Jesus Warns Judean Leadership
Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.
The above verse is the judgment Jesus pronounced upon the chief priests and Pharisees at the conclusion of His parable of the Wicked Husbandmen [Matt. 21:33-46]. The chief priests and elders, as teachers and leaders whom the people relied upon to lead them in the ways of God, had horribly failed in this calling. So much so, that instead of leading men to welcome and enter the kingdom of God, they were shutting them out from it. They had failed as shepherds of God’s flock. It takes us back to God’s judgment upon the shepherds of his flock during the exile. Ezekiel 34 records,
1 And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,
2 Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks?
3 Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock.
4 The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them.
15 I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord God.
16 I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment.
He then promises to set up the Good Shepherd over them,
23 And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd.
This one shepherd is Christ, the eternal son of David, who will feed them.
It would be helpful for us to have the backstory to this pronouncement of Jesus. The true background goes back to the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry, but we shall not go that far back.
The day before this judgment was pronounced, Jesus had entered the temple at Jerusalem in what is commonly known as the triumphal entry [Matt. 21:1-11]. He cleansed the temple for the second time, the first being at the beginning of his ministry [first, John 2:13-17; second, Matt. 21:12-16]. He then left Jerusalem, spending the night in Bethany.
The next morning Jesus returned to Jerusalem. On the way, “He was hungered,” and sought fruit on a fig tree. He cursed the fig tree because of its deceptively leafy but fruitless branches. You would not be far from the truth if you saw in this a visual parable of the pronounced judgment on Israel for its fruitlessness.
Once he arrived at the temple complex, the chief priests and elders began to question him about the authority “by which you do these things?” The these things likely refer to his cleansing the temple the day before. He said that he would answer their question if they could answer his question. The question He asked was, “The baptism of John, where did it come from? from heaven, or of men?” They couldn’t answer, for they were trapped no matter which answer they gave.
He then began speaking to them by parables. The first was the Parable of the Two Sons. Both sons were asked by their father to go and work in the vineyard. The first said he would not, but then changed his mind (repented) and went to work. The second said that he would go and work, but he did not. Which one did the will of the father? It was the first son. It is not those who say they will do God’s will, but those who actually do it, that pleases the father.
The next parable was the Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen. It is this parable from which our beginning text comes. This parable is closely related to the Parable of the Vineyard found in Isaiah 5.
In the Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen, a landowner “planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country.” The landowner leased the vineyard to a group of husbandmen (farmers) who would in turn, tend the vineyard and help produce its fruit. The implication of the parable is that there was an agreement or contract (covenant) between the farmers and the landowner. Part of this contract was that at the time of harvest, the farmers would render to the landowner his share of the produce.
So when the “time of the fruit drew near,” the landowner sent servants to collect his portion, according to the agreement. However, instead of being honorable farmers, they proved their wickedness by killing the servants of the landowner. Willing to give the farmers a second chance, the owner sent more of his servants, but with the same result.
One thing should be made clear here. In the ancient world of the Bible, when a man of authority sent someone to conduct business on his behalf, the one who is sent is as the man himself. It is this concept upon which ministry of the apostle was established. The apostle, the “sent one” represents the one who sent him.
With this in mind, for the farmers to shamefully treat and even kill the servants of the landowner, it was as if they had done this to the landowner himself.
This concept is seen throughout the NT, particularly in the gospels. The below are only a few of the many examples of this concept found throughout the New Testament.
That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.
He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.
Knowing this, one of the main points of the parable is that these farmers had murder in their hearts for the landowner. They hated the landowner. They wanted to kill the landowner, because then in their own eyes, the vineyard’s ownership would fall to them.
With two groups of his servants killed, the landowner at last sent his son, thinking, “Surely, they will honor my son.” However, the wicked farmers saw this as an opportunity to gain final control and possession of the vineyard.
But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, "This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance."
The wicked farmers recognized the son, saying, “This is the heir.” Did the chief priests, elders, scribes and Pharisees recognize the Son whom the Father sent? Many would argue they did not, however, according to this parable they did. Very early in Jesus’ ministry, Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel and member of the Great Sanhedrin, came to Jesus by night. He prefaced his question by saying, “We know that thou art a teacher come from God.” In this statement, who is the “we”? It can only be assumed that Nicodemus was speaking on behalf of the Great Sanhedrin. They acknowledged that Jesus was come from God, if only a teacher at this point. Back to the parable.
