I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.” Psalm 2:7-9
This chapter begins with a parable that I wish Jesus' disciples had asked Him to explain. Its subject matter is one of several passages that have been the center of theological debate for centuries balancing how much it is our choice to believe and how much of being saved is being "chosen" by God for salvation. Because that has been such a long and complex debate, I'm not going to get into it today, but be assured that we will dive deep into those weeds some other time. You may hear this topic discussed in the Church as Calvinism, Arminianism, Pre-Election, Predestined, the Elect, Free Will Doctrine, etc. There are many debates in the Church that we could argue, disagree with, and still end up in Heaven together... this debate is different in that it deals with foundational principles about how a person is saved therefore I think it cannot be addressed lightly and should be taken very seriously. I also don't want to tell you where I land on the subject today until we are able to discuss it more thoroughly, however, in an effort of transparency I will tell you that I do have very strong theological opinions on this topic and have left a church because the way they approached this doctrine rang false in my spirit and left little room for grace. When we talk about discernment and false teaching, this is exactly the kind of doctrinal argument that can come to mind so I wish to tread very lightly. Pray, that my study of this chapter is honoring to God and rightly shares His Word and character with you!
The Final Week - Day 2 Continued
The Parable of the Wedding Banquet
And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast 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 22:1-14
As always, to understand what Jesus is talking about here, we cannot forget the context of the conversation. To briefly refresh our memories: Jesus has been teaching and healing in the Temple and the chief priests and elders have come to challenge His authority. After trapping them in their own challenge, Jesus proceeds to tell a series of parables two of which we looked at in the last chapter.
In the first parable, a man commands his two sons to go work in his vineyard. The first son tells him no, but changes his mind later and goes to work. The second son tells his father yes but never goes to work. Jesus compares the religious leaders to the second son because they honor God with their mouths but did not believe and repent when John the Baptist was turning the hearts of the people back to God. Instead, the unrighteous (who are compared to the first son) listened to and believed John turning from their sin in true repentance.
In the second parable, the vineyard owner leaves his tenants in charge of his vineyard as he travels to a faraway land. When the season for harvest comes, he sends his servants to collect it but the tenants abuse and murder the servants. Again the vineyard owner sends more servants but the tenants do the same to them. Finally, the vineyard owner sends his son but the tenants abuse and murder him also. At last, the vineyard owner returns himself and destroys those evil tenants ripping the vineyard from them. The religious leaders know that Jesus is comparing them to the wicked tenants, the prophets are God's servants, and Jesus is God's Son. They want to put Him under arrest for this parable but do not because they fear the crowds!
Finally, we come to the last parable in this series. Let's identify its cast of characters based on how the last parables were calling out the religious leaders of Israel.
The King - God
The Son - Jesus
The Servants - God's Prophets
The Original Wedding Guests - God's People Israel
The New Wedding Guests Both Good and Bad - The Gentiles
The Wedding Guest Without the Proper Garment - ?
The first two characters in this parable are the most obvious, after that, we have to make some inferences. In the previous parables, the servants were those who had brought the Word of God to Israel including all the prophets up to John at this point. In the context of the rebuke, Jesus has been giving the religious leaders and His own ministry policy of proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom to the Jews first we can infer that the original wedding guests are God's people Israel to include the religious leaders listening to this parable. Just like the wicked servants in the vineyard, these wicked wedding guests either reject the servants of the King by ignoring their invitation or by taking them abusing them, and murdering them. Mirroring the master of the vineyard, this King comes and destroys the evil wedding guests who have done these horrible things. Finally, the King sends out more servants to invite new guests to the wedding feast that will be more worthy of the invitation than those who were destroyed in their treason. We can infer that these new guests are the Gentiles or non-Jewish people who hear the Word of God and willingly accept it; notice that their own personal righteousness has nothing to do with the invitation (the servants invite both the bad and the good.)
