THE MEANING OF "MANY ARE CALLED BUT FEW ARE CHOSEN"
“Many are called but few are chosen" - Matthew 22:14. What did Jesus mean when He said it? There are many sections of scripture that seem a bit mysterious until we consider everything involved to find the full or deeper meaning. This is the case for this section of scripture. Let us read and consider the parable that concludes with Jesus' statement (even if you have read it before, please read it again to have it fresh in your heart and mind).
The Parable of the Wedding Feast,
Matthew 22:1-14 And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said: 2 "The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, 3 and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. 4 “Again, he sent out other servants, saying, 'Tell those who are invited, "See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding." ' 5 But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. 6 And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. 7 "But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.” 8 “Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. 9 'Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.' 10 So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. 12 "So he said to him, 'Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?' And he was speechless. 13 "Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' 14 "For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Kind of amazing isn't it? They were invited to their own king's son's wedding and they made light of it. They were busy. They had “things to do.” In reality, God Himself has given His own son, that we might be saved; and people make light of it. God Himself came in the flesh and lived among us; and people make light of it. Here in Texas, people would put it like this, “But I have work to do. I need to have some fun time too. But Y'all have a nice wedding...” Then there are still the vicious ones today. “We do not care if you are our king, and we sure don't care about your son." Some vehemently reject the invitation, some persecute the messengers and some even kill them...
Let us consider the first section of the parable:
Matthew 22:2-3 "The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come."
First we must consider this is a Jewish wedding. Jesus was not speaking in regard to Hinduism, Buddhism or any other kind of religion. He was the Jewish Messiah speaking to Jews. “The wedding feast” was an intricate part of becoming married in Judaic customs. Once a marriage was “arranged” between the Father and his son, the groom; with the bride and her father, it was up to the “Father of the groom” to decide “when” the wedding would be. The son was to prepare a physical house for their new home, and it had to bring honor to his father. The bride was to also prepare her part and help with the wedding arrangements. Only when the Father was completely satisfied that both the groom and bride's preparations were complete and in a way that would carry on “his name and honor,” appropriate to him, then the Father “put out the word” that the wedding feast was about to happen. When the Father would give the green light; “all the planning” on everyone's part would go into action. Once the animals were killed for the feast and the other foods were ready for the big event, there was no time to waste.
Everyone invited would come, as the best man and others spread the word in the Father's behalf. In this case, Father was a king and he sent out his servants. Finally, at some point, the groom would go and get his bride! At the “wedding feast” there would be a “bridal chamber” and while the feast was going on, the bride and groom would “consummate” their marriage and once that was done, the ketubah, or marriage agreement would be “considered complete” and the rest of the celebrations continued during this wedding feast.
The first wedding invitation went out to the Jews, God's original chosen people. Through Abraham and his descendants, specifically Abraham's grandson, Jacob, came 12 sons whose children became the 12 the tribes of Israel, whose descendants came to be “the nation of Israel.”
Second section of the parable:
Matthew 22:4-5 “Again, he sent out other servants, saying, 'Tell those who are invited, "See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding." ' But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business."
Eventually through the Jews, God would send the Messiah. But the Jews of the day, wanted a Messiah who would deliver them from Roman rule and oppression. But the Messiah whom the Father sent, was sent to deliver them from the worst bondage of all, sin and the price-tag of it. Sin separates man from God. As they did not receive the very Son of God who came for their redemption; they missed their hour of visitation. They refused the invitation.
Listen to the heart of Jesus in this section of Scripture:
Luke 19:41-44Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, "If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation."
How this must have broken the Father and Jesus' hearts.
Next section of the parable:
Matthew 22:6-7 “And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.”
As a matter of fact, many prophets whom the Lord sent, were not received well. Isaiah was sawed in half, Jeremiah, rejected, persecuted and put in a dungeon, John the Baptist was decapitated and many others were not well received either. Even of the disciples in Jesus' day, most had their lives ended in “most unfortunate ways”...
