Today, I’ll be answering a question submitted by a reader! Hope you enjoy.
How do you interpret Mathew 22:11-14?
Excellent question! Before we answer, let me explain why this is important!
Matthew 22 is a parable about the kingdom of God. Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a king who holds a wedding banquet for his son. The king sends out several groups of servants, but the people who they invite reject the invitation and kill the messengers. The king has their city burned down, and he then extends the invitation to anyone who will listen.
The reason this parable is difficult is that those who hold a preterist view of prophecy (preterist – all prophecy is fulfilled; cf. Luke 21:20-22), such as myself, interpret the burning of the city as the fall of Jerusalem. This is problematic because the spread of the gospel to the nations comes after the destruction of the city in the parable.
Now that I’ve got you caught up, let’s look at the parable of the wedding feast.
The Wedding Feast
Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying, The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.Matthew 22:1-2
I’ll leave the heavy lifting to you, but I’ll get you started: the prophets predicted a time when God would restore Israel, make her His bride, and throw a feast for her (Isaiah 25:6-9). So, when Jesus mentions a wedding feast, His audience would know exactly what He was talking about. For them, there was no difference between the fulfillment of the Messianic promise made to individuals like David and Abraham and the coming of the kingdom. They expected the Messiah to arrive and restore Israel, so the mention of a grand wedding feast in connection with the kingdom of God makes perfect sense to Jesus’ audience.
In Revelation 19, to give you just a little more information, a wedding banquet is held to celebrate the victory of the Lamb and vindication of the martyrs.
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ ” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.”Revelation 19:7–9
And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. Again he sent out other slaves saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.” ’ “But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them.Matthew 22:3-6
The various servants sent out by God are the Old Covenant prophets. This follows a similar pattern Jesus follows in other parables, such as the parable of the vineyard in chapter 21 of Matthew. The landowner sends out his servants before eventually sending his son (Matthew 21:33-46).
In Matthew 23, Jesus ends His critique of the religious leaders by exposing their persecution of the prophets. Undoubtedly, the city in question in this parable is Jerusalem.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.Matthew 23:37
A City on Fire
But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire.Matthew 22:7
It is very easy to read this and assume Jesus is talking about the fall of Jerusalem. That is the interpretation I hold as well. Many commentators who look at this passage see the parallel, but keep in mind that this is a parable, not the explanation. I’ll explain what I mean below.
In the Highways, In the Hedges
Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests.Matthew 22:8–10
This passage is reminiscent of Isaiah 65.
I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me. I said, ‘Here am I, here am I,’ To a nation which did not call on My name. I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, Who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts.”Isaiah 65:1–2
Paul uses this Scripture in Romans 10:20-21 to justify his ministry to the Gentiles. Thus, this section of the parable is addressing Paul’s ministry.
Now, if you miss this next part of the parable, you will inevitably have problems. Jesus says that the servants gathered both the “evil and good” into the wedding hall. The reason it is important to catch this detail is it is parallel to another parable Jesus told about the kingdom of God in Matthew 13 called the parable of the wheat and tares (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43).
In that parable, an enemy sows tares among the wheat, but the servants are told to wait until the harvest before tearing out the tares in case they destroy the wheat as well. Jesus explains the harvest is the end of the age.
So, this gathering of both evil and good in the wedding banquet refers to the time prior to the end of the age when the wheat and tares would not be easily distinguishable.
The Preaching of the Gospel
Speaking of the end of the age and the preaching of the gospel, Jesus said in Matthew 24:14 that the gospel would go to the entire world before the end would come. Paul claims to have done just that in Colossians 1:23, so, regardless of how we understand the burning of the city, this section of the parable cannot be following the end of the age at the fall of Jerusalem.
I’ll propose solutions following our look at the rest of the text.
But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And the man was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.Matthew 22:11–14
Apparently the feast hadn’t started yet. Prior to its beginning, the king examines the guests and sees someone without the proper garments, so the servants take him away from the feast. This is parallel to the exclusion of the tares in the parable of the wheat and tares in Matthew 13.
Several times in Paul’s writings, he tells his audience to “put on” Christ (Galatians 3:27; Romans 13:14). Peter talks about wearing garments of holiness (1 Peter 3:4). John recorded in Revelation, in a passage quoted above, that the wedding garments are the righteousness of the saints (Revelation 19:8). The one who wears the wedding garments versus the one who doesn’t in this parable is the good versus the evil attendee.
So what is the solution? I’ll propose several.
- The parable allows for the spreading of the gospel after the destruction of the city.
I actually have no problem with this idea. I believe we desperately need the gospel in our world, but I do not believe this parable teaches that.
- The burning of the city symbolizes God turning to the Gentiles, and it is not a direct reference to the destruction of Jerusalem.
This is a possible solution if one wishes to maintain the order of the parable. I’m tempted by this interpretation, but I think there is a better solution.
- The parable is not in chronological order.
To me, this makes the most sense. The gospel was to go into the entire world prior to the fall of Jerusalem. The parallels between this parable and the parable in Matthew 13 are too strong to interpret this as a post-judgement prophecy. Regardless of how one wishes to read verse 7, the judgement of the wedding guests is at the end of the age like in the wheat and tares. This interpretation still sees the destruction of the city in the parable as a picture of the fall of Jerusalem while holding to a pre-fall spreading of the gospel to all nations.
I hope this answer has been helpful to you. If you have any questions you’d like me to tackle, feel free to shoot me a message and I’ll consider answering.