“Friend.” The Greek word translated “friend” is hetairos (#2083 ἑταῖρος), and although it means “friend, companion, mate, partner,” that is not really its meaning in this context. The king did not know the man, and the BDAG Greek-English lexicon says that hetairos is “a general form of address to someone whose name one does not know.” So by addressing the man as hetairos (“friend”), the king was being polite and friendly, instead of saying something much more crass such as “Hey you!”
“without a wedding garment.” The man at the king’s banquet did not have a wedding garment, but how could he be expected to have one? The king’s servants had gone out and rounded up people—“both wicked and good”—who happened to be out on the roads, (Matt. 22:10). Some commentators suggest that the people had time to go home and change clothes, but generally the kind of people who were on the street did not have nice clothing (cp. Matt. 11:8). Many people in the biblical culture were poor, and it was common for them to only own one set of clothing (cp. Deut. 24:10-12).
The answer to the problem of the man not having wedding clothing is partially given in Matthew 22:11: the man had refused to be clothed in wedding garments by the king’s attendants when he entered the wedding—he had not allowed himself to be clothed (see commentary on Matt. 22:11). The man had the opportunity to be clothed in wedding garments but had refused them, and that is why he was speechless when the king questioned him. He had no excuse other than his own pride and his arrogant belief that what he was wearing was good enough for the banquet.
Commentators often point out that there is no verse that says the attendants were offering wedding garments to guests, but things that were common in the culture or obvious in the context are often not mentioned in the biblical record. There are many reasons for believing that the king would have provided wedding clothes to his guests. Matthew 22:11 indicates the people were offered clothing. The man had no excuse for not having a wedding garment. Most of the people the king invited did not have clothing suitable for a king’s wedding, so the garments would have had to have been provided. The king expected the people present to be wearing wedding clothing. Also, the parable was illustrating salvation, and it is King God who by grace provides the “clothing,” the righteousness and salvation, that enables believers to have everlasting life.
Also, there are verses in the Bible that indicate that proper clothing was provided for special occasions (2 Kings 10:22; Isa. 61:10; Rev. 19:7-8). Furthermore, there is some external evidence from ancient historical records that monarchs sometimes gave clothing to wear to people whom he had invited to his events.
The most important evidence that the king provided the wedding garments for the guests is the fact that the wedding garments were part of a parable that Jesus was telling about the Kingdom of Heaven. When Jesus told parables, he was careful to include things from the culture that would make the parable effective. If kings and nobles did not occasionally provide garments for their guests, then that part of his parable would have been so removed from reality that the parable would have lost much of its effectiveness because his listeners would have been confused about what Jesus was trying to tell them.
When it comes to entering the Kingdom—which means having everlasting life—no one can enter it on their own merits, “clothed in their own righteousness.” No one is righteous enough to enter without the grace of God covering them with a robe of righteousness and garments of salvation (Isa. 61:10).
In Jesus’ parable, the king who threw the banquet is God. The wedding banquet is the banquet that will occur in Christ’s future kingdom on earth (Isa. 25:6; Matt. 8:11; Rev. 19:9). The wedding garments are the righteousness and salvation that God provides by grace to everyone who will accept them. The ones who were initially invited to the wedding feast but would not come are God’s chosen people, the Jews. The slaves who went out to invite the guests were the prophets and others who brought the good news of salvation to the people. The ones who are gathered in from off the street are the Gentiles, who the Jews thought of as unclean and unworthy of everlasting life (cp. Matt. 8:11-12). The man who was not wearing a wedding garment and thought he could enter the banquet without it represents those who think they are worthy of everlasting life on their own merits and arrogantly reject God’s righteousness. The darkness outside the banquet is the darkness of the Lake of Fire and death, which is where everyone not found worthy of everlasting life is thrown (Rev. 20:11-15).
Jesus’ parable is about God’s grace and people’s personal responsibility. God graciously offers a great banquet and everlasting life to anyone who will humbly accept them. Then people individually choose whether or not to accept God’s invitation. Those who accept are granted everlasting life, while those who do not accept have no excuse except their own pride, and will come to a dark end. Sadly, when the people who have rejected God realize they have chosen death over life, they will sob and gnash their teeth, but to no avail; they made their choice and God will honor it.
[For more about the future Kingdom of Christ on earth, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth”].