Updated: Mar 26, 2021
Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Matthew 22:1-14
Jesus tells a parable to teach that God genuinely offers salvation to every person (the “good” and the “bad”), but that does not guarantee every person salvation. There is a responsibility on the part of the person to accept the invitation and “dress” accordingly. Everyone who fails to do so suffers eternal punishment.
So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless. Matthew 22:12
[Editor's note: this Bible study supplement started as a printed newsletter for teachers, which is why it is so text-heavy. I am slowly adding older lessons to our website.]
Getting Started: Things to Think About
The Problems with Party Invitations
Please ease into this one! Wedding/party invitations can be a sore subject and we don’t want this conversation to get ugly! I’m guessing that your class has some party invitation stories. (There’s nothing more depressing than people not coming to your child’s birthday party.) And I’ve heard that putting together the guest list for a wedding with limited seating can be very traumatic. (Websites suggest that 10-20% of invitees decline. But what if they’re wrong???) The point of this icebreaker would be to make sure we all sympathize with the king being upset that so many people have turned down the invitations to his son’s wedding!
Fun and Interesting Wedding Traditions
You’re going to be encouraged to talk about first-century wedding traditions. But why stop there? Bring up interesting traditions that are celebrated around the world today! Check out http://www.brides.com/gallery/wedding-traditions-around-the-world or https://www.buzzfeed.com/chelseypippin/wedding-traditions-from-around-the-globe.
They have great pictures to go with them! Here are some of my favorites.
In the Philippines, the bride and groom release doves at the end of the ceremony to symbolize a harmonious life together.
In Germany, newlyweds saw a log in half together during the reception to prove their compatibility. And sometimes they have to clean up a huge mess of broken plates left for them outside their new home.
In India, the fabulous henna tattoos are designed to make the bride as uniquely beautiful as possible.
In Guatemala, the mother of the bride welcomes them to the reception by breaking a white bell filled with grains.
In Romania, the bride is kidnapped before the wedding, and the groom must find her and pay a “ransom” (often picking up the tab from wherever they were hiding her).
The tradition of throwing rice comes from China, where rice is a symbol of prosperity. But there the bride wears red, the color of luck and love.
In Japan, the bride wears all white, the symbol of purity (including a white veil that hides her jealousy of her mother-in-law).
In Congo, the bride and groom are not allowed to smile the entire wedding day to prove they take it very seriously.
In Norway, the bride wears a crown covered in charms that are believed to ward off evil spirits from the wedding.
In Venezuela, the bride and groom have to sneak off during the reception without being caught, and the first person to notice has good luck.
My personal favorite is the “mazel tov!” and glass breaking at a Jewish wedding along with their many traditional dances.
Have some fun with this one!
Our Context in Matthew
Like last week, we are probably talking about an event that took place on the Tuesday of Holy Week. To avoid the many traps that His Jewish enemies were trying to set for Him, Jesus taught things in parables (in such a way that no one could dispute His truth). The point is that the Jewish leaders understood exactly what Jesus was saying to them, could not refute Him, and yet doubled-down on their murderous rebellion all the more. Consider these land mind questions: “should we pay taxes or not?” (22:15-22); “what happens to families after death?” (22:23-35); “what is the most important law?” (22:34-40); “is the Messiah man or God?” (22:41-46). Yikes! Yet Jesus maneuvers through them deftly. So deftly that He comes back at them with a series of seven woes (23:1-36) and a lament over dying Jerusalem (23:37-39).
This Week's Big Idea: Comparing Matthew and Luke
Let me pull back the curtain on a topic that will cause arguments among biblical scholars. There is a very similar version of this parable in Luke 14:16-24.
“A man was giving a large banquet and invited many. At the time of the banquet, he sent his slave to tell those who were invited, ‘Come, because everything is now ready.’ “But they all began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. I ask you to excuse me.’ “Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m going to try them out. I ask you to excuse me.’ “And another said, ‘I just got married, and therefore I’m unable to come.’ “So the slave came back and reported these things to his master. Then in anger, the master of the house told his slave, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the city, and bring in here the poor, maimed, blind, and lame!’ “‘Master,’ the slave said, ‘what you ordered has been done, and there’s still room.’ “Then the master told the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and lanes and make them come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will enjoy my banquet!’”
