The Banquet Hall of Heaven
“Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready” (Luke 14:16-17).
The world in which Jesus lived was a strange confluence of riches and poverty. The New Testament alludes to the rich frequently and the extravagances to which they went to “one-up” their social peers. The system under which business of every kind transpired during Jesus day was more or less the equivalent of our “good old boy” network. In this relationship, the rich often acted as benefactors toward the poor (Luke 22:25). In exchange for these benefits the poor were obliged to give the proper honor and respect to the wealthy. In return for their showing respect, the rich would host large banquets to which their poorer clients would be invited.
The poor frequently found themselves humiliated at these banquets by the rich who would ostentatiously display their wealth (compare 1 Corinthians 11:20-22). The richer would have higher places of honor than the poor (Luke 14:8-10). The rich guests would have their feet washed with much flair whereas the poor were sometime neglected (Luke 7:44-45). The poor may even find themselves hungry while the more honored guests faired sumptuously (Luke 16:19-21, 1 Corinthians 11:20-22). Slaves, also, would be used to serve the various courses and beaten upon the slightest of offenses. These banquets were often held in antechambers of various pagan temples. These “banquet halls of heaven” were anything but heavenly, but rather, as James describes the wisdom of man, “earthly, sensual, devilish” (James 3:15).
The banquet hall, however, which Jesus describes in the parables is quite a different affair. The upper status guests to these banquets refuse to come (Matthew 22:5-6, Luke 14:18-20). This was a serious cultural offense and merited the harsh response indicated by Jesus in these parables (Matthew 22:7, Luke 14:24). In contrast, then, to the banquets of Jesus’ day, the master of the feast invites “the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind” (Luke 14:13). The servants are instructed to “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled” (Luke 14:23) and “Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid…” (Matthew 22:9). This picture is not the order of the day.
The banquet hall of heaven, then, is a place where all are considered of equal value. Peter declared, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34-35). James wrote, “My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons” and “But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors” (James 2:1,9). In the banquet hall of heaven, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). The banquet hall of heaven is a place of equality, not class warfare.
The banquet hall of heaven is a place where the Master humbles himself for the sake of the servant. John 13:4-5 records Jesus’ remarkable actions in this regard, “He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.” This exemplary action was to instruct the disciples about service to one another, not self-service. Jesus said, “Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:13-14). Peter echoed Jesus instructions in his epistle, “Likewise, ye younger, be subject unto the elder. Yea, all of you gird yourselves with humility, to serve one another: for God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5 ASV). The banquet hall of heaven is a place of humility, not arrogance.
Finally, the banquet hall of heaven is a place of lasting fullness. The physical banquets often left the guests unsatisfied for various reasons and ultimately could provide no lasting satisfaction. One would either get hungry again or the banquet of the previous week would be outdone by some other, wealthier patron the next. What Jesus offers, however, is lasting satisfaction. He said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10b). In John 6:27 Jesus teaches us to, “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.” The banquet hall of heaven, then, is a place where all needs are met by a loving and providential God and where no one goes spiritually hungry.
In contrast to the banquets of Jesus day, the gospel sets forth the feeding of the multitudes as an example of the banquet hall of heaven. The Master of the feast blesses and serves the meal to the hungry (Mark 8:6). From just a little, a multitude is fed by the providence of God (Mark 8:5,7). All are fed according to their needs and each eats until he is satisfied (Mark 8:8). The leftovers are collected and then saved for additional meals (Mark 8:8). And Jesus’ disciples learn that “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4; and compare Mark 8:19-21).
Banqueters in ancient Rome sought physical pleasure through debauchery, gluttony, and superfluity of wickedness. Such brings no lasting pleasure, but mere momentary satisfaction. How much more satisfying the joy brought through humility, sobriety, and righteousness! May God help us to grow fat in the banquet hall of heaven!