The gospel of Luke chapter 20 verses 1 to 20. English Standard Version*
One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know where it came from. And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
And he began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:“ ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor.
*The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
The Parable of the Vineyard Tenants © Parva Press
A summary, then the setting or context of the parable, then the parable itself and finally its application.
First, a summary
This parable is like a missile. It was spoken with a very specific aim and target. It was told to warn the chief priests, the scribes and the elders that he, the Lord Jesus, was well aware of their murderous plans; plans absolutely consistent with the treatment their forebears gave to God’s spokesmen the prophets.
It was a parable told to warn them of the dire consequences of their murderous plan; tenants thrown out and destroyed.
It was a parable told to make plain, yet again and in unmistakable terms, who he truly was; the Christ, the Messiah, not a servant but none other than the beloved Son of God.
They were already aware, but they did not wish to know. They had chosen darkness rather than light. He was not one of them. He was not under their authority or control and he was a threat to their position of power, of prestige and of wealth. Therefore, they were determined to destroy him no matter what or who he truly was.
Yet here is one more chance to consider, to turn, before they secured the crucifixion of Israel’s glory; the crucifixion of God’s beloved Son the Messiah.
Then, the setting.
The parable is set in the final days of the ministry of the Lord Jesus in Jerusalem. Throughout his years of ministry the Lord Jesus did not loudly proclaim himself the chosen, anointed and long-promised Messiah. That would have been misunderstood. The people imagined and hungered for a national warrior-lord who would throw off the bondage of subjection to the all conquering Romans and restore Israel’s pride and standing among the nations.
The Lord Jesus did not loudly proclaim who he was but by word and by deed he demonstrated to honest seekers, those whose eyes were open to the things of God, who he truly was. Isaiah had prophesied some 700 years before that when the Messiah came, when God visited his people, the deaf would be given hearing, the blind sight, the dead raised to life and the poor valued and given good news.
These Messianic signs and hallmarks of genuineness were plainly to be seen wherever the Lord Jesus went and the ever-present and ever-watchful religious leaders were aware of it and hated every moment of it. His very existence threatened their privileged, powerful and rich position in society; threatened their ‘working arrangements’ with the Roman overlords; threatened to upset everything. This they could not tolerate, therefore they would not recognise him and were determined to be rid of him. But the people hung onto his every word and so they were powerless. They could not stir up a mob to stone him for he was far too popular and they did not have the power of capital punishment. Their only option was to somehow to cause him to fall foul of Rome in order to secure a pseudo-judicial murder; a murder but with all the trappings of apparent justice.
As he approached Jerusalem the very worst scenario of all was unfolding before their eyes. With great public acclaim he rode into Jerusalem humble and riding on an ass in exact fulfilment of the prophecy of Zechariah, ‘Behold your King comes to you, just and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass.’ The people, recognising something of the significance of its fulfilment burst out proclaiming him the Son of David, the One who comes in the name of the Lord; palm leaves, a carpet of garments, shouts of ‘Hosanna’. ‘Can you not stop them; rebuke them,’ demanded the Pharisees. ‘No, if they were silent, the very stones would cry out.’ God’s moment had come. God’s visitation was breaking upon them. But they would not recognise it, hence the cry of the Lord over Jerusalem and the prophecy of its terrible destruction because they would not recognise the day of visitation; who it was who rode in to Jerusalem that day.
The clearing of the temple of those cheating and exploiting the people of God was, again, a clear, and unmistakable statement of who he truly was. No one had authority to do that except the anticipated Lord, the Messiah, who, prophesied Malachi, would suddenly come to his temple and, like a refiner’s fire, painfully, purify the religious goings on until there are pleasing offerings to the Lord.
The chief priests, scribes and elders, leaders of the ruling Sanhedrin, were aware of these things and came upon him suddenly with a demand, a carefully prepared trap. ‘By what authority do you do these things? If he said, ‘of men,’ they certainly gave him no such authority to ruin their money-spinning trade or to proclaim the kingdom of God. If he said, ‘of God’, they could accuse him of blasphemy. He claimed neither but rather referred them to John the Baptist. In effect he said, ’You already have the answer.’ It was not an evasion. They were well aware that John the Baptist had borne clear testimony to him as Messiah and that John’s ministry was of God. It was the honest answer to their question – if their question was an honest question. But, of course, it was not. This, then, is the setting.
And so to the parable itself, the parable of the tenant vinedressers
Here, the Lord shows, in a picture, the amazing love, kindness and patience of Almighty God. A succession of three servants and finally his own beloved son – no human landlord seeking justice would be so patient. And yet, how many of us have cause to stand back in amazement and gratitude for the incredible mercy and patience of our heavenly Father?
