Pharisaism: The Religion of the Degenerate

Jesus is in the temple complex speaking directly to the chief priests and elders. This is Jesus’s third parable against them in view of the public.

Matthew 22:1-14

22.1 Καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς πάλιν εἶπεν ἐν παραβολαῖς αὐτοῖς λέγων·  2 Ὡμοιώθη ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν ἀνθρώπῳ βασιλεῖ, ὅστις ἐποίησεν γάμους τῷ υἱῷ αὐτοῦ.  3 καὶ ἀπέστειλεν τοὺς δούλους αὐτοῦ καλέσαι τοὺς κεκλημένους εἰς τοὺς γάμους, καὶ οὐκ ἤθελον ἐλθεῖν.  4 πάλιν ἀπέστειλεν ἄλλους δούλους λέγων· Εἴπατε τοῖς κεκλημένοις· Ἰδοὺ τὸ ἄριστόν μου ἡτοίμακα, οἱ ταῦροί μου καὶ τὰ σιτιστὰ τεθυμένα, καὶ πάντα ἕτοιμα· δεῦτε εἰς τοὺς γάμους.  5 οἱ δὲ ἀμελήσαντες ἀπῆλθον, ὃς μὲν εἰς τὸν ἴδιον ἀγρόν, ὃς δὲ ἐπὶ τὴν ἐμπορίαν αὐτοῦ·  6 οἱ δὲ λοιποὶ κρατήσαντες τοὺς δούλους αὐτοῦ ὕβρισαν καὶ ἀπέκτειναν.  7 ὁ δὲ βασιλεὺς ὠργίσθη, καὶ πέμψας τὰ στρατεύματα αὐτοῦ ἀπώλεσεν τοὺς φονεῖς ἐκείνους καὶ τὴν πόλιν αὐτῶν ἐνέπρησεν.  8 τότε λέγει τοῖς δούλοις αὐτοῦ· Ὁ μὲν γάμος ἕτοιμός ἐστιν, οἱ δὲ κεκλημένοι οὐκ ἦσαν ἄξιοι·  9 πορεύεσθε οὖν ἐπὶ τὰς διεξόδους τῶν ὁδῶν, καὶ ὅσους ἐὰν εὕρητε καλέσατε εἰς τοὺς γάμους.  10 καὶ ἐξελθόντες οἱ δοῦλοι ἐκεῖνοι εἰς τὰς ὁδοὺς συνήγαγον πάντας οὓς εὗρον, πονηρούς τε καὶ ἀγαθούς· καὶ ἐπλήσθη ὁ γάμος ἀνακειμένων.  11 εἰσελθὼν δὲ ὁ βασιλεὺς θεάσασθαι τοὺς ἀνακειμένους εἶδεν ἐκεῖ ἄνθρωπον οὐκ ἐνδεδυμένον ἔνδυμα γάμου·  12 καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ· Ἑταῖρε, πῶς εἰσῆλθες ὧδε μὴ ἔχων ἔνδυμα γάμου; ὁ δὲ ἐφιμώθη.  13 τότε ὁ βασιλεὺς εἶπεν τοῖς διακόνοις· Δήσαντες αὐτοῦ πόδας καὶ χεῖρας ἐκβάλετε αὐτὸν εἰς τὸ σκότος τὸ ἐξώτερον· ἐκεῖ ἔσται ὁ κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὁ βρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων.  14 πολλοὶ γάρ εἰσιν κλητοὶ ὀλίγοι δὲ ἐκλεκτοί.  

The first response (v. 1-7)

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. 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. But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire.”

This parable is like the previous. Everything represents some aspect of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus refers to the kingdom of heaven in the aorist tense, meaning that it is already and not yet as Jesus tells the parable. Whatever Jesus is about to reveal reflects the current state of affairs in the First Century AD.

The king is God the Father. The son is Jesus Christ. The slaves represent the prophets and those like the prophets (those who are apostled, or sent). The first group of invitees represents those who had already been invited. This group was told about the kingdom of heaven. Since the kingdom of heaven is at hand (4:17), it is time to respond to the invitation. So, the Father sends His slaves to make the announcement. Those making the announcement in Matthew’s Gospel are John the Baptist and Jesus. Those who have received the announcement already are the Jews, which is why Jesus came for the lost sheep of the house of Israel (cf. 15:24; Romans 1:16). Those who received the invitation first, are unwilling to come into the kingdom they had anticipated for centuries.

Why were they unwilling? The Father apostles, sends, more slaves—who might represent the 12 apostles—to remind the Jews that it was time to respond to the invitation. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. They are unwilling because they are consumed with their (1) homes, (2) labor, and (3) religion.

1) Homes: Many Jews are unwilling to enter the kingdom of heaven in the First Century because they are more concerned about building their own castles. It could be that they believe the two are the same, but they are not. Christ’s kingdom is not anyone else’s. As I reflect on this parable, I realize that many people are unwilling to come into the kingdom of heaven today because they are more interested in building up their own houses. Many people choose chores over church. If the kingdom of heaven is at hand in the First Century AD like Jesus teaches in Matthew’s Gospel, then this parabolic wedding feast is not some future event. It is now. Christ is building His church. People are unwilling to come to the feast prepared by God because they are more concerned about their own homes. Like the Jews in the First Century, there are many people who consider themselves to be the people of God but have rejected His invitation to be part of His church in order to build up their own households.

