matthew 21:33-46 Part 2

As you remember from last Lord’s Day, when we left off, we saw that Jesus had finished this parabolic saying, and He was about to ask the elders and priests a question concerning it.  They had become the examinees, and, although they were already scheming to kill Him, they were caught in a very embarrassing situation before these crowds; and they were being forced into giving a suitable and authoritative answer to the questions.

They had already been put into the situation of admitting their failure to examine the issue of John the Baptist and his teaching and baptism; and they had been shamed by being unfavorably compared to prostitutes and tax collectors.  So by now they were red-faced and burning with anger.  And Jesus was not about to let them go without further confrontation and offense.

The parable sets them up perfectly so that they have to pronounce their own judgment.  If they don’t answer at all they are seen as intimidated fools; and if they answer this (what looks like a) simple ethics question with an answer which is not the obvious one, then they’re seen as idiots; so they must answer with the rhetorically obvious right answer – regardless of the consequences!  So not knowing how Jesus would use their answer, they go ahead and give the correct one.  And, as I said earlier, that answer judicially pronounces their own condemnation.

Now the question seems to be a hypothetical one, doesn’t it?  It has to with a parabolic saying concerning some evil tenant farmers who kill the housemaster’s servants, and his son, in order to seize possession of the vineyard.  So what will the housemaster do?

We’ll come back to things like the “heir” and his inheritance in a couple of minutes; Jesus uses those words for a reason, but here is one of those little things in the grammar which makes the early morning study times such a pleasure for me.  This is a parabolic saying, isn’t it?  It is hypothetical as we’ve already seen.  And there is an obvious and unavoidable answer to which, in order for the proud elders and priests to retain some modicum of authority, they had to respond.

So you would think that the question, given the circumstances in the parable, would be one concerning what these leaders and teachers thought might happen, or what they thought should happen, or what they thought ought to happen, whenever the lord of the house came back to the vineyard.  Now those words (might, should, ought, etc.) indicate what is called the subjunctive mood.  And the subjunctive mood is always marked by clearly distinguished characteristics.  When it’s seen in the text, then the translation will indicate some degree of uncertainty, marked by those words we just mentioned (should, ought, etc.).

But Jesus’ question has no such grammatical uncertainty in it!  Even though the parabolic saying is hypothetical, when Jesus comes to the question there is no hypothesis and there is no uncertainty.  The question’s in the indicative mood – indicating certainty!  Not “what might the house lord do?”; not what ought he do?”; not what should he do?” – but, (future tense indicative mood) “what will he do?”!

In other words, everything in the parable is hypothetical (analogy) until Jesus drops the hypothetical/subjunctive mood at the point of the judgment of the tenant farmers!  And the rest of this exchange between Jesus and Israel’s leaders depends on this indicative mood too, because when the Lord returns He is going to judge Israel according to the obvious answer which is about to be given by the high priests of Israel and the elders of the people.

Now, I don’t know if the elders and priests caught the entirety of the subtlety, but it looks like they did notice the indicative mood; because their response is also in that mood.  Maybe they thought Jesus just made a grammatical error in His speech; but regardless of that, they still had to answer the question with the obvious answer!

From the way the answer is framed, in verse forty-one, the elders and priests didn’t’ have to deliberate much; they just spat out what was expected – what was the rhetorically obvious answer.  The husbandmen were evil mento be destroyed by the lord of the house.  And the vineyard was to be let out to others who would render to the owner what was due him (obvious, practiced answer that lawyers and priests would give, based on the information given them in the hypothesis).  And as we’ve mentioned, that was, in actuality, a judgment on themselves.  They were the evil husbandmen.  They were going to be destroyed and the Kingdom given to another people!

And now after their answer, Jesus responds to them – not based on anything in the parabolic saying, but only on their answer.  The hypothesis is gone now.  Forget it.  Their answer is now the issue.  They have judged themselves, because they are the evil husbandmen; and the Lord of the vineyard will return and destroy them and give the vineyard to another people who will render the fruit!  Their answer is concerning them – (just like the obvious answer to Nathan’s question was a self-judgment by David).

