Some thoughts on the Messianic banquet:
We all like to eat. And most of us enjoy dining in community. The Bible actually speaks quite often about food, about eating, about feasts, and about dining with others. Both Testaments speak to these things repeatedly. Tasting, eating and feasting is just one set of some of the more common but good gifts God has given to all of us.
Another such gift would be human sexuality. But both of course are regularly abused. We have all sorts of sexual perversions and sins when it comes to sexuality, and we have sins like gluttony when it comes to eating. But they are meant to be part of who we are as part of God’s good creation, and they are some of the great blessings we receive from God.
Let me speak to eating and feasting. Enjoying food, especially with friends and loved ones, is a delightful experience. We speak of table fellowship and the like. The communal aspect of this is now blunted because of corona clampdowns, but in normal times, we certainly enjoy eating and drinking together with others.
But there is even more to it than just our normal enjoyment in eating meals with one another. There are also great theological themes that run throughout Scripture concerning eating. One of them we refer to as the messianic feast or the messianic banquet. It refers to a time of great banqueting, blessing and fellowship in the age to come.
Yes, much of this is spoken of metaphorically, but it does nonetheless refer to a time of richness and blessing in the days ahead – even physical blessings. The prophets speak to this often. Here are a few examples from Isaiah:
Isaiah 25:6-9 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
This is the Lord; we have waited for him;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
Isaiah 65:13-14 Therefore thus says the Lord God:
“Behold, my servants shall eat,
but you shall be hungry;
behold, my servants shall drink,
but you shall be thirsty;
behold, my servants shall rejoice,
but you shall be put to shame;
behold, my servants shall sing for gladness of heart,
but you shall cry out for pain of heart
and shall wail for breaking of spirit.”
And the gospels also speak to this often. Matthew especially offers us a number of such passages. Here are some of them:
Matthew 8:11-12 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 22:1-14 The parable of the wedding banquet
Matthew 25:10 But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
Matthew 26:29 I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.
That final passage, dealing with the Last Supper, looks backward and looks forward. It looks back to texts like Exodus 24. Ex. 24:11 speaks of Moses and others renewing the covenant, and how they “beheld God, and ate and drank.” Ex. 24:8 speaks of “the blood of the covenant” and it ties in with the New Covenant Jesus shared with the disciples. As Jesus said in Matt. 26:28, “for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” And it also looks ahead, being an anticipation of the messianic banquet.
Many more such texts could be offered here, but let me simply provide some comments on the Isaiah 25 passage which I presented above. In his 2005 volume, Contagious Holiness: Jesus’ Meals with Sinners, Craig Blomberg said this about the passage:
Probably the most important kind of meal depicted in the prophets is that which eventually developed into the concept of the Messianic banquet. . . . It is not until Isaiah 25:6-9 that this vision is presented in all its splendor. By common agreement, this is the single most influential passage for the development in both Second temple Judaism and early Christianity of the idea of a Messianic banquet. . . . Within this chapter itself, no royal or messianic figure appears separate from Yahweh himself, so it is perhaps better to label this simply ‘the eschatological banquet’.
John Oswalt offers a bit of the historical and cultural background here:
The inaugural banquet seems to have been customary in the Near East when a king was crowned. It was a time when the king bestowed favors and sought to establish a favorable tone for his reign. That seems to be the picture here. The subjects come from all over the world (2:2) to the mountain of the Lord (24:23; 2:2, 3; 4:5; 11:9; 65:25). There they receive the gifts which only God can bestow: the destruction of death and the removal of the sorrow which accompanies it. This is the key to the richness of the feast—it is the food and drink of life (John 4:13–14; 6:35, 58; 7:37–38).
Alec Motyer says this about the text:
Isaiah looks back to the covenant banquet of Exodus 24:11. Moses had promised the people that their exclusion from the holy mountain was temporary (Ex. 19:11), but the ascent by all Israel was never a practical option and the meal was enjoyed by the elders as representative of the whole. But on the true Zion (cf. Heb. 12:22-24) there is no element of representation; all come, all participate. These verses are the counterpart of 2:2-4. The nations gather neither to make offerings nor to serve (cf. 60:9-10) but to enjoy what the Lord has provided: the covenant sealed in the banquet. The contrast with the related passage (21:13-17) cannot but be deliberate: beset Gentiles needing the meager succor of bread and water are compared with all peoples and all nations at the Lord’s feast, without money and without price.
We get further helpful commentary from Gary Smith who writes:
The banquet is a joyous celebration of God’s rule by people from around the world. This gathering is not just the twelve tribes or a small remnant of Hebrews; it will include Hebrews ad Gentiles from every tribe and nation on the face of the globe. . . . This wonderful feast is very similar to what the Psalmist envisions when God finally rules the earth in Ps 22:25-31. This picture of blessing, fruitfulness, and prosperity presents a stark contrast with the desolation, withering, death, ruin and curse on the earth in chap. 24.
All of God’s people should long for this great age to come – not just because we might like eating and feasting, but because of the wonderful reversal of the curse, and the making of all things new. Raymond Ortlund tries to capture what all this might be like for those who await Christ’s appearance:
God offers everyone a place at his eternal banquet table, and all peoples will be represented. He serves nothing but the best. There is nothing here to disappoint, nothing the human heart doesn’t relish. But the feast will be held “on this mountain,” referring to Mount Zion (24:23). It does not belong to the city of man. God’s people had to wait all their lives to sit at this table, but it was worth the wait. This is the banquet of true salvation. All the guests are happy and nothing can ever make them sad again.
How can we find our way there? The gospel says that we can come even now through Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:22-24). This party is open to one and all, but there is only one location. If you will enter in through God’s appointed way, he will reserve a place for you, whoever you are.
The banquet God is preparing is so rich, Isaiah is forced to heap terms upon terms to describe it. So do not think of life in the city of God as dreary. Do not think you have to sacrifice anything to gain Christ. We do say goodbye to the world’s drunken binge (24:7-9). But as the hymn-writer put it, “The hill of Zion yields a thousand sacred sweets.” The gospel leaves no room for self-pity; the future promised is too generous for that. Even Jesus is looking forward to this banquet. The night he instituted his supper, he said, “I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29). That is when he will lift the gloom that now hangs over all human experience, he will swallow up death forever, he will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and we will be so glad finally to be saved by him (Isaiah 25:7-9).
Hallelujah! That is glorious news indeed.