The plot of the indignant Pharisees to destroy Him the Lord met by this further attack and warning. The parable resembles that spoken earlier (Luke 14: I5-24), but has important differences. Both set forth phases of the kingdom of God or heaven, but
(1) that was a deipnon, the closing meal of the day, which suggested that the hearers were faced with the last opportunity they would have of sharing in the kingdom. This is a breakfast (ariston), the first meal of the day, suggesting the opening of some new era.
(2) That supper was provided by a great man who would favour his friends; this feast is made by a king in honour of the marriage of his own son, the heir apparent. This gives the clue as to the event here pictured. For the "marriage" of God's Son is declared in Rev. 19:1-9. It is to take place at the opening of the next age, the commencement of the Millennial kingdom, so that the occasion is properly regarded here as a breakfast.
As noted earlier, John the Baptist had designated Christ as a bridegroom (John 3: 29) and the Lord had confirmed this allusion to His future status; but He hinted that before that great day could arrive He would have left this earth, and the consummation of His purpose and desire must wait (Matt. 9: 15). The present parable leads on to that sublime hour but does not complete the picture by any mention of the bride. But when in Rev. 19 the thrilling announcement rings out in heaven, "Hallelujah, for the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigneth," this makes plain at what epoch the marriage is to take place.
Yet in the passage in Revelation the occasion is called a marriage supper (to deipnon tou gamou), which does not contradict the distinction just noted; for as coming at the close of this age, the crowning privilege of all the benefits that led up to it, it may rightly be termed a supper, whereas viewed as ushering in the new age it is a breakfast. It is a question of aspect and emphasis.
GUESTS AT THE FEAST
The main point on which the parables unite is that they present those invited as guests, and guests at a feast. Now the guests at a supper are not the family of the host, nor are they the bride at a wedding breakfast: they are guests. That is to say, the persons contemplated in these parables, though regenerate, are not presented in that character, nor as members of the heavenly company, the wife of the Lamb.
Nor is a feast a permanent affair. It is indeed a time of pleasure, and it is truly an honour to be invited to a royal wedding; but it is only a temporary matter. Therefore the message of God as set forth in these parables is not to be expanded to the full width of the offer of eternal salvation in Christ. Eternity is not here brought into view, nor the eternal status of the individuals in question, nor the eternal doom of the rejector of Christ, whatever in fact these may be.
The Lord's hearers on these occasions were expecting a kingdom of glory to be set up on earth as announced by the prophets, and they counted rightly that "blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God " (Luke 14: 15). It is to this anticipation that the parables are directed and should be limited. Many scriptures reveal the eternal aspect and prospect of men, but this is not here. The heart attitude of a hearer towards this coming kingdom of God may indeed indicate his heart attitude to God, His Son, and things eternal, but this is not the aspect dealt with in these parables.
The Old Testament had already set in relief the guests in contrast to the king and his spouse. Ahasuerus and Esther were distinct from the princes and servants invited to the marriage feast (Esther 2: 18). The mighty King of Psalm 45, Messiah, had companions and a Queen, and she also had her personal retinue, "the virgins her companions" (vers. 7, 9, 14). So also in Rev. 19. Immediately after the announcement concerning the Bride and the marriage, the angel proclaims "Blessed are they who are bidden to the marriage supper" (ver. 9), and the same feature is seen in the parable of the ten Virgins, as we shall presently observe.
The interpretation of these passages, and others, has been confused and frustrated by the contracted vision which can see in the Word of God only "saved" and "unsaved," "heaven" or "hell," time or eternity, intermediate conditions or stages being unperceived. Thus the precious good news as to eternal salvation has been—it cannot be said drawn out of these parables, but thrust upon them.
The present parable deals with two classes who receive the king's invitation; the former class, who are the first to be invited and who make light of the matter; the latter, who accept the welcome.
