“How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. (Matt. 9:15)

This is Jesus’ metaphorical reply when John the Baptist’s disciples challenged the fact that Jesus’ disciples did not fast on a day they and the Pharisees fasted on. What did it mean?

Jesus is responding to this:
Then John's disciples came and asked him, "How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?" (Matt. 9:14)
Fasting in remembrance of a particular prophet such as Moses, Abraham or Jacob is an ancient custom among many traditional religious disciplines: The representative of God (prophet) is honored and respected, primarily on their appearance or birthday, or their disappearance or death of the body.

In much of the world the birth of Jesus is now celebrated as Christmas, and his disappearance as Good Friday. (Though the dates of his supposed appearance and disappearance were manipulated by the early Roman Catholic institution to coincide with two secular holidays - the solstice celebrations and the celebration of the Saxon idol Oestre or Eastre.)

Let's look closer at the meaning of Jesus' statement.

The word "guests" is a mistranslation of the Greek word υἱός (huios), which means, according to the lexicon, either a son (in the case of a family) or servant or follower (if not of the physical family - "used to describe one who depends on another or is his follower"). In fact, this is the same word translated to "son" in "son of God" and "son of man" along with other uses, such as "children of God" (Matt. 5:9), "your people" (Matt. 12:27), "people of this age" (Luke 20:34) and so on.

As such, "guests" is an inappropriate translation. The more appropriate translation would be "attendants" or "servants" of the bridegroom.

In ancient times, weddings were large galas typically done by wealthy landowners who had servants and attendants. When they were married, these servants or attendants took care of things. Over the centuries this custom translated into the bridegroom's friends or family.

This understanding is critical to the meaning because Jesus is comparing those who are the servants of a bridegroom during a wedding to those who are the servants of the living spiritual teacher - representative of God.

The point Jesus is making here is that for Jesus’ disciples, Jesus is in the same role as representative of God that those previous prophets had been in. Jesus is stating that there was no need to “mourn” the passing of a prior representative of God if the disciples we were in the service of a current representative of God - especially if that fasting interfered with that service.

The analogy is even more applicable when we consider the intimate relationship of love between Jesus and God. This concept of "bridegroom" illustrates a relationship between two persons - a relationship of love that exists between God and His servant/representative.

While some might feel that this role of servant and representative of God somehow diminishes Jesus’ stature or identity, quite the opposite is true. To be the authorized representative and servant of God is the highest position in the kingdom of God. Only the most qualified persons can be in this position. One must have established an intimate loving relationship with God, and be surrendered to Him. And then be empowered by Him to represent Him.

Jesus indicated this esteemed position of being servant to God in many previous statements. For example:
"For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of Him who sent me." (John 6:38)
and
“My teaching is not my own. It comes from the One who sent me." (John 7:16)
and
"The One who sent me is with me; He has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases Him.” (John 8:29)
These statements by Jesus reflect his self-identification as God's servant.

For Jesus’ disciples, Jesus is their access and doorway to re-establishing their own relationship with God. Thus their focus, according to Jesus' statement, should be upon Jesus’ teachings so that one day they might also be prepared to serve and represent God.

This event also communicates the relationship that existed between Jesus and his teacher, John the Baptist. Why would John the Baptist's disciples challenge Jesus on how his disciples acted?

It is because Jesus was also a disciple of John the Baptist, evidenced by his baptism by John. So John's other disciples were seeing themselves as Jesus' peers. And thus they were wondering why Jesus did not follow the same practices with regard to fasting during the commemoration of previous prophets.

This, however, was a short-sighted understanding of Jesus' actual position. They obviously did not see Jesus' true exalted position as God's representative and loving servant.

Thus we can understand from this event that Jesus was one of John’s disciples. This is clear by Jesus' having traveled to the place where John was teaching, and by Jesus' eventual baptism by John. Jesus would not have taken baptism and not accepted John as his teacher with respect to hearing his teachings and otherwise being John's student. While the details are not described in the four Gospels we know by this event and by the details of his baptism that Jesus certainly humbly accepted the position of student.

We also know from this event that both the Pharisees and John’s disciples were observing the same religious holidays. We also know that Jesus and his disciples also observed these same holidays. However, Jesus did not request from his disciples they fast. They were traveling the (hot) countryside by foot and were doing God's service. He was teaching them to put their focus upon the practical matters of serving the living representative of God. The ritual of observance by fasting was replaced by their practical service to God's living representative.

Jesus indicates here also that once he disappears, his disciples should then honor his birth and death as the others were honoring the prophets before: with fasting.
"The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast."
The representative of God's appearance and disappearance should be honored with fasting, prayer and service. Currently the Christian and secular world disrespects Jesus’ appearance and disappearance with a mad chase for materialism and commercialism. Both Christmas and Good Friday/Easter are marked with overindulgence and a worship of materialism, rather than a thoughtful day of fasting, worship and service.

This is truly offensive to Jesus, who came to teach us to focus our lives upon God, and not focus on materialism.

Jesus instructed his students to love God with all our heart and soul, and not love the world. On the day celebrated as Jesus’ appearance, the ecclesiastical Christian and secular world would rather honor a fat man in a red suit than honor God.


This article is republished from The Real Teachings of Jesus.