However, one guest is found who did not put on a wedding garment for the wedding feast. Here is where there is debate over the meaning of this guest who is cast out into darkness and suffering. Whatever this means, it seems to hinge not on who the guest is but on what the wedding garment represents. In that day, it was common for lords and kings to offer clean wedding garments to the guests who would attend the wedding. For a guest not to be wearing the garment, they would have to reject it. According to Bible Reference, this could mean that the wedding garment represents how Christians are covered by the righteousness of Christ, therefore not needing righteousness of their own. This would mean this guest rejected Christ's sacrifice on his behalf still trying to get into the feast on his own terms. Yet, that explanation still does not explain Jesus' final statement in the parable that, "many are called, but few are chosen."
Let's look at the original language:
Called - klētos (Gr.) This word means to be invited generally to a banquet. Biblically we see it used in the context of being given the Gospel invitation of accepting salvation through Jesus Christ.
Chosen- eklektos (Gr.) This word is used throughout scripture to refer to being picked out or chosen by God; for Christ, Himself as He is appointed to the Highest position imaginable; for Christians; and in another tense for specific Christians. It has also been used for angels as God's specially selected servants in the spiritual realm. In other contexts, it is used to describe the worth or quality of someone/thing in comparison to others. It is derived from the Greek verb eklegomai giving us a picture of its meaning in this context: of God choosing whom he judged fit to receive his favours and separated from the rest of mankind to be peculiarly his own and to be attended continually by his gracious oversight.
Under the Old Covenant, the Israelites were chosen by God (eklegomai) from among all the other nations on earth. Often He refers to them as His chosen inheritance. [Psalm 78:70-72, Isaiah 19:24-25, 1 Kings 8:52-53, Deuteronomy 39:9, Zechariah 2:10-12] He also chose from among the Tribes of Israel, the tribe of Judah and David to be King. Therefore, if I'm reading this correctly in the context of the previous parables and the context of the original language as it has been used throughout Scripture, this can be read one of two ways:
Many are invited through the proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom, but few are chosen by God to be saved.
- or -
Many are invited through the proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom, but those who are eklegomai (his appointed inheritance) are few in number... that is those who truly are saved.
The difference between these two is subtle, the first implies that God only chooses a select few to actually receive salvation and what they would have chosen of their own will matters very little, it is predestined a settled thing from the dawn of creation. The second implies that those who truly accept the invitation and come to the feast covered by the righteousness of the Lamb are few in number. In the effort of transparency, I lean toward the second statement and implication because I believe it is more consistent with the rest of God's Word and His character. You are more than welcome to take a different stance than I have on this interpretation.
The Pharisees Devise a New Word Trap
Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” Matthew 22:15-17
Unable to arrest Jesus themselves, the Pharisees come up with a question that if answered poorly could incite the Romans to do their dirty work for them. Notice that instead of coming themselves to hear Jesus' answer, they send their disciples and they make sure the Herodians (servants of King Herod) are right there too. Then they frame their question with sickly sweet flattery as if that would disguise their evil intent.
But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar's.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away. Matthew 22:18-22
These Pharisees think that they have set up a no-win scenario: if Jesus answers directly that it is not lawful to pay the tax to Caesar because of the evil of Rome then the Herodians will arrest Him but if Jesus answers plainly that paying the tax is lawful then the Pharisees and the people can protest based on the Romans' opposition to the Law of God and obvious status as Gentiles. Instead, Jesus commands them that what bears the image of Caesar belongs to Caesar and implies that what bears the image of God belongs to God.
Consider this for yourself, which is the greater tax? For all of humanity from Creation is declared to bear the image of their Creator!
The Sadducees Devise a Word Trap
Seeing that the one religious subset of leaders has failed to trip Jesus up, the Sadducees step up to the plate to pose their own question.
The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.” Matthew 22:23-28
Did you catch the "no-win" part of this question? The Sadducees don't believe that there will be a resurrection at all, so it doesn't matter in their minds whose wife this woman will be according to Jesus' answer. They are simply ready to theologically condemn Him regardless. In a debate, if you can recognize this tactic, you can throw out the entire question and respond only to the false premise that your opponent has set up. Watch Jesus masterfully turn their trap on its head in His response!
But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching. Matthew 22:29-33
"You are wrong because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.
There you go, Jesus starts by calling out their false premise and why they have come to it. They don't understand God's Word and they've underestimated His power. He really doesn't have to say anything else, but Jesus goes on to answer their poorly asked question.