We have seen that the last preceding parable, that of the wicked husbandmen, was directed against the leaders of Israel, rather than the whole people. It is not to be overlooked that the Lord is still dealing with these leaders in particular: "And Jesus answered [their hostility] and spake again unto them" (ver. 1). They received two notices that the kingdom of heaven was open to them: (1) that through Christ and His messengers of His day, the twelve (Matt. 10) and the seventy (Luke 10). His and their call was the same: "the kingdom of heaven (or of God) has drawn nigh unto you"; and (2) the renewed call from Pentecost and onward. The leaders led the way in spurning both appeals, and after the second some of them maltreated and killed the King's messengers, as they had treated His Son. This aggravated hostility provoked the King to destroy those murderers and to burn their city, in A.D. 70.
The reason why the city also was destroyed was that the populace in general took sides with their rulers in rejecting the call and in persecuting the messengers. The number of those who accepted the gospel was comparatively so few that they are not here noticed.
Upon Israel as such having scorned the call of grace the other class comes into view; the royal invitation goes out beyond them into all the world. As many as are found, bad as well as good, are gathered in. Let it be noted that, though all these when called are equally outside of the kingdom, yet even so God distinguishes as to their moral state; some are bad, some good. This made no difference as to their welcome, but justification apart from works ought not to be so preached as to give an impression that God does not mind whether men are moral or immoral (Acts 10: 34, 35).
It is to be observed that the picture as drawn does not take account of the vast majority of the countryside who could not have been reached by the servants with the invitation to the feast, and for whom it is not to be supposed there would have been space at the one feast. The unevangelized myriads are not here contemplated. That they miss the feast does not imply that they are treated like the rejectors and murderers.
THE COMING KINGDOM – A SPECIAL PRIVILEGE
When the Lord talked with Nicodemus (John 3) He spoke of the kingdom of God in its widest aspect and with eternity in view, for it was a life that is eternal which He offered through His coming death. In this parable the kingdom is presented under a limited aspect, that of an invitation to a special and privileged occasion of a temporary nature.
This same distinction can be seen in the teaching of the apostles. John repeats the Lord's assurances to all men that eternal life, with freedom from eternal judgment, is guaranteed to every believer (John 3: 35, 36; 5: 24; 10: 27, 29). He also recalls the Lord's pointed warning that the privilege of enjoying personal fellowship with Himself depends upon holiness of walk (John 13: 8). The one is a general benefit, the other a special privilege.
Paul declares to all men the present justification from all sins through faith (Acts 13: 38, 39). But to such as had accepted this message, he speaks of the kingdom of God and that the path into it involves many tribulations (Acts 14: 22). He states positively that we are justified on the principle of grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, and freely (without conditions attached, dorean, Rom. 3: 24); he is equally definite that sharing the glory of Christ is conditional upon sharing His sufferings (Rom. 8: 17; II Tim. 2: 11—13; etc.)
Peter is clear that our redemption has been effected by the blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1: 18, 19). He writes to those who have thus obtained a precious faith in the righteousness of God (2 Pet. 1: 1). Such have also been called unto God's eternal glory, which obviously is a special privilege and far higher than being accounted righteous before His law (1 Pet. 5: 10). But this calling and choice of God to share His glory the justified man must "make sure" by all diligence. As justified by faith he is in God's kingdom in its widest sense, but only by the "more diligence" will he gain a rich entrance into the kingdom in its eternal development.
Thus the message of God as proclaimed by Christ and the apostles contained a general offer to all men of life eternal, but included a call to special privilege. We take it that the marriage feast of the parable belongs to the special class of benefits, and is another instance of the feature that germinal sayings by Christ are the basis of apostolic teaching.
That this dual character of the message has been generally overlooked has impoverished preaching and weakened its appeal and warning. It has caused serious misapplication and misuse of our Lord's parables, with embarrassment to the theologian and perplexity to the general student and hearer.
It is not until the wedding is filled with guests that the King enters to see them. This carries on the foreview to the end of this age, when the marriage of the Lamb shall have come. The King is God the Father, for He it is Who arranges the feast for His Son.
