When we speculate about what heaven will be like, we mention a variety of things we hope we will get to experience. Many questions may remain unanswered for now, but the Bible also gives us some definite information about what it will be like. For example, God prophesied through Isaiah that one day he would “prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines” (Isaiah 25:6). Though not everything about this prophecy is clear, it sure sounds like we will get to experience one of the things most of us really enjoy—feasting!
People in New Testament times, too, looked forward to a feast in the fulfilled kingdom of God (Luke 14:15), and Jesus himself refers to such a banquet (Matthew 25:10; Luke 13:29). He also told two parables about banquets that indicate a great feast is coming (Matthew 22:1-14; Luke 14:16-24). As we seek to better understand the kingdom of God, we’ll explore first the similarities and then the differences in these two banquet parables.
In both parables certain people were invited to a banquet and then notified that it was ready and time to come. According to the customs of the day, one would invite people to a banquet well ahead of time and they would accept. Then, when it was time for the banquet, the guests would be notified. A careful reading of the parables shows this two-pronged approach. Luke’s account separates the invitation and the solicitation to come (14:16, 17), and Matthew mentions the king sending his servants to notify those who “had been” (previously) invited (Matthew 22:3).
In both parables, when the people who had agreed to come were told that it was time to come, they made excuses. This is surprising to begin with. Why miss out on an opportunity to attend a feast hosted by a person of standing! It’s all the more shocking that they would refuse to come after previously saying they would. This would mean not only that the host would waste food and money, but even worse, it would dishonor him. What’s more, the excuses they made were not very substantial. If someone bought a field or oxen, they would have checked them out thoroughly before actually purchasing them. The marriage excuse cannot refer to the actual wedding, because no one would have scheduled a banquet when a(nother) wedding was taking place. For all these reasons, then, the host in both parables was angry (Matthew 22:7; Luke 14:21), and in both the ones who refused to come paid a price.
After this, others were summoned to the feast in place of those originally invited. Luke’s account says the master wanted his house to be full (Luke 14:23), and Matthew’s states that it indeed was (22:10).
It seems clear that the basic meaning of both parables is that God had invited the Jews to be his people and that they had accepted his offer. Over time, however, they stopped listening to God and responding to him, so they lost their special relationship with him. Others were invited to take their place. There is a sober warning here for all of us who have embraced God. Though God freely and graciously invites us into his kingdom, he also expects us to respect and listen to him. Yet hard-heartedness is a real danger even (especially?) among well-intentioned religious people. If we stop listening to God, he will reject us and others will take our place.
The unique features in the parables indicate some additional truths we should consider.
The primary unique feature in Luke is that the master twice sent his servants out to find replacement guests for those who refused to come. The first time the master ordered his servant to go out and bring in “the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” (14:21). Normally, a host would invite people of status in the community to a banquet, not those mentioned here. Yet Scripture is clear that the “nobodies” or “little people” in society are often more open to God than others (Matthew 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 1:26-29; James 2:5; cf. Mark 12:37). Luke emphasizes more than the other Gospels that such people are welcome to God (cf. 4:18; 6:20; 7:22; also 14:13 where the exact same four kinds of people are listed). We need to remember this any time we may feel we are the “little people” but also when we are not. In that case, we must make sure we don’t avoid inviting the “little people” people into God’s kingdom. They are precious to God.
The second time the master commissions his servants, he sends them out to “the roads and country lanes” (14:23). This appears to be a reference to bringing in the Gentiles, another important theme of Luke in his Gospel and in Acts. These two sendings of the servants underscore the overall message of both of the parables, that the “insiders” must not take God for granted or they will lose their place. The two sendings also indicate some of the kinds of people that will be. Even if we do maintain humble, obedient hearts, this unique feature of the parable in Luke reminds us that God’s kingdom is for the “nobodies” in society as well as those of other race and ethnicity. God’s kingdom is not just for “us,” whoever the us may be.
Matthew’s parable has some unique features as well. One is that he records not only that the king was angry with those who made excuses but also that he sent his army, destroyed “those murderers” (they had killed his servants) and burned their city. This is a clear reference to God using the Romans to discipline the Jews by destroying and burning Jerusalem in AD 70.
Matthew also makes a point about one of the newly invited guests who showed up without a wedding garment. In some cases wedding garments were provided by the host. In that case this part of the parable would be a warning against refusing God’s gracious gift of righteousness. Others say the emphasis is on the man’s responsibility to be thankful for his invitation and show respect by preparing himself as well as he could for the banquet. In that case it would be an encouragement for us to live righteous lives and a warning not to disregard or disobey the king as the original invitees had done. Even though we are saved by grace and our own righteousness will always fall short, we are nevertheless called to live right and, if we do not do so, we will not enter the kingdom (Matthew 7:21; Mark 9:47; Galatians 5:19-21). The parable itself does not indicate whether the reference is to God’s gift of righteousness or our responsibility to live righteously, but both are true and both need to be heard. (If you’re like me you may need to guard against saying it definitely refers to whichever of those two themes you most like to emphasize!)
This inappropriately dressed man’s fate is described as being tied up, thrown outside into the darkness, where there would be great suffering (22:13). Like the fate of those who initially refused to come to the banquet, this shows that God is not to be trifled with. While the feast itself shows the joy of God’s fulfilled kingdom, there is also a very clear note of condemnation for those who defy God. Jesus told more parables with a theme of judgment than we may realize, so we need to consider it regardless of whether we like it or whether it’s popular.
Parables of judgment will be the theme next week in our final post of this series. But for this week, What is your take-away from these two parables of banquets? What do you imagine it will be like to feast with the Lord and his people in heaven? And how will you live differently this week in light of your take-away from these parables?