“Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard…” (Matthew 21:33)
More often than not the parables of Jesus require significant wrestling to grasp and apply. Clearly this Sunday’s parable of the wicked vineyard tenants is not such a parable. In fact at the moment this parable proceeded from the mouth of Jesus, most of it almost certainly rang clear in the ears of the Jewish rabbis. Consider the following Old Testament quotes that are linked to this parable.
(v 33): There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants. Israel is God’s vineyard: For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel (Isaiah 5:7; see all of Isaiah 5:1-7; also e.g. Psalm 80:8). Jerusalem is the heart of this vineyard.
(vv 34-35): When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. E.J. Young wrote a book entitled, My Servants, the Prophets. Jeremiah and others were such servants: God says: …listen to the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently, though you have not listened…And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die!” (Jeremiah 26:5,8; also e.g. 2 Chron. 24:20,21)
(vv 36-37): Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ There are intimations of the Son of God throughout the Old Testament, but at least two texts speak directly of God’s Son: I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son…” (Psalm 2:7). Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is His Son’s name, If you know? (Proverbs 30:4). A son is an heir; the Son of God is heir of all!
(vv 38-39): But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? (Isaiah 53:8). This part of the parable was likely only understood after God’s Son was murdered “outside the vineyard”…on Golgotha.
(vv 40-41): When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” God’s judgment upon unbelieving Israel is clearly attested throughout their history. Jesus here predicts the event that certainly fulfills this parable’s prediction of “a miserable death”: (Of Jerusalem): For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you (Luke 19:43).
How amazing that God works the greatest evil into good! The Jewish rejection of the Christ—ultimately by crucifixion—means reconciliation for the world! Praise God for The Vine who sprang from the earth in resurrection, and for the Spirit who grafts us into Him; enabling us to produce fruit to God’s glory.