Matthew 21 - March 16th
There are two parables that we are presented with in this chapter, and that is “The Parable of the Two Sons” from verses 28-32, as well as “The Parable of the Tenants” from verses 33-46. These are two parables of a three-part set, the third being “The Parable of the Wedding Feast,” which we find at the beginning of chapter 22. All three of these parables convey the same message from slightly different angles. Jesus, within these parables, is condemning the faithlessness and fruitlessness of Israel, specifically that of the Jewish leaders (Chief priests, Elders, Pharisees). Let us consider the first two that we find within this chapter.
The Parable of the Tenants
Jesus here presents the Jewish leaders with a simple hypothetical scenario and, at the end of it, asks them to make a judgment call. The scenario is this; two sons are commanded by their father to go and work in his vineyard; one son initially says that he will not, but he later goes. The other son initially agrees to go, yet never does, and by doing so, reveals that what looked initially like obedience was nothing but lip service. Jesus then asks them a question, “Which of the two did the will of his father?” In other words, in the final analysis, which son was truly obedient? The chief priests and pharisees answer that it was the first son who initially refused to go but later went. However, what they did not know was that by answering this correctly, they were simultaneously condemning themselves.
You see, the first son represents the tax collectors and prostitutes; sinners who were in open and obvious violation and disobedience to the Law of God. The second son represents the so-called “righteous”, that is, the ones such as the chief priests and Pharisees who seemed to obey and adhere to the Law of God. Though those who were sinners, such as the tax collectors and prostitutes, were initially living in sin, like the first son; they later believed the teachings of John the Baptist and Jesus and thus obeyed the command to repent. However, the religious leaders, though they seemed to outwardly obey God, ultimately were disobedient because they refused to believe that Jesus was the Messiah and so refused to repent of their sins and be saved. Like the second son, they were ultimately hypocrites. Their failure to recognize their God, who was standing right in front of them, and obey his commands to repent and believe (Mark 1:15) revealed this hypocrisy. John the Baptist pointed to Christ, and the religious elite refused to accept Him. The religious elite rejected the God whom they claimed to worship. Their religion was nothing but hypocrisy and lip service.
This confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders reminds me much of the confrontation that we find in 2 Samuel 12. There, the prophet Nathan confronts King David about his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and, in a similar fashion to Jesus, does not immediately rebuke David; rather, he presents a hypothetical scenario in which a rich man steals a poor man's lamb. When David’s anger is aroused by the story, Nathan then declares the famous phrase, “Thou art the Man”! David’s anger condemned himself because he committed the same sin as the man in the story. Similarly, the priests and Pharisees condemned themselves by declaring that it was the first son who was the true obedient one, for they committed the same sin as the second.
The Parable of the Tenants
This parable likewise condemns the wicked faithlessness of the Israelites (specifically the religious leaders). The wicked tenants in this parable represent faithless Israel (specifically the religious leaders of the present and past), the master represents the Father, the son represents Jesus, and I believe the servants represent the prophets. God planted a vineyard, and that vineyard was Israel. They were to be the people of God who were to produce the fruit of God. Just like the master would send his servants to the tenants, so too God would send the prophets to Israel. And just like the tenants would reject and beat the master’s servants, they would do the same to the prophets of old. Israel does this all the way up to John the Baptist, and so finally, just like the master finally sends his son, God sends his Son, Jesus Christ. Just like the master of the vineyard sends someone far superior to his servants (his son), God sends someone far superior to his prophets, and that is Jesus Christ. This truth is what we find in Hebrews 1:1-2, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” Israel has persecuted the prophets throughout their entire history, and now they persecute the true prophet, the greatest messenger of God, Jesus Christ. Again, Christ asks them what they believe the master will do to those servants; their answer in verse 41, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons,” condemns them. Just like the wicked tenants, the religious leaders will kill their master’s Son, Jesus Christ. And the privileges of ownership of the kingdom of God, which is the greater vineyard, will be given to to the faithful; who will consist of both Jew and Gentile in the Church.
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