by Martin G. Collins
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record Jesus' Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers (Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19). Not long before, the scribes, chief priests, and elders had accused Him of taking too much authority upon Himself, but in this parable, they find themselves indicted for high crimes. Having discounted Jesus Christ as the Son of God with all authority, in this story they—and the people (see Luke 20:9)—learn His identity, who sent Him, and the death He would die at their hands. In earlier parables, He had exposed the religious leaders of His day as spiritually empty impostors, and now, in this more condemnatory parable, He reveals them to be persecutors and murderers as well.
Comment: The Bible often compares Israel to a vine or a collection of vines in a vineyard (Psalm 80:8-15; Isaiah 5:1-7). The vinedressers represent the civil and religious leaders of Israel and Judah whose duty was to guide the nation righteously but who were corrupt in their dealings. The vineyard being leased to them symbolizes their temporary possession and responsibility to care for it. The landowner (God) planted a hedge (the law with all its ordinances) around the vineyard to protect the vineyard from outside attack, keeping Israel separate from other nations for His special purpose. The tower symbolizes God's watchful oversight of the nation.
Comment: The servants represent the prophets God sent to Israel, and the fruit borne are those who responded to their efforts. The wicked vinedressers "beat" one servant (meaning to flay or whip so that the skin is taken off), denoting the harsh, unjust treatment God's servants received. They kill another, representing the many prophets who died at the hands of Israel's leaders. They stone a third, not necessarily to death, for Mark records, "At him they cast stones and wounded him in the head, and sent him away." God's servants had experienced all these things. The wicked vinedressers' actions show their rejection, not of the servants, but of the landowner, God. For centuries, He had sent the prophets to warn and witness to the Israelites, and they had been persecuted and slain. There was no purpose in continuing to send more prophets to the people, so He sent His Son.
Comment: The vinedressers wanted what the son would receive as heir, but they did not want to follow his example. Mark adds that he was an only son, greatly beloved, amplifying how truly valuable he was. God had one only-begotten and well-beloved Son to send, whom the world should reverence—honor and esteem—just as the Father (John 5:23). The vinedressers thought that, by killing the only son, they could easily steal the landowner's possessions already entrusted to them.
Jesus foretells His own death at the hands of the Jews just as they had persecuted and slain the prophets for centuries. He then asks the leaders about the proper way to deal with those who killed the servants. He wants them to condemn themselves by their own mouths and realize the justice of their coming punishment. They had the freewill to reverse their direction, but pride caused them to hate Christ all the more.
Comment: Jesus purposes to show the religious leaders the justice of taking away their national privileges and punishing them by destroying their city and nation. Had He stated this at first they would have ignored him, but by using a parable, He forces them to condemn themselves with the truth. However, they still do not grasp the significance of their admission. Jesus expresses the principle by quoting Psalm 118:22-23, making them see that God would do to them what the landowner did to the vinedressers. The cornerstone—Jesus Christ—is the foundation of God's Temple, the church, but the builders rejected it because Jesus did not "fit" their preconceived idea of the Messiah. Even though the Jews rejected Jesus, God overruled them and made Him "the chief cornerstone," an act proven to be God's doing by the resurrection and the subsequent miraculous founding of the church.
Comment: The Israelites had been God's chosen people, and He took away this privilege, giving that blessing to a special people—the church—who would bear the fruits of righteousness. Jesus alludes to Himself as the Stone and describes the escalating consequences of opposing Him. Those who oppose Him out of ignorance or weakness will suffer harm, but if they willfully reject Christ, the Stone will crush them into dust and scatter them in the wind. This warning was not lost on the chief priests, scribes, and elders, intensifying their enmity toward Christ and confirming His accurate portrayal of them in the parable. It reveals the authority of Christ as the Son, Heir, and Judge, as well as the unenviable fate of those who reject Him.