Calling the Members of the Kingdom of Heaven
JEHOVAH has willed that his Son Christ Jesus be not alone in the kingdom of heaven, but that he be given a glorious helpmate, called the “bride, the Lamb’s wife.” Jesus uttered a number of parables dealing with the Kingdom and revealing its various aspects, one of which we find at Matthew 22:2-14. This parable reveals to us the way in which Jehovah God, the “king” of the parable, calls those who are to be associated with Christ as members of the royal family of heaven.—Rev. 21:9.
Jehovah chooses the bride class for his Son and determines the characteristics of this class and the number of its members, namely, 144,000. “The kingdom of the heavens has become like a man, a king, that made a marriage feast for his son. And he sent forth his slaves to call those invited to the wedding feast.” The “king,” Jehovah, arranges for the marriage feast, sends out the invitations and calls the invited ones to the feast. The parable shows that he sends out three calls to invite persons out of all the nations to become members of the kingdom of heaven.—Rev. 7:4; 14:1; Matt. 22:2, 3; Rev. 5:9, 10.
THE FIRST CALL
We would naturally expect that he would give this wonderful opportunity first to the Israelites, the natural seed of Abraham, and this is what the Bible shows he did. He said to them at Mount Sinai: “You will become to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” This referred to the future kingdom of heaven, in which Christ Jesus would be a “priest upon his throne” and in which the 144,000 members of his body, his “bride,” would reign as priests and kings with him. The descendants of the Jewish nation were therefore invited ones and now received the call through the Son of God, who invited them to the wedding feast. The first call thus went out in the year 29 (A.D.). His disciples co-operated in this work according to Jesus’ instructions: “Go continually to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” For three years and a half, till Nisan 14 of 33 (A.D.), the call was to go exclusively to the nation of Israel.—Matt. 10:6, 7.
How was the invitation received? The parable says: “They were unwilling to come.” The rich young ruler who “went away grieved, for he was holding many possessions,” well represents the general negative attitude of the nation; and the religious leaders manifested themselves as bitter enemies of the Son of God and sought to kill him. Therefore we can understand Jesus’ scathing denunciation which was recorded in Matthew, chapter 23, and which he concluded with the words: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the killer of the prophets and stoner of those sent forth to her,—how often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks together under her wings! But you people did not want it. Look! your house is abandoned to you.” Two days later the first call ceased when Jesus finished his earthly ministry and life.—Matt. 22:3; 19:21, 22; John 6:50, 66; Luke 17:20, 21; Matt. 23:37, 38.
Some days after Jesus’ resurrection he manifested himself to above five hundred disciples in a mountain in Galilee; and even some of these doubted it was he. And in the days just before Pentecost 120 met in an upper room in Jerusalem. Aside from this very small number the Jewish nation had refused to accept the first call.—1 Cor. 15:6; Matt. 28:16, 17; Acts 1:13-15.
THE SECOND CALL
“Again he sent forth other slaves, saying: ‘Tell those invited, “Look! I have prepared my dinner, my bulls and fattened animals are slaughtered, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’” This second call went out again to “those invited,” to the Jewish nation, now especially to the common people of that nation. Jehovah’s favor to the Israelites was to last another three and a half years. So they still had the opportunity of furnishing the full number of 144,000.—Matt. 22:4.
This second invitation began to be addressed to the Israelites at Pentecost A.D. 33, when Peter spoke to the multitude in Jerusalem, to the Israelites and their proselytes assembled there from Palestine and from some fifteen other countries, saying: “‘For the promise is to you and to your children and to all those afar off, just as many as Jehovah our God may call to him.’ Therefore those who embraced his word heartily were baptized, and on that day about three thousand souls were added.”—Acts 2:39, 41.
What is meant by these words of the king in Jesus’ parable: “I have prepared my dinner, my bulls and fattened animals are slaughtered, and all things are ready”? Certain arrangements had to be made and conditions fulfilled before the feasting could begin. What were these? The outpouring of God’s spirit in Jerusalem at Pentecost was evidence that he had accepted the value of the perfect human sacrifice of Jesus after his ascending to the throne of Jehovah. In his justifying those who dedicated themselves to God and in his begetting them by his spirit they received the adoption as sons and became prospective members of the bride of Christ. In Peter’s powerful speech, as recorded in Acts, chapter two, he had used the first of the “keys of the kingdom,” revealing to a faithful remnant of the Jewish nation the “new and living way,” the unspeakable privilege of becoming “heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ.”—Matt. 22:4; 16:19; Heb. 10:20; Rom. 8:17.
As to those who did not respond to the invitation as conveyed by the original Christian congregation, the parable says: “Unconcerned they went off, one to that field of his, another to his commercial business; but the rest, laying hold of his slaves, treated them insolently and killed them.” Paul says of these: “The rest had their sensibilities blunted.” The overwhelming majority of the nation did not show any more willingness to accept the second call than the first; but they remained indifferent and attended to their worldly business. Others, filled with hatred against the Messiah and his followers, persecuted these, arresting, beating and even killing them. So they turned down the offer to become that “kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.”—Matt. 22:5, 6; Rom. 11:5, 7; Acts 7:1-60; 8:1; 9:1, 2; Ex. 19:6.