"In the resurrection, they neither marry nor are given in marriage."
In other words, this woman is not married to any of the seven men she was married to here on earth. My research showed that some people also like to take this answer out of context saying that Jesus says people will become angels at the resurrection. This is very clearly NOT what it says in the verse at all! Jesus says that they are like the angels in respect to being in an eternally unmarried state. Let me repeat that for those in the back... you do not become an angel when you die, nor do you become an angel at the resurrection!
However, this mention of angels serves as a third correction to the Sadducees.
The Sadducees did not believe in angels, so Jesus' inclusion of them in His answer very clearly calls out this theological mistake in their interpretation of the Scriptures.
There is a resurrection from the dead.
Again, Jesus calls out the faulty teachings of the Sadducees. They had tried to use the Law of God to make the resurrection appear absurd regardless of which husband the woman would theoretically belong to. This religious subset also only accepted the Pentateuch or the first five books of the Bible as truly the Word of God. Therefore, Jesus pulls straight from Exodus to prove that there is indeed a life awaiting us even after death on this earth.
When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Exodus 3:4-6
God does not say, "I was the God of your father, I was the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." No! God says, "I am!" Although these men have died and been buried, God says, "I am at this present moment their God!" As Jesus Himself proclaims, "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living."
The Sadducees have no answer for this, in our modern-day slang we could say that they had to go rethink their whole lives after this exchange!
The Pharisees Try Again, This Time With a Lawyer
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Matthew 22:34-36
Jesus has answered His opponents so well at this point that it seems one has become bold enough to ask Him a sincere question. We can gather the attitude of this lawyer's question from Mark's account of the incident.
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Mark 12:28
The religious leaders of the day enjoyed debating this question of which laws were more important than others, probably because they would like to weasel their way out of the laws they considered to be of lesser importance. If Jesus had answered this question poorly, it most likely would have been used to dismiss the wisdom of His other answers. However, He surprises the man by answering the question exactly as this man would have answered it himself. This context we also gain from Mark, but I'll put both quotations below...
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:37-40
Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31
This remarkable answer doesn't point to one rule over another or one ceremony over another; it points to the very heart of God in giving them the Law in the first place. Not only is it the first and greatest among the commandments as far as this question goes, but it also is the very first thing Moses declares in Deuteronomy as he begins to hand down the Law of God to the people of Israel.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9
The crowds are astonished by Jesus' answer, but no one is more impressed than the man who asked the question in the first place. Matthew's account doesn't finish this part of the exchange for us but Mark does!
And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions. Mark 12:32-34
Perhaps, one day we will meet this curious lawyer in the Kingdom of Heaven. What a wonderful end to such a hostile exchange. In the meantime, take a moment to imagine, if you were standing before God and able to ask one question, what would it be?
Jesus Asks Them a Question
We are finally getting to the end of Jesus' second or perhaps third day of the last week of His life. We've covered a lot in this short amount of time so I want to recall to your memory that the crowds welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem crying, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" We know from Matthew's account of Jesus' genealogy that He was indeed, as foretold, from the House of David in a human sense. The crowds when asked tell the city that Jesus is a prophet and the religious leaders in the temple fear Him as a prophet. I point this out because I think it is a very important indicator of what Jesus' own people believed the Messiah would be in their own time.
Who do you say I (Jesus) Am?
Their Answer -
Even if they agreed He was the long-awaited Messiah, they still perceived Him to be only a human inheritor of the crown of David.
What is the Messiah's Mission?
Their Answer -
To deliver them from Rome and permanently establish the earthly kingdom of Israel.
Now Jesus asks these many scholars and students of the Law a very important question that gets right to the truth of His real identity and mission as the Messiah.
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. Matthew 22:41-46
Nearly all of those studied in God's Word in Jesus' day agreed that Psalm 110, which Jesus quotes from here, referred to the Messiah.
The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” Psalm 110:1
With this one question Jesus is able to point out that yes, the Messiah is the Son of David, but He is also much more than that. David would not call Him Lord if He did not divinely hold that title. For the religious leaders to answer this question rightly, they would have to declare Jesus to be who He is: the Son of God!
It's no wonder then that they don't dare to ask Him any more questions!