Jesus, as He always did, uses the Older Testament Word of God to confront them, linking who they are and what they’ve just said to Psalm one hundred eighteen concerning Himself. (verse forty-two)  This, too, is the Psalm from which the crowds were singing Hosannas when they all made their way into the temple compound!  He uses that text and their own words to prophesy what is about to happen to them!

We’ll look at the Psalm a little more closely later, but one reason it’s important is because it was probably sung at the dedication of the cornerstone of the temple!  And the “head corner” is symbolic of the coming Son of God Who is the foundation stone of the New Temple to be built without hands!

This is the Cornerstone which the builders rejected as entirely unfit to use; but it is this Stone which will be their crushing defeat!  The Psalm concerns the temple; and the judgment of the elders and high priests of Israel comes from the Psalm concerning the temple.  And that’s the reason why all of this occurred in the temple.  What better place, in the plan of God, for the new Rock upon which the Church is to be built to appear!

And then Matthew, in the last two verses, tells us that these “pharisees” knew that it was them that Jesus was speaking about; and that they had become angry and humiliated enough to become very violent.  They wanted to take Him right then, but they were afraid of the crowds.  Having already decided in a council meeting that this man had to be destroyed, it was only the presence of the crowds that stopped them from going ahead and doing what they had planned.

So.  Now that we have an idea of the language that Jesus used to confront the condition of Israel’s leadership (that was from last week); and we have an overall construction of the passage and how it all fits together, let’s look at some of the words and the Theology.

In the parable itself, verses thirty-four through thirty-six, Jesus says that the houselord sent his servants to the husbandmen in order to take possession of his fruit.  But the husbandmen, instead, took possession of the servants!  Then Jesus relates the atrocities which were committed against those who the housemaster had sent.

Now, underlying the details of the parable is the truth about what the elders and priests of Israel have always done to God’s prophets whenever they were sent.  God sent His Word, via inspired men, to confront Israel’s leaders concerning their condition before God.  And that confrontation with God’s Word always inspired anger and violence toward the ones who were sent with it!  That’s the way it’s always been with those who won’t conform to God’s Word.

They not only despised and reproached the prophets, but they treated them as the worst among men!  The very ones who sat in Moses’ chair, the leaders and teachers of the Law; the very ones who were professors of religion and example-setters to the nation; these are the ones who beat Jeremiah, had Isaiah killed, and stoned Zechariah in the temple!  And remember that stoning was reserved for the worst criminals!  These priests and pharisees were the most bitter enemies of God’s prophets, whose lot was to suffer at the hands of God’s tenants in God’s vineyard!

God had every right to expect obedience and righteousness to flow, for His glory’s sake, from the place that He built and owned!  But those who were there had no zeal for the glory of the Owner and for righteous obedience!  As Jesus implied in His parable, the husbandmen wanted the inheritance for themselves!

Now before I finish that thought, let’s discuss the inheritance for a minute, and then we’ll come back to what this all means.  In Genesis chapter twelve, God promised Abraham the land; and in his “seed” all the families of the earth would be blessed.  Then there are large portions of the Older Testament Scriptures which are given to apportionment of the land.

And in those Scriptures it is very evident that the whole land belongs to God, and that He allotted certain portions of it to the tribes and families for family continuance.  In other words they had an inheritance in the allotted portions – dependant on their obedience to the One Who had gifted them with that inheritance!

In the New Testament the letters to the Churches reveal the fullness of the promises to Abraham.  Hebrews chapter one begins with this very issue.  Listen:


“God, Who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath, in these last days, spoken unto us by the Son, Whom He has appointed heir of all things….”


Then in Galatians three, at verse twenty-nine Paul says,


“…and if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs (there’s the inheritance, you see) according to promise.”


In chapter four, verse seven of the same letter he says,


“…wherefore you are no more a servant but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”


You see, the fullness of the promised inheritance in the Older Testament Scriptures is the fact that the Owner of the land has an Only Begotten Son!  And He is the legal inheritor of all that the Owner Owns!  And it is only in Him that we become co-heirs of the inheritance!  There’s no other way to become an heir – except to become a co-heir with Christ!

