Heard the one about Jesus’ wedding?
Matthew 22:1-7 (my translation, compare NIV)
1 Jesus’ reply in parables continued with this one:
2 “The kingdom of heaven could be compared to a human king who arranged a wedding for his son. 3 He sent out his servants to call the ones he had called to the wedding, but they didn’t want to come.
4 Again, he sent out other servants, ‘Tell the ones who have been called, “Look, I have prepared my meal, killed the beef and prime meats, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding.”’
5 Taking no notice, his guests went off to do their own thing, working in their own field, trading in their business. 6 The remaining guests captured his servants, mistreated them, and killed them.
7 The king was enraged, commanding his troops to destroy those murderers and burn their city.”
Many worry about things going wrong at their wedding, but surely this takes the cake as the most problematic ever. A festive celebration descends into a fiery conflagration, as the honoured guests reject the king’s call, demean his son, and murder his servants. Macabre! How is this a picture of the kingdom of God?
To make sense of it, we’ll need to see the question Jesus is addressing, and what a royal wedding represented in Jewish culture.
The narrative context
This is Jesus’ third response to Jerusalem’s leaders questioning his authority. “By what authority do you do these things?” they asked (21:23) — things like symbolically overturning their authority by overturning the temple (21:12-17).
Jesus responds to this challenge without argument or aggression, with stories:
- In the first, the obedient son challenges those who feign obedience but don’t follow him, calling them to catch up to the lowlife he’s leading into kingdom life (21:28-32).
- In the second, the vineyard tenants murder the son to keep the inheritance (21:33-46).
- In the third, the king is displeased with his chosen people who demean his son by refusing to celebrate his special day (22:1-14).
If someone answers your question with three stories, make sure you get the third one: it’s the clincher.
The cultural context
How would Jesus’ audience have understood his story of a royal wedding? Among the Psalms are several royal ones (about the king). One of them bears the title, A wedding song (Psalm 45). It celebrates the Davidic prince: honoured as the most excellent human (45:2), recognized as holding God’s throne on earth (45:6). The poet celebrates the groom (45:7-8), and the bride who is entering into his life and majesty (45:9-15). The wedding is full of promise — the hope that through the anointed and his bride the nations will give honour to their true sovereign forever (45:16-17).
That’s how a royal wedding should play out. In a sense, it’s like the other big day in a king’s life, his coronation, the day when king and people are united with vows of faith and fidelity for life.
As Jesus rode into Jerusalem to the acclamation of the crowds, it was the culmination of all that earth’s heavenly sovereign had been preparing for his son. His wedding with the people of earth brings us under divine kingship. Our prince was to be crowned with all authority, in heaven and on earth. With thousands of years of divine planning, a project dating back before Abraham, the wedding of heaven and earth was all prepared.
As he rode into the capital, people welcomed him as their king, casting festal branches on his path, acclaiming the son of David arriving in the name of the Lord, placing their trust in him to save them (Hosanna).
Bringing down the king’s son
But Jerusalem had the same problem as the rest of the world. Those in control of God’s house were no different to the house of Herod who tried to silence God’s voice by killing John the Baptist. John wasn’t the first prophet to suffer: the Jerusalem leadership had a history of abusing God’s servants, at times even killing his prophets.
So, what will they do to God’s son as he comes to Jerusalem for his coronation, for his wedding with the people of God? They’d prefer to kill God’s son rather than yield to him — just like their Roman overlords. That’s the sin of the world against its true sovereign.
Raising up the king’s son
What sets Jesus apart from every other ruler is his reaction. The son doesn’t react with revenge against the honoured guests who dishonour him. He leaves it to his Father in heaven to sort out. He gives more detail in the coming chapters: the temple will be destroyed (24:2); the city will fall because God decreed it (Luke 21:20-21). That’s the inevitable result for the rebels, since God decreed the earth will be under the dominion of his son.
In the days of Israel’s monarchy, when a new son of David became king of Judah, he repeated the promise God had given to David:
Psalm 2:7–8 (NIV)
7 I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:
He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father.
8 Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.”
He who is king by his Father’s decree need not take revenge against the leaders of Jerusalem. They will have his Father to answer to.
Jesus believed that his Father knew how to save his Son from these murderers and give him kingship over the earth. Even if he sank into death with his people, crushed by the world’s sinful rejection of his Father’s authority after all he had done to prepare this moment, the Son would be raised up out of death.
And the people of the earth would rise up with him, in him, united with him — the bride of the prince of heaven, sharing in his life and majesty by divine decree.
This might be the most majestic kingdom parable Jesus ever gave. This is the hope of the gospel, the good news of God’s kingdom restored to earth through the people who share in the life and reign of his Son.
What others are saying
Samuel Lamerson, Did Jesus Have a Sense of Humor? (Logos, 2020):
In the parable of the wedding feast (Matt 22:1–10), the king throws a banquet in his son’s honor. It’s the social event of the year. Servants are dispatched carrying invitations to all the VIPs. The powerful. The socially connected. The “in” crowd. The kind of people who know how to dress and how to act at a royal banquet.
But the glitterati—the Pharisees with their clean robes and punctilious manners, the scribes with their jots and tittles all in a row—simply can’t be bothered to attend.
What’s a king to do? Fed up with those who think they’re too good to come, he decides to invite other guests. He sends his servants out to round up the religiously and politically incorrect. The powerless. The socially disenfranchised. The “out” crowd. The kind of people who hang out on the street late at night.
Imagine a royal wedding feast filled with homeless people. Scandalous! This is a comedic break in expectation, exaggerated to drive the punchline home: The outsiders have become the insiders. And if you’re one of the insiders, the joke’s on you.