In this parable Jesus describes the man who refused to wear a wedding garment as being bound and cast into outer darkness, leaving many of us wondering why the symbolism of proper dress at a wedding is so important to the Christian journey.
Jesus begins the parable by telling us about a king who prepared a great marriage feast for his son, but none of the first round of invitees were willing to come (Matthew 22:3).
The situation then worsened when the king’s servants, sent to encourage them to attend, are seized and treated in a shameful manner, showing great dishonor to the king. The king responded in a white-hot fury: “But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city” (Matthew 22:7-8).
Invitations to the banquet were then sent “into the highways,” giving people from all walks of life, “both good and bad,” opportunity to attend the planned festivities. But while everyone was sitting at the tables enjoying the occasion, one man was singled out because he was not wearing the right garments.
Fortunately the Bible tells us what the garment in this parable means. Revelation 19 states: “And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude… saying, ‘Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.’ And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Revelation 19:6-8)
The parable is all about righteousness—good decisions making up a life of godly character and good works. This requires repenting of sin, accepting the sacrifice of Christ and receiving God’s Holy Spirit to enable us to live in obedience to His laws. The Bible uses clothing as an analogy to show how we “put on” behavior pleasing to God.
Notice how the apostle Paul describes the life of a Christian: “...that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Character is put on one action at a time and requires a deep desire to change so that a new “garment” can be worn.
The man in the parable was not wearing the right garment by choice. Knowing what was required he nonetheless willfully chose to come to the marriage feast without the right clothing. He was in fact opposing everything the marriage feast represented and aligning himself with the opposition—those who had initially refused to accept the invitation. It was a willfully defiant attitude.
When confronted by the king he had nothing to say, and the king’s pronouncement is chilling: “Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’ ” (Matthew 22:13). His fate -- outer darkness -- indicates a time of judgment, when God will judge all who hold defiant attitudes and they will face a time of reckoning. The judgment comes because of not wearing the right garment—or having a frame of mind God cannot reach.
The parable concludes with a statement from Christ that “many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). The word “chosen” here applies to those who not only receive an invitation, but willingly choose to come, dressed with the right garment, and remain committed to the Kingdom of God. They are willing to make any sacrifice, and remain committed for life to God and His values.
The calling to salvation, pictured here by the glory of a marriage feast, is a precious once-in-a-lifetime event. The king represents God the Father and the king’s son is Jesus Christ. Those invited to the marriage feast are those God invites in this lifetime, to prepare for His Kingdom, which will be established when Christ returns.
Many of us would like to pretend that our choices and actions don’t matter all that much and everything is relative, but this parable shows this is not true. It’s sobering to be reminded our actions have eternal consequences.
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