2) Labor: Many Jews are unwilling to enter the kingdom of heaven in the First Century because they are more concerned about their responsibilities outside the home. You have to make a living and support your family, right? Christ’s kingdom is not the systems that the world has built. I realize that many people today are unwilling to come into the kingdom of heaven because they are more interested in the worldly labors, education, or hobbies. Many people choose coin over the kingdom. The kingdom of heaven is now. Christ is building His church, and people are unwilling to come to the feast prepared by God because they are more concerned about their own careers, money, education, or hobbies. Like the Jews in the First Century, there are many people who consider themselves to be the people of God but have rejected His invitation to be part of His church in order to serve another king.

3) Religion: Many Jews are unwilling to enter the kingdom of heaven in the First Century because they are more concerned about earning their place. Notice, the king in the parable is the one who made every preparation—not the invitees. Many respond to such grace by rejecting it in favor of trying to make their own preparations by any number of religions. They even kill, or persecute, those who carry God’s invitation because they do not want to accept the preparations made by the only true King. Such is the case with the chief priests and elders (cf. 21:33-46). Such is the case with many religious people in the modern day who believe themselves the people of God. In reality, they have rejected the invitation of the King by rejecting His preparations—unconditional salvation by grace alone.

I have the opportunity to speak to many people who believe they are citizens of the kingdom of heaven but have actually rejected God’s invitation by building their own lives rather than being a part of the church. They believe God approves of their choice to stay home, work, pursue an education, participate in athletics, or hobby rather than be at the proverbial wedding feast He is hosting for His Son—which is the sincere and grace-based church gathering since the kingdom of heaven is at hand in the First Century AD. Yet, Christ’s parable shows that our unwillingness to forsake our lives and be at the ceremony honoring the Son, Jesus Christ, actually means that we were unwilling to accept the King’s invitation. It is impossible to serve two masters. One cannot worship both God and mammon. For the sake of clarification, we should be careful to worship God in the gathering rather than self, lest we be like the chief priests and elders Jesus is accusing by this parable.

This parable helps us to understand what Christ invites us to on a deeper level. Christ invites us not merely to make it to heaven but to be a thriving part of His church (cf. 16:18-19). One cannot be part of the kingdom of heaven without being a part of the church. Another clarification is in order. Going to church does not save a single person. If a person knows Christ, Christ brings that person into the local church as part of His church. Covenanting with a local community of faith is not root but fruit. Those in Christ do bear genuine Christian fruit.

Those who reject God’s invitation in favor of their own pursuits and so persecute God’s slaves will suffer the wrath of God—here, possibly a prophecy about the coming destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 (the consequence of killing the prophets; cf. 21:33-46) and certainly a picture of final judgment.

The second response (v. 8-14)

“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.

After the Jews reject the kingdom for various reasons, God apostles, or sends, his slaves to gather up everyone else—those who live morally acceptable and morally reprehensible lives. The Gospel of grace is cast like fishing nets. Many people, including some Jews, respond by coming into the wedding feast the covenant community of faith—the visible church.

“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.’” 

There is one man who entered the wedding feast who is not dressed for the occasion. This detail affirms that the wedding feast represents the visible kingdom as it is on this earth rather than the resurrection. The man has become part of the covenant community of faith, the church. He is at the wedding feast. When the King observes him, he is thrown into Hell, the place of outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

There are some, then, who are part of the covenant community and faithfully participate with the body of Christ but are not dressed for Christ. What, I wonder, do the wedding clothes in this parable represent? First, they cannot represent good works or good natures. There are many at the wedding feast who are morally reprehensible (evil) and are yet properly clothed. Second, they cannot be the decisions of people. The man in question chose to come and is yet not properly clothed. Notice that the King provided all things, insinuating that He also provides the wedding clothes. The wedding clothes are prepared and placed on the individual by God. We can only identify the wedding clothes as the imputed righteousness of Christ, the one worshipped at the feast and the exalted one of the kingdom of heaven. There are some who are part of the visible church who are not covered by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. They are wearing their own clothes—chores, work, or religion. Because he is not clothed in the righteousness of Christ alone, he will be bound thrown into Hell. He moral goodness, character, religious affiliation, work ethic, and education did not matter. If we are clothed in those things, we are not clothed in the righteousness of Christ and are, therefore, unworthy to have a seat at the table.

“For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Jesus explains why some reject the invitation for various reasons and why some who accept the invitation are rejected by the King. Many are called, or invited. Few are ἐκλεκτοί, or elected. The Gospel of grace is cast out like a net. As many as hear it are invited into the kingdom of heaven. Only the elect, those who are prepared for the kingdom by God, accept the invitation and have a place. Those who accept the invitation but do not have a place have accepted the invitation contingent on their own merit or religiosity rather than being clothed in the righteousness of Christ alone. They came to religion, not to Christ, and there is a difference. All the preparations are made by God. Many are invited. Few are elect. Since everything is by God’s preparation and work, even so as many evil people are part of the kingdom, election is unconditional—a reality that the chief priests and elders were not preaching. Those already in the kingdom are fishers of men (cf. 4:19), being apostled to cast out the gospel like a net to gather the morally acceptable and reprehensible alike. Everyone is invited. Come to the feast.

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