In 70 AD, the prophecy of Jesus was fulfilled. Interestingly enough, the final day of battle when Jerusalem fell, happened on “Tisha b' Av” (the 9th of Av on the Hebrew calendar) which was over 6 centuries “to the day,” that the Temple of Jerusalem previously fell to Babylon. In both cases, the temples were utterly destroyed and everything plundered. Most people were brutally killed and those who were not, were led away captive into slavery.
The plan of salvation offered by “a sacrificial Messiah” was mostly rejected. But the offer had to go to the Jews first and then to the rest of the world. It was through the Jews that did receive Him, that we received the epistles of the New Testament and through these Jews and the early believers (both Jew and Gentile), that the church of today originated from.
It is not hard to see the events of the next section in the parable:
Matthew 22:8-10 “Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding. So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.”
So while Jesus did come for the Jews first; afterward, the call has gone out “to everyone on earth” and has been going out for almost 2000 years.
"The message" is still the same today:
Matthew 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
Jesus still says to the tired and heavy laden of today:
Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For “My yoke is easy and My burden is light."
Jesus came to deliver us from sin and our separation from God. He said:
John 10:10-11 “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”
The last section of the parable says:
Matthew 22:11-14 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, 'Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?' And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' For many are called, but few are chosen."
What would it mean, “without a wedding garment?” We see the punishment for it is damnation.
Sin separates us from God. Before we are born-again, our sins are exposed to God and as such we are eternally doomed. When we are born-again, we get the “covering of Jesus Christ” on us; and as long as we keep putting God first, and repenting when we sin and keep trying to please God, we stay covered. The Bible calls it being clothed in “white garments.”
Can we get these “white garments” by being moral? No. Can we get them by going to church or doing good deeds? No.
Many people try to do what the man did in the parable. The man at the wedding feast “thought” “his garments” were just fine for the occasion. But they were not acceptable to the king. The Bible says,
Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.
In Jesus' day and people still today, want to “see God” as “letting everyone into heaven” based upon “how good they are.” This is humanism. This is a false picture of reality; a contorted view of how God truly is and how He has determined His kingdom to be.
Becoming a Christian and getting our sins changed from scarlet to white is a spiritual process. There is only “one cleaner” powerful enough to do the job. Only the blood of Jesus can do it.
Isaiah 1:18 “Says the Lord, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
There is only one way to get the “white garment” and that is by being covered in the righteousness of Christ Jesus. So how do we get it?
Jesus said that “unless” we are converted, we “cannot” see the kingdom of God.
Matthew 18:2-3 Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”
One day a great religious leader, who was a very honored and respected man, came to Jesus privately as he was amazed by Jesus and the miracles He had been doing. Jesus, seeing his heart, let him know that being moral was not enough. He told this gentleman, named Nicodemus,
John 3:2-3 "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born-again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
Being “born-again” means “conversion,” and “conversion” means being “spiritually born-again.” Without conversion, a person is ineligible for the “white garments” we all so desperately need. Without the covering of Jesus Christ, we wind up as the gentleman who thought his “old garments” were good enough to wear at the wedding; but will not pass the approval of the king.
So what works? How do we get this conversion/born-again experience? We have to come to the end of ourselves with repentance and be willing to give our all to God; accepting Him as our Lord. Taking the Father's offer of putting our sins on His Son, Jesus Christ so that we can be free from sin and its horrible cost.
Why can't we just be moral? Besides the fact, that without the covering of Jesus Christ, we are hell bound, condemned by our own unrighteousness. We must be converted to overcome the human, carnal nature that we are all born into. Until a person is converted, they are not “the residence of God.” When a person becomes born-again, they go from spiritually dark into spiritual Light.
Jesus came looking for those who would choose to put God first in their hearts and with all their beings.
Mark 12:29-31 Jesus answered him, "The first of all the commandments is: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
To be “truly converted” means one goes from self-lordship, to a point of repentance and then giving their all to God. It is not just “repeating a prayer” or “trying to be good.” A person goes from being completely condemned by their own sin, to becoming completely free in Christ. Before Christ came, God's people struggled with trying to be good and keeping His laws. But since Jesus came, we can become born-again, becoming temples of the Holy Spirit (God's presence in us). And with the presence of God, living in us, we are empowered to walk the walk He expects of us. The Son of God, paid a tremendous price so that this is all possible.
