The second parable of the trio, found in verses 33-46, shows the Lord seeking His Father’s fruit, and realising where this would ultimately be found. The parable provides a wide panorama of the purposes of God relating both to the Jews and to the church as well as to Christ as the exalted Stone.
It is important to notice the difference between the results effected by this parable and by the original parables contained in the Gospel by Matthew. Although the prophetical implications of exaltation and grace were quite lost on the Pharisees, they understood their own position in the parable, since “they perceived that he spake of them”, v. 45. On the other hand, the parables of the kingdom in chapter 13 were designed to hide the truth from all, except those to whom a divine explanation would be given, 13. 10-17; the Lord explained the parables only to His disciples, vv. 18, 36.
The vineyard is distinct from the servants who work therein, whether Jew or Gentile. Hence it would represent the sphere of service amongst the souls of men to be turned to the Lord, as well as service God-ward in the sanctuary. The nation had left Egypt for tabernacle service, to “hold a feast unto me in the wilderness”, Exod. 5. 1. The Lord had done everything possible to ensure fruitfulness in this vine, Ps. 80. 8-11; Isa. 5. 1-2.
In the parable, the Lord does not take note of the decay of the vine, although this is prominent in the Old Testament. Its hedges were broken down, and it was burned with fire, Ps. 80. 12, 16; it brought forth “wild grapes”, Isa. 5. 4; it became a “degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me”, Jer. 2. 21; it had become fuel for the fire, Ezek. 15. 6.
The householder went into a far country. This corresponds to the time when the glory departed from Israel, when there was no open vision, 1 Sam. 3. 1; 4. 22, and to the time when heaven was regarded as the divine dwelling place, 1 Kings 8- 30, 34, 36, 39, 43, 45, 49. To this nation, God then sent prophets, priests and kings. God thus spoke “unto the fathers by the prophets”, Heb. 1. 1; Isaiah was one ready to be sent, Isa. 6. 8. God sent unto them “all my servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them”, Jer. 7. 25; He longed for their obedience.
But the parable continues to show that the prophets were subjected to beating, killing and stoning, Matt. 21. 35-36. The voice of the prophets seeking the fruits of obedience was not heeded; and the divine record in the New Testament takes note of this. They suffered cruel mockings and scourgings, bonds and imprisonment; “they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword”, Heb. 11. 36-37. The Lord concluded His final condemnation of the religious leaders by stating that they were “the children of them which killed the prophets”, Matt. 23. 30-35. Stephen said the same thing, “Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One”, Acts 7. 52. The sad thing is that all this is done in the name of religion, by those who take the name of God upon their lips, but know not God. Such think that they do God service, John 16. 2, “because they have not known the Father, nor me”. Even today, the testimony of those who trust wholly in the Word of God is discarded by those who make a show of the rites of ceremonial religion.
The Lord nevertheless still looked for fruit amongst the remnant of His people. Hence the “one son, his wellbeloved”, Mark 12. 6, was sent, in order to seek worshippers of the Father. The fruit would be His own property, rightly expected from His own vineyard. After all, the Son was appointed heir of all things, Heb. 1. 2, so He had the divine right to receive of His own. But possessions in Another cause the spirit of jealousy to blossom forth in unregenerate men, in spite of the tenth commandment, Exod. 20. 17. If the Heir was cast out, His possessions so near at hand could be seized. In this parable, the act of seizing means to turn spiritual matters to their own carnal advantage, a thing that believers can also be prone to do, 1 Cor. 3. 3; 11. 21. Moreover, the priests and Pharisees would go to the ultimate end to achieve their object, without realising that they were bringing down judgment upon themselves and the nation. Hence they cast the Son out of the vineyard and slew Him; even Pilate realised their motives, knowing “that for envy they had delivered him”, Matt. 27. 18. Joseph had suffered before because of such motives – his brethren had “cast him into some pit”, Gen. 37. 20. But Joseph later became a fruitful bough by a well, the one who was separate from his brethren obtaining a crown of glory, 49. 22, 26. How typical of the Lord who suffered without the camp, that He might bring forth “much fruit”, John 12. 24.
A suitable question by the Lord provokes the Pharisees to condemn themselves out of their own mouths; such wicked men would be miserably destroyed. Men see sin in others, but not in themselves; see Luke 18. 11, and compare David, who, concerning a parable relating to his own sin, had said, “the man that hath done this thing shall surely die”, 2 Sam. 12. 5. The Pharisees were constrained to speak the truth, as Caiaphas had recently had to do, John 11. 51. But at least it would appear that the Pharisees at this point in the parable did not realise that the Lord was speaking against them. They realised this when the Lord said “you” in verse 43.
In verse 42, the Lord quotes from the resurrection Psalm. Psalm 118 was much quoted by the people during passover week, but hardly believed by those who automatically repeated it. We have already analysed this Psalm in an earlier paper dealing with the quotation in verse 9. The Lord quotes it to show the true position attained by the rejected King. There was a Part that the builders had rejected as unwanted, but the divine Architect had reserved the most prominent position for this Part, and would ensure that Christ became “the head of the corner” in resurrection glory. This resurrection should appear to us all as something “marvellous”, demanding the greatness of His power to accomplish it in Christ, Eph. 1. 19-20.
The fruits of His travail would be brought forth in another nation, as the Lord says in verse 43. The book of the Acts relates how the opportunity for salvation spread forth from the Jews to the Gentiles, being rejected by the former, and accepted by the latter, Acts 13. 46; 28. 28. The church would yield to Him the fruit of the Spirit, since it is always God who gives the increase, 1 Cor. 3. 6. This fruit would also be in worship and praise, and Romans 15. 9-11 shows the Gentiles engaged in this holy activity.
The conflict between man and the Stone leads to the Stone’s exaltation in verse 42, but to the judgment of man in verse 44. None who enters into conflict with God can ultimately survive; He will always be victorious, Acts 5. 39. In just the same way as men are divided into Jews, Gentiles and the church of God, 1 Cor. 10. 32, so too is the Stone seen in relation to these classes amongst men. This distinction is also found in 1 Peter 2, and in the Old Testament quotations therein contained.
The Jews: “whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken”. This refers to the break-up of the Jewish nation as a result of their crucifixion of their Messiah. They stumble over this Stone by unbelief and disobedience, quoted in 1 Peter 2. 8 from Isaiah 8. 14, “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence”. See Romans 9. 32-33.
The Gentiles, or nations: “on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder”. This corresponds to the vision in Daniel 2. 34, where the Stone cut out without hands smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them in pieces; the Stone then became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth. But in 1 Peter 2. 7, Psalm 118. 22 is quoted in a different manner. Here, the Stone disallowed and made the head of the corner is seen in relation to the disobedient generally, namely to those who obey not the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Church: “The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner”, Matt. 21. 42, here refers to the nation bringing forth the fruit of the vineyard. We contemplate the saints in contact with their Risen Head. 1 Peter 2. 6, quoted from Isaiah 28. 16, contains the same idea of preciousness to those who believe, “Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded”. In Isaiah 28, the Stone is seen as a “sure foundation”, whereas in Psalm 118, He is the top-most Stone. The Lord has both positions at once, a Foundation and a Head to His people.
So in this parable, the Lord seems to pause awhile in His character as King, enabling His saints today to see Him as their Lord and Head.