Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?”
Jesus answered, “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.
“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
It is a matter of some conjecture when this scene takes place; could it have been at Matthew’s dinner, or maybe right after? Could this question have come as a result of John’s disciples hearing about Matthew’s bash? I don’t know, the text doesn’t say and the context is not quite clear, so I’ll leave the debate to others. In any case, they pose a question to Jesus that reveals their lack of comprehension regarding Jesus and His relationship with the Kingdom that John was preparing the way for.
In His answer, Jesus uses an apocalyptic reference from the prophets, namely in likening Himself to the bridegroom, an illusion to the prophetic concept of the Messianic Banquet that we have already discussed multiple times in our study of both Revelation and Matthew.
Jesus’ point appears to be that the Kingdom is here; after all, that’s what He has been proclaiming all over the countryside for some time now. With the coming of the Kingdom, it is no time for mourning and fasting. This is an interesting point when you consider it in the context of the fasting of the Pharisees, which we covered in Matthew 6; their fasting was prescribed by the Law twice per week, and they added frequent fasts on top of that to show their piety… and then of course there is fasting during certain festivals. These Old Testament practices were done in the hope of the Messiah’s coming, and in mourning for the sinfulness of the people. Now, the Messiah is present, and all of the previous unctions are over with; fasting at that time would have been inappropriate. Jesus illustrates this with two metaphors, the patch of an old garment and the use of old wineskins for new wine. Jesus is the new cloth and the new wine in the illustrations, and the Old Testament ways are the old cloth and the old wineskin, with “old” being the operative term.
Yes, the time for fasting and mourning will come when Jesus dies on the cross, but as we know, the grave will not hold Him, and He will return after the resurrection. Then He will be taken into heaven; another time of fasting, and then He will return again in the Person of the Holy Spirit who is with us to this day. Do we live in a time of fasting? (This is our controversy today). Opinions differ on this, but to my mind, the Bridegroom is here with us even now in the indwelling Holy Spirit.