We have finished our study of the kingdom parables, which mostly dealt with the way people treat each other, whether master to slave or slave to slave. Also, we pointed out that they were about things that happened in the kingdom of God. Now, we will look at a parable not identified as “kingdom” related, and we will see that it is not any less important, nor is its overall meaning any different, when it comes to eschatology.
Today’s parable is much broader in scope. In fact, the historical sense is such that, even though Jesus does not call it a kingdom parable, it is analogous to the kingdom in that it tells the entire story – His story – of God’s people and how they behaved from the moment they came out of bondage in Egypt until the desolation of the land of Judea and the ensuing destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70AD – and all that that entails.
This parable is also one of a handful that we find in all three of the synoptic gospels, at Matthew 21:33-44, Mark 12:1-11, and Luke 20:9-18. For our purpose, we will use the one from Matthew since it is the most comprehensive. It takes place in the Temple where the chief priests and the elders of the people – the religious leaders – were confronting Jesus as to ‘by what authority He was teaching’ (21:23).
In Matthew 21:33-39, Jesus said to them, “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard and put a wall around it and dug a winepress in it, and built a tower, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third.
“Again, he sent another group of slaves larger than the first, and they did the same thing to them. But afterward, he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 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.’ They took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.”
So, let us begin by doing a little itemizing and systematizing. First, we have seven nouns, which are persons, places, or things. They are: a) a landowner, b) a vineyard, c) the vine-growers, d) the first group of slaves, e) the second group of slaves, f) the landowner’s son, and g) the inheritance. Next, we have seven verbs, i.e., action words. They are: a) the landowner planted his vineyard, b) he rented it out to vine-growers, c) he sent the first group of slaves, d) he sent a second group, e) the vine-growers beat, stoned, or killed the slaves, f) he sent his son, g) they killed his son.
Now, let us substitute for the people, places, and things: a) God is the landowner, b) the land of Israel, i.e., the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, then later Judea and the city of Jerusalem, is the vineyard, c) the Jews are the vine-growers, d, and e) the prophets are the two groups of slaves, sent first to Samaria, then to Judah, and finally to Judea, f) Christ is the Son, and g) the kingdom of God is the inheritance.
Finally, we will substitute for the actions thus: a) the landowner (God) planted His vineyard, that is He sowed His good seed, who were the sons of the kingdom, as we saw in the parable of the sower; b) God, as the Creator, owns the whole earth, and as the landowner, He rented it out to us, His people; c) when the people, the Israelites, rebelled by turning away from His law and began worshipping strange gods, He sent His prophets to turn the people back to the law.
e) the people responded by beating, stoning, and killing them, so God brought judgment upon them by first sending the Assyrians against the northern kingdom of Israel; d) then, after sending still more prophets to the remaining kingdom of Judah, e) the people beat and stoned and killed them too, so God sent Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldeans against it, destroying Jerusalem and the first (Solomon’s) Temple, carrying the people away into exile in Babylon for seventy years.
When they returned from exile and rebuilt the Temple, and the land became known as Judea, we pass through the 400-year “silent period” and enter the time of the gospels. That is when f) God sent His Son, Jesus the Messiah; g) the people greeted Him the same way they did the prophets by having Him arrested, whereby He was mocked and beaten and scourged, then crucified.
As we can see, the parable encompasses the entire narrative of God’s plan – God’s story – His story – History – as to how He chose His people and the events leading up to the coming of Christ and His crucifixion. Now, the story gets even more interesting as Jesus, in Matthew 21:40 continues, “Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?”
In which we see, “They said to Him, ‘He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons’” (21:41).
Then we see this, “Jesus said to them, ‘Did you never read in the Scriptures, “The stone which the builders rejected, this became the chief cornerstone; this came about from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes?” Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust’” (21:42-44).
One has to ask himself, “What does Jesus’ comment about the “stone” have to do with the overall narrative?” We will answer that, but let us first conclude the text, “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them. When they sought to seize Him, they feared the people, because they considered Him to be a prophet” (21:45-46).
If the reader has been following this blog the past few months as we studied Daniel the prophet, he would know that that is where the story of the stone originated. In Daniel 7, he had the dream in which he had a vision of the Son of Man being presented before the Ancient of Days, and where He was given an everlasting kingdom.
That kingdom was the stone cut without hands that became a mountain and filled the whole earth, which King Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream in Daniel 2. That stone then fell on and crushed the feet of the statue the king saw in the dream, which was about the succeeding kingdoms of Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. They became like chaff from the summer threshing floors – and the wind carried it away so that not a trace of it was found (see Daniel 2:35).
Returning to our text, we see that, as always, Jesus judged them by their own words when He said the kingdom of God would be taken from them [the vineyard would be rented out to other vine-growers] and given to another people producing the fruit of it [who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons]. Now, they knew He was talking about them because the text tells us so, and they tried to seize Him because of that.
Nevertheless, what is most striking, aside from the overall narrative, is the consistent connection between Daniel and Jesus. Writing more than 500 years before the birth of our Lord, Daniel’s words, seen by most as shrouded in mystery, suddenly become less mysterious when seen in the light of Jesus’ words. They do not tell the story of apocalyptic ‘end of the world things.’ They do tell the story of the coming of Christ, the cross, and the resurrection. As stated on several occasions, the two are inextricably linked.