What would the King, Jehovah, now do about it? “The king grew enraged, and sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” In 70 (A.D.) the armies of Rome under Titus came and destroyed the “city,” the Jewish nation, 1,100,000 Israelites losing their lives and the rest being “led captive into all the nations.”—Matt. 22:7; Luke 21:24.
THE THIRD CALL
The King’s second invitation exclusively to the Jews ended A.D. 36. Only a small remnant having responded, the majority of the places to be filled remained vacant. Yet Jehovah’s purpose can never fail. What does the parable show he now did? “Then he said to his slaves: ‘The wedding feast indeed is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Therefore go to the roads leading out of the city, and anyone you find invite to the wedding feast. Accordingly those slaves went out to the roads and gathered together all they found, both wicked and good; and the room for the wedding ceremonies was filled with those reclining at the table.”—Matt. 22:8-10.
Jehovah now sent out a third call by instructing his slaves to leave the borders of the “city,” to go out onto the roads of the nations and to invite all kinds of people to the wedding feast. The first one so commissioned was Peter when, A.D. 36, he was sent to the home of Cornelius, an Italian officer, in Caesarea. There he used the second one of the “keys of the kingdom” in preaching the gospel to that Gentile and to his household. Peter’s witness was followed immediately by the outpouring of holy spirit upon those “people of the nations,” and the apostle perceived “that God is not partial, but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.” Now “God for the first time turned his attention to the nations to take out of them a people for his name” and thus the mystery as to membership in the bride of Christ became fully revealed. The apostles and others of the thousands of members of the early Christian church were now sent out to the Gentile nations, and during all the centuries since A.D. 36 the ingathering to the wedding feast has been progressing.—Acts 10:45, 34, 35; Eph. 2:12; Acts 15:14; Eph. 3:4-6.
The time must come when all places in the room for the wedding ceremonies would be filled, and this would be when Christ would accompany the King Jehovah to His temple for judgment, which he did A.D. 1918. This is the time to which the parable refers, saying: “And the room for the wedding ceremonies was filled with those reclining at the table.”—Mal. 3:1-5; 1 Pet. 4:17; Matt. 22:10.
THE WEDDING GARMENT
The question now arose as to who would keep his place in Jehovah’s organization from and after 1918, for there began now a severe testing and sifting as to the truth and the service of Jehovah and as to enduring trials and persecutions down to the end. The parable shows what was necessary in order to hold one’s place. “When the king came in to inspect the guests he caught sight there of a man not clothed with a wedding garment. So he said to him: ‘Fellow, how did you get in here not having on a wedding garment?’ He was rendered speechless. Then the king said to his servants: ‘Bind him hand and foot and throw him out into the darkness outside. There is where his weeping and the gnashing of his teeth will be.’”—Matt. 22:11-13.
The criterion applied by the King was, not whether one was “good” or “bad” at the time the slaves found him on the roads, but whether one was wearing the “wedding garment.” What is this garment? We find the answer in the following words: “The marriage of the Lamb has arrived and his wife has prepared herself. Yes, it has been granted to her to be arrayed in bright, clean, fine linen, for the fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the holy ones.” The “righteous acts of the holy ones” being the Christian ministry entrusted to all the spirit-begotten children of God, the wedding garment represents the Kingdom service on earth, and to put it on therefore means a course of obedience toward the King and his Son. On the contrary, a failure to wear the wedding garment means a refusal to publish the Kingdom and to bear the reproaches that are heaped upon the King’s slaves.—Rev. 19:7, 8.
The “man not clothed with the wedding garment” actually represents a class of people who were made manifest after Jehovah accompanied by Christ Jesus came to the temple for judgment A.D. 1918. The present time, since that year, is when the marriage of Jehovah’s Son is being consummated by resurrecting all the spirit-begotten saints who died faithful before 1918 or have since died and uniting them in never-ending wedlock with the heavenly Bridegroom. But looking at the dedicated ones yet on earth who were espoused to him and who were in the room for the wedding ceremonies because God’s kingdom had come, Jehovah the King found a class not wearing the wedding garment, a class that refused to don such garment by refusing to share in public service. Beginning in 1919, Jehovah had opened up to all of the dedicated ones the door into Kingdom service, offering them privileges greater than at any time before. The class that spurned such privileges was none other than the “evil slave,” whose appearance at the end of the world Jesus foretold. Of course, such insubordination to the King Jehovah and the Bridegroom Jesus Christ disqualified them as members of the “bride”; and so the King ordered his attendants, the angels, to throw them out into the darkness of Satan’s world. There destruction awaits both them and the whole of unfaithful Christendom when the great King, in the approaching battle of Armageddon, will send his heavenly armies under Christ Jesus to destroy the whole “city,” the modern counterpart of Jerusalem.—Matt. 24:48-51.
When Jesus, as a conclusion to his parable, warningly says: “For there are many invited, but few chosen,” this shows that many more have been called than 144,000, the number finally united with Christ Jesus in heaven. If any of the remnant now in attendance at the room for the wedding ceremonies fall out for failure to keep on the wedding garment, others will be brought in by the King to take their places. Seeing that we are now in the closing years of this present system of things, that process may be about completed.
Finally the King, Jehovah God, will have the predestinated number of 144,000 members of the bride class to be given to her royal Bridegroom. With him, as a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” she will, in full and loving subjection to her kingly husband, co-operate with him in his wonderful work in behalf of mankind during his thousand-year reign.