Take a look at the Matthew passage and compare them. Luke doesn’t say he’s a king or say it’s a wedding banquet. Luke he describes the excuses in detail. Luke, because he only mentions one invitation, doesn’t say anything about the later messengers being mistreated and killed. Consequently, Luke doesn’t say anything about the king’s retaliation. Luke mentions that the new guests included the sick and injured. Luke doesn’t say anything about the man without the wedding clothes. Nor does he include the “many are invited but few are chosen” line.
So what’s the big deal? I’m so glad you asked. Liberal scholars will say that this was obviously intended to be the same parable, but the authors of the gospels let their peculiar soapboxes tamper with it. For example, Luke cares about the poor, and he is against violence. Matthew cares about details that would appeal to his Jewish audience. They would then conclude that Matthew wrote his gospel later because he “clearly” took Luke’s version and expanded on it, allegorizing it.
That’s pretty skeptical, don’t you think? There’s another way we can approach the similarities and differences between Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts: Jesus told modified versions of the same parable in different settings to prove different points. I know I have told the same story to different people, bringing out different details that I thought would connect better with my audience. In Matthew’s setting, Jesus was making the very strong point to His Jewish audience that God was going to “kick them out of the vineyard” because they had rejected His messengers and His Son. In that context, Jesus wanted to make the consequences for their actions very clear. In Luke’s setting, he had just scolded a Pharisee for letting the seats at his table be used as places of honor. In good Lukan fashion, Jesus then told the guests that they needed to be humble and give the best seats to the poor and handicapped. But somebody missed the whole point and talked about how great it would be to be at God’s banquet. So Jesus answered that by telling this parable, showing that the Jews didn’t understand what the invitation meant.
It’s the same parable, told two different ways in two different settings for two different purposes. Luke latched on to his setting because it lines up with his greater emphases. There’s no reason to go into the dire consequences of rejecting the Son there because that happens later. Matthew, because he emphasized the qualities of the Messiah, latched on to the version he ended up including because it made more sense to him. And there is no reason to include both versions!
This is the sort of thing that scholars argue about. You’re not missing anything.
Part 1: The Invited (Matthew 22:1-7)
Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out his slaves to summon those invited to the banquet, but they didn’t want to come. Again, he sent out other slaves, and said, ‘Tell those who are invited: Look, I’ve prepared my dinner; my oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’ “But they paid no attention and went away, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the others seized his slaves, treated them outrageously and killed them. The king was enraged, so he sent out his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned down their city.
I love the version of Jesus we meet in Matthew’s Gospel (obviously, it’s the same Jesus in every Gospel, but each author had a different part of Jesus’ personality that really stuck out). In Matthew, Jesus doesn’t mess around. He is the MESSIAH. And God’s people have brought dishonor on God’s name. This is the persona that St. Nicholas (see the graphic) desired to emulate—make it very clear that there is a heavy price for ignoring Gods truth. Anyway, I give you backgrounds on this parable’s setting in various places in this handout. Something worth pointing out is that there was an initial guest list. Remember how Jesus told the Syro-Phoenician woman that He was sent first to the lost children of Israel (Matt 15:24)? In other words, yes, the Jews come first. (That should humble us who are not Jews by birth!) But those people made all kinds of excuses when the time for the wedding actually arrived. Not everybody was a murdering wicked person in the parable. Some people just had “more important things to do” like tend to his farm or his business. In Luke’s version, one of the invitees had just gotten married. Note that the king didn’t necessarily get enraged with those people. He destroyed the murderers (and do catch that comment about burning down their city, which is exactly what Rome did to Jerusalem in 70 AD; this wasn’t a prophecy, but it’s interesting that Jesus chose that phrase). To me, this begs the question: did those other people who rejected the invitation change their mind and decide to come? It doesn’t look like it. So even though they may have lived out long and peaceful lives, they still died apart from the king.
