Additional Notes for Sermon on Matthew 21:33-46 The Parable of the Landowner 2/28/21
This week’s passage contains a parable packed with imagery that connects with both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The passage itself will take our time on Sunday, but the connections are worth seeing, and given I don’t have time to address them on Sunday I thought I would add a limited commentary on some of the insights that are available as we cross reference this passage with the rest of Scripture. Here is the passage:
33 “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard and put a wall around it and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. 34 “When the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. 35 “The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. 36 “Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. 37 “But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 “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.’ 39 “They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 “Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?” 41 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.” 42 Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, This became the chief corner stone; This came about from the Lord, And it is marvelous in our eyes’? 43 “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. 44 “And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.” 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them. 46 When they sought to seize Him, they feared the people, because they considered Him to be a prophet.
We will go into the parable on Sunday, but for the sake of this post, let me just note that the parable is an encapsulation of Israelite history. God gave them a task symbolized in the parable as a vineyard. He expected results that Israel failed to produce. God sent His prophets and servants to correct His people but they would not listen. Eventually Jesus came and they are days away from killing Him as the parable suggests. But Jesus predicts He gets the last laugh.
The Vineyard Imagery
The parable using the imagery of a vineyard harkens back to Isaiah 5 which also compares Israel with a vineyard.
1 Let me sing now for my well-beloved A song of my beloved concerning His vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill. 2 He dug it all around, removed its stones, And planted it with the choicest vine. And He built a tower in the middle of it And also hewed out a wine vat in it; Then He expected it to produce good grapes, But it produced only worthless ones. 3 “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, Judge between Me and My vineyard. 4 “What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones? 5 “So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard: I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed; I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground. 6 “I will lay it waste; It will not be pruned or hoed, But briars and thorns will come up. I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it.” 7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel And the men of Judah His delightful plant. Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress.
God had a vineyard on a fertile hill, which represents Israel. As the owner cares for His vineyard, God cared for Israel. He blessed them, protected them, guided them, and so on. The owner expects produce (good grapes), but only gets worthless ones. God expected Israel to remain faithful and to obey His law. They did not. The failure of Israel was not God’s fault, as the vineyard not producing fruit was not the owner’s fault through improper management. Judgment comes upon the vineyard and Israel would shortly fall to Assyria and a little over a hundred years later Judah would fall as well to Babylon. Isaiah gives us a little more about what that fruit that God was looking for looks like. “Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress.” God’s law was designed to produce justice and righteousness. Their disobedience resulted in the opposite. It is quite telling that God demanded this half a millennium before Jesus’ day, and yet the same issues that were there back then persisted through Jesus’ day, such that He tells essentially the same story as Isaiah did over 700 years prior. Israel proved incapable of sustained faithfulness. Thank God for the New Covenant and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
God Sent the Prophets
Back to Jesus’ parable, one of the features is the sending of servants to retrieve the produce. This represents the constant sending of prophets and servants throughout the Old Testament period to remind the people of what God demanded. This is eloquently relayed by Jeremiah.
25 “Since the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have sent you all My servants the prophets, daily rising early and sending them. 26 “Yet they did not listen to Me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck; they did more evil than their fathers. 27 “You shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you; and you shall call to them, but they will not answer you.”
God repeatedly sent His prophets to speak His Words. Notice He says He rises daily to send them. There was a continuous stream of God’s servants speaking truth to Israel, and yet they did not listen. A little later in Matthew 23 Jesus is going to indicate that nothing has changed in the 500+ years since Jeremiah.
29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 “So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 “Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. 33 “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell? 34 “Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, 35 so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 “Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.”
The Theme of Fruit
The parable centers around the concept of retrieving fruit from the vineyard. This concept of fruit has been used by Jesus and recorded by Matthew throughout his Gospel. Look at all these references to fruit.
8 “Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; 9 and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. 10 “The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
16 “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 “So then, you will know them by their fruits.
33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit.
8 “And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.
23 “And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.”
26 “But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also.
Right out of the gate John the Baptist is talking about fruit. In fact he’s not just looking for fruit, he’s warning them because they have no fruit. The axe is at the root of the tree. Why? Because they have not produced fruit. Thus, his message is repent. The references in chapters 7 and 12 indicate that people are good if they produce fruit, bad if they do not, and furthermore, that we can know which side they are on based on their fruit. Then the references in chapter 13 connected to the parable of the sower all show that what God expects is for His people to produce fruit.
What is this fruit? Again, as we saw earlier, it is a life consistent with God’s character, faithfulness and obedience to the Law. It produces good things like justice and righteousness.
Later in this same week, Jesus will go into more detail about how His disciples will truly bear this fruit.
1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. 3 “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5 “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. 7 “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.
- Judgment again for not producing fruit
- He works with us to produce further fruit
- Post-resurrection- there is no fruit apart from Christ (technically, fruit was probably through Christ even in the Old Covenant as well, although this would be slightly different than it is in the New Covenant)
- Abiding in Christ produces fruit
- Abiding in Christ is loving God by obeying His commands
- God is glorified through the fruit produced
All of that shows us this: God cares so much about this fruit because it is the same as us loving Him, and the result is His glory is displayed in the world. This is why this is such a big deal and why there is a threat of judgment. If God is not loved, nor given proper glory, this is evil pure and simple.
The Hallel Psalm
Jesus quotes Psalm 118 in His explanation of the parable after the people say what should happen to those wretched men in the parable. Psalm 118 is a Hallel Psalm, the last of the Psalms 113-118. These were sung on many of the Jewish Holy Days, including Passover, and was likely sung by Jesus and the disciples on the night they partook of the Passover right before His betrayal. As we go through this final one, you will notice some familiar lines.
