William Kelly Major Works Commentary
And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by parables, and said,Matthew Chapter 22
We are not positively informed that the parable of the marriage feast was uttered at this time. It is introduced in so general a manner that one could well conceive it the same as that which Luke, with more definite marks of time, presents in the fourteenth chapter of his Gospel. However this may have been, nothing can exceed the beautiful propriety of its occurrence here, as the sequel to the latter part of the previous chapter. For, as the vineyard sets forth the Lord's righteous claim from Israel, on the ground of what He had entrusted to them, so the wedding sets forth the new thing, and hence is a comparison of "the kingdom of heaven" - not now fruit sought as a debt due to God from man, but God displaying the resources of His own glory and love in honour of His Son, and man is invited to share. We have nothing properly here of the Church or assembly, but the kingdom. Consequently, though the parable goes beyond the Jewish economy, so elaborately treated in the preceding portion, and Christ's own personal presence on earth, it does not take in corporate privilege, but individual conduct, as variously affected by God's astonishing mercy, and this in view of and flowing from the place of Christ as glorified on high. The characteristic point is that it is an exposition, not of Israel's ways toward the Lord, but of the King's ways who would magnify His Son; though here, as before, unbelief and rebellion never fail to meet their just recompense. It had been proved that God could not trust man: would man now trust God, and come at His word, and be a partaker of His delight in His Son?
It is manifest that here we are no longer on Old Testament ground with its solemn prophetic warnings. "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding; and they would not come" (vers. 2, 3). Our Evangelist, true to the plan and design of the Holy Ghost, presents this striking picture after that of the Messiah's rejection. What would be the fresh intervention of God? and how received of man, especially of Israel? In Luke, I may mention by the way, the dispensational connection does not appear; but the Spirit gives rather a view of what God is to mankind generally, and even puts it as "a certain man" making a supper with unexampled generosity, not the "King" acting for the glory of "His Son." In both Gospels the parable represents, not righteous requirement as under the law, but the way in which grace goes out to the Jew first and also to the Gentile. He "sent forth His servants to call them that were bidden [Israel], but they would not come." The kingdom was not come, but announced, while the Lord was here below. "Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage" (ver. 4).
Mark the difference. On the first mission of the servants He did not say "All things are ready," but only on the second, when Christ meanwhile had died and risen, and the kingdom was actually established on His ascension. It is the Gospel of the kingdom after His work, as compared with the Gospel before it. The two messages are thus distinguished; the rejection of Christ and His death being the turning-point. Matthew alone gives us this striking difference; Luke at once begins, with equal propriety for his task, with "Come: for all things are now ready," dwelling, with details not found in Matthew, on the excuses made by the heart for despising the gospel.
The King was active, then, and His honour at stake in having a feast worthy of His Son. Not even the cross turned Him aside from His great purpose of having a people near Him and happy in honour of His Son. On the contrary, if grace works, as it does, the interrupted message is renewed with new and more urgent appeals to the invited; and now by other servants beyond the twelve and the seventy. So we have in the beginning of Acts (Acts 2 - 4) the special announcement to Israel as the children of the covenant - "To them that were bidden." The first sending out, then, was during the life of the Messiah to call the privileged people; afterwards, there was the second and specific testimony of grace to the same people when the work of redemption was done.
What was the effect? "They made light of it, and went their way, one to his farm, another to his merchandise." God was not in their thoughts, but a man's own field or his trade; and, alas, as God increases in the testimony of His grace, man grows bolder in his slight and opposition. "And the remnant took His servants and entreated them spitefully and slew them" (vers. 5, 6). This is what you find in measure in the Acts of the Apostles. The message is disregarded in the earlier chapters; in chapters 7 and 12, the servants are outraged and slain. The issue is then fore shown - judgment on the Jews and Jerusalem. "When the king heard thereof he was wroth; and he sent forth his armies and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city" (ver. 7). Who does not see in this the fate of the Jewish nation and the destruction of their city? This is not found in Luke: how suitable to Matthew, I need not point out.
But God will have His house filled with guests; and if those peculiarly favoured would not come, and incurred wrath to the uttermost, divine grace will not be thwarted by human wilfulness - evil must be overcome of good. "Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready; but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage" (vers. 8, 9). Here is an indiscriminate call to every soul by the gospel. "So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all, as many as they found, both bad and good; and the wedding was furnished with guests" (ver. 10). The gospel goes out to men as they are, and wherever received produces, by grace, that which is according to God, instead of demanding it. Hence all are welcome, bad and good - a dying thief or a woman that was a sinner, a Lydia or a Cornelius. The question was not their character, but the feast for the King's Son; and to this they were freely called. Grace, far from asking, gives fitness to stand before Him in peace.
