The Parable of the Wedding Garment

The Savior then delivered a third parable: the parable of the wedding garment (Matt. 22:1-14). In the parable, a king “made a marriage for his son.” “When the marriage was ready” (JST 22:3), the king sent forth his servants to tell those who had been invited to the wedding to “come unto the marriage.” “But they made light of the servants, and went their ways; one to his farm, another to his merchandise; And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them” (JST Matt. 22:5-6). When the king heard how his servants were treated, “he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.” The king said, “The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage.” The servants did as they were commanded: they “went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests.”

The parable could have ended here with the point being made. However, there is second point the Savior wished to make. “When the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment.” We do not know enough about wedding ceremonies during the time of Christ to understand the cultural aspect of this portion of the parable. But either a wedding garment was given to those invited to the wedding or at least suitable clothing was made available. Whatever is the case, it is apparent that having the wedding garment was essential for the wedding feast.

The king asked, “Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment?” Perhaps in the rush of filling the wedding with guests, the man was not able to get a garment or none was given him. But the man “was speechless.” That is, he had been given the opportunity to receive the garment but did not take it. “Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast [him] into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The Savior concluded the parable saying, “For many are called, but few chosen.” The JST adds, “wherefore all do not have on the wedding garment” (JST Matt. 22:14).

The King represents God, the Father. The king’s son is Christ. The wedding feast represents Christ’s coming among the Jews. The marriage metaphor was common metaphor used in the Old Testament to represent the covenant relationship between God and Israel. (15)

The parable has two points. The first is more obvious than the second. The first point is a reiteration of the last parable: because the Jews rejected the Lord’s servants, they would be destroyed and the gospel would be taken to the gentiles.

The second point focuses on preparation. Those who have been called to the wedding feast were given a special garment to wear at the feast. As the king looked over the hastily bidden guests, he spied a man not wearing the wedding garment. What was the garment? We are not told. But it is apparent that without the garment, one was not prepared to enjoy the wedding festivities.

Of this, Joseph Smith stated: “The day of the Lord is fast approaching when none except those who have won the wedding garment will be permitted to eat and drink in the presence of the Bridegroom, the Prince of Peace!” (16) The wedding garment represents personal preparedness for the Lord’s coming.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie stated: “Salvation is a personal matter; it comes to individuals, not congregations. Church membership alone does not save; obedience after baptism is required. Each person called to the marriage feast will be examined separately, and of the many called to partake of the bounties of the gospel few only will wear the robes of righteousness which must clothe every citizen in the celestial heaven. True it is that the Lord “hath bid his guests,” as Zephaniah said, but “all such as are clothed with strange apparel” shall be cast out. (Zeph. 1:7-8.)” (17)

Again, he wrote: “He had accepted the invitation (the gospel); joined with the true worshipers (come into the true Church); but had not put on the robes of righteousness (that is, had not worked out his salvation after baptism).”  

Render Unto Caesar

The Jewish leaders were frustrated by the Savior’s response to their question of authority. Matthew records that hearing the Savior’s response to the Sanhedrin, “Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.”

The devised another plan. They approached the Savior with another question in order to trap the Savior. They took with them the Herodians, those who desired to see the family line of Herod regain power in Jerusalem. They questioned the Savior in this manner: “Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?” (Matt. 22:16-17).

The tribute under question was the poll tax which was an especially unpopular tax. The poll tax was not a tax dealing with merchandise in any way. “Customs duties were disliked, but at least on paying them on go something, the right to take goods to their destination. But with the poll tax there was no such benefit. It was a tax that simply removed money from the citizen and transferred it to the emperor’s coffers with no benefit to the citizen.” (18)

The question was framed in such a way as to be answered with “Yes” or “No.” If he answered “Yes”, he would please the Herodians but the Jewish populace would be upset. On the other hand, if he answered “No”, he would not find disfavor with the Jews but he would with the Romans.

However, “Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew [pronounced ‘show’ in old English] me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:18-21).

