This installment begins with the parable of the “Marriage Supper,” found in Matthew 22. The parable and its meaning are explained in Part Five of the series “The Parables.” Part Five can be accessed from the home page. For the purpose of this series, two aspects of this parable need to be considered. The first one is found in Matthew 22:10-12. The parable describes a great marriage supper. Because many of those invited refused to attend, the king supplied the wedding supper with other guests-many who had not been originally invited. The text reads: “So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless.” This leads to two questions: Why did the king make an issue of this, and why was the man speechless?
This parable relates to “the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus gave it in light of the customs that existed at that time (v. 2). Whenever one attended a royal affair, he was expected to be dressed appropriately. The same is true today, for example, if one attends a formal occasion. It would be a breach of etiquette not to be suitably dressed. Since many of the guests were from “the highways,” there was no time to dress for the occasion. Yet, at the feast there was only one man not properly attired. Since the king immediately confronted him, it is obvious that the man had no excuse for not being robed. Why? Because the king would have furnished wedding garments for all the guests! The man was speechless, because he knew better. He had no excuse.
In the parable the king represents God, and the “kingdom of heaven” is the Kingdom of God. The fact is: No one can enter the Kingdom of God without the proper attire. What is this attire? The book of Revelation makes this plain.
And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled (Rev. 6:9-11).
What does a white robe depict? “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints” (Rev. 19:7-8). A robe, then, symbolizes righteousness or holiness. The parallel in Matthew 22:11 is obvious. Paul tells us: “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). The man in the parable was speechless. He knew the requirements to attend the wedding, but chose to ignore them. He refused to wear a “robe of righteousness.” How does the Bible define righteousness? Psalm 119:172 tells us: “My tongue shall speak of thy word: for all thy commandments are righteousness.” The man in the parable is depicted as unrighteous-disobedient to God’s commandments.
And what was the fate of the man? “Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 22:13). Jesus made the requirement plain: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).
Another aspect of this parable should also be considered. This is verse 14, which reads: “For many are called, but few are chosen.” These words, found also in Matthew 20:16, were discussed briefly at the end of Part Seven of this series. An answer to this clause can be found in 2 Thessalonians 2:13. Paul writes: “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” How were these saints chosen? “. . .Through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” Those called of God have been set aside by means of God’s Spirit. “Sanctified” means set aside for a holy purpose. But they must also believe and obey the Truth revealed to them. Man, as a free moral agent, is allowed to reject or ignore this divine call. God will not force anyone to accept it.
The parable of the sower, in Matthew 13:19-22, helps explain Matthew 22:14. The seed is the Word of God. We read:
When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side. But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.
So, to receive God’s call to the Truth is one thing, but to truly accept and obey it, is another matter altogether. Though called at the time God begins to work with one’s mind and heart, one who decides to turn away from that Truth, will not be chosen. As humans, we are free moral agents, and as such, must make our own choices. Those who make the right choice are described in Matthew 13:23: “But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” We must not forget the admonitions of the Apostles Paul and James: Paul wrote: “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (Rom. 2:13). And James wrote: “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (Jas. 1:22). Yes, many are called, but few are chosen. Why? It takes a concerted effort over the period of a lifetime to overcome the pulls of human nature, along with a determination to remain faithful to God and His Truth to the end.
Regarding salvation, Jesus was once asked this question: ” . . . Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (Luke 13:23-24). A better rendering of “shall not be able” is “shall not be strong,” or “shall not have the strength.” Man does not have the strength in himself. But on another occasion when He was asked who could be saved, Jesus replied: ” . . . With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). The Apostle Paul wrote: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil 4:13).
Mark 11:12-14, is a “hard saying” that is difficult to understand. An incident led Jesus to curse a fig tree-a curse that was made very near the time of His crucifixion. “And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.” The Scripture does not tell us what the disciples thought, but they surely must have been puzzled. Here Jesus pronounced a curse on a fig tree for not producing fruit, when it was not yet harvest time. This whole incident seems enigmatical.
When the curse was made, Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. Shortly after His arrival, we read:
And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine (Mark 11:15-18).
That evening Jesus left the city and spent the night in Bethany. The next morning, on the return trip to Jerusalem, we read: “And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away” (Mark 11:20-21). In the climate of Palestine, the early fig crop was ready for harvest around late May, but by late March bland fruit would have already appeared. Without the early figs, the tree would bear no fruit at all. In order to understand why Jesus cursed the tree, we need to see what was going on behind the scene.