Yes, there is produced a necessary, indispensable fitness. A wedding garment is due to the wedding-feast. This the King, of His own magnificent bounty, provided, and it was for each guest to wear it: who that honoured the King and the occasion would not? The servants did not look for such garments outside: they were not worn on the highways, but within at the wedding. Nor was it the point for the guests to appear in their best. It was the King's affair to give. Come who might, there was enough and to spare; "all things were ready."
This is the great essential truth of the gospel. So far from looking for anything in man agreeable to God, the glad tidings come on His part on the express ground that all is ruined, wretched, guilty, on the sinner's part. "Let him that is athirst come; yea, whosoever will."
But where the heart is not right with God, it never submits to His righteousness; man, in this case, prefers to stand on his own foundation. Either he thinks he can raise a claim on God by being or doing something, or he ventures. within, careless both of himself and God. Such was the man whom the king finds without the wedding-garment. It was despising the holiness as well as the grace of God, and proved that he was utterly a stranger to the feast. What did he think of, or care for, the feelings of the King bent upon the glorifying of His Son? For this is the true and real secret: God lavishes mercy on sinners for the sake of His Son. Opportunity is thus given to put honour on His name. Does my soul bow to it and Him? - it is salvation. The heart may go through much exercise, but the only key to His astonishing goodness to us is God's feeling toward His Son. If I may venture so to speak, the Lord Jesus has put the Father under obligation so to act. He has so lived and died to glorify God at all cost, that God (I say it reverently) is bound to show this grace, show what He is, on account of His Son. Hence that remarkable expression in Paul's epistles, "The righteousness of God." It is no longer man's righteousness sought by the law, but God righteous in justifying such as have faith in His Son, when man has been proved to have utterly and in every way failed. Because of the infinite value of the Cross, God loves to put honour on Christ; and if a soul but plead His name, it becomes a question of God's righteousness in justifying him freely, of His grace, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.
Strikingly is the truth shown by the King's dealing with the Christ-despising intruder! "And when the king came to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding-garment" (ver. 11). This was the ground of immediate action. No question was started of what the man had been or done. The servants had been commissioned to bring in the bad as well as the good. "Such were some of you," says the apostle. Indeed, this man may have been the most correct, moral, and religious of the company, like the young ruler who left the Lord in sorrow. But, whether he were a degraded sinner or a self-righteous soul, one thing is certain - he had not on a wedding-garment. This at once arrested the King's eye. This man was setting at naught the King's grace - it was openly dishonouring His Son.
The wedding-garment is Christ. This guest therefore came before the King without Christ. He had not put on Christ! Whatever the pretence, it was all and only himself, not Christ, and that is everlasting ruin and condemnation to a sinner. Whereas, the very chief of sinners that accepts Christ as his sole confidence to stand before God, thereby justifies and exalts Him and His grace. It is as a man broken down in thoughts of himself, looking up and saying, I cannot trust what I have been nor even what I desire to be, but I can trust what Thou art to me in the gift of Thy Son. And such confidence in God produces deep loathing of self, real uprightness of soul, as well as true desire to do the will of God. But this man knew not, believed not, that nothing from earth suits the divine presence - only what is purchased by the precious blood of Jesus. He had no sense of the grace which invited him, nor of the holiness that befits the presence of God. The King accordingly says to him, "Friend, how camest thou in hither, not having a wedding-garment? And he was speechless" (ver. 12). He was in spirit and before God entirely outside the feast; else he would have felt the absolute need of an array in keeping with the King's joy and the Son's bridals. And judgment cast him out of that scene for which he had no heart - cast him out where the unbelieving, in hopeless wretchedness and self-reproach, must honour the Son. It is not merely governmental vengeance, such as that which providentially slew the murderers and fired their city, but final judgment on him who spurned grace by presuming to draw near to God without putting on Christ. "Then said the King to the servants (not the bondmen of verses 3, 4, etc.), Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into the outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Was this solemn sentence rare because one man only exemplifies it? Nay, verily; 'for many are called, but few are chosen" (vers. 13, 14).
Thus terminated the double trial of the nation; first, on the ground of their responsibility as under the law, and next, as tested by the message of grace. The rest of the chapter judges in detail all ',he various classes in Israel who successively sought to judge and ensnare the Lord, bringing into relief their position, and winding up all with a question which they could not answer without understanding His position and withal His glorious Person.