1 Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 2 Oh let Israel say, “His lovingkindness is everlasting.” 3 Oh let the house of Aaron say, “His lovingkindness is everlasting.” 4 Oh let those who fear the Lord say, “His lovingkindness is everlasting.” 5 From my distress I called upon the Lord; The Lord answered me and set me in a large place. 6 The Lord is for me; I will not fear; What can man do to me? 7 The Lord is for me among those who help me; Therefore I will look with satisfaction on those who hate me. 8 It is better to take refuge in the Lord Than to trust in man. 9 It is better to take refuge in the Lord Than to trust in princes. 10 All nations surrounded me; In the name of the Lord I will surely cut them off. 11 They surrounded me, yes, they surrounded me; In the name of the Lord I will surely cut them off. 12 They surrounded me like bees; They were extinguished as a fire of thorns; In the name of the Lord I will surely cut them off. 13 You pushed me violently so that I was falling, But the Lord helped me. 14 The Lord is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation. 15 The sound of joyful shouting and salvation is in the tents of the righteous; The right hand of the Lord does valiantly. 16 The right hand of the Lord is exalted; The right hand of the Lord does valiantly. 17 I will not die, but live, And tell of the works of the Lord. 18 The Lord has disciplined me severely, But He has not given me over to death. 19 Open to me the gates of righteousness; I shall enter through them, I shall give thanks to the Lord. 20 This is the gate of the Lord; The righteous will enter through it. 21 I shall give thanks to You, for You have answered me, And You have become my salvation. 22 The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief corner stone. 23 This is the Lord’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. 24 This is the day which the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it. 25 O Lord, do save, we beseech You; O Lord, we beseech You, do send prosperity! 26 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord; We have blessed you from the house of the Lord. 27 The Lord is God, and He has given us light; Bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar. 28 You are my God, and I give thanks to You; You are my God, I extol You. 29 Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
The Psalm progresses through the following thoughts: 1) His lovingkindness is everlasting, 2) the Lord answers his distress, 3) the Lord is greater than mankind, 4) the nations threatened him, 5) the Lord rescues and saves him, 6) they enter the temple with praise and thanksgiving, 7) the one rejected by the people has become the most important, 8) return to praise and thanksgiving for His lovingkindness is everlasting.
Not only does this Psalm include the quote from our passage, it also has the line from that famous song, “This is the day… This is the day. That the Lord has made… That the Lord has made.” And the astute eye will catch the phrase, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” Matthew 21 began with Jesus’ Triumphal Entry and what were the people shouting? Yep, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Psalm 118 ends as a song of celebration in the temple for the Lord’s salvation. The song has been used in our context kind of as a song of general thanks for another day. It’s kind of like, “hey, it’s a new day, the Lord has made it, let’s rejoice, be glad, and have a happy attitude!” That’s a great message for kids and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, as every day is a gift from the Lord and we ought to have that attitude. But this Psalm is about salvation, specifically from the threat of outside nations. The people enter the temple with song and praise thanking God for this salvation. As Jesus is marching towards the city, where He will enter into the temple the people are shouting this. Recall from that previous sermon that the people would have had Zechariah 9 in mind, not only as the king coming in peace, but also about to set off the destruction of Israel’s foreign enemies. So, all that is there in the background as Jesus quotes this verse.
When He points to the cornerstone passage, He’s claiming several things. 1) He is salvation, which in Psalm 118 was attributed to God. 2) He is figuratively the cornerstone of the temple, meaning the physical temple serves Him, He is the new temple, and the new temple of the church will be built upon Him as the foundation, and 3) if anyone does not align with Him they will face judgment. Look for these in His response.
40 “Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?” 41 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.” 42 Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, This became the chief corner stone; This came about from the Lord, And it is marvelous in our eyes’? 43 “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. 44 “And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.”
Giving The Inheritance To Another Nation
The promise from the Old Testament was always that God’s reign would be over all the nations. Daniel is a great example of this.
27 ‘Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him.’
All the kingdoms under heaven will bow before the Kingdom of Heaven. So, this is poignant when Jesus says that “the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people (also translated nation), producing the fruit of it.” This indicates it’s not just a switch in leadership, which had happened before. Eli’s sons losing the priesthood and Samuel being placed in their place is a good example of this. But here it is different. It isn’t a restructuring, it’s something entirely new. It is a nation, indicating outsiders instead of the insiders, most notably the Gentiles that will receive the kingdom- a novel idea to Jesus’ audience.
Peter’s Take on Psalm 118
1 Peter 2:1–12
1 Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, 3 if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. 4 And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For this is contained in Scripture: “Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” 7 This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, “The stone which the builders rejected, This became the very corner stone,” 8 and, “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
After encouraging the readers to remove wickedness, he describes Jesus as a “living stone… rejected by men,” which connects it back to the cornerstone of Psalm 118, and then says that the readers are also living stones. The church, founded on Christ the cornerstone, is the new temple, the dwelling of God. The connection to Psalm 118 is made explicit then when he quotes it directly. The disobedient and unfaithful fall and are shattered by Christ, but not so with believers. We have become “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, … etc.” quoting Isaiah 43:20, 61:6, 66:21, Exodus 19:5-6, Deuteronomy 4:20, 7:6, 14:2. We were in darkness but now have been brought into marvelous light. He then riffs off of Hosea and the promise that although the people were wicked, God would again have mercy upon them and restore them. He specifically refers to Hosea 1:10 and 2:23. All these references play on Israelite history and refer to Israel, and Peter’s audience was largely Jewish. However, the same concepts apply to Gentile believers as well and carry another layer of meaning, where the Gentiles were excluded from inclusion in God’s chosen people, but now have been brought into the fold, own the inheritance, and offer spiritual sacrifices to God as members of His family.
I hope these extra nuggets are helpful and insightful for you with this week’s passage. May God bless you and your study of His Word!