The Savior’s response has become a classic. That which belongs to the government should be rendered and that which belongs to God should be rendered. President N. Eldon Tanner has reminded us: “There is no reason or justification for men to disregard or break the law or try to take it into their own hands. Christ gave us the great example of a law-abiding citizen when the Pharisees, trying to entangle him, as the scriptures say, asked him if it were lawful to give tribute money unto Caesar. After asking whose inscription was on the tribute money, and their acknowledgment that it was Caesar’s, he said: ‘Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.

‘ (Matt. 22:21.) It is the duty of citizens of any country to remember that they have individual responsibilities, and that they must operate within the law of the country in which they have chosen to live.” (19) 

Marriage and the Resurrection

When the Pharisees and Herodians heard the Savior’s response, “they marvelled, and left him, and went their way” (Matt. 22:22). But then the Sadducees decided to get into this confrontation with the Savior. They tried to trick the Savior by placing before him a situation regarding levirate marriage. Levirate marriage was “The custom of a widow marrying her deceased husband’s brother or sometimes a near heir.” (20) Levirate marriage was practiced in the Bible and discussed in Deuteronomy 25:5-10.

The Sadducees posed the situation of a woman who had been married and her husband died leaving her no children. According to levirate marriage, a brother could marry her to raise up children for his dead brother. In the situation posed by the Sadducees, the woman was married to her husband’s brother. But he died and so she was married to the next brother. He likewise died and so she was married to the third brother “unto the seventh” or last brother. The question the Sadducees posed was, “in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven?”

The Savior responded, “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven” (Matt. 22:23-30). Of this, Elder James E. Talmage wrote: “The Lord’s meaning was clear, that in the resurrected state there can be no question among the seven brothers as to whose wife for eternity the woman shall be, since all except the first had married her for the duration of mortal life only … In the resurrection there will be no marrying nor giving in marriage; for all questions of marital status must be settled before that time, under the authority of the Holy Priesthood, which holds the power to seal in marriage for both time and eternity.” (21)  

The Great Commandment

Perhaps one of the most important things to come out of the confrontation of this day occurred after the Pharisees saw that the Sadducees had been silenced. They gathered around the Savior to continue the “Pharisaic inquisition.” In one last attempt to trap the Savior into making a public blunder in hopes to discredit Him, they asked him one last question: “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matt. 22:35-36)

The Rabbis had separated out 613 commandments in the law. Further, they had divided these commandments into light and weighty (cf. Matt. 23:23). “They did not mean that some commandments were so slight that they could be neglected. All the commandments were God’s, and therefore all were to be treated with full seriousness. But obviously some commandments were more important than others.” (22)

The question they posed was which did the Savior regard as the greatest of them all. “There is no objective yardstick for measuring one commandment against another, so that whatever commandment Jesus selected for the first place would certainly have been placed lower by others.” (23) Thus a debate could ensue in which the Pharisees hoped they could discredit the Savior.

His answer is very instructive for all of God’s children. He took two separate statements, one found Deuteronomy (6:5) and the other in Leviticus (19:18), and tied them together. “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” He then added, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40).

The Savior’s response was brilliant and to the point. For the Pharisees, as well as for many of us today, the laws of God had been reduced to a series of “do’s” and “don’ts” that ought to be followed. But as Elder Dallin H. Oaks has taught: “the Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts — What we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts — What we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.” (24)

The commands to Love God and our fellow man are not part of the list of commandments we ought to follow. Rather, they provide the motivation, the intent, or the purpose behind every commandment found in scripture or from the words of the prophets.

When we honestly evaluate our actions associated with the Lord’s Kingdom, we ought to ask ourselves, “Why am I doing what I am doing in the Church? Why did I go to Church last Sunday? Why did I hold family home evening? Why did I do my home teaching?” If the answer was not out of love of God or to build His kingdom, then the motivation was not correct. And if the motivation is not correct, then we are not becoming what we ought to be. We are just doing things.

Remember, the final judgment is not based solely on what we have done. Remember the words of the Savior: “For the day soon cometh, that men shall come before me to judgment, to be judged according to their works. And many will say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name; and in thy name cast out devils; and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I say, Ye never knew me; depart from me ye that work iniquity” (JST Matt. 7:31-33). We can only come to know the Lord when we do the things He does with the same motivation that governs His actions.