In teaching this section, I think you would want to share some fun details about first century weddings (see below). Make it clear that coming to a royal wedding, though a huge honor that must not be refused, was still a real investment on the part of the people. It “cost” them something. And then point out what this says about the kingdom of heaven. It’s already on the way. The invitations have been sent! But God’s own people gave Him excuses why they couldn’t be a part of it. Does that still happen today? How?
Aside: First Century Weddings
Let me highlight some things that would have connected with Jesus’ audience. Most importantly, this kind of parable was common. Jewish rabbis often compared God to a king, but the “son” was always Israel. So the audience might have thought the feast was for them, making them take the parable personally. Note that this feast was assumed to last seven days—a huge investment on the part of the attendee, who would have to leave work and field behind. Though people could come and go from a “normal” wedding, a wedding for a prince would take place in a palace, and the guests would be expected to stay the whole time. That’s why there are usually two invitations sent out: a “save the date” and an actual invitation (like today). Turning down a king’s invitation would have been as taboo as taboo can get. (Of course, most people invited to such an event would have been aristocrats who probably had plenty of leisure time.) Further, such a rejection would have been understood to be treason. Further, the mistreatment of royal officials was universally understood not only to be despicable (don’t take it out on the messenger) but a deliberate act of treason. Jesus’ hearers would have known this well. But, it would be equally dishonorable for a prince to have a wedding without guests, so the king opened the invitation list up to everybody . . .
Part 2: The Gathered (Matthew 22:8-10)
“Then he told his slaves, ‘The banquet is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go to where the roads exit the city and invite everyone you find to the banquet.’ So those slaves went out on the roads and gathered everyone they found, both evil and good. The wedding banquet was filled with guests.
Now everybody else enters the picture. And this would be absolutely and intentionally shocking to Jesus’ hearers. I’m really having a hard time coming up with an illustration that would be scandalous enough to do it justice! So let’s pick on the Masters. Let’s say the Augusta National got really fed up with the PGA and banned them from the Masters and instead made it an Open where anybody could come play. That would be unheard of! Or maybe next year at the Oscars, because of some dispute with the Screen Actors Guild, the Academy lets all of the people visiting Hollywood come in and be the guests, but none of the A-listers. Really, neither of those are extreme enough to do justice to Jesus’ imagery. The king was literally dragging people in off the street to the wedding.
What does that mean to us today as far as making sense of this parable? It means what you think it means. Jesus said that this wedding banquet represents the kingdom of heaven, which is code for “God’s reign on earth” which today means at the very least God’s work in and through Christians. To be seated at the banquet means to be saved. So this means that we are to share the gospel with everyone. Luke specifically mentions the poor and the sick. Matthew mentions the “evil and good”. This is different than saying the “wicked”—”evil and good” are from a human’s perspective. In other words, even people who we wouldn’t think deserved to be there were there. And that’s one of the major themes of each Gospel: salvation does not depend on what humans think of a person (thank God!). Salvation is genuinely offered to everyone from God’s perspective, which means that we need to give that invitation to everyone. God’s invitation started with the Jews but then came to all. Similarly, we tend to start with people in or connected to our church when we reach out with spiritual matters. And that’s fine as long as we then take the invitation to everyone else. But . . .
Part 3: The Unprepared (Matthew 22:11-14)
But when the king came in to view the guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed for a wedding. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless. “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him up hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
This probably sounds weird and even unfair, but it would make sense to Jesus’ hearers. There was always an expected attire at a wedding, particularly a royal wedding. But it was not unheard of for the host to provide attire at his own expense! For this guest to be seated without proper attire means that he either snuck in, or more likely refused the attire when it was offered to him. That was not just disrespectful, it was offensive. The “speechless” comment was inserted to make it clear that the man knew he was in the wrong and had no explanation. And yes, this also means what you think it means. Jesus became sin for us to that we might become the righteousness of God. Our “righteous” works are like filthy rags, but Jesus’ righteous works are perfect, and He offers them to us. We “wear” Jesus’ righteousness like a garment. In Gal 3:26-27, Paul says this symbolically happens in our baptism, but the point is that in order to be allowed to remain in God’s banquet, we have to be dressed appropriately. And that means we have surrendered to Jesus Christ for salvation. Anyone who has not will be cast into the outer darkness (we understand that to mean “hell” in our language today). No second chances.