But the Jews of Israel, especially the elders and priests of the people, considered the promised inheritance theirs – even though they hadn’t met the obedience conditions; they committed horrible atrocities against the Owner’s servants; and they killed the legal Heir in an attempt to secure the inheritance for themselves!  The very One by Whom they could become heirs was so despised, they killed Him!  They didn’t want to give obeisance and obedience to the Owner; they didn’t wish to sorrow and turn at the word of the prophets; and they would not sorrow and revere the Son when He came either.  They wanted the inheritance for themselves.  So the very means so graciously set up by the Owner for achieving the inheritance – they rejected in favor of their own.

Now, as we finish this concept let me just quickly make mention of the form which modern Pharisaism takes.  Of course there is nothing new under the sun.  And salvation is uppermost on everyone’s mind – as it was for the rich, young man who eagerly approached Jesus on the Jericho road.  He wanted to know what he must do to inherit eternal life!  He wanted to be an inheritor – an heir!

But just like the pharisees of old, the modern pharisees all wish to be an heir – to have eternal life – to be saved.  They wish to have all that they can have.  The goal of life is salvation.  Every pharisee wants the same thing – to seize the inheritance for himself, and to have all that that inheritance promises!

But is that the Gospel of God concerning His Son?  Does the Gospel say that the goal of man’s life is salvation?  Does the Gospel say that the salvation of men is the goal of God’s redemptive work?  Did God say He created the world in order that man might be saved?

Modern Pharisaism is clothed in the trappings of the Gospel, because much of the Gospel that is being taught isn’t the Gospel but actually ancient Pharisaism.  It is a gospel the goal of which is the personal salvation of men.  Church is for men, “What’s there for me?”  Preaching is for men, “What can I get out of that?”  The creation is for men; man is the center of everything – including the universe!  Everything is for man’s enjoyment.  And if you wish to have it all, have Jesus Christ; for His death and resurrection was for men!  This is Modern Pharisaism.

On the other hand, in reality the Creation was for God (including the creation of man); Church is for God; preaching is for God – God is the center and focus of all!  And the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ is for the glory of God!  Men are reborn and become co-heirs with Christ – not in order that we might have salvation, but that God might be glorified in the inheritance of His Son!

These growers in the vineyard, if they had seen the Son Who was sent, and if they had sorrowed and revered Him as the Son, and if they had then returned righteousness and obedience to the Owner because of His Son – then they would not have been destroyed!  The parable wasn’t framed for this purpose, but there’s every indication in Scripture that these would have become co-heirs of this owner’s property – even after killing all the servants!

We in Christ are designed to be heirs with Christ to all that God owns (which is everything).  Our reason for being is to exercise dominion and subdue everything under Christ’s Kingdom – because God has given Him this Kingdom, and He shall have dominion.  That’s what pleases God and gives Him glory.

But this confrontation that Jesus has with the elders and priests of Israel is with full expectation of His inheritance, isn’t it?  They want that inheritance.  They don’t want to render honor and obedience to the Owner and His Son, but they want the inheritance!  Does that sound like much of what is counted today as religion?  And the elders and priests are going to kill the one that will receive that inheritance.  Then the vineyard is going to be taken away and given to a people who will render to the Owner what He is due!  That’s what Jesus says here in verse forty-three.

Through the crucifixion and resurrection the risen Lord would enter into His inheritance (which is the Kingdom in its entirety) and receive power and glory and the Kingdom – then to penalize the usurpers!  And it was all for the purpose of obeying and glorifying His Father.  That’s why God the Father gave Him the inheritance.

We as modern-day Christians must learn to render to the Owner of this Kingdom what He is due.  That is, honor and glory and obedience.  That’s the fruit of the Kingdom.  To put salvation as the primary goal of life and to live as if we had a right to have the inheritance is Pharisaical.  It is to kill the Heir and seize His inheritance.  But if the Father gave the inheritance to His Son, and the Son glorified His Father, then what should we co-heirs do?

Next Lord’s Day, the Seed of Abraham is the Cornerstone foundation of the New Temple.  This is from Jahveh/Kuriou, and it is glorious in our eyes.