The Savior Turns Questioner

The Savior’s answer left no room for debate and the Pharisees were utterly silenced. Taking advantage of the quiet of the moment, the Savior posed a very important question. “What think ye of Christ? whose son is he?” They gave the response perhaps most any would have given at that time. “They say unto him, The Son of David.”

It was well known among the Jews at the time of Christ that the Messiah was to come through the lineage of David. They pictured him in the role of David, as a king and conqueror of their enemies. Few, if any, associated the Messiah as divine. This was painfully obvious through the various confrontations with the Savior had with the Jews. But Jesus came into the world not to destroy men but to save them. It required Him to be divine to carry out his role as redeemer of the world.

In response to the Pharisees answer, the Savior quoted a Psalm written by David with this question: “How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?” (Matt.

22:41-45). Through the use of this Psalm, the Savior made it clear that David did not consider the Messiah as a mere descendant but as his superior. “By drawing attention to a defect in the way the Pharisees understood the relationship of David to David’s Son, Jesus was encouraging his hearers to think again about what Messiah meant.” (25)

Matthew records the conclusion to this scene in these words: “And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions” (22:46).  

“Wo unto you … Hypocrites”

As has been shown, this last day of the Savior’s ministry had been filled with confrontation with the religious leaders of the Jews — the very people who should have been preparing the people for the Savior’s visit. How different they were from Nephi, son of Nephi, who labored diligently to prepare his people for the visit of the God of this world (see 3 Nephi). Seeing the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders, the Savior ended his mortal public ministry by castigating their wicked behavior. This is recorded in Matthew 23.

In no uncertain terms, the Savior warned the multitude of the abhorrent behavior of their so-called religious leaders. “Whatsoever they bid you observe,” the Savior declared, “that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not” (23:3).

In other words, follow the teachings of the law they expound but avoid their practice of the law, for often their practice went beyond the law. “They studied the law of Moses closely and expounded it in great detail. There was nothing wrong with this part of what they were doing, and Jesus commends it. Of course, when they went beyond the law of Moses they could and did go wrong, and Jesus criticizes them for it.” (26)

The Savior cataloged eight (27) grievances He had with the results of their interpretation and practice of the law. Each began with “woe.”

(1)   “Ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.” (23:13) Through their interpretation of the law, they misleading people and thus leading them from the true Kingdom of God.

(2)   “Ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation” (23:14). Perhaps the widow’s houses were being devoured by the Pharisees insistence upon a second tithe which already taxed and overtaxed people.

(3)   “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves” (23:15).

(4)   “Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!” (23:16). The Pharisees were so concerned about nit-picky details that it caused them not to see the whole. In this case, they were concerned about the exact and proper way of making an oath. They believed if it was said wrong it was not binding. It was the wording of the oath, not what was in the heart of oath-maker, that was important.

(5)   “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel” (23:23-24). It was not the paying of tithing that concerned the Savior but placing details and policies above the purposes and motives of the law. In the gospel all things are important but “lesser things, however useful or needful, must never eclipse the greater.” (28) When the gospel is reduced to the minutia of “do’s” and “don’ts” then the purpose and intent of the law is missed. For example, in the Church today, to often our young people are deluged with the do’s and don’ts of chastity but are seldom taught the doctrine of the law of procreation and parenthood!!

(6)   “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also” (23:25-26). What robbery the Pharisees were guilty of is not stated but it may be that they supported the Temple hierarchy and their priestcraft or at the least saw nothing wrong in what they did. Indeed, many of the Pharisees may have been involved in the priestcraft itself! “Cups and platters though cleansed to perfection were filthy before the Lord if their contents had been bought by the gold of extortion, or were to be used in pandering to gluttony, drunkenness or other excess.” (29)

(7)   “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (23:27-28). The meaning here is obvious. Though sometimes their actions were correct, their motives were not. Elder Dallin H. Oaks, taught, “Jesus looked beyond the actions of the scribes and Pharisees and condemned them because of their motives. He likened them to ‘whited sepulchres,’ which appear beautiful outside but are unclean inside. Although their actions he referred to were appropriate, they were acting for the wrong reasons.” (30)

(8)   “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (23:29-33). The Pharisees had built and decorated tombs for the prophets who had been denounced by their fathers in order to bring honor to give them the honor they deserved. Their hypocrisy was shown that they were not honoring the present prophets, including the Son of God. But because they were rejecting the present prophets, their fate would be no different than their fathers.  