As a guest can be cast out of the feast the scene is not laid in the realm of resurrection glory, for all who will share in the resurrection, the first, at this time, are to reign with Christ, and none of these can be cast out of the King's house and presence (Rev. 20: 4, 6). It would therefore seem that the marriage feast as here pictured is on earth and the guests are alive when the King comes in. As before remarked, this is a feature of all our Lord's parables. Those who heard the message, both accepters and rejectors, and had died, will be dealt with appropriately and on the same principles, but they are not introduced into the parable.
Have theologians pondered what is implied in this statement of God's Son that His Father will come in to see the guests? How can it have any sort of fulfillment if the Father is necessarily and eternally invisible, as theologians commonly affirm? The alternative will be that this feature of the parable, and the case of the man not suitably attired, have no meaning.
Few expressions have been treated with more laxity and liberty than this, though, seeing its solemnity, it should have received very exact study.
It cannot point to the world of the dead, Hades, for there Dives and Abraham could see one another. Nor can a lake burning with fire be a place of darkness, and moreover that most dreadful of all regions is visible to the eye, for its torment is "in the presence of" [under the eye of, enopion] holy angels and the Lamb (Rev. 14: 10; 19: 20; 20: 10).
With its too common inexactness the A.V. gives simply "outer darkness," ignoring the two definite articles of the Greek. The R.V. gives "the outer darkness." English does not readily allow "the darkness the outer" of the original language, which is a pity, because the repetition of the article throws emphasis upon the second noun: it is not just any darkness but darkness outside some region of light.
Only our Lord used the term; and only Matthew records it (Matt. 8: 12; 22: 13; 25: 30). Christ repeated the statement of Matthew 8: 12, as reported by Luke (13: 14-30), when "outer darkness" became simply "without." This somewhat reduces the severity of the thought. Nor is the change without significance. The region is simply outside some other region, contiguous to it.
On each occasion those cast into outer darkness weep and gnash their teeth. The only other place where this sign of grief and rage is mentioned is Matt. 13 42, 50, when the angel reapers cast the wicked into "the furnace of fire." This is not set by the Lord as at the final judgment, the great white throne, but at the "consummation of the age," that is, in connexion with the clearing of the wicked from off this earth when His millennial kingdom is about to be established.
But, as remarked above, darkness and flaming fire are incompatibles. Such impotent chagrin and rage can mark both spheres and therefore do not identify them. Moreover such distress is possible in this life, and does not require death to induce it: "I am faint and sore bruised: I have roared by reason of the disquietness of my heart...my groaning is not hid from Thee" (Ps. 38: 8, 9).
A too little considered feature of the three references to "outer darkness" is that each pictures a house of feasting. In Matt. 8 and Luke 13 Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are represented as reclining at table and others from all quarters joining them, while the "sons of the kingdom," those to whom the house and its pleasures more naturally belonged, see this feasting but are driven away from it into outer darkness.
In our present passage it is the same. The King comes in to see the guests, that is, into the banqueting hall. It is thence that the man is cast out.
In Matt. 25 the lord of the house has returned thither from his journey, which is to be celebrated as a time of joy, implying a feast; it is to share this joy of their lord that the faithful servants are welcomed, whereas the unfaithful man is cast into outer darkness. In the second instance the man is bound hand and foot.
This element of the one picture really gives the clue to the interpretation, when it is remembered that in the East such a festivity usually took place at night. Staying in a native quarter in Alexandria I was the other side of the road from a large Oriental mansion. One night the whole house was brilliantly lit, a blaze of light from every room, evidently for some special affair. By contrast the street outside and the garden around were in black darkness, and nothing further was required to correspond to the term "the darkness the outer," which term equals the darkness which is without, outside the house.
It were but an event to be expected that an Oriental despot, of royal or lesser rank, if offended with one of the slaves, should order that he be bound and thrown into the garden. There the unfortunate man, with the common Eastern emotionalism, would bewail the dark and the cold, and the danger from hungry dogs and jackals, and would gnash his teeth at being deprived of the pleasures forfeited.
