In Matthew 25:1-13, Jesus told a parable about a wedding feast and a bridal party. The parable concerns the coming of Christ at the end of the ages. If the coming of the kingdom is like a wedding banquet, then the coming of the kingdom is good news. The wedding was an occasion of great joy for the entire community in ancient society.
Once, when preaching on one of the “wedding feast” parables, I invited the congregation to join me in the “Chicken Dance” polka. Every wedding reception that I’ve ever attended featured this silly little dance.
For Christians, the coming of the kingdom is a joyful occasion. The message of the kingdom is not meant to scare Christians, but to reassure them and fill them with hope.
The Wedding Feast in the Gospels
In addition to the parable found in Matthew 25:1-22, the gospels compare the kingdom of God to a wedding feast a few other times. Not all of these word pictures, however, point to a future event. In Matthew 9:15, Jesus portrays the wedding feast as characteristic of his earthly kingdom ministry. “The wedding guests can’t fast,” Jesus said, “when the bridegroom is still present.” Parallels are found in Mark 2:19 and Luke 5:34.
Similarly, John 3:29 has John the Baptist identifying Jesus as the “bridegroom.” John 2:1-11 calls the miracle at the wedding in Cana of Galilee a “sign” which revealed his glory. These passages imply that the eschatological wedding has begun with the arrival Jesus the Messiah.
Likewise, the parable of the wedding banquet in Matthew 22:1-14 is rooted firmly in Jesus’ earthly ministry (and its primary purpose is to shame Jesus’ opponents). In the parable, the king’s surprising call to fill the banquet hall with those on the streets reflects Jesus’ activity of gathering sinners and outsiders into the kingdom. Nevertheless, Matthew’s conclusion of the parable assumes a conventional apocalyptic framework (outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth) and looks forward to the eschatological material Matthew will present in chapters 24-25.
(And yes, Matthew 24’s 50-meter target is the coming destruction of Jerusalem. The gospel’s use of apocalyptic, eschatological language, however, cannot be reduced to God’s judgment made manifest in the war with Rome. A general discussion of the New Testament’s use of apocalyptic language is beyond the scope of this brief note.)
The Wedding Feast in the Apocalypse
The Revelation of John is often a source of end-times scare tactics, but John also looks at Christ’s appearing as an occasion of joy. He, too, uses the image of a wedding feast to describe the final consummation of Christ’s saving activity:
The wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. … Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb! (Revelation 19:7-9)
Who is the bride? John answers that question in chapter 21:
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:2-5)
For John the Seer, the wedding supper of the lamb is not primarily a “me and Jesus” hope. It’s an “us and Jesus” hope. It’s a hope for the whole church and consequently for the whole world.