39 And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him.
The wicked farmers captured the son, threw him out of the vineyard, as though he was a trespasser, and killed him. The leaders of Israel did the same to Jesus, the Son of man, who “suffered outside the gate.”
For the climax to this parable and by way of pronouncing judgment upon them, Jesus asked them,
"When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen?"
Responding and pronouncing their own judgment, they said,
He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.
They knew that the actions of those wicked husbandmen were deserving of a penalty that was commensurate with their evil doings. They also recognized that the landowner was righteous in delivering such a fate and giving the vineyard to others who would render to him what was rightly his.
Then Jesus asks them if they have ever read, [from Ps. 118:22-23]
The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.
The very next verse states,
24 This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.
What day did the Lord make? In the context of this passage, the day which the Lord made was the day in which the stone was refused. This refusal was the Lord’s doing and it is marvellous in our eyes. I know that this verse(24) is a favorite chorus among many saints, and it truly is a catchy tune. However, it is completely taken out of context. The day that the Lord made was the day the Stone, the Messiah, was inspected and then rejected. We are to rejoice and be glad in that day. Why? Because that is the day of man’s salvation.
This Stone did not fit into their building plans, therefore it was utterly rejected. However, in what the Lord was building, this rejected stone became the head of the corner, or as both Peter(1 Pet. 2:6) and Paul(Eph. 2:20) say, the chief cornerstone. This head of the corner was the most important stone in the whole building. It was the correctness and perfection of this one stone from which the whole rest of the building was measured.
Jesus’ point here to the elders and chief priests was, “Your rejection of me, due to the fact that I do not fit your plans, is the Lord’s doing. In the Lord’s plan I am the chief cornerstone for God’s kingdom. It is by me that all the rest of His building is judged and formed, and that is a marvellous thing in the eyes of the righteous.”
After this exchange, we have the statement of Jesus regarding the taking of the kingdom from them.
43 Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.
44 And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.
The last portion above, verse 44, appears to be a reference to stoning as an act of judgment. John Gill makes this notation,
“The place of stoning was two men's heights; one of the witnesses struck him on his loins, to throw him down from thence, to the ground: if he died, it was well; if not, they took a stone, which lay there, and was as much as two men could carry, and cast it, with all their might, upon his breast: if he died, it was well; if not, he was stoned by all Israel.”
He then notes this from Maimonides,
“Stoning, or throwing down from the high place, was that he might fall upon the stone, or that the stone might fall upon him; and which of them either it was, the pain was the same.”
This can also be understood as a reference to the coming judgement upon Jerusalem, for Allis says,
The year 70 saw the "rejected Stone" fall upon Mosaic Israel and grind her Old Covenant political and religious economy to powder (Matt.21:44).
The point here is that this rejected stone would become not only the head of the corner of God’s building, but that He would also be the stone of judgment. The idea of grinding to powder removes any hope of a reconstruction.
What did Jesus mean “The kingdom of God shall be taken from you”? Did it mean that they already possessed the kingdom and Jesus would remove it from them? Did it mean that as the leaders and elders of Israel, they were in charge of building or managing the kingdom of God? The answer is no to both of these. Remember, both John and Jesus came preaching, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” If the kingdom was at hand, it had not arrived yet. If it had not arrived, then it was not under the controlling hands of the chief priests and elders of Israel.
So again, what did He mean by this? From the context, it would seem that Jesus was saying to these leaders of Israel, they had proven themselves to be enemies of the kingdom. They had set themselves against the Lord and His Anointed (Ps. 2:2). As Jesus had made clear in the previous parable, they were not interested in fulfilling their part as productive citizens in God’s Kingdom, they wanted it for their own. As they had killed the prophets and servants which God had sent to them, and in the height of their rebellion they had killed the Heir, their place as leaders would no longer be needed nor recognized.
The only hope for them was as individuals who could receive the kingdom through repentance and faith in the King Messiah. It was their only hope then and their only hope now. They were broken off through unbelief. They can only be grafted back through faith in the Messiah they had rejected.