The Parable of the Vineyard
As His earthly ministry and mission drew to a close, Jesus continued to attempt to gather into the kingdom of God the chosen descendants of Abraham, the Jewish nation. The result–as it had been throughout Israel’s history–was a continued rejection of God’s grace by His chosen people. Jesus continued right up until the end to call the Jews and their religious leaders to repentance. In chapters 21 and 22 Matthew recorded three parables which were a wake-up call for the nation of Israel. These three parables (the Two Sons, the Vineyard, and the Wedding Feast) all stress the terrible rejection of God’s grace by those who were called by God.
This second parable of the vineyard was familiar, not only because of the vineyards which covered the hills of Palestine, but also because this image was familiar to readers of the Old Testament Scriptures. Isaiah used a vineyard as a picture of God’s people. Isaiah stressed that, in spite of everything the husbandman (God) did for His vineyard, this vineyard did not produce fruit. “For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant. He looked for justice, but behold, oppression; For righteousness, but behold, a cry for help” (Is. 5:7).
Jesus echoes Isaiah’s picture in the parable of the vineyard in Matthew 22. God planted this vineyard, making the nation of Israel His chosen people. The history of Israel was the history of the continued rejection of God by His own people. Throughout the Old Testament, God sent His prophets to call His people to repentance. Not only did Israel refuse to listen to God’s prophets, they threatened, beat, and killed His representatives. This open rebellion against the Owner was repeated time after time.
The Owner then decided to send His own Son to these ungrateful servants, saying, “They will respect my son” (Mt. 21:37). The servants plotted together, seized, and then killed the son. Jesus then asked the Pharisees, “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” (Mt. 21:40) The answer is obvious, “They said to Him, ‘He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons'” (Mt. 21:41).
Application Is Obvious
The application is obvious to us. Jesus is laying bare the terrible rejection of the Son of God by the religious leaders of Israel. The application was also obvious to the Pharisees, who perceived that Jesus was speaking of them. This only intensified their opposition and strengthened their resolve to get rid of Jesus at any cost.
Jesus used Psalm 118:22-23 to nail down the message. He said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” (Mt. 21:42) God made this rejected and crucified Jesus the chief cornerstone of His Church. In fact, Jesus revealed that the Kingdom of God would be taken from the chosen descendants of Abraham and be given to the Gentiles.
Surely this parable clearly revealed the unbelief and sin of the nation of Israel. Jesus called the Jewish nation and their religious leaders to repentance. History reveals that they did not heed His call. Jesus also reveals the unbelief and rejection of those in the organized church today who are secure in their own righteousness and do not take seriously Jesus’ call to follow Him.
This lesson of Old Testament Israel and the vineyard is a serious warning to us. God in His kindness and mercy is calling to us.
–Pastor John Schierenbeck