This is the picture; and, whatever may be the reality, it is not the same as the enemies of the king being slain in public, as in the parable of the pounds (Luke 19: 27), nor as the tares, the very " sons of the Evil One," being cast into the furnace of fire, as in Matt.13. Such obviously distinct pictures must be viewed as distinct, and distinct meanings be sought. To blur the picture and confound the lessons can be only confusing and misleading, as has commonly been the case in the treatment of this parable.
In relation to things future and unseen, wisdom would lead each to say with the village idiot, when asked if he knew anything, "Some things I know, some things I don't know"—a much wiser state of mind than when a preacher speaks dogmatically on such a theme, as if he knows everything.
Of Hades, the Abyss, the "Lake of fire"—of these some definite knowledge is imparted, though much is left unrevealed. Of "the darkness which is outside" much less is revealed; and it is not for us to speculate, least of all to be positive.
It is outside the kingdom of heaven when pictured as the temporary festivity at the return of the lord of the house or as the wedding feast of the son of the house. It is marked by loss of liberty (bound hand and foot), by forfeiture of privilege (the "joy of the lord"), by decrease of knowledge (the pound withdrawn), by deprivation of service and reward ("have thou authority"). It will be healthful that these solemn elements weigh upon our minds and warn and stimulate, though where and how the realities they picture will be experienced may not be known.
In the interests of sound interpretation as well as of moral effect, it is vital to recognize that it is not utter strangers to God that are warned as to this outer darkness. No, it is "sons of the kingdom," those to whom by calling it naturally belonged; it is the "friend" who had accepted the invitation and taken his place; it is the personal slaves of the house, of the lord of the house, who are bidden to value their rich privileges lest they lose them and fall under his displeasure. The apostles regularly describe themselves as slaves.
It was "his own bondservants" to whom the lord of the house entrusted the talents. What relationship this term indicates is not questioned when it is used of the shepherd calling "his own" sheep and going before them (John 10: 3, 4). To avoid this meaning in the former case is to deal deceitfully with Scripture as well as with one's own soul and that of the hearer. The blessed Lord who loved and redeemed them, made it abundantly plain that one of His own servants may render himself obnoxious to this intensely solemn penalty of being bound and cast forth from the grand reality of the marriage supper, of the joy of the Lord. Nor is the spiritual reality at all unknown now. There are children of God, servants of Christ, who through misconduct have forfeited the once-enjoyed liberty of sons, no more share the joy of their lord, and are in distressing darkness of soul. Experimentally they are outside the kingdom of God, which is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14: 17).
But the very fact that this is possible to one of "His own" itself proves that the penalty cannot be eternal, for all such have eternal life and can never perish. No one grasping the illustration used would suppose that the unhappy slave would be left in the garden to starve to death, or that the dark night would last forever. Day would dawn, his bands would be loosed, life would be resumed, but he would have missed the joyous festival forever, for the wedding feast would never be repeated. That is to say, the special pleasures, honours, splendours which are to accompany the return of the Lord from heaven and the setting up of His kingdom at the consummation of this age, are to be a reward for fidelity, for righteous and dutiful conduct in His absence, and without this manner of life they may be forfeited.
Note. The verb used in Matt. 25: 21, 23, eis-erchomai, means either to come into or to go into. It offers here the picture of the lord and the servant being in a court or office where the reckoning takes place, and to the faithful slaves the lord of the mansion says, "Go into the inner banqueting hall," where the welcome home festivities will be held. This in sharp contrast to the command that the unfaithful slave shall be thrust in the opposite direction, outside the house into the darkness.
