, ‘You! Where are all my subjects?’ He answered, ‘My Lord, I have come early, but they are coming behind me, according to the command of the king.’ The king was pleased and sat down with him and conversed with him, and he became the king’s good friend. Meanwhile, all the people arrived. The king was satisfied and quietly had them seated. But had they not shown up, and if one had not come early to represent them, to inform the king that all of them were on their way, then the king would have instantly become very angry.”5
Unfortunately, the guests in Jesus’ parable had no one who went to represent them. In fact, their response was less than courteous. And herein lies the critical issue: since the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, priests, elders and other religious leaders refused to respond to Jesus invitation to be part of the coming wedding of the Messiah, this led to their being excluded and prompted an open invitation to be issued to whosoever will, regardless of race, color, or social status. Underlying this conspicuous twist in the protocol is the fact that God’s sovereignty in the election of individuals into His kingdom is by His own choice and for His own reasons. God is preparing the church to be the bride of His Son. He alone knows when the number He is looking to invite will be complete. Those who have been invited and refused to go should be aware that someone else will be chosen to replace them. Their refusal to respond will not keep the bridal party from being at full membership. Furthermore, if God is still seeking to complete this number before the wedding takes place, then enough time will still have to pass in order for these people to be born, receive the invitation to salvation, and accept.
The invitation here echoes a similar sentiment we find in Jewish Wisdom Literature: “Wisdom has built her house; she has made it strong with seven columns. She has cooked meat, mixed wine, and put food on the table. She has sent her servant girls to announce from the highest hill in the city, ‘Whoever needs instruction, come.’ She invites all the simple people and says, ‘Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have prepared. Leave your old, foolish ways and live! Advance along the path of understanding.‘”6 Many Jewish scholars see this bread and wine as a reference to the Torah – the Word of God.7 For the Christian, it can provide a metaphor of Communion where our Lord said that the bread was His body and the wine was His blood. Therefore, Jesus may have had a clear subliminal message here of why in the future those who refuse to come and commune with Him in this world will have no place in the Kingdom of God in the world to come.
And the outcome also mirrors what Wisdom says elsewhere: “I wanted to tell you everything I knew and give you all my knowledge, but you didn’t listen to my advice and teaching. I tried to help, but you refused to listen. I offered my hand, but you turned away from me. You ignored my advice and refused to be corrected.”8 Therefore, the return of Christ may not be tied to chronology or some point in time, but rather linked to all the invitations being returned that would meet the number decided by God Himself. That certainly is something to think about!
There are several clear inferences in this verse which help our understanding of the entire parable. It is obvious that the wedding had been long expected and previously announced with only the exact date for the nuptials pending. Therefore, the guests had prior knowledge and had been told they would be invited when the time came, so they knew that as time went by, the wedding feast was becoming more and more imminent. No doubt, when the invitation was first sent out it was thought that these expected guests would feel so strongly about it that they would drop everything when the proclamation was announced and go immediately. However, since no specific date had been chosen, they needed to remain alerted and ready when the final notice was received. As time went by, however, some became involved with other matters, making commitments, while others simply lost interest because of the long wait.
Perhaps, Jesus told this parable, the words of Nehemiah came to mind, “But our ancestors became proud and stubborn. They refused to obey your commands. They refused to listen. They forgot the amazing things you did with them. They became stubborn. They decided to return to Egypt and become slaves again.”9 The parable further indicates that there was a certain amount of elapse time between the final announcement and when the marriage feast actually began, to give the messengers enough time to spread the word. During this time, some of the messengers were mistreated by those who felt that the call was not real this time. As a result, more time was taken for a new invite to be given to those previously not invited to attend.
In other parables, Jesus told where there was a son involved, and Jesus identified with that son, He too was maltreated and even killed. But in this parable, the king had no intentions of sending out his son to make personal invites after it was learned that his servants had been mistreated. Rather, when the son’s great day arrived, the marriage feast was ready and there could be no further delay. In that sense, this places the mass invitations to the wedding feast still in our future. God forbid that when the trumpet sounds, that we are tied up in things that will cause us to miss the wedding.
Verse 4: Then the king sent some more servants. He said to them, “I have already invited the people. So tell them that my feast is ready. I have killed my finest bulls and calves to be eaten. Everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”
It would be more difficult to understand the refusal and disdain of the king’s invitation by these potential guests if we failed to consider what led up to it. These were people who had received many invitations from this king and had been present at many of the gatherings He sponsored. It was this familiarity with being in his presence that bred lukewarmness in their hearts. Consequently, they failed to prioritize this invitation properly.
That brings up a question for the believing community today. How many have warmed the pew and heard the message “He’s Coming Soon” so often, they have grown lax and brush off the warnings to be ready for the call when it comes. Jesus infuses this danger into another of His parables later when He tells about ten bridesmaids, five of which were wise and five of which were foolish. It’s the same folly that He is alluding to here in this parable. In reading the king’s response, it is highly likely that very few earthly kings would have shown such tolerance and discipline. It is obvious that our Lord was making it very clear here that He was speaking of a divine King.
Early church theologian Augustine gives his interpretation of this parable as it relates to the church. He says: “All the faithful know the story of the marriage of the king’s son, and his feast. They know that the Lord’s table is open to all who are willing correctly to receive it. But it is important that each one examines how he approaches, even when he is not forbidden to approach. The holy Scriptures teach us that there are two feasts of the Lord: one to which the good and evil come, the other to which the evil do not come.105 So then the feast of which we have just now heard when the gospel was being read has both good and evil guests. All who excused themselves from this feast are evil, but not all those who entered in are good. I now address you, therefore, who are the good guests at this feast. You are taking careful note of the words ‘For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.’11 It is to you I speak. I plead with you not to look vainly for the good apart from the church but to bear with the evil within it.”12
In the parable about the vineyard owner who leased out his land to tenants and then sent servant after servant before finally sending his son, can be seen as applying to all the prophets who came to the Israelites before the Messiah. Finally, the Son of God came to settle with them on their inheritance as part of God’s promise to Abraham and covenant through Moses. But here we have a different time-frame. Many Bible scholars feel that Jesus picks up the line from the last parable and carries it on to speak of the time following His first advent up to the second one. This then would include Gentiles, which were not included in the first parable.
Like any good communicator, Jesus builds suspense into the narrative that makes wanting to know the outcome of this story even more exciting. Not only that, but I’m certain the tone in His voice became more intense as He nears the end of His life here on earth. He knows that the time is short and His disciples and followers must be persuaded that there will never be another Messiah for people to rally around. This is it! God has only one Son, and He is it! The fullness of time has come,13 and now mankind begins their final trek toward the end of time.
1 Psalm 127:4 – God’s Word Translation
2 Genesis 29:22
3 Gospel of Thomas, v. 64
4 Moses Maimonides, Mishnah Torah, op. cit. Sefer Mishpatim, Tractate Nehalot, Ch. 9, Halacha 13
5 Zohar, the Book of Enlightenment by Daniel Chanan Matt, Published by Paulist Press, Mahwah, New Jersey, 1983, p. 129
6 Proverbs 9:1-6, (Cf. Isaiah 55:1-2)
7 Peskta De-Rab Kahana, op. cit., Ch. 12:13, p. 318, & Ch. 27:1, p. 550
8 Proverbs 1:23-24
9 Nehemiah 9:16-17
10 Here Augustine refers to the account given in Luke 14:16-24
11 1 Corinthians 11:29
12 Augustine: Sermon 90.1
13 Cf. Galatians 4:4