Matthew 22:11-13 – “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless. 13 “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.'” NIV
These verses follow Jesus’ parable comparing the kingdom of heaven to a wedding feast given by the king for his son where the initial invited guests began making excuses to attend. So the king opened the feast to all sorts of people until the wedding hall was filled with guests. There is a similar parable in Luke 14:16 ff., but it doesn’t end like this one. In this parable the king comes into the banquet hall and notices that one guest is not properly attired and orders him to be removed from the celebration. This seems odd since the king wanted any and all invited to the feast. So what are the possible explanations?
Some commentators suggest that in some places it was the custom for the host/king to provide “wedding garments” for his guests so that there would be no class distinction and everyone would be well dressed for the festivities. If that were the case, then this guest refused to wear the robe that had been provided by the host. Other commentators suggest that the guest came in dirty clothes. They suggest that even if one were poor, a person would wash and clean their clothes for such an occasion. They draw comparison to the fact that entrance to the kingdom of heaven requires the a “washing / cleaning” made possible only by accepting Jesus’ death on the cross and decision to follow Him.
I think that Jesus added this “tag” to this parable to emphasize that even though everyone is invited to the wedding feast, there are still condition for participation. Some people aren’t even interested in attending. They make excuses from the beginning, and don’t make an attempt to enter the kingdom of God. Other people get caught up in the crowd. Join the group; but they do not come to God based on his conditions but theirs. They reason that if God loves everyone and Jesus died for sinners, then they fit both categories and everyone will be saved regardless of what they believe and how they respond to God’s requirements. This is called universalism, and I think that this question that Jesus asks through the voice of the king speaks against universalism. God invites everyone to His kingdom, and it’s true that Jesus died to pay the price of the sins of all humanity; but one must chose to turn and follow Jesus and seek forgiveness for sins. I think that this is what Jesus was telling Nicodemus in John 3 and the Apostles in John 14.
Am I seeking to follow Jesus or am I asking Jesus just to clean up my messes? Am I making excuses of why I can’t accept God’s invitation to be a part of His kingdom? Am I looking forward to the benefits and rewards of being a “child of the King” and “a joint heir with Christ”?