THE WEDDING GARMENT
What then is this indispensable garment? The answer is to be found by inquiring, for what is it indispensable? The answer is, for sharing a wedding feast. The common interpretation is that the garment points to that righteousness of God which is imputed by grace to the believer in Christ, by virtue of which he stands acquitted before the bar of God. But this at once, and wholly without warrant, changes the Lord's picture, and instead of a King, a royal palace, and a wedding feast it substitutes a Judge and a criminal court of law. It is as if one looking at Buckingham Palace thought he saw the Old Bailey, and supposed that a man evicted from the Palace was of course to be taken to Newgate to be hanged!
Now if we look at the passage in the Old Testament (Isa. 61:10) where righteousness is compared to a robe, we see that the connexion is not that of a criminal being accounted righteous but that of a bridegroom and bride decking themselves for the wedding, which is the counterpart of the parable. For here also it is not a question of a person escaping penalty in a court of law, but of being suitably attired for a wedding.
And if we look on to the passage in the New Testament (Rev. 19: 6-9) which deals with the marriage of the Lamb and the wedding feast to celebrate it, we find the following exact and full description of the attire of the Bride for that great day:
Let us rejoice and be exceeding glad, and let us give the glory unto Him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready. .And it was given unto her that she should array herself in fine linen, bright and pure: for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
It is here made very plain that the robe of the bride is not the righteousness of God, made available for the guilty by that one act of righteousness which the Son of God rendered on the cross (Rom. 5: 18); no, it is called specifically "the righteous acts of the saints." The word is plural (ta dikaiomata), and its meaning is fixed by its application to the many deeds of judgment which God will work at the End of this age: "Thy righteous acts have been made manifest" (Rev. 15:4). This practical righteousness, the habitual doing of righteous deeds, is the fine linen with which the bride is clothed for her marriage. She has herself woven the robe.
It is true that no one can so live who has not first had God's righteousness reckoned to him judicially; nor can even such a justified person live righteously save by the power supplied by God through His Holy Spirit. Therefore it is of grace through faith and obedience that the bride can weave her trousseau; but she must do this, or it will not be granted to her to array herself in the fine linen, for the linen will not be there. All Queen Esther's clothes and ornaments were made out of the king's treasures, but Esther had to put them on, or she would not have been fit to be presented to Ahasuerus.
It has been commonly supposed that the guests at the wedding of the parable were supplied with a suitable garment out of the monarch's store, such, we are told, being the general custom. But even if this be taken for granted, the fact is not altered that each guest had himself to put on his white robe. This does not correspond to the imputed righteousness that justifies. The sinner does not reckon this to himself; it is God that reckons it to the sinner's account.
Moreover, once that righteousness has been imputed, and the judicial standing of the sinner rectified, this reckoning is irreversible in law, nor can the justified be later ejected from that status. From that hour it becomes possible that the believer shall walk in practical righteousness, doing by the Spirit only right acts. Upon this habitual walk will depend his enjoyment of the privileges now open to him in Christ by faith. And if he does not thus array himself he may be denied that share in the wedding feast to which he has been called in Christ. This is common experience now. The disobedient believer ceases, while disobedient, to enjoy those firstfruits of the great harvest day which the Spirit imparts to the sanctified. If this "earnest" be forfeited how shall the inheritance be gained?
Obviously the principle here involved must apply to guests at least as much as to the bride. Thus the lesson of this parable is not how guilty sinners may escape eternal damnation, but how invited guests may gain or forfeit the kingdom of heaven viewed as a feast at the opening of the Millennial era. It illuminates and enforces our Lord's early instruction to His disciples concerning breaking or keeping even the least of God's commandments, and so teaching others; instruction emphasized by His explicit assurance: "For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of the heavens" (Matt. 5: 19, 20).
Convicted but resolute the Lord's adversaries resort to deceit and sophistry, but are exposed and baffled. The war of words ends and Jesus holds the held: "no one was able to answer Him a word, neither durst any man from that day ask Him any more questions." After most devastating denunciations of the hypocrites who had resisted the truth, and heartfelt lamentation over their now doomed city, the Lord of the temple abandoned it to them and to destruction, never more to enter it until He shall return in heavenly glory and be welcomed where He was rejected.