THE WICKEDNESS OF ISRAEL’S RULERS IN REJECTING GOD’S PROPHETS AND EVENTUALLY HIS OWN SON HAS CAUSED A RADICAL SHIFT AWAY FROM A KINGDOM FOCUS ON THE NATION OF ISRAEL
This parable must be interpreted from the perspective of the Apostle Paul’s discussion in Romans 9-11 of how the nation of Israel fits into God’s plan for the future. Jesus is prophesying the transition from the emphasis on the nation of Israel to the Church Age and the times of the Gentiles. But that does not mean that the church has permanently replaced Israel in God’s kingdom program. Her blinding is only partial and only temporary while the Gentile believers are grafted into the people of God. But eventually there will be a national repentance in the end times and all of the nation of Israel at that time will be saved. But here we see the dramatic rejection of the Jewish religious leaders and the nation itself due to persistent unbelief and rejection of God’s prophets and then God’s own Son, the Messiah.
Donald Hagner: As in the parables on either side of this one, the emphasis here again falls on the unreceptivity of the Jews and in particular upon the Jewish religious establishment. This is heightened by the motif of the rejection and murder of the servants and finally the son. Here the correspondence between the story of the parable and the historical rejection of the prophets and the Son of God is nothing less than remarkable. The reference to the killing of the son (v. 39) and the rejection of the stone (v. 42) become in effect further prophecies of what is to befall the Son (cf. 16:21; 17:22–23; 20:18–19). What is most astonishing, however, is the salvation-historical perspective contained in the reference to the transferring of the vineyard from the original tenants to new ones—spelled out specifically as the transference of the kingdom of God to a new people (v. 43). For Matthew’s Christian-Jewish readers, this served to explain both the present futility of the contemporary Judaism of the synagogue and the emergence of the new entity, largely but not exclusively Gentile in composition, the church. Finally determinative for this sequence of events was the response given to the Son sent by the Father. Those who reject the Son, who has become the cornerstone of the new reality of the church, which becomes in effect the new Israel, forfeit their favored position and bring themselves into judgment (v. 44), while those who receive the Son receive with him the blessed reality of the now-dawning kingdom of God (for the decisive importance of relation to the Son, cf. 10:32–33). Then, as now, relationship to Jesus is finally what matters.
Bock: This parable is one of the most important that Jesus tells, because it overviews the history of the leaders’ response to Jesus. Here is a case of a parable with clear allegorical features, since virtually every step in the story has a correspondence in Israel’s history.
R. T. France: The story of an absentee landowner reflects a familiar economic situation at the time; some of the chief priests and elders to whom Jesus is speaking would probably have owned land away from Jerusalem. The landowner must be a wealthy man, because a newly planted vineyard could not be expected to produce fruit for at least four years, during which he would have no return on his capital outlay. Once the vines began to fruit there would be an agreed proportion of the crop due to the owner, leaving the tenant to derive their living from the rest. The fault of the tenants in withholding the due produce (and in the violence perpetuated on the slaves) is massively compounded by their decision to murder the owner’s son and so to attempt to take over the property. At this point the story has moved away from everyday reality, and, as often happens in parables (notably in 22:7), the intended symbolism has apparently invaded the tory-line: the murder of the son represents the forthcoming execution of Jesus.
(:33a) PROLOGUE – ENGAGING THE TARGET AUDIENCE
“Listen to another parable.”
John MacArthur: He uses the Greek word allos for “another.” It means another of the same kind. He has just given them a parable about two sons. And here is another parable in the same vernacular, in the same style. But more than that, the parable of the two sons was a parable about judgment. And here is another parable about judgment, another one of the same kind. It is a judgment parable. For they have manifested collectively a rejection of Jesus Christ. And so, the parables He gives them are parables that bring upon them the judgment due to those who reject Him. They have rejected Him; so, in these parables, He rejects them. And they are powerful to say the least.
I. (:33b-39) RELATING THE PARABLE OF THE WICKED TENANT FARMERS –
CONTRAST BETWEEN EXTREME WICKEDNESS AND EXTREME FORBEARANCE
A. (:33) The Situation – Landowner Cultivates, Protects and Leases Out His Vineyard
“There was a landowner who planted a vineyard and put a wall around it and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and rented it out to vine-growers, and went on a journey.”
John Schultz: The question is what this vineyard stands for. It does not represent all of creation, at least not initially. It is the mandate that God had particularly entrusted to the people of Israel, which, after the rejection of the Son, would be given to the Gentiles. In v.43, Jesus identifies it as “the kingdom of God.” It represents God’s revelation of Himself to mankind. Israel had been given the task of being the guardian of God’s righteousness. God’s intention had been that Israel would not keep this treasure to itself but that, by becoming a kingdom of priests, it would demonstrate this riches for the benefit of the whole world. Israel failed completely in the carrying out of this task, both as far as the keeping of the mandate and the testimony of God’s righteousness. It used the fruits of the vineyard for its own consumption.
