by Charles S. Meek
Christians are easily inclined to misinterpret the Bible because of their ingrained presuppositions. Even trained theologians are subject to this error. Here’s an example:
I recently heard a sermon on the Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14). You remember the story. Jesus was discussing the kingdom of heaven and the refusal of those invited to the wedding feast to attend. Those invited killed the king’s servants! The king was obviously greatly perturbed and administered his justice by destroying their city and casting the perpetrators into “outer darkness.” The parable ends with a warning: “Many are called but few are chosen.”
Now, how could you miss what is going on here, especially in the greater context of chapters 21 through 26? Certainly, this is about the refusal of the Jews to accept Jesus’s new-covenant kingdom. The bride of Christ is, of course, the church (John 5:29; Ephesians 5:23-27; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 19:7-8; 21:2, 9). But in his sermon, this preacher turned this story into one of grace vs. works, thus reading something into the text that really is not there. The details of the parable dwell on the Jews’ sins of (a) persecuting Christian servants, and (b) failing to accept Jesus as Messiah!
As the sermon progressed, the preacher even mentioned, by way of context, the previous parable in Matthew 21—the Parable of the Tenants. But he missed entirely the main message of these parables, which was clearly the coming judgment against Old Covenant Israel for their sins. In the Parable of the Tenants, we find the owner of the vineyard and his son (obviously God and Jesus), and the TENANTS who worked the vineyard. A vineyard is an Old Testament metaphor for Israel, so the tenants were the Jews of Old Covenant Israel whom Jesus was addressing. The tenants not only killed the king’s servants (Christians), but killed the son (Jesus)!
In punishment, God took the kingdom from the wicked tenants. The parable ends with this: “When the chief priests and Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that He was speaking about them.” Parable, plural. Gotcha.
The Old Testament repeatedly, beginning in Deuteronomy 28-32, prophesied that there would come a time—in the last days—when Israel would become so apostate that God would take the kingdom from them and give it to others. This would happen at Messiah’s coming (Daniel 9, 12; Zechariah 12-14; etc.). Jesus was telling them: THE TIME WAS AT HAND TO FULFILL ALL THAT WAS WRITTEN (Luke 3:7-9; 21:22). Clearly, the Jews of Jesus’ day got this message (Matthew 21:45; 26:64). An important interpretive concept is that we should understand the Bible based on how the original audience understood it, rather than reading it through the lens of our daily newspaper.
So, these parables are not about some far distant judgment or some theological discourse about how we are saved. It is about the soon coming destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70. In Matthew 22:7 Jesus prophesied that their city would be burned! This literally happened in AD 70 when God used the Roman army to demolish Jerusalem and the temple.
Interestingly, the entire Parable of the Wedding Feast, including this statement about the BURNING OF THEIR CITY was printed in the worship folder of our pastor’s sermon. But the pastor never mentioned this part of it in his sermon. I’m confident that the pastor just didn’t know how to deal with this, so he just ignored it.
Need more proof? In the very next chapter, Matthew 23:29-39, Jesus proclaimed the most powerful curse on the Jews that could possibly be given. He told them that they would suffer the punishment for “all the righteous blood” EVER SHED ON EARTH! And it would happen in THEIR GENERATION. Wow!
Then the famous Olivet Discourse which follows immediately—Chapter 24. Here Jesus gets even more specific. The cherished Jewish temple would be left in rubble IN THEIR GENERATION (Matthew 24:2, 34). And, in Matthew 26:64 Jesus added insult to injury. He told the high priest and the other Jewish bigwigs that THEY THEMSELVES would see Him (Jesus) coming in power (on “clouds of heaven”). Again, the Jews understood that Jesus was claiming deity and authority to judge THEM, just as Yahweh “came on a cloud” in judgment numerous times in the Old Testament against his enemies.
So, when was the marriage? Almost everyone agrees that the bride of Christ is the church. Since the church exists today, the marriage happened in the past.
The Marriage Supper of the Lamb appears again in Revelation 19:6-10. This confirms that a major theme of Revelation is God’s judgment against the apostate Jewish nation. Revelation’s central them (chapters 17-19) is about the defeat of Babylon the harlot. The woman is described as being dressed in purple and scarlet (Revelation 17:40), which are the colors of the Jewish priesthood (Ezekiel 28:5-6; 39:1-2). In the Old Testament, whenever Israel is unfaithful, she is described as a harlot and an adulterer (Isaiah 1:21; Jeremiah 2:20; 3:6-9; Ezekiel 16:14-15; Hosea 9:1).
Further, the harlot Babylon is described as “the great city” (Revelation 18:10). The great city is clearly identified as Jerusalem in Revelation 11:8.
Thus, the picture that John paints for us in Revelation is that, at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, God divorced Old Covenant Israel and took his new bride. The church was betrothed in AD 30, and married in AD 70.
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