The following is an excerpt from my new book, Soteriology Simplified.
In Matthew 22:14 Jesus makes the statement, “for many are called, but few are chosen.” Jesus makes this statement in the context of the marriage supper of the Lamb. In this story Jesus likens the kingdom of heaven to the story of a king who prepared a feast to celebrate the marriage of his son. He instructed his servants to send out special invitations to come to this great feast. Many are invited to the feast and one by one, they all found excuses not to come. The King even sent more servants to remind and encourage those who had received invitations to come to the feast. Once again, they declined the invitation; it was not that they could not come; they simply refused to do so. The King then instructed his servants to go out into the highways and byways and to invite “all they found” to come to the feast.
In looking at this passage it is clear that Jesus’ reference to those who received the initial invitations was a direct reference to the Jews. The King is no doubt a reference to God Himself and the son who was getting married, is a reference to Jesus.
In this story there is also a picture of man’s depravity painted for us. Instead of accepting the invitations, these men rejected those invitations. To further demonstrate man’s depravity Jesus said they not only refused to come, some killed the messengers who brought the invitations. The King became furious and put those murderers to death and even burned up their cities. God’s judgment was clearly one that was in response to the choices these men made with respect to the invitations they received to come to the wedding feast for His Son. The invitations were delivered but those who received them refused to come. The King had made provision for the supper to take place. All those who were invited had to do was come. This is a clear picture of the invitation Christ offers to come to Him in repentance and believing faith to be saved. Revelation 3:20 echoes this invitation, “20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” The invitation has not changed. It is for anyone who will come!
His instruction for the servants to go out into the highways and byways is clearly a direct reference to taking the gospel message to the Gentiles. Their instructions were clear: “invite everyone you see to the wedding.” Here is a clear cut picture of the universal invitation to come and sit at the table of the wedding feast of the lamb. This invitation is open to all who will come. There are no doubt individuals who like those who had the original invitations refused to come for whatever reason. It is entirely possible and quite likely that some who received the original invitations could have been among those on the highways and byways who received additional invitations and even did ultimately come to the feast. The focus here is not on those who were invited but those who accepted the invitation and came. This might be questionable if this was where the story ended; it is not.
The king enters the banquet hall and looks at all of the people seated at the tables. As he looked around the room, he saw one sitting at the table who was not wearing a wedding garment. The King asked the man a very simple question, “Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?” Jesus says the man was speechless; he had no excuse. The King then ordered his servants to bind the man’s hands and feet and take him from the feast and cast him into outer darkness and into torment. This man had no excuse for not wearing the wedding garment for these garments were not brought by the guests; the garments were provided to the guests by the king as they came to the wedding feast. This man made the mistake of arrogantly thinking what he had to wear was as good as the garment offered to him. It was not. This was a direct reference to the self-righteous attitudes that keep people from coming to Christ. This man did come to the supper but he came with the wrong attitude and he did not enjoy the benefits prepared for him and provided to him because he failed to put on the wedding garment that was offered to him. Once again, this man’s choice cost him dearly. His choice was as detrimental as the choices made by those who refused to come at all. The truth is life is made up of choices. Even the choice not to choose is a choice and there are consequences to the choices men are called to make.
Jesus conclusion to this story is summed up in the statement, “for many are called, but few are chosen.” In Jesus’s own illustration of salvation the invitation is virtually open to all. The invitation itself is universal in scope. However, the focus is not on those who have been invited but rather on those who have come to sit down to dine at the table. Those who chose to accept the invitation by coming were accepted at the feast. They were given wedding garments to put on and a seat at the table.
In looking at this concept of limited atonement and Jesus’ own picture of the invitation to salvation in this story, those who were chosen to receive personalized invitations in the beginning were the ones who initially refused to come. Pay particular attention to what Jesus said about this group: “The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy.” Jesus was referring to those who had received the engraved invitations. It must be understood that their worthiness had nothing to do with their own merit; however, their worthiness had everything to do with their response to the invitation. The interesting thing is, the same thing is true of those who were on the highways and byways of life who also received the later invitations. There were no doubt many who were on the highways and byways that received this invitation and just like those in the beginning, they too refused to come. There is really no mention of them because the focus quickly shifts to those who came. Those who did eventually come were no more worthy to come than those who had received the original invitations and did not come. The guests who were allowed to sit at the table were the rebels who accepted the invitation and put on the wedding garment and were given a seat at the wedding feast.
This is vitally important as a discussion of the merits of limited atonement are examined. This story clearly indicates that invitations were sent out to many who did not come. It must also be understood that these invitations were not simply “general” in nature and the king knew that these individual’s would not or could not come. The fact that the king became furious that some killed his servants and he had them killed and their cities burned indicates he had every intention of them coming to the wedding feast! So there was no general invitation and then an effectual invitation. The invitations were sent with the expectation that all who received them would come. This severely challenges the Calvinist tenet of limited atonement. For here, invitations to come would by necessity be prepared specifically for individuals for who would come and not those who would not come. That is clearly not the case in this story. The same is true for the instructions to go out into the highways and by-ways to invite everyone within sight to come to the wedding feast. Many would simply ignore the invitation but many did come. Again, the emphasis is not on limited atonement at all which is represented by the handing out of the invitations to everyone and anyone. This is a significant aspect of the invitations that simply cannot be ignored and overlooked. The wedding feast was prepared for all who came. The choices to come were made by the individuals and not the king. The same is true of conversion and salvation. God has made provision for any and all to come and the choice to come is man’s and not God’s. The benefits for those who do come are provided for exclusively by the king.
In conclusion, the benefits of the atonement are indeed limited not by God but by the choices men make to come to the table properly dressed. All men have to do is come; God takes care of everything else.