Many Christians are confused about the Parable of the Wedding Feast. What lessons does this parable teach?
This article was written upon the request of a regular reader of this blog.
In order to understand any portion of scripture, context is of extreme importance. Who was Jesus talking to when he gave this teaching and what were the main points he was making? This is crucial in any exegesis of Scripture. If we ignore this important focus, we are liable to fall into all sorts of error.
The Context: Parable of the Wedding Feast
The context of the Parable of the Wedding Feast is given in Matthew 21 and 22. On Palm Sunday Jesus entered Jerusalem. It was Lamb Selection Day for the Jews. It was on this day that they would select the Lamb who would be slain for the nation on Passover. A large crowd followed the Chief Priest and the elders as they paraded through Jerusalem. Suddenly a second parade intersected them :
All the city was stirred saying, “Who is this?” (Matt. 21:10)
It was Jesus, who then entered the Temple and upset the tables of the money changers. After that, Jesus and his disciples retired to the Mount of Olives.
The very next day, Jesus returned to the city. On his way he saw a fig tree that was barren. He cursed it and at once the Fig Tree withered. The Fig Tree was symbolic of national Israel, and all of Jesus’s teaching on that day (including the Parable of the Wedding Feast) were based on national Israel’s rejection of Jesus and His subsequent giving of the Kingdom to another nation.
Jesus told three parables that day directed at the chief priests and elders. These Parables were:
- Parable of the Two Sons Asked to Work
- Parable of the Vineyard Owner
- Parable of the Wedding Feast
All three of these parables were directed at the chief priests and elders, and represent different views of how the Kingdom was to be taken away from national Israel and given to Spiritual Israel (those who would place their faith in Jesus). This is incredibly important when interpreting the Parable of the Wedding Feast. It is NOT primarily a parable for teaching about end times or Rapture timing. It primarily is about national Israel’s rejection of Jesus and his subsequent rejection of the them! It does contain end time lessons, but please do not utilize it solely as an end time Parable.
Parable of the Wedding Feast
Now that we have established the context, let’s begin to examine the parable. Jesus began:
The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. (Matt. 22:1)
This is another Kingdom Parable. Earlier in Matthew, Jesus compared the Kingdom to a mustard seed, to a pearl, etc. In this parable he compares it to a Wedding Feast. Jews of Jesus’s day were very familiar with the concept of a feast being given in the Kingdom at which Abraham and the prophets would be in attendance.
I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 8:11)
This teaching was based on a passage in Isaiah:
The Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, and refined, aged wine. (Isa. 25:6)
Notice this feast is on earth, not in heaven; it is on “this mountain” (the Kingdom of Israel in the Millennium or even in the eternal state). This is the “reclining at the table” that Jesus was referring to in Matt. 8:11. First Century Jews believed this feast would honor the “seven shepherds”: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David as the honored guests. By mentioning the three Patriarchs, Jesus is letting his listeners know that he is referring to this Millennial Feast.
Giving the Kingdom to a new people
In Matt. 22:1, Jesus provides us more details. He tells us it is a Wedding Feast. In the next verse, we notice the rejection of the invitation by the intended guests (national Israel):
And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. (Matt. 22:2)
This is completely in line with all the events of that day and the other parables Jesus taught at that time. The King’s reaction is given a few verses later:
But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire. 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.’ (Matt. 22:7-9)
The literal nature of this parable as prophecy breaks down a bit here. If this parable depicts the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, then why is it mentioned to occur before the King invites others and why are the invaders called “his” armies. If it the future destruction of Jerusalem during the 70th Week, again, why does the precede the inviting of the new people (gentiles) to the feast? We shouldn’t take this as literal prophecy, but a general prophecy told in parable form.
Then those his servants invited show up:
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. (Matt. 22:8-10)
The passage about finding “both evil and good” confuses many, but it shouldn’t. Jesus saves us from all sorts of previous sins. This passage doesn’t mean that those in the banquet are evil, just that they were previous to their salvation (as we all were.)
The Pretribulation Rapture Assumption
Jesus then further clarifies what it takes to be part of the Wedding Feast:
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.” (Matt. 24:11-14)
There are several important points about this section of the parable. The first is that the King comes into the hall to “look over’ the guests, this implies he is inspecting them to see if they are worthy to be there. The element he is inspecting for is whether they are wearing wedding garments. It was a middle eastern custom for Kings to have wardrobes of hundreds of garments for feasts and events like weddings. These would be given to the guests at these events and would show that the guests were “approved and invited.” The wedding garments were their “invitation” so to speak.
The second point is that one guest is found to be without a wedding garment and is thrown out of feast. We know from Rev. 7:14 that the wedding garments are washed in the blood of the Lamb (we are made righteous by Jesus’s blood). This is why they are critical, they are indicative of the salvation that comes by grace thru faith in Jesus. The guest without a garment did not have faith.
