Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

163. The Wedding Garment (Matt. 22:1-14)*

"A certain king made a marriage for his son." The opening words of this parable surely set a scene for joy and jollity. Yet, in truth, few of the lord's parables are more sombre in tone, more grim in warning.

It appears to have been intended primarily as an answer to those who perceived that "he had spoken his (previous) parable-about the wicked husbandman-against them" (Lk.20 :19). Was the kingdom indeed to be "taken from them, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof"?


This marriage of the king's son is really a betrothal feast. To attempt to equate it with the "marriage supper of the Lamb" is to reduce this symbolism to an incoherent shambles. But let it be read as a representation of the preaching of the gospel, when the Son of God was gathering those who are one day to be his glorious Bride, and no inconsistency remains (cp. Lk.12 : 36; Jn.2:l).

It is to be noted, also, that the parable makes no mention of the Bride. Had there been such mention, a consistent interpretation of the allegory would have been difficult to the point of impossibility.

Those called to the feast are the people of Israel. The invitation, first issued through the prophets, was now renewed by other servants (cp. Esth.5 :8; 6 :14)—John the Baptist and the apostles working with Jesus during his ministry. But there was no willingness to attend. So the king, demeaning himself as no other king would do, sent other servants, more urgent than the first to add their exhortations: "The dinner is prepared; oxen and failings are killed; all is completely ready; lose no time in coming" (cp. Pr.9 :2ff). That phrase "oxen and fatlings" gives an indication of the immense scale of the preparations, and the word "killed" is, literally, "sacrificed." Thus the parable includes a hint of the need for sacrifice before men can share the joy of God's redemption.

Was refusal rebellion?

In Zephaniah 1:7,8 there is a remarkable anticipation of certain aspects of this parable: "The day of the Lord is at hand; for the Lord hath prepared a sacrifice, he hath bid his guests. And it shall come to pass... that I will punish the princes, and the king's children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel." That Jesus was building on Zephaniah seemsalmost certain, but a close correlation between these Scriptures is by no means easy. In an attempt to resolve the problem that in so many respects the details of this parable come away from verisimilitude, the suggestion has been made that the betrothal of the king's son was the occasion also of his being designated heir to the throne, thus making rejection of the invitations tantamount to a refusal of loyalty to the new king. This would explain the pressure brought to bear on those invited. It would also explain the ill-treatment of the servants and the drastic action taken against those scorners of the royal invitation. They were, in effect, rebels acting in concert against the authority of the king.

But it is rather remarkable that such an extension of the theme of the parable is not given specific mention. The only alternative is to see Jesus readily sacrificing the "true-to-life" element of his parable in order to make it true to the desperate spiritual situation which his manifestation in Jewry had created.

So, like its predecessor, this parable is also a prophecy. It foretells that the appeal of the apostles, after the sacrifice of their Lord, would be abortive. Is not a royal invitation a command? Nevertheless many of those receiving invitation "made light of it'—were quite unconcerned—and went about their own affairs. Banquets normally began in the last hour or two of daylight (v.9), and went on after dark (v.13). What good would a man accomplish going to his farm at such a time of day? (See Notes). Transparent excuses! Others invited even showed rancorous opposition and violent antipathy: "The rest took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them" (e.g. Acts 7:58).

Drastic retribution

This in turn would bring down condign punishment on their heads. The angry king "sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burnt up their city" (cp. Dan.9:26). This is a clear anticipation of the fearful hardships and afflictions endured by the Jews during the Roman war of A.D.67-70.Those Roman armies were God's armies, all unconsciously meeting out judgment to a people whose cup of iniquity was filled to the brim.

This is so plain and accurate a prophecy of what happened in A.D.70 that many modern commentators insist that this gospel must therefore have been written after the fall of Jerusalem—the implication being that Jesus was no prophet (in this sense) and that these words were never spoken by him!

The appeal made by Josephus to his own countrymen during the siege of Jerusalem has this remarkable commentary: "It is God, therefore, it is God himself who is bringing on this fire, to purge that city and temple by means of the Romans, and is going to pluck up this city, which is full of your pollutions" (B.J.6.2.I.). Earlier in his ministry Jesus had spoken a similar prophecy (Lk.14 :24), milder than this because spoken earlier, before he had been so emphatically rejected by the rulers.

The parable's frightening prophecy of Jerusalem's travail interrupts the normal sequence of the story. Of course, the equipping of the feast with quests did not wait until the wrath of the king had been poured out. Verse 7 b,c,d should be read as in parentheses.

A new policy

Those invited had proved themselves "not worthy'—a dramatic understatement! They were unworthy in the first instance, but now openly and shamelessly so (note the allusion in Acts 13:46). The servants were therefore bidden go out into places of concourse and gather together people of all kinds (Pr.9 :2-4), no matter what their quality, to occupy the empty places at the feast. This they promptly did, bringing in the morally good and bad alike This is worth noting. The only qualification was, and is, a willingness to come. Those who invited were given no mandate to vet the guests for suitability.

It is implicit in the story that at the feast all were suitably equipped by the king's provision of robes appropriate to the occasion, Otherwise would there not be something morally questionable about denouncing a man who has been brought in from the highways for wearing raiment unsuited to an important royal ceremony?