B. (:34-36) The Sending of Two Groups of Servants to Collect the Harvest Payment
- (:34-35) First Group Beaten and Killed
“And when the harvest time approached,
he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce.
And the vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another,
and stoned a third.”
- (:36) Second Group Beaten and Killed
“Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first;
and they did the same thing to them.”
Van Parunak: Throughout the OT, the rulers of the people abused the prophets.
- Jezebel and the prophets of the Lord (1 Kings 18:4, 13)
- Ahab and Micaiah (1 Kings 22)
- Joash and Zechariah (2 Chr 24:20-22)
- Jehoiakim and Jeremiah (Jer 26:21)
C. (:37-39) The Sending and Killing of His Son
- (:37) Expectation of Respectful Reception
“But afterward he sent his son to them, saying,
‘They will respect my son.’”
William Hendriksen: The word “finally” is full of intense emotion and pathos. The owner has a son, a beloved son, his only child (see Mark 12:6). Besides that son there is no longer anyone else he can send. That son is his one and all. He is all there is left, the owner’s last word. So he sent his son, thinking, “They will be ashamed of hurting my son. They will respect him.” He spared not his own son! But what happens? When these wicked tenants see his son approaching they begin to plot. They enter into a consultation with each other. Accordingly, what they are going to do to him is not matter of impulse. On the contrary, it is “malice of aforethought,” the result of wicked deliberation, of corrupt, selfish scheming. It is premeditated murder. They reason as follows: “This is the heir. When we kill him there will be no other heir to worry about. So the inheritance which he would have obtained will be ours.” In their sinister folly they forget that the owner, the son’s father, is still alive, and will certainly wreak vengeance. How blatantly foolish is sin! How absurd! “He who dwells in the heavens will laugh. The Lord will hold them in derision” (Ps. 2:4).
- (:38) Expedient Decision to Kill the Son and Seize His Inheritance
“But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves,
‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and seize his inheritance.’”
Thomas Constable: Israel’s leaders did not reject Jesus because it was not clear who He was, but because they refused to submit to His authority (23:37). Jesus had announced to His disciples that the Jewish leaders would kill Him (16:21; 17:23; 20:18). Now He announced this to the leaders themselves and the people. The “inheritance” that the vine-growers (Israel’s leaders) sought to seize from the heir (Jesus) was the messianic kingdom.
- (:39) Expulsion and Killing of the Son
“And they took him, and threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.”
D. A. Carson: Elsewhere [Matthew] shows (23:37) their fundamental unwillingness to come to terms with Jesus’ identity and claims because they did not want to bow to his authority. True, their attitude was not, according to the synoptic record, “This is the Messiah; come, let us kill him”; yet, in the light of the Scriptures, their rejection of him was no less culpable than if it had been that. Therefore, though all the parable’s details may not be pressed, rejection of the son (v.39) by the leaders is the final straw that brings divine wrath on them.
II. (:40-44) REJECTION OF THE MESSIAH LEADS TO THE REJECTION OF ISRAEL (JUDGMENT AND REPLACEMENT)
A. (:40-41) Self Indictment by the Religious Leaders
- (:40) Judicial Question
“Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes,
what will he do to those vine-growers?”
- (:41) Judicial Verdict
a. Radical Punishment on the Wicked Tenants
“They said to Him, ‘He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,”
Daniel Doriani: The NIV captures a play on words in the Greek, which roughly reads “bad ones he will badly destroy.” So Jesus now says what he previously showed when he closed the temple and he cursed the fig tree: judgment is coming.
b. Radical Transfer of Stewardship of Owner’s Property
“and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers,
who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.’”
Jeffrey Crabtree: Jesus applied both parables directly to His accusers. Their condemnation came from their own mouths (v. 41) as well as from His. Jewish leadership was not doing its job (9:36). They “serve[d] themselves rather than God” (Keener, Background 103)—just as they had been doing for centuries (Jer. 23:1-4; Ezek. 34:1-24)—and so God would replace them. In the parable of the tenant farmers was justification (v. 43, “therefore”) for their judgment and the appointment of new leadership who would direct fruit to God.
B. (:42-44) Divine Indictment by the Prophetic Scriptures and by the Lord Himself
- (:42) Rejected Stone Elevated to Position of Highest Prominence
“Jesus said to them, Did you never read in the Scriptures,
‘The stone which the builders rejected, This became the chief corner stone;
This came about from the Lord, And it is marvelous in our eyes ‘?”
Michael Wilkins: The crowds at Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem had sung out a portion of the last of the Egyptian Hallel psalms, “O Lord, save us,” a quotation of Psalm 118:25 (cf. Matt. 21:9). Now Jesus draws on Psalm 118:22 to point to his rejection and future vindication. God has given prominence to his suffering servant like a “capstone” (lit., “head of the corner”), either the stone that held two rows of stones together in a corner (“cornerstone”) or the wedge-shaped stone placed at the pinnacle of an arch that locked the ascending stones together. The suffering of the Son will be turned into the position of ultimate prominence and importance.
