Difficult Bible Passages: Matthew 22:11-14

This text is problematic for some because of its seeming harshness and lack of love. In a parable of Jesus a wedding guest comes, but is sternly rebuked for not appearing properly attired, and is kicked out of the wedding. In fact he is sent to a place of stern judgment.

This passage comes from a wedding feast parable of Jesus, and care must be taken in seeking to interpret and explain it. Another account of the parable of the great banquet is found in Luke 14:15-24, but it does not include the bit about the wrongly-dressed guest, so I will just deal with the version of events as recorded in Matthew’s gospel.

The entire parable, found in Matthew 22:1-14, goes like this:

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’ But they paid no attention and went off–one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

We are not left in doubt as to the main message of the parable. Jesus supplies it for us in v. 14: many are called but few are chosen. Jesus is nearing his final confrontation with the religious authorities, and they have been increasingly recalcitrant and resistant to his appeals.

This in fact is the last of three parables clumped together. The first is the Parable of the Two Sons (Matt 21:28-32) and the second is the Parable of the Tenants (Matt 21:33-46). These also were aimed at the religious establishment, as vv. 45-46 make clear: “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.”

So the religious leaders are especially in view here, but others are included as well. The kingdom is open to all who will come, but not all want it. The call goes out, but many refuse the invitation. But let’s go back to the inappropriately dressed wedding guest.

Either he did not take the clothing the king provided for the event, or he did not bother to change into something appropriate for this important occasion. Either way, he showed great disrespect to the king, his son, and the other guests. This was quite insulting to the king and provoked his wrath.

As Craig Keener remarks, “For the king graciously to extend the honor of an invitation to a banquet and be rebuffed as if his benefaction were meaningless was a traumatic breach of the social order.” This applied to both those who refused to come and those who came lacking the proper clothing.

Says Keener, “Matthew leaves no doubt as to the interpretation: the wedding garment signifies repentance (3:2; 4:17). Just as most of the Jewish leaders were unprepared at Jesus’ first coming (cf. 23:13-33), some professing disciples of Jesus will be unprepared at his second (24:45-51).”

God the Father calls us to attend the great wedding event, to partake of his kingdom. Many refuse the invitation, while others accept it, but inappropriately and without due seriousness. Not just religious leaders but all those who profess to be God’s people need to take this parable seriously.

As Michael Wilkins comments, “This once again points to the accountability of everyone’s response to Jesus’ invitation to the kingdom of heaven. The privileged leaders are judged for rejecting the invitation (22:7), and the populace of Israel, who are also privileged to be the children of God, will be judged for their response to the kingdom. But even Jesus’ professing disciples, such as Judas (called ‘friend’ in 26:50), are culpable for what they ultimately do with the invitation. Not all who respond do so from the heart. This is the point of all three parables of judgment.”

While our salvation is the free gift of God, it does not come without any requirements on our part. True repentance is one of the conditions of entering into the kingdom. Once again, we find no cheap grace in the teachings of Jesus. Following him is always seen as something costly and all-embracing.

R. T. France puts it this way: “The symbolism is of someone who presumes on the free offer of salvation by assuming that therefore there are no obligations attached, someone whose life belies their profession: faith without works. Entry to the kingdom of heaven may be free, but to continue in it carries conditions. Even though this man belongs to the new group of invitees, he is one who produces no fruit, and so is no less liable to forfeit his new-found privilege than those who were excluded before him.”

We have to be careful that we don’t act like gate-crashers, as this man did. We dare not presume upon the grace of God. We dare not become complacent and indifferent to the king’s generosity. We dare not forget that the life of the disciple of Christ is characterised by repentance and obedience, not recklessness and indifference.

John Nolland offers a nice summary of the parable as a whole: “If the first part of the parable has to do with the decisive exclusion and replacement of those who fail to honour the summons when the wedding feast is ready, the second part of the parable has to do with the impossibility of coming to the wedding feast on one’s own terms. It is addressed to those who are confident that they have a place in the coming eschatological banquet.”

The strong language used by the king is of course quite common terminology found in the gospels, and so often used by Jesus about the fate of the lost. Hell is real, and many are going there. We all must make a sober assessment of our spiritual condition.

Many are called, but few are chosen. Sobering words indeed.

