In Luke 22:1-14 Jesus tells the chief priests and the pharisees the parable of the Marriage Feast. This parable is both difficult and informative, telling the reader/hearer much about the kingdom of heaven.
We know that Jesus is speaking about the kingdom of heaven in this parable because He explicitly says so in v. 2: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son." In keeping with the nature of parables, it is critical to keep in mind the original audience in order to best understand the points of reference in the parable. Although the story being told is fictional, it communicates truth about the kingdom of heaven and should evoke a response in the hearers (much like a joke elicits a laugh ... at least a good one does!). So far, we have two characters in view: The King and his son. These characters can be identified as God the Father and God the Son (Jesus).
Jesus continues: And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. Again he sent out other slaves saying, "Tell those who have been invited, 'Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.'" But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them (vv. 3-6).
We see that the king (God the Father) sends his slaves (prophets) to invite guests (the Jews, God's chosen people) to the wedding feast (the kingdom of heaven). However, instead of accepting the invitation these invitees are "unwilling to come." The king sends more messengers declaring that everything is ready for them (the Jews), yet they pay "no attention" and go "their own way." Some even mistreat and kill the messengers who were sent to them (e.g. Jeremiah and Jesus). We must remember that Jesus is telling this parable to the chief priests and pharisees ... the religious leaders of the Jews at the time. This is surely a pointed statement!
Notice the reaction of the king to his invitation being declined/dishonored and his slaves/messengers being mistreated and killed: But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire (v. 7).
Jesus continues: Then he [the king] said to his slaves, 'The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast' (vv.8-9). We see here a clear shift in the invitation to the marriage feast/kingdom of heaven. We see that this is a common thread running through the biblical witness: salvation comes first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles (see Acts 18:6; and Romans 1:16, 2:9-10). Because those who were first invited to the feast have declined the invitation, the king has opened the doors to others. The feast will go on ... someone will partake of the goodness of the king! We see this coming true in v. 10: Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests.
This verse contains an interesting statement from Jesus, in that the slaves gathered all the people they could find, "both evil and good." For those who are willing to come, God's grace and mercy extends to them all. There is no one, no one, who is beyond forgivable to God. There are two major requirements to being allowed to come to the feast, and we see the first here: we must accept the invitation and come willingly. God does not compel our worship, even though He could. His desire is for the kingdom of heaven to be filled with willing guests, not forced slaves. The second requirement will become apparent in the next few verses.
Jesus continues: But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, 'Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?' And the man was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' (vv. 11-13). Not only must the guests come willingly, but they must also come in the proper way. Even though God/the king invited everyone to the marriage feast, the expectation was that those who are willing come in the proper fashion. In these chilling verses we see that one guest decided to come however he pleased, not taking the time to put on the appropriate clothing for the occasion. This guest was invited prior to having the proper clothing on, but was required to change his clothes after accepting the invitation. Instead, he came as he saw fit, ignoring the king's protocol.
Being a parable, this is not teaching that God cares so much about our literal clothing and will cast us "into the outer darkness," where there will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Hell) simply based on our everyday attire! Modesty is important, but this is not the point. What Jesus is communicating is a very important truth about entry into the kingdom of heaven. Since the original audience of this parable were Jews who were familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament), it is not too much of a stretch to imagine that they would understand the clothing necessary to enter heaven is not made of linen, but of righteousness (see Job 29:14; Psalm 132:9; and Isaiah 61:10). This is consistent with Jesus' teaching earlier in this gospel of Matthew:
Matthew 5:20 ~ For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 21:32 ~ For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.
The way of coming to God (the Father) is made very clear elsewhere in the New Testament. In John's Gospel, one of Jesus' disciples asks Him how to get to Heaven. Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me" (John 14:6). The Apostle Paul also makes it clear in 2 Corinthians 5:21: He [God the Father] made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him [Jesus]. It is only through faith in Jesus and His completed work on the cross that we may be properly clothed (in righteousness) for entry into the kingdom of heaven.
The parable ends with this statement: For many are called, but few are chosen (v. 14). The invitation is broad, but only a few accept it. Among those who do accept the invitation, there are still some who refuse to "attend" in the proper fashion. Both improper responses to God's invitation are met with disastrous results.
What about you? Have you accepted God's invitation? If you believe in "God," do you also believe that there are many paths that lead to Him, or do you acknowledge that there is only one way to God ... through the Savior, Jesus the Christ? This parable of Jesus is equally clear that both ignoring God and also attempting to enter His kingdom in an improper way both lead to destruction and being cast out into outer darkness. If you've never done so before, today can be the day of your salvation.
He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him (John 3:36).