- (:43) Rejected Kingdom Transferred from the Nation of Israel to a New People
“Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you,
and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it.”
Grant Osborne: The salvation-historical move from the Jewish people to the Gentiles/church is seen in 8:11–12 (cf. 13:12) and is part of the universal mission theme in Matthew (see 1:3, 5–6; 2:1–12; 4:15–16; 8:5–13, 28–34; 12:21; 15:21–28; 24:14; 28:19). . .
The children of the kingdom now consist of the new kingdom community of the church. But this does not mean the Jewish people have no more hope. Paul clarifies this in Rom 9–11. God has not abandoned his covenant promises but even now has called a remnant from among the nation (Rom 11:1–10) and even has intended the Gentile mission to have as its main purpose making Israel jealous (Rom 10:19; 11:11–16), and the end result is intended that “all Israel will be saved” (Rom 11:25–32). Still, Jesus is prophesying divine judgment on a people and its leaders who have rejected and are about to kill the very Son of God.
John Schultz: The immediate result of the rejection of Jesus as the cornerstone was that the kingdom was taken away from Israel to whom it had been entrusted as guardian and given to someone else. The kingdom had been Israel’s “reason d’être.” God had chosen the nation to know His will and to obey it and thus to be the guardian of righteousness and a testimony to the world. All this was in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. Israel’s rejection of Jesus made them fall from their status with God, and their task to witness and guard is henceforth given to the church, which is the body of Christ, consisting of both Jews and Gentiles who confess Jesus as their Savior and Lord.
Robert Gundry: The church is called “a nation” because it will replace the nation of Israel with disciples from all nations, blended together into a new people of God. Implied is a comparison of this nation to a building (compare 16:18; Isaiah 5:7) whose key- or capstone will be the resurrected Jesus. But that kind of stone turns into a judgmental stone that shatters and pulverizes.
Jeffrey Crabtree: At this point, Jesus interpreted the tenant farmer parable (v. 43). The vineyard stands for Israel, or more particularly for the kingdom of God in Israel’s hands (vv. 41, 43; Hagner 33B:620). As with the landowner and the tenant farmers, God will remove the kingdom from under the watchcare of these Jewish leaders and give it to another nation that will produce fruit. Jesus did not identify this other nation. This writer believes this new nation is the new people of God (1 Pet. 2:9).
- (:44) Rejected Stone Brings Crushing Destruction
“And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces;
but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.”
Michael Wilkins: Those who stumble over the stone and try to destroy it, such as the religious leaders who reject Jesus and will later condemn him, will be destroyed. In the end Jesus will come as judge and fall on those who have rejected him (cf. chs. 24–25).
III. (:45-46) REACTION OF THE JEWISH RELIGIOUS LEADERS
A. (:45) Perceiving Themselves to be the Target
“And when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables,
they understood that He was speaking about them.”
B. (:46) Plotting How to Seize Jesus without Opposition from the People
“And when they sought to seize Him, they feared the multitudes,
because they held Him to be a prophet.”
Stu Weber: The hypocrites could take a hint. They knew Jesus was accusing them of mismanaging God’s kingdom and that he was pronouncing judgment on them. They should have repented in the face of the truth, but instead they decided to remove the truth and continue in their denial. They were still thinking that if they could kill Jesus, they would win. They were tragically mistaken. How blind is the insanity of unbelief, especially when marked by hatred and bitterness.
Charles Swindoll: The message hit its target with full force. Up until that moment, the chief priests and Pharisees had been oblivious as to where they fit in Jesus’ parables. After the one-two punch delivered in the stories of the two sons and the unfaithful tenants, Jesus got their attention. They now understood that He had been speaking about them (21:45). Though they fumed in rage, they could do nothing to Jesus in that public forum of the temple court. Because the people (rightly) believed that Jesus was a genuine prophet, the Jewish leaders feared openly arresting Him (21:46). They would have to wait for a more opportune moment.
Thomas Constable: Rather than fearing Jesus, whom they understood to have claimed to be the instrument of their final judgment, these leaders feared the multitudes—whose power over them was much less. Rather than submitting to Him in belief, they tried to seize Him. Thus they triggered the very situation that Jesus had warned them about, namely, His death at their hands. Their actions confirmed their rejection of Jesus and their consequent blindness.
D. A. Carson: The pericope ends with magnificent yet tragic irony (v.46). The religious leaders and others who do not accept God’s Messiah are told they will reject Jesus and be crushed. But instead of taking the warning, they hunt for ways to arrest him, hindered only by fear of the people who accept Jesus as a prophet, and so trigger the very situation they have been warned about—a dramatic example of God’s poetic justice. God in the Scriptures foretells this very event. These men, prompted by hatred, rush to bring it to pass.