Now—though Jesus was clever enough to make sure His parable could hold up to any analysis, I think the real reason He included the mis-dressed man was for His disciples’ sake, not so much ours. You see, it is possible to come in with the guests and take one’s seat at the banquet table but not deserve to be there. In two days time, the disciples would have to try to rationalize Judas Iscariot. The theme of these three parables (the Two Sons, the Vineyard, the Wedding Banquet) is that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. Yes, the Jews are the prime culprits of failing to fulfill their purpose, but there are also people who claim to be Christian who won’t “finish the race”. This is not to say that they lost their salvation, but that they were only pretending the whole time (like the man at the wedding). There are people who we would consider “bad” people who will turn out to be true Christians—maybe they were converted at the “11th hour”. But there are also those we would consider good Christians who will turn out to be phonies. This is a big a real concern, and it’s something each one must consider for his or her self. Salvation is offered freely in Jesus Christ, but we must personally and individually place our trust in Him for that salvation to be effective in our eternity.
Have you ever gone somewhere uninvited? Perhaps you could end class with this illustration. Have you ever “crashed a wedding” or a party? How did that feel? You might look and act like you belong, but the truth is that you know you don’t. I can think of two parties that I crashed. One of them I was so out of place that I just enjoyed it. The other I felt like I should have been invited and it was very awkward. Here’s the great part about the Jesus wedding: you have been invited. You just have to accept the invitation. For starters, invite your friends to church; every Sunday they will hear how to accept that invitation. And then keep inviting!
Aside: The Wise and Foolish Virgins
One of my favorite parables—part of the very important Olivet Discourse in Matthew 25—also covers this topic, and I think it explains our parable in Matthew 22 pretty well. In that parable, the subjects aren’t just on the wedding invitation list, they want to be there! But they didn’t prepare properly (they didn’t have enough oil to keep their lamps burning for the whole procession). By the time they got the supplies they needed, the wedding had already begun and the doors were closed. You see, the wedding imagery in Jesus’ parables isn’t just about those wicked, evil people who mistreat the king’s servants (and the son)—it’s about everybody in Israel. Those reasonably good people who want to be a part of God’s kingdom but just don’t prepare for it? They aren’t allowed in either. I’m sure there were many decent Jews in Jesus’ day who wanted the kingdom of God to come but weren’t willing to get involved to stop a tragedy (the death of Jesus) or just wanted to be left alone. That’s not good enough for the King’s Son.
Closing Thoughts: The Anti-Missions Movement
An invitation list opened to everybody poses some problems for certain theological perspectives. You might not know that there is still an anti-missions segment among Baptists (sometimes called “primitive” Baptists or “hard-shell”). There are two sources for this position: a theological one that is related back to a hard-core Calvinism (one that can be summarized in the apocryphal statement “Pipe down, young man; if God wants to convert the heathen, He can do it Himself”). But there is also a political one related to complaints about how the various mission boards of the time were operated (basically, these churches didn’t trust what was being done with their money). Every kind of anti-mission sentiment has a very difficult time with this parable. There are two statements in particular: “they went out to the roads and gathered everyone they could find” and “for many are invited but few are chosen”. The old gospel song “In the Highways and Hedges” is based on the version of this parable found in Luke, and that phrase was a rallying cry for huge evangelistic movements. Furthermore, even though only few are “chosen” many had been invited. There’s really no other way to interpret that than to say that Christians have to go out delivering verbal invitations to Jesus’ banquet to everybody. Whether or not those people accept the invitations is up to them, not us. The mission work of translating and delivering Bibles to all the world I think also qualifies for this mission. But waiting around for the Holy Spirit to speak directly to people without our intervention does not. We are to deliver God’s invitations.