"Many are Called, But Few Are Chosen"—What Jesus Meant
by Rich Deem


Why the Few?

Why would God call many people but choose only a few? Is this what Jesus was referring to?

Rich Deem

A fellow believer wrote me asking why few are chosen (for salvation/heaven) when many are called. When people are called by God, we usually expect them to respond to the call and begin the process leading to salvation. The puzzling phrase, "For many are called, but few are chosen" comes in the conclusion of Jesus' parable of the wedding feast. In order to understand the conclusion, we need to read the parable in its entirety:

(1) Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying, (2) "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. (3) "And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. (4) "Again he sent out other slaves saying, 'Tell those who have been invited, "Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast."' (5) "But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, (6) and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them. (7) "But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire. (8) "Then he said to his slaves, 'The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. (9) 'Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.' (10) "Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests. (11) "But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, (12) and he said to him, 'Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?' And the man was speechless. (13) "Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' (14) "For many are called, but few are chosen." (Matthew 22:1-14)

The many "called"

Part of the problem understanding the conclusion comes from the English translation "called." Many modern translations use the word "invited" instead of "called." Indeed, Thayer's Greek Dictionary cites the word "invited" in reference to a banquet,1 which is exactly the context of the parable. Although the Greek word can refer to a divine calling,1 in this context, it should be best thought of as a divine invitation. The parable itself is pretty straight forward. Right off, Jesus says that the parable is about the kingdom of heaven. The king (i.e., God) gives a wedding feast for his son (Jesus). The reference is to the "wedding supper of the Lamb" described in Revelation 19.2 This is where the bride of Christ (the Church) becomes "married" to her husband (Jesus). God has invited the "many"3 to join Him in the wedding feast. In the parable, some made excuses or just ignored the invitation. Others (implying the Jewish religious authorities) actively fought against the kings servants (i.e., God's people, the Church). The king destroyed those people and had his remaining servants (i.e., evangelists) go out to invite even more people (implying the Gentiles). Both evil and good people were invited and showed up (Matthew 22:10). However, one man showed up without "wedding clothes," and was promptly kicked out (i.e., sent to hell). This man represents religious people who are either hypocrites or try to get into heaven based upon their own good works. Only people who showed up clothed in the righteousness of Jesus4 are allowed to attend the wedding feast (i.e., enter heaven). So, in the parable, the "many" refers to the entirety of humanity.

The few "chosen"

The Way to God and How to Find ItThe original Greek word translated "few" usually refers to a small number out of a much larger group.5 In this parable, the larger group is represented by the entirety of humanity ("gathered together all they found"), invited by God. The "chosen" are those chosen by God to obtain salvation through Jesus Christ.6 It is pretty clear from the parable that the "choosing" for salvation is not just the choice of God, but is also a conscious choice by those being "chosen." This is part of the divine mystery of human free will vs. God's divine providence (predestination). The parable is warning us that, even though we have all been invited by God for salvation, we must accept the invitation in order to be chosen to spend eternity in heaven. Ultimately, few people will accept God's invitation.

Conclusion Top of page

Jesus' parable of the wedding feast tells humanity that God has called every person to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. In the parable, some people had "more important" things to do, such as running their business and making money, while others just ignored the invitation. Still others actively persecuted those who were inviting others to salvation. In the parable, God destroyed those people and burned their city (a symbol of hell fires). When the invited failed to come to Him, God sent out even more people, inviting the entirety of humanity to join Him. Both "evil and good" people came through God's invitation, but only those who were clothed in the righteousness of Jesus4 were allowed to stay. Those who were pretending to be followers of Jesus or thought they could earn their way to heaven were bound and cast into hell. So, the parable is a warning to those who ignore God's invitation to salvation (such as atheists and agnostics), as well as, religious hypocrites who think they can fool God through their pretense. The reality is that you have been invited by God to obtain salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. However, if you ignore the invitation, you will not be one of the few chosen for heaven.

References Top of page

  1. Thayer's Greek Definitions:
    klētos, κλητός (Strong's # G2822)
    1. called, invited (to a banquet)
      1. invited (by God in the proclamation of the Gospel) to obtain eternal salvation in the kingdom through Christ
      2. called to (the discharge of) some office
        1. divinely selected and appointed
    Part of Speech: adjective
    A Related Word by Thayer’s/Strong’s Number: from the same as G2821
    Citing in TDNT: 3:494, 394
  2. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear." (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) Then the angel said to me, "Write: 'Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!'" And he added, "These are the true words of God." (Revelation 19:7-9)
  3. Thayer's Greek Definitions:
    polus/polos, πολύς/πολλός (Strong's # G4183)
    1. many, much, large
    Part of Speech: adjective
  4. Believers are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ:
    • You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Galatians 3:26-27)
    • This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, (Romans 3:22)
    • but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. (Romans 4:24)
    • so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:21)
    • so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:10-11)
    • What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Philippians 3:8-9)
    • Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours: (2 Peter 1:1)
  5. Thayer's Greek Definitions:
    oligos, ὀλίγος (Strong's # G3641)
    1. little, small, few
      1. of number: multitude, quantity, or size
      2. of time: short
      3. of degree or intensity: light, slight
    Part of Speech: adjective
    A Related Word by Thayer’s/Strong’s Number: of uncertain affinity
    Citing in TDNT: 5:171, 682
  6. Thayer's Greek Definitions:
    eklektos, ἐκλεκτός (Strong's # G1588)
    1. picked out, chosen
      1. chosen by God
        1. to obtain salvation through Christ
          1. Christians are called “chosen or elect” of God
        2. the Messiah in called “elect”, as appointed by God to the most exalted office conceivable
        3. choice, select, i.e. the best of its kind or class, excellence preeminent: applied to certain individual Christians
    Part of Speech: adjective
    A Related Word by Thayer’s/Strong’s Number: from G1586
    Citing in TDNT: 4:181, 505

Last Modified March 19, 2013


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