Has God decided who will be saved and who will not? Are people predestined to hell or heaven prior to their existence? Do people have any say about their destiny?
Most people will argue that if God knows the beginning to the end, it means he already knows those who won’t choose Him; in that case do they have the will to change their fate. It is classic predestination vs free will which is too big a theological debate for us to handle in one article.
But God has opened the window to his word just enough for us to perceive some things. This article is not about answering all questions predestination vs free will but examining one parable in which Jesus comments about ‘the chosen few’. When it comes to difficult biblical questions, it is better to examine scriptural claims context by context. So let us begin here.
It is the parable of the wedding banquet which is about the kingdom of Heaven. It is found in Mathew 22:1-14. Many people quote Mathew 22:14 which says that ‘many are called but few are chosen’, often without considering the context.
Many use it together with other verses in the bible to say God has predestined some people to his kingdom and some to hell. But Mathew 22:14 is part of the parable that begins in verse 1 of the chapter. It is the final statement of the parable. It is only fair that we go back to the parable and get what Jesus was really talking about.
So there was a king whose son had a wedding. He prepared a banquet and sent his servants to tell those who had been invited to come, but they refused to come.
He sent some more servants again to call them, telling them that the banquet was ready, that he had butchered his fattest oxen and cattle for them, prepared the best for them, but again they refused to come. They dismissed it and some went about their businesses as usual.
Others mistreated and killed the servants who had been sent. The king in his power decided to administer some justice, sending an army to destroy the murderers and their city.
How ‘befitting’ of the king to have a wedding banquet for his son without guests to celebrate with? How can the king’s party not be worthy of their presence? I cannot imagine saying no to an invite from state house. It hurts when people snub a party you have worked so hard to organize. A party only makes sense when people come, especially those who matter to the host.
But the king’s party had to go on as planned, even without the invited guests. The king decided to send his servants to the streets to call all those who could be found to come to the wedding banquet; and come they did, the good, the bad and the ugly all were invited to the king’s table.
It seems that those from the streets knew that they had to come dressed in wedding attire. I am sure most of them had to go home and change before coming to the banquet. We know this because one of them was found without the attire, and when asked he was speechless, meaning it was obvious he should have it. He was unceremoniously evicted from the party.
After that entire story Jesus finally said ‘Many are called, few are chosen’
The chosen that responded
Yes many were called. The king sent an invitation to many people but they refused to come. The king did not close the door on them; they made a conscious decision not to come, some violently dealing with the messengers. The king then invited as many as could be found from the streets, and they made themselves available, coming on their own accord. The few who were chosen are those who responded.
One responded but did not prepare for the banquet. Again it was his fault and not the king’s that he did not have the right attire. He disqualified himself. The king did not intend to throw him out, in fact from his attitude he wanted as many as possible in the banquet.
So it is true that many are called and the few who respond are the ones who are chosen; the few are the ones who heeded the call, prepared themselves and came to the king.
This parable is also about how the Israelites rejected the Messiah and now we Gentiles are partakers of salvation. The preceding chapter features Jesus’ discussion with Pharisees on how the kingdom shall be taken away from them because of their rejection.
From Mathew 21:28-32, Jesus talks about the parable of the two sons, one who obeys the father and another who doesn’t. Jesus clearly tells the Pharisees that the sinners (tax collectors and prostitutes) were entering the kingdom because they believed as opposed to the Pharisees who did not believe.
In Mathew 21:43 Jesus tells the Pharisees how the kingdom will be taken away from them and given to those people who will produce fruit.
Clearly Jesus places the consequences of the Pharisees’ actions squarely on their choices and not something predetermined.
This does not mean that all my questions about predestination and free will are answered but at least now I understand that God does not want to lock me out of the party, even if my invitation came later. I understand that when it comes to salvation, the will of God is that none will perish but all will come to the knowledge of the truth.
Jesus clearly demonstrates that the call has been made to everyone who can hear, the net has been cast wide, the letters have been printed en masse, the word is out in all media; it is up to us to respond or not.
It is up to us to choose Jesus, to put our pride away, accept his direction and book a ticket to the wedding banquet; it is up to us to be the chosen few.