He also shows them, painfully clearly, their own stony hearts; unwilling, ‘to love justice, show mercy and walk humbly with the Lord their God.’ Matthew Henry notes that the very best of God’s prophets and Christ’s ministers have consistently received the harshest treatment from the world and especially from the established religious leaders. Be warned and so do not be surprised. If their forebears rejected and ill-treated the prophets, these leaders were determined to put to death the beloved Son of God, ‘Israel’s glory’ as aged Simeon, in that same temple, described him years earlier. He shows them their own stony hearts, and, clearly aware of their intentions, he shows them the consequences of their proposed murderous plan. Almighty God will find new tenants for his vineyard, who will honour him, obey him, and give him the fruit of genuine worship in praise and godly living. And they, themselves will be thrown out, destroyed. Far from securing their privileged and prosperous position, his murder would actually secure their expulsion, their loss of privilege, position and everything; their destruction. Here is the deceitfulness of ungodly ways, sin. It always promises so much and is apparently ‘so desirable’ and yet under the sovereign hand of Almighty God often leads to the most dire consequences. These things are written for our learning. Take heed!
‘God forbid.’ ‘It just must not happen.’ ‘Surely not.’ This is an expression of outrage and horror. Yet like the rest of us, says Alexander McLaren, they were more anxious to escape the consequences than to avoid the sins. (We love to drive too fast and hate the thought of being caught! We love to inflate our expenses but do not like being taken to court over it! We love to ignore God and hate talk of his judgement.)
God forbid.’ ‘It must not happen.’ What must not happen?
That Israel’s glory, the beloved Son of God should be put to death?
That the terrible judgement described should fall on God’s vineyard-tenants Israel for all the failure to love and honour him?
That the vineyard should be taken away and given to others, even the gentiles?
‘God forbid,’ outrage and horror. What did the people find so distressing? We do not know but we do know that each of these has come to pass.
How did the Lord apply the parable?
‘Surely not.’ ‘God forbid.’ ‘But he looked at them and said, ’What then is this that is written, ‘the very stone that the builders rejected has become the head of the corner.’ Words very familiar to them; words from Psalm 118 sung at every festival. Words applied to himself as they were to be by the apostles throughout the New Testament. What was the point he was making? They (or we) may reject, ignore, sideline, marginalise, get rid of the Lord Jesus Christ, but God’s purposes are not frustrated. He has not abdicated. God has given his Son a name that is above every name that, ‘at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow.’ He is the one to whom all authority has been given. He is the ‘Lord of Lords and King of Kings; the head of the corner. It is to our loss and disaster that we discount him. The fact that men and women suppress the truth, suppress the gospel and suppress the people of God . . . as is increasingly happening in post-modern Britain, does not frustrate the purposes of God. The Lord Jesus Christ is, ‘the beloved Son’ given for our rescue and entrusted with all authority and ultimate judgement.
Hence verse, 18 the two options of ignoring a massive stone; we fall on it or it falls on us. ‘Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces.’ It is to our own present serious hurt and loss that we ignore or reject the Lord Jesus Christ. ’And when it falls on anyone it will crush him.’ That is God’s final judgement on those kingdoms, peoples and individuals who refuse to bow the knee to his ’beloved Son.’ He, the Lord Jesus Christ, the one to whom all judgement has been committed, will crush them in judgement.
As Daniel describes that day; he speaks of, ‘a stone cut out by no human hand’ which, ‘smote’ the great human edifice of nations and empires so that they were ’altogether broken in pieces and became like chaff of the summer threshing floors and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found.’ Crushed, pulverised, blown away that is the picture here in the Lord’s parable.
As our Lord begged his hearers that day to stop, to consider who he truly is, we do well to do the same. We ignore, reject him to our great hurt and ultimately our eternal peril. That is the great application of this parable. It is the Lord’s own application of it.
J.C Ryle asks if the principle of, ‘taking away and giving to others’ is a warning to us? ‘It is a mournful fact that in hardness, unbelief, superstition and self righteousness the Christian Churches as a whole are little better than the Jewish church of our Lord’s time.’
Europe, Britain and America have been favoured tenants for centuries. Will the gospel vineyard be taken from us and given to the new tenants eagerly flocking into the kingdom and joyfully giving glory to God in Africa, Asia, India and China? Learn from the parable and heed its warning and pray earnestly for revival; for fruit-yielding churches in every city town and village of our land and for godly living, thinking and speaking to be embraced and welcomed at every level of our society.
The promise of God to Solomon was as true for the nation and leaders of Israel in the days of our Lord as it is for the Christian church today. ’If my people , who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their ungodly ways; then I will hear from heaven , and will forgive their sin and heal their land.’
In hardness of heart, the chief priests, scribes and elders leading the nation of Israel would not . . . will you? Will we, ‘humble ourselves and pray and seek God’s face?’ Will we – which is much more difficult – by God’s enabling and grace, ‘turn from our ungodly ways’? If mere in-grafted gentile Christians can take hold of this wonderful promise of God, how much more can God’s ancient people Israel, even now, if they choose to do so.
Finally, if the parable also has a personal, ongoing application for us today, it would be a call to examine our own lives, our own tenancy, for we are all but tenants in God’s world. Satan’s temptation is always to provoke us to want to be as ‘gods’ to own it for ourselves or just to assume that we do own it and so squeeze Almighty God out of our thinking. The temptation is always to silence, throw out or ignore those servants of God who call us to, ‘pay our dues;’ to turn, submit and live to honour the living God and his beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Take note, beware, and turn, even today.
The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner.
Those who reject him do so to their present hurt.
Those who reject him do so to their ultimate peril.
Lord, have mercy upon us and give us hearts to gladly submit, obey and honour you.