There was a young rich man who came to Jesus seeking eternal life. Jesus saw in him that he was a good man. But He also saw in him, that “riches” had his heart. Unless the young man, could get past the riches, he would not make heaven. We must be “willing” to give all and we must give all.
Mark 10:21 Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me."
On another day, Jesus explained how important it is to put God first:
Matthew 10:37-39 “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.”
Once we give up “all that we thought was so important” by dying to our old selfish nature, we find through this conversion, a new nature. We find that as in the miracle of seed production, only until the seed dies and is then planted; can the new plant grow.
How wonderful it is having the “covering of Jesus Christ and His righteousness!” Having our scarlet sins become as white as snow. Becoming free from the power of sin and having true relationship with God.
Romans 4:7-8 Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.
Revelation 3:5 “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”
The invitation is wide. Many are called. But few are chosen. The Lord is not partial on His choosing. As long as a person fears God and is converted and follows Him and His laws with His whole heart, the person is chosen.
While the meaning of “many are called but few are chosen” is not agreed upon by all, we do however know some facts.
For one, there are more people going to hell than heaven.
Matthew 7:13-14 "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
Secondly, we know that not everyone who “thinks” they are “heaven bound” will make it. Consider the following parable of the Lord.
Luke 13:22-28 “And He went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. Then one said to Him, "Lord, are there few who are saved?" And He said to them, "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open for us,' and He will answer and say to you, 'I do not know you, where you are from,' then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.' But He will say, 'I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.' There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out.”
Matthew recorded something similar:
Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'”
Thirdly, no one can come to God, without God drawing them.
John 6:44 "No one can “come to Me” unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day."
But James said, if we will "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you."
I believe God knows who “is ready” and when they are able to “hear” Him. I believe the Lord takes all the circumstances of each of our lives, and uses them for whatever good He can, including for our salvation. He is the Great Redeemer in every way.
Once a person, truly hears the Gospel, they are accountable for it. I am not talking about it going over their head. Or in one ear and out the other. If a person truly “hears” God calling them in the form of the Gospel and refuses the Lord, it is not good.
I believe there is a process in coming to the point where we can be born-again. We are not born with hearts ready to receive the Good News. So God works with us; unbeknownst to us almost completely, all during the time of our lives prior to conversion, getting us to a point where our heart can receive the Gospel. God even works to protect us from our own stupidity and helps us come to a point where we can start hearing and receiving the direction of the Holy Spirit. All of this is being chosen.
The people who strongly want sin and self rule, are not able to understand this message or hear the Holy Spirit. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. He was sent to convict man of sin and lead him to salvation.
The reason we do not realize it is going on, is because we primarily see life in the physical and with physical eyes. God's work is spiritual.
So yes, many are called and few are chosen. Why? Because when it comes down to it, how many are willing to allow God to be Lord God and Savior? For those that will, He chooses them and helps them make it. For those that won't, He lets them have their way.
There is one final point to consider. There are some people who convert and start off right. But an offense happens, and their unforgiveness of someone cancels out their own grace, their own salvation (Matthew 6:15). A person could get in a bad spot, and deny the Lord. Whereupon the Lord has to deny them before the Father and His angels (Matthew 10:33). A person can start out right and get lured away into sin; forsaking the Lord (John 15:6, Hebrews 10:26-27). All these are forgivable sins but if a person dies forsaking their salvation by choosing against God's laws, they are not fit for heaven. On one hand we are chosen for salvation, but on the other hand, God has the final say, who enters into His rest. Just like the ones who will say, Lord, Lord but He will send them away. We should not live in horrible fear of losing our salvation but we should live in holy fear and reverence of God and His sovereignty. God is not harsh or unfair. He is slow to anger and quick to hear. He is loving and kind and His mercy endures forever.
In closing, here is a beautiful section of Scripture that describes the essence of being saved in Christ Jesus, being clothed by the Lord with garments of salvation and written prophetically before Jesus even came!
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” Isaiah 61:10
All praise to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who gave His own blood that we might live. Thank You Lord. Hallelujah!
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