“Many are called, but few are chosen” is one of the least understood words of Jesus. It is the closing comment in the parable of the royal wedding feast, in Matthew 22. It is the kingdom of heaven likened to a king who prepares a wedding for his son (22:1). This is clearly about God, Who will prepare a feast for His Son: the Messianic kingdom. The king sent slaves to call the invited guests, but those invited do not want to come (22:3). This has reference to the sending forth of the apostles to the house of Israel during Jesus’ presence among them here on earth. Then, when everything is ready, the invitation is sent forth, once again, but this time, those invited go so far as to mistreat the slave and to even kill them (22:4-6). This invitation relates to the Acts-period, “everything is ready” and the apostles again invite the chosen people to the wedding, but they encounter brutal rejection. Now the king is angered and sends his armies out to destroy the murderers and burn their city to the ground (22:7). It is not difficult to see in this a prophetic reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. Then the king goes about it differently: he extends his invitation to anyone who wants to attend, “both the wicked and the good” (note the order!, 22:9,10). In this invitation we see an unmistakable hint at the present time, after “the gospel of the circumcision” was rejected and after the destruction of Jerusalem.
The last verses of this parable are about a man who unjustly is in the wedding hall and, therefore, is removed. This refers to the beginning of the coming eon, and everyone who is not “ready” at that time (22:8, 24:44, 25:10), will perish.
Jesus’ concludes this parable with:
For many are the called, yet few are the chosen.”
Usually, this verse is explained to teach that many people are invited (many are called), but few respond (few are chosen). But this explanation does not at all fit the content of the preceding parable. The idea is just the opposite: the wedding hall contains many called-ones, but few of the chosen people (of Israel), the original ones invited. The point is not that there will be a few in the wedding hall. Verse 10 says:
filled is the wedding with those lying back at [the] table.
The wedding hall will be filled with those called, but relatively few chosen ones will be among them. Of course, Jesus did not make Himself popular with such statements. Earlier, He had said:
11 Now I am saying to you that many from the east and the west shall be arriving and reclining with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of the heavens, 12 yet the sons of the kingdom (=Israel) shall be cast out into outer darkness. There shall be lamentation and gnashing of teeth.”
Usually, the gnashing of teeth (see also 22:13) is being associated with pain, but the Bible never does that. The gnashing of teeth is an expression of intense anger.
Now, hearing these things, they were harrowed in their hearts, and gnashed their teeth at him.
Acts 7:54 (see also Lamentations 2:16, Job 6:9)
The parable in Mat.22 makes it clear that it is not about ethnic origin or a chosen status, but about appreciating God’s grace.
Translation: Peter Feddema