In this striking parable that our Lord spoke to the people of Jerusalem toward the end of His ministry, shortly before His going out to the Garden of Gethsemane and from there to the judgment hall and to the cross, He gave a remarkable dispensational outline of the way God is dealing with men in this scene. It is another parable of the kingdom of heaven. It has to do with the sphere of profession and tells us of what was to go on during the time of the absence of the Lord.1
And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by parables, and said, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: and the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment and he saith unto him, Friend, how earnest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen, (vv. 1-14)
“The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son.” The “certain king” is God; the son is Christ Himself; the marriage is the union of believers with Christ, those who put their trust in Him and are thus united to Him. The marriage supper is really the gospel feast—the feast of good things which God has provided for all who will accept His gracious invitation. But observe, the feast is prepared by God for the joy and glory of His own beloved Son. The thought was in the heart of God, and He expressed it by sending the Lord Jesus Christ into the world to save us from our sins. We read that the king “sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come.” This first invitation was to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, bidding them come to the marriage feast which the king had prepared. They refused the gracious invitation. “He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:11).
The question has been asked often by Jewish people, “If Jesus is really the Messiah, as you say He is, why is it that Israel has been suffering all these years instead of being blessed?” The answer is, He came to save Israel, but when they refused Him the invitation was extended to the Gentiles. The king sent his servants to call the people of Israel; they had an invitation to the marriage, but they would not come. Jesus said, “Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life” (John 5:40). They would not enter in and partake of the feast which had been spread. To accept the invitation one must trust Christ for himself.
In the next verse we read, “Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my failings are killed, and all things are ready come unto the marriage.” Now notice, this is the second invitation, a most urgent one, extended to the same people, telling them that were bidden that the feast was ready. Still they would not come. The king said, “Go again and call them!” After the Lord Jesus ascended to heaven, we find Peter and the other apostles, in the early chapters of the book of Acts, pleading with Israel to repent of the rejection of Christ and turn to Him and trust Him, confessing Him as their Savior. A few accepted Him, but the great majority spurned Him and actually persecuted His servants. We read, “But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise.” Is there anything wrong in owning a farm? Anything wrong in being a merchant? Not at all, unless it keeps you out of heaven! If you get so occupied with your farm, or so taken up with your merchandise that you cannot lift your eyes above the earth, then there is something tragically wrong with it. Things which are proper in themselves may become wrong if we put them in place of Christ and the gospel. These men to whom the message came, said, “We have too many other things about which we must be concerned: we have our farms to work, merchandise to sell. We cannot consider the king’s invitation.”
We read, “And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them.” There were some who were simply indifferent, and others were positively antagonistic. These actually murdered the servants. Even in those early days hundreds of God’s dear people were put to death by those who spurned His message.
Someone reading this may say, “Well, I am not against Christ. I have nothing against the church, nothing against Christianity. The only thing is I am not really interested. I have too many other things to occupy my mind.” You are just like the first class—those who “went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise.” Others may be antagonistic to Christ. But notice this: both classes failed to get into the marriage feast. Whether one is simply indifferent or actually antagonistic to the gospel of God, the end will be the same. The question found in Hebrews 2:3, “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” has never been answered. In order to be lost forever, it is not necessary to be opposed to Christ. It is not necessary to say definitely, “I reject Jesus.” Just neglect Him, and you will never get in to the feast. “The road of by-and-by leads to the house of never.” You may say, “Some day when conditions are different I am going to think about my soul.” But alas, while you are waiting for a more convenient season the end of life may come, and you will find yourself shut out in the darkness forever.
In the next verse we read, “But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.” After Christ had been rejected and crucified. God still waited for some forty years for Israel to repent, but they would not. Then He sent forth His armies. His armies? Yes. He is the God of hosts; He is the God of armies. And when a nation has sinned against Him to such a degree that He must deal with them in judgment, He sends the armies of some other people to visit judgment upon them. In this instance, it was the Roman armies that He permitted to invade the land and destroy Jerusalem. The final destruction of that city was the fulfillment of the words of the Lord Jesus, “There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (24:2).
The Father thinks so much of His Son that when men deliberately reject and spurn Him, God’s indignation is stirred. In His dealings with Israel, He really caused Jerusalem to be destroyed, and the people have been scattered ever since all over the world. They have shown themselves to be unworthy of eternal life.