"Then went the Pharisees and took counsel how they might entangle Him in His talk. And they sent out unto Him their disciples with the Herodians." What an alliance! The Pharisees (partisans of strict Judaism and the law) and the Herodians (the political time-servers of that day, whom the former hated cordially), join in flattering Jesus to ensnare Him by the question of Jewish title against the Gentile. Would He, the Messiah, gainsay the hopes and exalted privileges of Israel as a nation? If not, how escape the charge of treason against Caesar? Diabolical craft was there, but divine wisdom brings in the just balance of truth as to God and human authority, and the difficulty vanishes. It was the rebellion of the Jews against Jehovah which gave occasion to His subjecting them to their heathen lords. Were they humbled because of it, and seeking the resources of God's grace? Nay, but proud and boastful; and their conflicting parties at this very time uniting in deadly opposition to God, plotting against their own, and His, Messiah. "Tell us, therefore: what thinkest Thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness and said, Why tempt ye Me, ye hypocrites? Show Me the tribute money" (vers. 17-19). They brought a denarius, and owned to Caesar's image and superscription upon it, and heard the sentence of Wisdom: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." Had the Jews honoured Him, they had never been in bondage to Gentile dominion; but now, being so through their own sin and folly, they were bound to accept their humiliation. Neither Pharisee nor Herodian felt the sin; and if one felt the shame which the other gloried in, the Lord, while forcing them to face the real position to which their iniquity had reduced them, pointed out that which, if they heeded it, would be the speedy harbinger of a divine deliverance.
"The same day came to Him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked Him, saying, Moses said," etc. (vers. 23-33). Thus unbelief is as false and dishonest as pretended human righteousness. If the Pharisees could be in league with Herodians and affect loyalty to Caesar so could the sceptic Sadducees plead Moses, as if the inspired word had plenary authority over their conscience! But the Lord, as He laid bare the hypocrisy of those who stood high as religionists, equally detected what the sceptic never suspects, that their difficulties flow not only from overlooking the power of God, but from downright ignorance - whatever maybe their self-conceit. "Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God." Faith, on the contrary, sees clearly, just as it counts on God according to the revelation of Himself in the Word.
The Lord not only shows their sophism to be sheer misapprehension of the resurrection-state, but proves (and that from Moses too, without going further) that the resurrection of the dead is an essential part of God's purpose and truth. An additional statement is given in Luke as to the intermediate living of the separate spirit. But in our Gospel the one point is that the dead rise, because God declared Himself to be the God of the fathers even after their death; and confessedly He is not the God of the dead (the extinct, as the Sadducees thought), but of the living. If He were their God in their state when He spoke to Moses, He must be the God of the dead, which the Sadducees had been the first to deny. It was the more important so to reveal Himself to Moses, through whom the system of the law was given, and to which the Sadducees pretended to adhere.
But if the Pharisees retired with wonder, they were far from subdued; and, indeed, they bestir themselves afresh when their sceptical rivals were put to silence. They assemble together; then a lawyer "tempts" Him, only to elicit a perfect summary of practical righteousness. They talked and tempted: Jesus was the expression of all the perfectness of law and prophets; and far, far more - the image of God Himself in grace as well as righteousness here below: not as Adam, who rebelled against God - not as Cain, who loved not his neighbour, but slew his brother (vers. 34-40).
And now it belonged to the Lord to ask them the question of questions, not only for a Pharisee, but for any soul: "What think ye of Christ? Whose son is He?" He was David's son - most true. But was this truth the whole truth? "How then does David in spirit call him Lord, saying, Jehovah
said unto my Lord?" etc. How was He both David's Son and David's Lord? It was the key to all Scripture - the way, the truth, the life - the explanation of His position, the only hope for theirs. But they were dumb. They knew nothing, and could answer nothing. "Neither durst any man from that day forth ask Him any more questions."
The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son,
And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come.
Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage.
But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise:
And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them.
But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.
Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy.
Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage.
So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests.
And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment:
And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless.
Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
For many are called, but few are chosen.
Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.
And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.
Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?
But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?
Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny.
And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?
They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.
When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.
The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked him,
Saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.
Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother:
Likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh.
And last of all the woman died also.
Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her.
Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.
For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.
But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying,
I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.
And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at his doctrine.
But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together.
Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,
Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them,
Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The Son of David.
He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying,
The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool?
If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?
And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.