The parallel between the cursing of the fig tree and the cleansing of the Temple reveals the motive. Jesus had not only cursed the tree, but had killed it! Jesus is making this point: Trees that only pretend to have fruit are worthless. The tree was a symbol of a spiritually dead Israel, and the sure judgment that was to follow. The nation of Israel was likened to a fig tree that failed to produce fruit. About 40 years later the Romans destroyed the entire nation. Jesus sorrowed for the impending doom that was coming. “And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes” (Luke 19:41-42). Like the fig tree, Israel was cursed and removed from God’s sight.
Then Jesus went on to bolster the disciples’ faith. He told them what could be accomplished by total faith in God. With the incident that had just occurred, Jesus made plain to the disciples that if they had faith in God, even in the face of the spiritual laxity of the nation, they would be safe. Therefore, their deliverance should not rest on any kingdom they thought Jesus might set up, or on the people of Israel, but on God alone.
Another “hard saying” is found in Mark 12:13-17. It is an answer Jesus gave to the religious leaders. Even today, His answer leads to much argumentation. The Pharisees and Herodians were attempting to ensnare Jesus by getting him to say something that could be used against Him. They asked: ” . . . Master, we know that thou art true, and carest for no man: for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not? Shall we give, or shall we not give? . . .” (Mark 12:14-15). A “no” answer would immediately mark Him as a “tax rebel” and in opposition to the Roman government. A “yes” answer would make Him unpopular with the majority of the people, who deeply resented paying taxes. They had Him either way, they thought. How did Jesus reply? “. . . But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny, that I may see it. And they brought it. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? And they said unto him, Caesar’s. And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marvelled at him” (vv. 15-17).
Taxes were paid in Roman currency, so naturally the picture on the coin would be that of Caesar. Jesus did not use the word “give.” He used the word “render.” What is interesting is that a meaning of the word “render” means “to give back,” or “pay a debt.” Jesus was asked if “tribute” should be paid. The tribute was a “poll” or “census” tax. It assumed an obligation to Caesar. Since Caesar had custody of the state, he commanded their money for the public benefit. His answer could not offend Caesar because a sum was to be given back to Caesar. His answer could not offend the people because the coin did not belong to them. It belonged to Caesar. In effect, Caesar already owned it. It was proper, therefore, to give it back to Caesar when he called for it. What Jesus illustrated here is that a picture on a coin proves who owns the coin. But by the same token, the people must not neglect God and what is due Him. Therefore, responsibilities toward God do not contradict civic duties.
The last “hard saying” in this Part Eight is found in Luke 16:1-12. It is the parable of the Unjust Steward. A look at the parable reveals that this steward was very skilled in looking out for his own interests. The rich man did not commend him for his theft, but for his ability to make his own future secure. Since the parable is self-explanatory, we need look only at verse nine, which is the text in question. Jesus tells the disciples: “And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.” What did Jesus mean by these words? In verse eight, He points to the difference between the “children of this world,” and “the children of light.” The “children of this world”-those not called of God-are more adept at securing financial advantage than the “children of light.” They often cheat and steal to gain their ends. The priorities of the children of the world are mainly concerned with providing financial security for themselves and their offspring. The children of light-those called of God-concern themselves with gaining eternal life. Jesus’ admonition was to use the mammon (treasure, riches) of unrighteousness to make friends. What did He mean?
The acquisition of wealth often involves unrighteous activities of one kind or another. Or it involves coveting. This is why it is called the “mammon of unrighteousness.” By obligating the debtors, the unjust steward used his lord’s money for his own advantage. What was Jesus telling His disciples? He was telling them that they should use the money they had gained to make friends for the “lasting habitations,” that is, for all eternity. How can this be done?
One example can be found in Matthew 25:31-40. When Christ returns, the sheep will be separated from the goats-those who receive salvation and those who do not.
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. (vv.31-34)
Why did He say this?
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (vv. 35-40)
From the above, we can see that sharing one’s amenities with those in need is one way to “make friends of the mammon of unrighteousness.”
But what did the King say to those on His left hand who refused to help the needy?
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. (vv. 41-46)
The Apostle Paul illustrated a similar principle when he spoke of supporting the gospel. He told the Corinthian brethren:
Have we not power to eat and to drink? Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working? Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also? For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? . . . Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel. (1 Cor. 9:4-11, 13-14)
So, a second way to fulfill Jesus’ admonition in Luke 16:9 is by faithfully lending one’s financial support for the ministry of the gospel. Why is this so important? Because the only way one may gain eternal life is to accept Christ and the Truth of God. And how is this truth made available?
Paul tells us in Romans 10:13-15:
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! (Rom. 10:13-15).
Those who help the needy and support the gospel, making the Truth available to others, are indeed making friends of the “mammon of unrighteousness.” All that is in this physical world will eventually “fail.” In the end, those who heed Christ’s instruction can be with these friends in the Kingdom of God for all eternity! These are the ones who “receive you into everlasting habitations.”