“recline at the feast.” Jesus is referring to the great feast or banquet that God will hold in the future Messianic Kingdom on earth. Many Jews thought of everlasting life in the Messianic Kingdom as a giant banquet, where they would get to recline and dine with other saved people and biblical greats like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and a huge banquet is certainly part of the biblical picture of the Messianic Kingdom. The banquet referred to in Isaiah 25:6, called the marriage banquet (or, “wedding supper”) of the Lamb in Revelation 19:9, is most likely near the beginning of the Messianic Kingdom, and thus would be a giant inaugural banquet at the start of the Kingdom. But the abundance of food that will be present in the Millennial Kingdom, along with the peace, prosperity, and joy in the Kingdom will make life there seem like it is a continual feast.
Although there are not a lot of verses in the Bible that refer to the great feast in the Messianic Kingdom, clear verses like Isaiah 25:6 caught the imagination of the Jews and so the feast was well known, which was why Jesus could mention it in his teachings without many explanatory remarks. Culturally, this is similar to the way that most Christians know about the shepherds in the fields on the night of Christ’s birth even though there is only one small passage eleven verses long about them in the entire Bible.
The Greek word translated “recline” in Matthew 8:11 is anaklinō (#347 ἀνακλίνω), and it means “to recline, lie down, lean against or lean on, or to ask (or make) someone to recline or lie down.” It was the standard word used when reclining to eat, so “recline to eat,” or a similar English translation catches the meaning well. Eating in the biblical world was done by reclining on the left side, usually on pillows or rolled up blankets (or couches in the Roman world), and then eating with the right hand. The feet were behind the person, away from the food, and no one ate with the left hand, which was used for washing oneself after going to the bathroom. The “table” with the food was usually just a rug or blanket spread out on the ground, but may have been an actual very low table, a few inches off the ground.
Our Western way of eating with a table about 30 inches off the ground with chairs around it was not used for eating in the biblical world, so using the translation “sit” or “sit down” in Matthew 8:11 and other verses that speak of sitting to eat is misleading to the modern reader. In most contexts we would simply translate this verse as “recline to eat” or “recline at the table” (NASB), but in this context Jesus is talking about eating at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven, so the translation “recline at the feast” is contextually acceptable (cp. CJB, NAB, NIV).
Isaiah 25:6 speaks specifically about the feast in the future Messianic Kingdom. It says: “On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines” (NIV). The mountain Isaiah refers to is Mount Zion where the rebuilt Jerusalem and the Millennial Temple described in Ezekiel 40-47 will be. Proverbs 9:1-5 also speaks of a feast and portrays “Wisdom,” personified as a woman, throwing a huge feast and inviting people to it. Many verses in the Old Testament refer to the large amounts of food for both people and animals that will be in the Kingdom (Isa. 25:6; 30:23-26; 32:15; 35:1-7; 41:18-20; 44:3; 51:3; Jer. 31:5, 11-14; Ezek. 47:1, 2, 7-12; Hos. 2:21-22; Joel 2:18-26; 3:18; Amos 9:13).
The New Testament also speaks of a feast in the Messianic Kingdom. Jesus mentioned it on a number of occasions, and the Book of Revelation calls this great feast, “the marriage banquet of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9). Jesus taught that this wonderful future feast was not just for the Jews, in fact, many of the Jews would be excluded because of their unbelief (Heb. 4:6-11). The feast will be for the righteous—those people who trust God. Jesus made this clear in his teachings. For example, after healing the servant of a Roman centurion who trusted in God and loved the Jewish nation enough to build a synagogue for the Jews (Luke 7:5), Jesus said, “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be sobbing and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:11-12; cp. Luke 13:28-29).
The people who come from “the east and the west”—places outside Israel—are Gentiles, while the “subjects of the kingdom” (the Greek literally reads, “the sons of the kingdom”) are the Jews. The salvation and everlasting life given by the Messiah was not just for the Jews. The first prophecy of the Messiah is the one God made to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3:15, and that was thousands of years before the Jews existed. About 2000 years after that first prophecy of the Messiah, God promised Abraham that all the people of earth, not just the Jews, would be blessed through him (Gen. 12:3). Then God repeated that promise to Isaac (Gen. 26:4); and to Jacob (Gen. 28:14). Besides those promises, the Old Testament has a number of verses that speak of Gentiles being included in the Messianic Kingdom (Ps. 102:15; Isa. 2:2-4; 19:23-25; 42:6; 49:6; 51:4-5; 56:3-7; 60:3; 66:18-21; Ezek. 39:21, 27; Micah 4:2; Hag. 2:7; Zech. 8:22).
In spite of all the verses about the nations being blessed in connection with the Messiah, the Jews seemed to ignore them and think that the Messianic Kingdom was just for them. Yet many Gentiles will be included in the feast, while many Jews will be left outside in the “darkness”—and since the Messianic Kingdom fills the whole earth (Dan. 2:35, 44), a person is either in the Kingdom or cast into the Lake of Fire (Matt. 25:34, 41; Rev. 20:12-15), and in terms of the well-lighted banquet in the Kingdom, the Lake of Fire is the “darkness” outside the feast.
