The story begins with a landowner who leased his vineyard to vinedressers while he went away. The time came for the harvest, and so he sent his servants to the men so that they might receive fruit from the land. The evil men abused and killed the servants. A second time, the master sent servants, more than before, but again, the vinedressers mistreated and murdered them. Finally, he sent his son, assuming they would respect his son. The evil men perceived that if they killed the heir, they might seize the land for themselves. The Lord asked His hearers,
…when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers? (Matthew 21:40)
They answered correctly,
He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their season. (Matthew 21:41)
He’s Not Speaking About Us, Is He?
They acknowledged the evil activity of the men in the parable but failed to see the parable was for them. In this, they were like king David, who was enraged when he heard of the rich man who took the poor man’s ewe lamb (2 Samuel 12). However, they differed from the monarch in this—when he was confronted with his sin, David repented, but they did not.
God had sent His servants to Israel time and again, but the people did not listen to their message. They rejected and persecuted them (Acts 7:51-52). Jesus’ generation was no different. They rejected John (Matthew 21:25-26, 32), and would eventually kill the Son, just as the parable said.
Further implicating them, Jesus quoted from Psalm 118:22,
The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
They rejected the chosen one of God, the Messiah. And because they did so, their guardianship among the Lord’s people would be taken away from them and given to others. No longer would Israel and their leaders be “God’s people,” but a new nation would come which would bear fruits in the service of God. The new nation, Peter says, once was not a nation, but now were the people of God (1 Peter 2:6-10).
Rejecting Jesus Has Consequences
He closed His discourse with them by referring to a thought presented by more than one of the prophets. The Lord stated:
…whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder. (Matthew 21:44)
This is not a direct quote from any particular place, but a culmination of texts such as Isaiah 8:14-15; 60:12; Daniel 2:44; and Zechariah 12:3. Unwisely, they stood against the Lord—the end would be bad for them. They would be broken, not the stone at which they were offended. They would be ground to powder, not the Son of Man. David warned those who were great in their own eyes:
…be wise, O kings; be instructed, you judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him. (Psalm 2:10-12)
Having heard Him speak a parable against them, they wanted to put Him to death, but feared the crowd, for they counted Jesus as a prophet. They would eventually have Him arrested and put to death, but He would be victorious—rising from the dead. The kingdom was taken away from them, even as He said it would be.
Let us be sure not to be like them. Let us serve the Lord faithfully in His vineyard, and give glory to the Son of God.