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Please explain: What does it mean that “many are invited, but few are chosen”?

What does it mean that “many are invited, but few are chosen”?

About two-thirds. That is what I tell a couple as they are planning their wedding. About two-thirds of the people they invite will actually come.

That is how we usually say it, right? When we invite people to a wedding, party, or other event, they RSVP either yes or no. Either they come, or they don’t.

The way Jesus ends the parable of the wedding banquet raises some questions. “Many are invited, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). Why not say, “Many are invited, but few come”? Why use the word chosen? Jesus’ final statement answers the question the parable addresses: Why will some people be in heaven, and why will others not be there?

A gospel invitation

Similar to when we send out invitations to our weddings, God genuinely wants those he invites to come and share the joy. God wants all people to be saved and to be at the eternal wedding feast (Ezekiel 33:11; 1 Timothy 2:3,4). God’s invitation comes to people through the gospel in Word and sacrament (Romans 10:17).

In Jesus’ parable, the king invited many to the wedding feast for his son. But the ones he invited first rejected the invitation. “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” (Matthew 22:5,6). The king then sent his servants out to the streets to invite any- and everybody. “[The servants] gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests” (v. 10).

Jesus was teaching this parable to a crowd of Jews, which also included the chief priests and Pharisees. The Jewish nation received the gospel invitation first, but many refused to come. So God would send his gospel invitation to all the world—to the Gentiles. “Many are invited” (both Jews and Gentiles). The gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes—to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16 Evangelical Heritage Version).

A gracious choosing

Many are invited, but why are the few chosen? This isn’t picking teams in elementary school where God looks to choose the most athletic kid. This isn’t a fancy gala where God is choosing the wealthiest donors. Since we are by nature sinful (Psalm 51:5) and objects of God’s wrath (Ephesians 2:3), nothing about who we are or what we do moved God to choose us.

God chose us in Christ by grace alone. It is all by his undeserved love in Christ. “He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time” (2 Timothy 1:9). “He chose us in him before the creation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4, emphasis added).

A wedding garment

When the king in Jesus’ parable came in to see the guests, he noticed a man who had come but was not wearing the proper wedding clothes. The king asked, “How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?” (Matthew 22:12). The man had no answer. So the king tossed him out into the darkness. This man had at least heeded the invitation to the wedding feast, yet he had refused the requirements to be there—proper wedding attire. He wanted to be there on his own terms, not on the king’s terms.

What are the King’s terms to get into heaven? We are to “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Perfection, a righteousness with God, is required to get into heaven.

How do we receive perfection? “In the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’ ” (Romans 1:17, emphasis added). Through faith we receive the wedding garment of Christ’s righteousness. Only through Christ’s perfect life and innocent death wrapped around us are we able to sit at the heavenly wedding feast. “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:26,27, emphasis added). Only through the power of the Holy Spirit creating this faith in our hearts, do we heed God’s invitation, receive the wedding garment of Christ’s righteousness, and sit at the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb in heaven.

This parable illustrates why many are called but few are chosen. The reason many do not sit at the wedding feast is that they refuse God’s invitation. They don’t believe it. Material things are more important than spiritual blessings (Matthew 22:5). They reject the idea of being under God’s grace (v. 6). They choose to rely on their own righteousness instead of Christ’s (vv. 11,12). The fact that some are not saved is completely their fault, not God’s. God has not excluded people from heaven. People have excluded themselves through unbelief.

A comforting teaching

Overall, we must understand that Jesus’ words here are written for our comfort. We cannot look into the hidden will of God but must rely on what he reveals to us. When we start putting our reason above what Scripture says, we get into trouble. We may be tempted to think God chose some to go to heaven and others to go to hell, which Scripture does not teach. For us personally, doubts can flood our minds and remove the comfort God intended. “Am I really one of God’s chosen?”

Questioning the status of being one of God’s chosen is a concern of believers. Unbelievers do not share that concern. Paul assured the Thessalonians that they could be sure of their relationship with God because the Holy Spirit’s power gave them confidence through the gospel. The Holy Spirit had worked faith in their hearts. “We know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction” (1 Thessalonians 1:4,5).

God has not excluded people from heaven. People have excluded themselves through unbelief.

If you are concerned about not being one of the chosen, don’t look inside yourself or at the life you are living. Continue to heed the King’s invitation. In addition to your personal Bible reading, go to church. Feast on his Word. Hear the promises of God that he gives to you. Kneel at the Lord’s Table and receive the true body and blood which Jesus sacrificed on the cross for you for the forgiveness of your sins—a foretaste of the wedding feast that is to come. Through the means of grace, the Holy Spirit promises to work—to create and strengthen the faith of his chosen.

We have the comfort of knowing from beginning to end—from eternity to eternity—our salvation is all God’s doing. “Those [God] predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Romans 8:30). Rejoice that in eternity God has chosen you and called you to be his very own by grace to believe in our Lord Jesus Christ.

For further reading

Check out the following resources to learn more about the doctrine of election.

Author: Nathanael Brenner
Volume 110, Number 10
Issue: October 2023

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This entry is part 1 of 54 in the series please explain

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