Is God then going to have an empty banquet hall? Will there be no one who will accept His invitation and be present for the glory of His Son? Oh, no! God is going to see that His wedding feast is furnished with guests, and He will find them in the most unlikely places. We read, “Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage.” Now we see the gospel going out to the Gentiles. Israel had their opportunity; they had an invitation to the feast, but they refused to accept it. So God says to His servants, “Go out into the hedges and the highways; go out among all classes everywhere. No matter what the condition in which men may be, no matter how unclean, no matter how vile and sinful, bid them to the marriage feast; invite them to come in!” And so we read that the servants “went out into the highways, and gathered all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests.”
It is a graphic picture of what has gone on for the last nineteen hundred years. God’s servants have been going from land to land, from city to city, and out into the uttermost parts of the earth. They have been going everywhere inviting poor, lost men to come to the marriage feast which God has prepared for His Son. Many have accepted the invitation. But oh, how many there are among the Gentiles who have rejected Christ and refused to come! Are you one of these? You may have been born in a Christian home and heard the message all your life. Perhaps the first name you learned to pronounce, after learning to say “father” and “mother,” was the name of Jesus, and yet you are still unsaved, still in sin and without Christ. Oh, the unspeakable danger in which you stand, for it is written in the Word of God, “He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy” (Prov. 29:1). Now God is waiting in grace to save you. The invitation is extended. Will you come? Will you take Christ for yourself? Tomorrow the door may be shut.
Some people profess to accept the gospel invitation and yet never really trust Christ as their own Savior. We read, “And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment.” Now according to Eastern custom we are informed that when a great personage made a marriage feast for someone in his family, he himself provided suitable garments to be worn by the guests when they sat down to the banquet. Everyone had an opportunity to don a wedding garment. So today God provides a robe of righteousness that all are obligated to accept and wear. You may say, “I am not fit for Him and for heaven; I am not fit to be numbered among the redeemed.” My dear friend, it is because you are not fit; it is because you are a sinner that you are invited to come, and it is He who makes you fit. Will you trust Christ as your Savior? “All the fitness He requireth is to feel your need of Him.” Lack of fitness is therefore no excuse. When sinners come in repentance, trusting in Christ, then He clothes them with the garment of salvation, with the robe of righteousness. This is the wedding garment that makes one presentable at the marriage supper.
There was one man at this feast who professed to accept the invitation, but he did not avail himself of the wedding garment. This man was like many who say today, “I do not think I am so bad. I do not need a Savior; I am good enough as I am”—men who are trusting in their own righteousness. We read in Romans 10:3, “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.”
I can visualize this man coming in. There were the king’s servants handing out robes to the guests as they entered the door. But when this particular man came he said, “I do not think I need to bother with that robe. I just bought a new outfit, and I do not think I need anything else. I am quite presentable just as I am.” “But the king himself has provided this robe. He wants all to wear one,” the servant would reply. The man insists, “Oh, I do not think it will make any difference in my case. The king will be satisfied with me just as I am.” And the servant allowed him to pass in. The time came when the guests were gathered at the table. The king comes in and looks over the guests. He sees this man without a wedding garment and asks, “Friend, how earnest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless.” He had accepted the invitation to the feast, but had refused the wedding garment so graciously provided. He is like many who join the church but do not receive Christ as their personal Savior. This shows what will take place some day. When the King looks over the guests, He will inquire, “Friend, how earnest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? How did you dare take your place among those who profess faith in My Son when you are not really born again? How did you dare associate yourself with a Christian company when you were never saved?” This is what it means. And in that day no one will dare offer a word of excuse. Oh, I fancy a little while before, this man was quite ready to explain to the king’s servants. He made a good case for himself, but when it came to facing the king he was speechless. You may be relying upon your own good works for your soul’s salvation. You may be resting on the fact that you have joined some particular church, perhaps in childhood, and you think that will get you into heaven. Or, you may be relying on the facts that you were baptized and have taken the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, as we call it, or that you have reformed your life and are no longer living the way you used to live. But “there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12), except the name of Jesus.
Saul of Tarsus at one time refused the wedding garment. He thought he was fit for God without it, and thought that he did not need Christ. He had a righteousness of his own. But on the Damascus road he found out that all his righteousnesses were as filthy rags. He caught sight of Christ in glory sitting at God’s right hand in heaven, and he exclaimed, “What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Phil. 3:7-9). That is the wedding garment—the righteousness of God by faith, which is offered to all but is upon only those who believe in Christ. Are you wearing the wedding garment? If the King came in to see His guests tonight, would He say to you, “Friend, how earnest thou in hither not having a wedding garment?” You would have nothing to say; you would be speechless. Oh, would it not be best to take your true place in repentance before God and receive Christ as your Savior? Confess to Him now, “I have not been born again. I am still in my sins with all my religious profession. I am a lost sinner needing a Savior.” If you will make this confession and turn to Him, He is ready to save you.
“Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.” Do you say, “I may not be among the chosen”? You never will be unless you heed the call. The invitation is the call. How many are chosen? Those who respond to the call, those who accept the gift of righteousness, those who trust Christ. Millions are called, but thousands are chosen because the great majority refuse to take God at His Word.
Will you take Christ as your Savior now? You are called. Will you be among the chosen? Will you yield your heart to Him? He waits for your answer. If you refuse, you have only the misery and wretchedness of the outer darkness to which to look forward. This means banishment from the King’s presence in eternal woe.
That this parable made no impression upon the sin-hardened hearts of many of our Lord’s hearers is evident by what followed immediately.
Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Show me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he said unto them. Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them. Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s. When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way. (vv. 15-22)
As we read these verses, we marvel at the manner in which the Lord exposed the hypocrisy and deceitfulness of the leaders in Judea, who were very punctilious about the niceties of will-worship, but who knew nothing of divine love welling up in their souls. He who is Truth incarnate was in their midst. Yet they sought only to make Him out, if possible, an offender against the law of God and their own customs, in order that He might be discredited before the people, and that their own wickedness in rejecting Him might be excused. But He turned the light upon them, making manifest the evil which they tried to cover by a cloak of religiousness.
They sought “how they might entangle him in his talk.” There was no reality with these religious leaders. They endeavored to set a trap for Jesus, hoping he would incriminate Himself in some way so they could hold Him up to the scorn of the people or report Him to the governor as a rebel against Roman authority.
“The Herodians.” These constituted a pro-Roman party in Jewry, who were venal and corrupt and thoroughly worldly minded. These joined with the professedly pious Pharisees and came tempting Jesus. “Master, we know that thou art true.” It was a subtle effort to flatter the Lord Jesus and to inveigle Him into saying something which could be used against Him.
“Is it lawful to give tribute … or not?” This was a vexed question in Judea. The Pharisees generally answered in the negative, the Herodians in the positive, though both obeyed the law.
“Jesus perceived their wickedness.” He “knew what was in man” (John 2:25; 16:30), and so discerned at once the hypocrisy of these crafty questioners.
“Show me the tribute money.” Jewish-Palestinian coins were not used for this purpose, but special Roman currency, which was of far greater value.
“Whose is this image and superscription?” These coins bore the emperor’s likeness and a Latin inscription of his name and rank.
“Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” In these words Jesus definitely answered their question by showing that the people of God are responsible to Him in things spiritual, but must be obedient to the powers that be in things civil and national.
“They marvelled, and left him, and went their way.” They perceived the rightfulness and the wisdom of His reply, but they evinced no desire to become His disciples. Willfully they turned away from Him to follow their own devices.
To stress the first part of the words of Jesus, “Render … unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s,” while forgetting the last part, “unto God the things that are God’s,” is to miss altogether the truth He was insisting upon. Are we as much concerned about loyalty to God as we are about loyalty to the country to which we belong and the government under which we live?
It was the materialistic Sadducees who next attempted to put Jesus in opposition to the law of Moses and to entangle Him in a discussion as to the possibility of the physical resurrection of the dead.
The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked him, saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother: likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh. And last of all the woman died also. Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her. Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at his doctrine, (vv. 23-33)
It is questionable whether such an incident, or series of incidents, ever actually occurred as that which these men put before Jesus. The whole story may have been an imaginary one, designed to cast ridicule upon the doctrine of the resurrection. According to them, one woman had been the wife in turn of seven brothers, each one taking her after the brother next older than he had died. Finally, the woman was said to have died after she had outlived them all. The question raised was, Of whom would she be the wife in the resurrection? Doubtless this seemed an unanswerable question to these cunning deniers of the reality of life after death and a final resurrection. It was designed to show the absurdity of the doctrine of the Pharisees, which Jesus Himself proclaimed as true, as far as this subject was concerned.
But the Lord met them in such a way as to silence their objections, and that from the only part of the Scripture passages which they recognized as inspired, the Torah, or the five books of Moses. He declared their question was based on ignorance of the Sacred Writings and of the power of the omnipotent Creator. Then He cited Jehovah’s words to Moses when He revealed Himself at the bush that burned with fire but was not consumed. There God said, “I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exod. 3:6). He did not say, “I was the God of these patriarchs while they lived on earth.” He was their God at the very time He spoke to Moses centuries later. He is not the God of the dead (that is, of men completely obliterated by death) but of the living, for all (even though dead as far as their bodies are concerned) live unto Him. And this necessarily involves a future resurrection, for God had made promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that were never fulfilled in their past lives on earth but shall be fulfilled when they rise again from the dead.