[1202 words]

27 Replies to “Difficult Bible Passages: Matthew 22:11-14”

  1. Thanks Bill. Words like these are lost from the lips of many men of God today. Much of the Christian world is walking backwards morally. The only agent of change is the truth of God’s word which must be told just as it is. Thanks again, Bill.
    Michael Ntanu

  2. Thanks for the article Bill, cheap (false) grace is on sale everywhere today, people run to and fro to gather sinners who refuse to walk in the Word and yet claim our faith. They whisper sweet lies into each others ears puffing each other up as they travel the road to hell together deceiving and being deceived. Their turning from the holy command and stopping their ears at His Word will see their damnation swift and just. A remnant will continue and rise however, but there is yet to be a great civil war within that which is called Christianity, as God defines the line in the sand, choices will be made as to which side everyone is on.

    Dorian Ballard

  3. Thanks for the explanation and revelation of the word. May our Lord keep you safe.

  4. Thank you so much, you explained it so well. I now understand what that passage means that has always baffled me. God bless.

  5. The blood of Jesus covering the sinner (and his sins) is the only true wedding garment; i.e, to be clothed in Jesus’ righteousness is the only way anyone can be saved. The Lord Jesus Christ knows those who are His; after all, His Father chose them before the foundation of the world.

  6. Part of my bible study this morning, and I was glad to come upon this commentary. Thanks.

  7. Such a “hard pill to swallow” ..It reminds you how crucial it is to be busy doing the Father’s work, that of our Heavenly Father and dying to self in sweet surrender. We must pray daily for salvation of our loved ones…it is such sorrow to realize those we may love, who have allowed the darkness to take over & still fool themselves into thinking they have a secured place with our Heavenly Father, are in such grave danger of perishing (their soul bc of the lack of humbling themselves to surrender the desires of the flesh).

  8. Bill,
    Thank you so much for this clear teaching.
    Grace and peace,

  9. I just finished read Matt 22:1-14 as part of my 40 Days of Lent Bible study plan on my Youversion Bible app. In the “Talk it Over” section where I was asked “What is one thing God is saying to you?”, i asked myself: “Do I have the wedding Garment?; What is the required Wedding Garment Christ the King expects of me?”

    In meditating on these scripture and trying to find the answers to these questions I found this page on the internet. It’s amazing to know that this explanation was provided in 2013 and it is still answering to our searches in 2018.

    Thanks Bill Muehlenberg for making out time to comment on this ‘Difficult Bible Passage’. Your commentary indeed has made it simple. May God bless you and all who continue to seek 1st the Kingdom.

  10. Believe in Him who is faithful (Jesus). Love God with all your heart your soul and your mind. Love your neighbor as yourself. Have a relationship with Jesus. Read your Bible, pray, have church (where two or more are gathered). John 1:14 The word (Jesus), became flesh. Be a light for all to see. Plant seeds for Father to water. GLORY to God. Amen.

  11. Thank you so much for this exposition. Before now I was angry with the king for throwing the guest out for improper dressing without knowing the reason why.
    Now it is dawned on me that his garment was not washed with the blood of the Lamb, meaning that he believed in being self-righteous. Like the Pharisees, there was no true repentance. It goes to many born again Christians who have not been converted. You must bear fruits of repentance. Your light must so shine that the world must see it and give glory to God.
    Thank you once more.

  12. Loved that the wedding garment is provided and represents repentance to put it on. Our response to the invitation must bring about “change”. Thank you this was so helpful.

  13. Thank you for your explaining the wedding garment. It was well written and so enlightening.

  14. Could the wedding garment be a reference to the covering of righteousness which we put on by faith in Christ finished work?

  15. Greetings!

    I happened to find your site while searching for discussion topics for our adult Bible study group.
    I find the commentary interesting and useful. I will be sending your link out to others.
    Amid all the frustration, political correctness and anti-Christian current today, I just have to remember God is in charge; I know He will win.
    God bless!


  16. Thank you, your clear commentary makes this passage easier to understand. One other thing that helped me was to learn that in the culture of that day the Kings provided garment to all the guests that were free, and appropriate for their wedding celebration. So this person had a garment available and refused to put it on. (Before I learned that I thought, “well maybe they couldn’t afford the garment.”) God always provides the means of Grace free to each of us, out of Love. By “wearing” it we say thank you for the gift; and help others to recognize our loving relational God.

  17. Thank you so much for your thoughts on this passage of scripture. Before now I wondered why the king threw the guest out for improper dressing without understanding the reason why.
    Now I realise that his garment was not washed with the blood of the Lamb, meaning that he believed in being self-righteous. Your explanation here has really helped me to understand.

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