A WEALTHY LANDOWNER, A LEASED VINEYARD, AND A DEAD SON
On those occasions when Jesus used parables to teach the people around Him, He always had a specific goal in mind. For example, sometimes Christ used parables to stress God’s love for mankind, as He did when He told the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. Sometimes Christ taught parables to stress the unfaithfulness of the Jews, as He did in the parable of the barren fig tree or the parable of the two sons who were told to go work in their father’s vineyard. Sometimes Christ presented “kingdom parables” that spoke of the church that would exist during the Gospel Age, as He did in the parable of the sower and the parable of the great supper. At other times, Christ used parables to teach important Christian principles, as He did in the parables of the unmerciful servant, the good Samaritan, and the unjust steward. But regardless of the specific goal that Christ had in mind, He always managed to get His point across—if people who were willing to listen to, and carefully consider, what He had to say.
Perhaps one of the most forceful of Christ’s parables was the parable in Matthew 21:33-43 that He told about Himself. Christ told the rebellious Jews of His generation about a man who owned a vineyard, which he had chosen to lease to some men who were supposed to repay him by giving him a portion of the fruits that the vineyard produced each year. When harvest time came, the landowner sent some of his servants to collect what was due to him. But the men who had leased the land beat one of the servants, stoned another, and killed another. So, the landowner sent another larger group of servants to collect what he was owed. But the men who had leased the vineyard did the same thing to those servants.
Finally, the landowner decided to send his son instead of his servants, because he felt like the men who had leased his land surely would respect and listen to him since, after all, he was the owner’s son. But, as Matthew 21:38-39 explains, “When the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.”
Jesus then asked the Jews to whom He was presenting this parable, “When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” (vs. 40). The Jews answered Christ’s question correctly when they replied, “The landowner will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons” (vs. 41). It was at this point that Jesus showed His Jewish listeners what the parable was actually about. It was a parable about Him as the Son of God, and the death that He eventually would endure at the hands of those same Jews. In Matthew 21:42-43 Jesus said to His listeners, “Have you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.”
Christ’s parable—an earthly story with a heavenly message—contained four extremely important points. First, Jesus wanted the Jews to know that while in the past God had sent prophets to the Jewish nation to proclaim His message to them, He now had changed His tact and had sent them Heaven’s very best—the Son of God Himself!
Second, when Christ pointed out in His parable that “the stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” He was employing such imagery to explain that although the Jews as a nation refused to accept Christ as the Messiah, it was upon Him as the Messiah that God one day would build His heavenly kingdom—the church. In fact, that is exactly what Jesus predicted in Matthew 16:16-18 when Peter acknowledged Jesus as God’s Son, and Jesus then said in regard to the truthfulness of Peter’s statement, “Upon this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Shortly after Christ’s death and resurrection, Peter said to the Jews in Jerusalem,
“Let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the ‘stone that was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:10-12).
Third, by Christ’s use of this parable about the death of the landowner’s son at the hands of the wicked vinedressers, He was predicting His own death at the hands of the wicked Jews of His generation—a fact that Peter brought to the attention of the Jews on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 when he presented the first Gospel sermon and used “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19) to open the doors of the church.
Fourth, when Christ ended His parable about the wicked vinedressers by saying to the Jews, “Therefore I say to you that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it,” He was showing them, as “the seed of Abraham,” that because of their persistent, stubborn rebellion to God’s offer of salvation through His Son, God would turn and offer salvation through the church to the Gentiles, whom the Jews despised.
Isn’t it amazing how much “spiritual meat” Jesus was able to pack into one small parable? I now understand why it was so important for us to study the parables in our Sunday morning Bible class.