The Final Prophecy

The Savior ended his denunciation of the Pharisees with this warning and promise: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (23:37-38).

The Savior was so moved by the horrors that would come upon the Jews because of their rejection of him, that the Joseph Smith translation adds that the Savior wept while giving this prophecy (JST Matt. 23:36).

The Savior then turned from the crowds and left the Temple. As he was leaving, ” his disciples came to him, for to hear him, saying: Master, show us concerning the buildings of the temple, as thou hast said–They shall be thrown down, and left unto you desolate. And Jesus said unto them: See ye not all these things, and do ye not understand them? Verily I say unto you, there shall not be left here, upon this temple, one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down.” (JS Matt. 1:2-3).

The Savior’s public ministry had come to an end. No longer would he teach the people. It was left to them to either accept or reject the Man and His message. As we know, for the most part, they rejected His message. As a result, they felt the full brunt of the last prophecy the Savior gave to the people.

1. S. Safrai, “The Temple,” in The Jewish People in the First Century (2 Vols., Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987), 2:877; Safrai gleans this information from the Mishna and Talmud which may suggest that this was the ideal but may not have always been practiced.

2. Safrai, “The Temple,” pp. 865-866.

3. K. C. Hanson & Douglas E. Oakman, Palestinge in the Time of Jesus (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998), p. 119.

4. Hanson & Oakman, Palestine in the Time of Jesus, p. 120.

5. Richard A. Horsely, Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1999), pp. 58-59.

6. Hanson & Oakman, Palestine in the Time of Jesus, p. 153.

7. Hanson & Oakman, Palestine in the Time of Jesus, p. 152.

8. Hanson & Oakman, Palestine in the Time of Jesus, p. 155.

9. Mishnah Kerithoth 1:7.

10. I am in Israel often in spring time. Many times I have come across fig trees just putting forth leaves. Already, the fruit of the fig tree is coming out and in many cases is larger than the budding leaves. Fig trees produce several crops every year. The first crop is generally harvested in June and is especially sweet. The second crop is harvested in August. The final crop is harvested towards the end of November. Figs can be eaten fresh, dried, or made into cakes.

Often the question is raised as to why the Savior would attempt to eat figs before they were ripe (the cursing of the fig tree was a week before Passover which is in March or April). So I decided to find out what a fig tastes like at that time of year. So in 2001, while assigned at BYU’s Jerusalem Center, I found a few different fig trees and ate the fruit. The taste was rather blah-not bitter or sweet. But it was eatable! So it would be possible for someone who was hungry to eat the unripe fruit of a fig tree.

11. Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969), p.92.

12. Francis W. Beare, The Gospel According to Matthew (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1981), p. 422.

13. W. D. Davies & Dale C. Allison, Jr., The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (Edinburgh, Scottland: T&T Clark, 1997), p. 159.

14. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), p. 535

15. See Richard K. Hart, “The Marriage Metaphor,” Ensign, Jan. 1995, pp. 22-25.

16. Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), p.47.

17. Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, (The Messiah Series, vols. 2-5. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1979-1982), 3:367-368.

18. Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, p. 556.

19. N. Eldon Tanner, “The Laws of God,” Ensign, Nov. 1975, p. 83.

20. “Levirate Marriage,” in LDS Bible Dictionary, p. 724.

21. James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1982, p. 509.

22. Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, p. 563.

23. Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, p. 556.

24. Dallin H. Oaks, “The Challenge to Become,” Ensign, Nov. 2000, p. 32.

25. Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, p. 567.

26. Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, p. 573.

27. Most Greek manuscripts of Matthew only record seven woes whereas the King James Version records eight.

28. Davies & Allison, The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, p. 293.

29. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, p. 558.

30. Dallin H. Oaks, Pure in Heart. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988, p. 4.