Jesus taught about the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven on a number of different occasions, although, since the feast was so well known to his audience, he often did not describe it fully enough that the modern Bible reader picks up on what he was saying. This is the case with Matthew 8:11-12. Jesus taught about the feast and his Messianic Kingdom in a parable that compared the Kingdom of Heaven to a king who prepared a wedding feast for his son (Matt. 22:1-13, esp. v. 2). God is the king who throws a wedding feast for His Son—a great feast that includes oxen and fattened cattle (Matt. 22:4; cp. Isa. 25:6 NIV, “the best of meats”). But the people the king had originally invited, referring to the Jews, refused to come, so the king sent his servants out to bring anyone who would come, including both the bad and the good (Matt. 22:10); and that would mean the Gentiles would be included. Those people who did not come to the feast were killed (Matt. 22:7), and the unsaved will be destroyed in the Lake of Fire (Matt. 10:28; Rev. 20:13-15). Jesus taught a different parable about a man putting on a great banquet in Luke 14:16-24.
In a different parable, Jesus taught about wise virgins who got to go into a wedding feast while foolish virgins were shut out (Matt. 25:1-12, esp. v. 10). Then, at the Last Supper, Jesus held up the wine and said, “And I say to you, I will absolutely not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:29; cp. Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18). Jesus knew from the Old Testament that there would be wine at the feast in the Kingdom, and he promised his apostles he would wait until the Kingdom to drink wine again.
The Bible does not tell us when, in Christ’s future Messianic Kingdom on earth, the wedding banquet will occur. We surmise that it will be quite close to the start of the Kingdom itself, since it was customary for a king to start his reign with a feast to celebrate his inauguration (1 Sam. 11:15; 1 Kings 1:9, 25). However, it would have to be after the Sheep and Goat Judgment (Matt. 25:31-46) and the First Resurrection (Rev. 20:4; Ezek. 37:11-14) so the righteous people like Abraham would be there as Matthew 8:11 says. Also, it seems that it would be after the Temple was built in Jerusalem so that God could be properly honored (Ezek. 40-43). In Haggai 1:1-11, God rebuked His people for taking care of themselves and building nice houses before they took care of Him and built the Temple. So too, it would seem that in the Millennial Kingdom, Jesus Christ would want to make sure that the Temple was built so God could be worshipped before anyone sat down to a wedding banquet.
We should notice that when Jesus spoke of this future feast in the Kingdom, no one in his audience said, “What feast? What are you talking about?” They all had been told about the great feast in the future Messianic Kingdom even if they did not believe it themselves. Today very few people understand anything about the magnificent feast that will occur at the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom—in fact, most people have no idea about the Millennial Kingdom on earth at all. The proper understanding of the feast, the marriage banquet of the Lamb, has been obscured by many false doctrines. Most Jews today do not believe, or have only a very vague belief, in an afterlife, so a Messianic Kingdom on earth with a large feast is not part of their thinking. In a similar vein, most Christians believe that people die and go to heaven or “hell” forever, and so they think the verses in the Bible about Christ reigning on earth are figurative and refer to some kind of spiritual reign. That belief does not leave room for a magnificent feast in Christ’s future kingdom on earth. With the loss of understanding about the Kingdom of Heaven and Jesus’ rule on a restored earth, there is no proper understanding of the wonderful feast at the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom.
The stark reality about the future feast in the Kingdom is that you will either be part of it or you will be excluded from it. There will be no “visitors” or “bystanders.” Every person will either be in the feast or out in the darkness. This great banquet, and everlasting life, will be a blessing that words cannot express, and every person should make sure they will be included by accepting the salvation that is in Christ (Rom. 10:9).
[For more on the attributes of the Messianic Kingdom on earth and the names by which it is called, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.” For more information on the people who are not included in the feast, see commentary on Matthew 8:12, “cast out into the darkness outside.” For more information about Isaiah’s prophecy of the feast, see commentary on Isaiah 25:6. For more about the unsaved being annihilated in the Lake of Fire and not burning forever, see Appendix 5: “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire”].
“Kingdom of Heaven.” This is one of the many names for the future Messianic Kingdom on earth, the Millennial Kingdom. There is only one future kingdom, and it has many names. Luke 13:28-29 uses “Kingdom of God” instead of “Kingdom of Heaven” when speaking of the same subject. [For more on the many names of the Millennial Kingdom,” see Appendix 3: “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth”].
There are a few things in the Bible that everyone seems to be aware of even if these subjects are misunderstood in many ways. One such topic is the banquet mentioned in Isaiah 25:6, which is a feast with the best of meats and the finest of wines which God will host in the Messianic Age. Just as with other biblical subjects, there is a lot of confusion and misinformation about this great banquet. Today, in Christian circles, this feast is called “the wedding supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9 KJV). There are a number of things that keep people from understanding the great wedding banquet, which is part of the celebration of the inauguration of Jesus Christ as king over the earth. In this teaching, John Schoenheit covers the prophecy in Isaiah of the feast, and follows it through the Scriptures, showing what all saved people will enjoy in the future—a great celebratory banquet with the King of Kings.