For this the Sadducees had no answer, and the listening multitude were astonished at the manner in which these supposedly astute theologians had been silenced.
It was now the Pharisees’ turn to interrogate Jesus. The question put by their chief spokesman was really antagonistic in character. It was designed to draw out the Lord in order to see how far His teaching coincided with that of the law of Moses or whether it was in opposition to it.
But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets, (vv. 34-40)
“He had put the Sadducees to silence.” Jesus had silenced these materialists by teaching the resurrection of the dead, which the Sadducees denied, but the Pharisees believed.
“A lawyer … tempting him.” This man, evidently an expert in the law of Moses, sought to confuse and bewilder Jesus by a question that many of the Jewish authorities had debated for centuries, as to the relative importance of each of the Ten Commandments.
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.” Jesus replied by quoting from Deuteronomy 6:5. If God is loved supremely, no one will violate anything He has commanded. This covers particularly the first table of the law, which sets forth man’s duty to God.
“The first and great commandment.” To violate this is, therefore, in the legal dispensation, the greatest of all sins.
“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” This was a quotation from Leviticus 19:18 and covers all of the second table, for “love worketh no ill to his neighbour” (Rom. 13:10). He who loves mankind in this way will not violate any of the laws that have to do with the rights of others (Rom. 13:8-9).
“On these … hang all the law and the prophets.” Where love reigns, all else will be as it should be, for no one who truly loves God and his neighbor will intentionally wrong either (Matt. 7:12). All the law and the prophets hang therefore upon these two commandments cited by Jesus, for every sin that we might possibly commit is either a wrong done to God Himself or to our fellow men. The salvation provided for us is first of all an atonement, or propitiation, to meet all our sins, and then a regeneration to enable us to love God and our neighbor so as to cease from sin.
When the heart is right with God, and He is loved supremely, man too will be loved unselfishly, and so the whole life will be ordered in obedience to the divine Word. Love delights to serve the one loved, and thus it preserves from all that would grieve God or injure ones neighbor. But no natural man has ever thus fulfilled the law. The selfishness that is inherent in our very natures renders this impossible. When renewed by divine grace, the love of God is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). Our Lord’s teaching was designed to convict of sin and to make manifest the need of regeneration. Man has become alienated from God through the fall. When born again by the Word and the Holy Spirit, he receives eternal life. It is the very nature of this new life to love because it is divine (2 Peter 1:4). Therefore, love becomes the controlling principle of the life of the man in Christ. Walking not after the flesh but after the Spirit, the righteousness of the law comes to fulfillment in Him (Rom. 8:4), and he finds it as easy to love God and his neighbor as before it was easy to live in selfishness and ill will toward others. A new power dominates him. This is the positive evidence of the new birth (1 John 3:14; 5:1-2).
Having thus answered all the questions put to Him, Jesus turned the tables upon His adversaries by asking two of them:
While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The son of David. He saith unto them. How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son? And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions, (vv. 41-46)
“What think ye of Christ? whose son is he?” These are questions that will not grow old. After nearly twenty centuries since Jesus asked them, they are as pertinent as ever and still demand honest answers from every man to whom the message of the gospel comes. For that gospel is concerning Him who is both Son of God and Son of David (Rom. 1:1-4). According to the Scripture passages, the Christ—that is, the Messiah, Israel’s promised King—was more than man. “His goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting,” so declared Micah when he foretold the place where He was to be born (5:2). According to the Psalm 2, Jehovah owned Him as His Son. Many other Scripture passages attested the same thing—Scripture passages that were well known to these Pharisees. Ignoring the passages that indicated His divine paternity, however, they answered, “The son of David.”
This was true, but it was not all the truth. So Jesus directed their attention to Psalm 110, where David himself speaks of Messiah as his Lord, saying, “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool.” It is well known that “LORD” in small capitals in our English New Testament stands for Jehovah. The second word for Lord means “Master.” So David, looking forward in the Spirit to the exaltation of his Son, sees Him seated on Jehovah’s right hand and owns Him as his Lord. How could this be explained? The Pharisees had no answer, nor did anyone after this dare ask Jesus any more questions.
It is a solemn thing to be so determined to take one’s own way that the heart refuses to bow even to the plainest words of Holy Scripture.
1 Having recendy preached on this parable, I am venturing to make use to a great extent of stenographic notes taken at that time.