What did Jesus mean when he said, Many are called but few are chosen?

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What likely confuses us about this is simply the lexicon. When we think of someone being called, we think of the Spirit’s internal call.

When Jesus entered into Jerusalem during the last week of his life, he created quite a stir when he overthrew the tables of the moneychangers and healed the blind and lame (Matt. 21:12-16).

He left for the night to stay in the town of Bethany. When he returned to the city the next morning, he was confronted by the chief priests who demanded to know by what authority he was doing such things (Matt. 21:23).

Jesus proceeded to deliver a series of parables. The statement you’ve asked about is found at the conclusion of the third parable. Jesus said, “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14).

The Jews decline the invitation

The historical context in this case is significant. Over the course of the Lord’s ministry, the Jews’ opposition became greater and greater. Its climax came just a few days after this parable was spoken when the Jews turned Jesus over to be crucified.

In order to describe what was taking place in the relationship between Christ the King, the Jews of Israel, and the Gentiles throughout the world, Jesus told the story of a marriage feast.

The marriage feast, especially one hosted by royalty, was the greatest celebration within Jewish culture. To be invited to the wedding of a king or his children was the highest honor.

Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding, and they would not come” (Matt. 22:2-3).

This was a shocking story. No one in their right mind would refuse this kind of invitation. Yet, those invited would not go when the king’s servants went to tell them it was time.

The king in this parable represents the King of Kings, Jesus Christ. The servants are his apostles and his preachers. Those invited to the wedding are the Jews who were God’s covenant people. But when it came time to feast with the King, they declined.

Rejection leads to destruction

Jesus said, “Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage” (Matt. 22:4).

This king had patience and long-suffering with those originally invited to the wedding. He sent his servants a second time to draw them to him and they still refused.

Some made light of it by ignoring the call altogether and returning to their normal lives (Matt. 22:5). A few went as far as to become so angry that they killed the servants (Matt. 22:6).

In the next chapter of Matthew, Jesus said the Jews claimed they were not like their forefathers who persecuted God’s prophets. However, they were no different at all (Matt. 23:30-37).

Not only would they crucify Christ just a few days from then, they would murder most of the apostles and many others throughout the life of the early church.

But their actions did not go without consequence. In the parable, Jesus said, “When the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city” (Matt. 22:7).

That is precisely what happened to the nation of Israel and the city of Jerusalem in particular. Jesus later said to the Pharisees, “Behold, your house is left desolate” (Matt. 23:38).

In 70 AD, the city of Jerusalem as well as the temple itself was destroyed by the Romans. Their house was left desolate.

The Gentiles are invited

In the parable, the king then sent out his servants to find anyone and everyone that would be willing to come to the wedding. They gathered both good and bad (Matt. 22:9-10).

By all appearances, the Jews were good, but truly they were unworthy (Matt. 22:8). It was time for the invitation to extend to the Gentiles who mostly appeared bad in their moral conduct.

As one might expect, when some of the Gentiles with their ungodly beginnings, backgrounds, and beliefs arrived to the wedding, they had not prepared themselves for such an occasion.

Jesus said, “When the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how calmest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless” (Matt. 22:11-12).

The man had not changed before coming to the wedding. Though the parable speaks of his clothing, I believe it relates to that call to repent that is given to disciples before entering the church.

The king was so displeased that the ill-dressed was thrown out (Matt. 22:13). This mirrors what Paul instructed the church to do with unrepentant sinners among us (1 Cor. 5:1-8).

Many are called, few are chosen

Then came the Lord’s conclusion to the parable. He said, “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14).

What likely confuses us about this verse is simply the lexicon. Typically, when we think of someone being called or chosen, we think of the internal call of the Spirit and the sovereign election of God as described by Paul, for instance (Rom. 8:30).

God did choose his people before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:3-6). He also calls his people by his Spirit (2 Tim. 1:9). However, that type of election and calling is accomplished by God alone and has always been and will always be 100 percent successful.

But there is another type of calling which has a very small success rate. That is the call of the gospel. When the gospel is preached, it calls us to believe and repent which many who hear it will not do.

In the Lord’s day, most of Israel had been called by the gospel. That is why Jesus said, “Many are called.” Of course, very few answered the call so Jesus said, “Few are chosen.”

But what does it mean to be chosen in this case? In the parable, those chosen were those who accepted the king’s invitation and were prepared upon arrival. The ultimate goal for them was to sit at the king’s table and dine with him.

Today, many have heard the call of the gospel. Unfortunately, only a remnant of God’s people will embrace the gospel and seek to win Christ, as Paul said (Phil. 3:8).

Beyond eternal life which has been given to us, we have an opportunity to commune with Christ and receive a multitude of blessings from it while here on earth.

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