Prior to the words of the forty-third verse, and just to be sure that all understand that Jesus has the Temple in mind as He is speaking, Matthew’s Jesus rounds out His parable by saying “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” (21:42) Here, Jesus quotes from the one hundred eighteenth Psalm.
The selection on offer from Jesus, which is to be called to mind by the section that He has quoted, begins with “Open for me the gates of the just king’s temple! I will enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. This is the Lord’s gate---the godly enter through it. I will give you thanks, for you answered me, and have become my deliverer” (118:19-21). What follows in the Psalm from that which is quoted by Jesus (though Jesus doesn’t quote it, or at least Matthew doesn’t report Jesus quoting it, would be called to mind by Jesus using the introductory words) is “This is the day the Lord has brought about. We will be happy and rejoice in it. Please Lord, deliver! Please Lord, grant us success! May the one who comes in the name of the Lord be blessed! We will pronounce blessings on you in the Lord’s temple” (118:24-26).
So not only is Jesus quite obviously speaking about the Temple, by using this Psalm He has actually gone back and effectively answered the question that was previously posed to Him about what He was doing and who it was that had given Him the right to do it. He is the one who comes in the name of the Lord and He is acting in the Temple on behalf of Israel’s God. In all of this section, when considering how to understand Jesus’ insistence that “no one knows the hour,” the Temple is the thing.
After telling the parables of the two sons and the tenants, with Matthew having interjected Jesus’ thoughts concerning the kingdom of the covenant God, and letting his audience know that “the chief priests and the Pharisees… realized that He was speaking about them” (21:45), Jesus moves on to His next parable, which is that of the wedding banquet. Having suggested that the kingdom of God, with its Temple-related connotations, was going to be taken from those that represented the Temple and its regime, this parable begins with “The kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son” (22:2). The parable, which shares similar features to the parable of the tenants, concludes with the king saying “For many are called, but few are chosen” (22:14).
Though much can be made of this parable, and though there are obviously a great number of avenues of exploration that could be traveled (king and son and messianic understanding to say the least), because Jesus is dealing with the issue of the Temple, with the Temple consistently serving as the backdrop, suffice it to say that the connection between the kingdom of their God being taken away from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and the kingdom of heaven being limited to those that have been chosen for it, is rather obvious.
One must be extremely careful to not exhume this statement about many being called and few being chosen from out of the ground in which it has been placed. This is not an isolated statement nor an isolated parable from which one can construct a theology of predestination or limited atonement. The statement should not be detached from its context and ever allowed to stand on its own. This is a statement and a parable dealing with the Temple and those that represent that Temple, as Jesus builds on His previously enacted judgment of that Temple and those that run it. Along with the setting and the audience, Jesus’ subject of concern remains unchanged. This fact is obviously not lost on Jesus’ intended audience, as Matthew moves immediately to tell us that “Then the Pharisees went out and planned together to entrap Him with His own words” (22:15).
To that end, the Pharisees proffer a question about the paying of taxes to Caesar. The import of this question cannot be disconnected from Jesus’ triumphal entry---an event which would have stirred revolutionary notions, hopes concerning Israel’s king (messiah), the perceived illegitimacy of those that then ruled (Caesar), and the driving of the Romans from the land. Taxes and revolution go hand in hand, and Jesus’ opinion in this area would have been used to great effect. Also, it seems as if it is supposed to have the function of distracting Jesus from His main concern, which is the judged Temple and its judged functionaries. However, Jesus’ answer will be heard with the Temple as a sounding board, and perhaps even as a critical rebuke of His interrogators when He says to “give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (22:21b).