These guests represent the Gentiles brought into the ecclesia of Christ through the zealous unremitting efforts of the apostles and especially of Paul. And still that work goes on, for not yet has the fulness of the Gentiles come in (Rom.11:25).

The second half of the parable begins with the king coming in to see the guests. This corresponds to the day of judgment as the sequel very clearly shows. It is easy to understand how such details as this led the early church to believe that in their lime the day of judgment was nigh at hand. What betrothal banquet could with any seemliness represent a period of two thousand years? Of course these inspired apostles, writing with such urgent expectations, were right. (For more on this, see "Revelation." appendix H.A.W.).

No Wedding garment

There at the banquet the king picked out one, soiled and unkempt, an unpleasant contrast with the rest who had decked themeselves out in true wedding style with the fine garments provided (ls.61 :10) for their use. (Is there here a certain resemblance to Samson's abortive betrothal feast? Jud.14 :13).

The king apostrophized the man before them all: "Comrade!"-a strange mode of address from a king to one of his least important subjects brought in from anywhere, yet LXX usage applies it to those honoured with royal friendship (Dan.5 :1,2; 1 Kgs.4 :5; 2 Sam.15 :37)- "Comrade, how earnest thou hither not having a wedding garment?" Art thou not a spot in my Love Feast? (Jude 12).

Interpretation of this detail is not easy. The man is a member of the ecclesia of Christ and therefore has made a confession of faith and been baptized. But he lacks the covering of God-provided righteousness which the wedding garment plainly symbolizes. This is only possible when a man seeks baptism for a wrong motive. The early church suffered seriously from the machinations of certain "false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage" (Gal.2 :4; cp.Jn.10 :1). This is only one of a number of New Testament passages which point to a concerted evil attempt to destroy the new sect called Christians by the classic methods of infiltration and subversion from within (see "The Jewish Plot", H.A.W.). Such men would certainly fill the role just indicated. But so also would others who, more innocuously, come to baptism for unworthy reasons such as family pressures, or seeking a wife (or husband) without having any real personal conviction, or for safety in wartime. Since justification is by faith in Christ and no other way, it is difficult to see how such are truly covered by Christ's righteousness, even though there is respectable ecclesial membership.

Yet another possibility is that the man thought his own garment quite good enough, and despised the one provided. This is surely the individual who believes in salvation through one's own goodness. But are such speechless in the Day of Judgment? (25:44; 7:22). The question to all such is itself an exposure: "How earnest thou in hither . . .?" The only possible honest answer is: "On false pretences" of one kind or another. So, in the parable, "he was speechless", literally: "gagged". The day of judgment will be the first occasion in the history of the race when human ingenuity finds itself unable to cook up a plausible excuse.

Royal indignation

Then there was curt instruction to ministers standing by: "Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into outer darkness." The word here is not the same as for the "servants" of v.3-10. These "ministers" are angels. At the judgment there is to be a rejection in shame of those for whom God has no use. Very clear scriptures (e.g. Ps.37:38) assert that the final end of the rejected will be the oblivion of an eternal grave. But these words seem to imply an individual conscious experience of shame and deprivation. It is not unlikely that the real punishment of the wicked will involve living on for some time in the kingdom of God but in such a state of dereliction as to make every hour of it an experience of woe (ls.65 :20; Rev.22 :15).

This would appear to be the meaning of "weeping and gnashing of teeth." The first of these is unquestionably an expression of sorrow, but the other signifies anger (Acts 7:54; Ps.112 :10)—in this instance anger with one's self for having been such a fool as to treat lightly the gracious kindness of the king.

In the parable there is only one individual of this kind to come in for heaven's reprobation. So, lest the false conclusion be drawn by his hearers that hardly any will fall into that evil category, Jesus added the caveat: "For many are called, (some respond), but few are chosen" (Jud.7:3,7; Rev.17:14). Those who are ultimately accepted constitute only a small proportion of those to whom the call of Christ comes.

Notes: Mt. 22:1-14

The kingdom... like unto a certain king. A literal reading of this is untenable. The king is not the kingdom. Here ,{ is a standard introduction equivalent to: This is another parable about the kingdom; cp. 25 :1 (foolish virgins do not represent the kingdom); 13:24 (the man is not the kingdom); 13:47 (the net is not the kingdom); so also 13:31,33. Failure to note this usage has led to some crass errors in interpretation.

A marriage. Bethrothal was regarded as a legally binding tie. Hence the apparent New Testament confusion between marriage and betrothal. Joseph and Mary were betrothed but, apparently, never formally married (Mt. 1 :20). She was already his wife. And so also the Bride is called "the Lamb's wife" even when being brought to him(Rev. 19:7).
Would not come. Literally: They did not want to come.
His farm . . . his merchandise. A contemporary invitation illustrates the timing of the feast: "Chaeremon invites you to dine... tomorrow, the 15th, at 3 o'clock"
His armies. The same idiom in ls.10:5-7; 29 :3; 8 :7; 13 :5; Ez. 16 :40,41; 29:18-20; Jer.22 :7; 25:9; Dt.22:19.
The highways. In LXX this unusual word describes "the issues from death" (Ps.68 :20), the waters of death, healed (2 Kgs.2 :21), the tree "planted by the rivers of water" (Ps.l:3), the dry ground blessed with watersprings (107:35). These people, then, were brought from places where they went to draw water, that they might enjoy a much greater blessing. There is more symbolism here.

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