Many are Called but Few are Chosen

“Many are cold, but few are frozen.”
For people who are somewhat familiar with the Bible, we laugh when we hear this expression because we know this is a distortion of the the Bible verse found in Matthew 22:14 which says, “Many are called but few are chosen” as it is written in the King James Version (KJV) of 1611.

Salvation Only for Some?

The verse in Matthew 22:14 is quite familiar to many and out of this verse, some people have come up with their various interpretations which say that:

  1. Not all are going to be saved but only a few. This is a view held by some who hold on to a view called limited atonement.” In this view, only the elected few will be saved among the billions of people of this world since Adam. And to them, that’s final. God has already decided from the foundation of the world who will be saved (just a few) and who will be lost (the many). That’s their view of election and predestination.
  2. Not all are being saved at this time, during this present age or era. Only the elect few or the little flock have been chosen and given salvation for now. The rest of humanity will have their chance to salvation in the future during the millennium and after the millennium. This is a view based on eras, eons or dispensations — a view called dispensationalism.

These are the two broad views that I know of held by some groups as they read and interpret this verse in Matthew 22:14. Of course, there might be variations to this view just like there are various views on dispensationalism.

But is this really what Matthew 22:14 is saying? Let’s try to find out and study this verse based on its own context.

Getting the Context

Actually, Matthew 22:14 is the ending part of a parable which Jesus gave about a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. Jesus was giving a parable about what the Kingdom of God is like (Matt. 22:1-2).

In this parable, the king “called” (KJV) or “invited” (NIV, NJB) his people to the wedding banquet but some refused to attend. The king then invited “as many” (KJV) or “anyone” (NIV) his servants could find (Matt. 22:9). During the wedding banquet itself, the king noticed one of the guests was not wearing the proper attire for the ocassion and he was thrown outside into darkness. Then Jesus said, “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” (NIV, Matt. 22:14)

This statement angered the Pharisees. We read: “Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words” (Matt. 22:15). The background to this parable is that Jesus was actually talking about the chief priests and the Pharisees in this parable as well as in the previous Parable of the Tenants in Matthew 21:33-44. This is the larger context and background story behind the statement: “Many are called but few are chosen.”

The chief priests and the Pharisees rejected Jesus and wanted to kill him. So Jesus gave these parables and it was intended for them. Yes, they were “called” or “invited” but in the end they were not “chosen.”

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them.  46 They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet” (Matthew 21:45-46  45).

The larger context becomes even clearer when we read Matthew 21:31-32: “Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.  32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.”

Jesus here was talking to the chief priests and the elders who questioned his authority (Matt. 21:23). The chief priests, elders and Pharisees rejected Jesus, the King. Therefore the King rejected them and threw them outside into darkness in the parable.

Based on context therefore, my understanding is that salvation is for all. The many are invited! The many are called! Tax collectors and prostitutes are included! Not only chief priests, elders and Pharisees! God is not limiting those whom he will save and enter the Kingdom of God. Anyone (tax collectors and prostitutes included) who comes to the Lord will be saved. They have been chosen out of the many.

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