The final verse sums up Jesus’s point to the Jewish leaders. God called the Jews to celebrate with him in the Banquet at the end of the age, but only a few will actually be there.
Now a strange point made by many pretribulationalists is that the man thrown out of the banquet is a guest not the bride. They say this to differentiate between the Bride of Christ, who they say are those caught up in a pretribulation rapture, and those who attend the banquet as just guests, coming to faith after the supposed pretribulation rapture. This same dichotomy is found in the Parable of the Ten Virgins where the bride is not mentioned but ten virgins are. This mistaken notion of some pretribulationalists creates two classes of Christians, something Jesus never intended.
We should not be surprised by the fact the bride isn’t mentioned. “The bridegroom” is mentioned 17 times in the gospels but the bride is only mentioned once and that was by John the Baptist (John 3:29). We also shouldn’t be surprised by the lack of mention of the bride in these two parables because the bride is a corporate title; it includes all the saints from all the ages. In both of these parables, Jesus is differentiating between true Christians and those that look like Christians. Just as the “tares” look like the “wheat” in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, the wedding guests all look alike and the virgins all look alike. But the important point is that they are not alike. In order to differentiate, Jesus had to choose a symbol that is individual (wedding guests or virgins) and not corporate (bride.)
The fact Jesus doesn’t choose to include the symbol of the bride is a proof, however, that this pretribulation theory is mistaken. Jesus intentionally didn’t differentiate between the bride and the guests. He intentionally only differentiated between two types of guests. In the Parable of the Ten Virgins, he intentionally didn’t differentiate between the bride and the virgins. He only differentiated between two types of virgins. Jesus could have differentiated between two girls one who became the bride and one who didn’t, but that is not what he choose to talk about.
Getting into the feast via the rapture is what is most important. It is the primary harvest. It will involve all the saints of all the ages. Yet, according to pretribulationalists, these parables are not about that most important separation. To them, both parables are about a minor separation that occurs at the end of what they call the “Tribulation Period” among “Tribulation Saints.” Does that make any sense? Why would Jesus tell two parables about this minor separation and avoid teaching about the major separation that was to occur at the rapture? Obviously, the answer is that he didn’t. These parables are about the rapture.
The important point in the parables is that both the guests and the virgins thought they were supposed to get into the feast. To outward appearances they looked like the other guests and virgins, but inwardly they were not the same. They lacked what was essential.
In both parables that missing ingredient is faith in Jesus. In the Parable of the Wedding Feast, this faith is symbolized by a wedding garment washed white in the blood of Jesus (Rev. 7:14). In the Parable of the Ten Virgins it is the presence of Holy Spirit within the wise virgins symbolized by oil for their lamps of testimony. Otherwise, the groups of guests and virgins seem the same, and importantly, the both assumed they would be attending the feast!!
Jewish Wedding Customs
Now some pretribulationalists will claim that these parables involve a time after the supposed pretribulation rapture has occurred, and that the wedding feast has been going on for seven years at the point of these parables. That makes no sense in terms of Jewish Wedding Customs either. In the first century, all the guests were present before the consummation of the wedding to “witness” it. The groomsman would listen at the chamber door and announce to the guests that the marriage was consummated. John the Baptist has this honor:
He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. (John 3:29)
Pretribualtionalists also don’t consider what “outer darkness” means in this parable. Everyone who reads this parable is aware the guest without a wedding garment is thrown out of the wedding into “the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Most consider it hell or the lake of fire. But are these locations truly “dark?” Rather, isn’t fire bright?
If, however, the outer darkness is the Day of the Lord (the Wrath of God) that takes place on the earth after the rapture, this makes perfect sense. We know from many passages that the day of the lord is a time of thick clouds and darkness.
Near is the great day of the Lord, . . . A day of wrath is that day, a day of trouble and distress, a day of destruction and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness. (Zeph. 1:14-15)
This darkness begins with the darkening of the sun, moon, and stars during the Celestial Earthly Disturbance at the sixth seal. This occurs prior to the trumpet and bowl judgments (a year prior to Jesus returning to fight Armageddon.) This is not a separation that happens at the physical second coming, but rather because the uninvited guest is thrown out into darkness, it is a separation that happens at the prewrath rapture.
Also of interest to me, is the fact that the guest is “bound hand and foot.” In the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, the angels bind the tares in bundles to be burned. This is an interesting parallel.
In the next installment of this very short two article series, we will present even more proof for the prewrath rapture and discuss the mention of the bride and wedding garments in the Book of Revelation. This next article will clearly demonstrate the exact timing (in Revelation) of the rapture based on passages about these garments. Stay tuned!