By Jimmy Tuten
“The Wicked Husbandmen” is the name given to a parable that is recorded in Matthew 21:33-44. The key to understanding it is found in verses 45-46, “And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them. But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet.” The wicked populace of Jesus’ day had already rejected the teaching of John the baptizer. Their past actions are exposed in the Lord’s previous parable (vv. 28-32). In this one Jesus makes known the present and future actions of these people relative to their plan to kill Jesus (vv. 37-39).
The “householder” is God; the “vineyard is the nation of Israel; the “husbandmen” are the Jewish leaders; the “servants” are the prophets who have been sent to the nation of Israel, and the “Son” is Christ. While the interpretation of the parable is not our main concern in this writing, the practical application of it to our day is of great importance. What relevancy does the parable have for the people of God in the 1990s?
The Grace of God
The people of God in the Old Testament had previously been compared to a vineyard (Ps. 80; Isa. 5:1,7). A great deal has been said about the measures taken for their separation and protection (Matt. 21:33; Isa. 5:2,5). In the preparation of the vineyard there were three areas clearly marked out: (1) A householder planted a vineyard and furnished it with all appliances needful for the intended production. A hedge is placed around it to keep wild animals out, a vat is dug out of the rock in which to press out the juice of the grape and a tower is erected for the watchmen to prevent intrusion. The tower also served as a storage place and a point of protection for the workmen. (2) The vineyard is planted, fenced, guarded, tilled and furnished. It is then handed over to the husbandmen. (3) Having commissioned and installed the husbandman, the owner goes into another country. Clearly then, the vine-yard was the area of God’s gracious privilege, the realm of service of all. Specifically, the Jews had become the husbandmen 1500 years previously. God made wise provision for them and guided them in the production of fruit unto him. What more could he have done for his people?
Is God’s grace any different today? “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men” (Tit. 2:11). The motivation for this gift of grace was the “the kindness and love of God our Savior” (Tit. 3: 4), “by grace ye are saved” (Eph. 2:5). In addition to this there is gracious condition in which men may stand (Rom. 5:1-2). God’s people are admonished to “stand” in the “true grace of God” (1 Pet. 5:12). God has bestowed graceupon men of our age.
Freedom of Action
Just as the landowner made the needed provision for the vineyard and left its care to the vine growers, so God gave Israel the law (Rom. 3:1-2). On this hinged two great commandments:love God with all thy heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourselves (Matt. 5:43-44). They were given the freedom of will to serve him and to produce fruit. There was no compulsion on God’s part except that of love and gratitude (1 Jn. 4:10-11,19).
There is a divine and human side of salvation (Eph. 2:8). God is the provider and man responds in obedience (Heb. 5:8-9). Since man’s response is in the form of obedience to the conditions of God’s grace, his salvation is not based on works of merit (Tit. 3:4-7). However, man must “work out” his own salvation (Phil. 2:12), yet so as not to boast of having earned anything (Tit. 2:11-12). Just as the Jews were responsible for their service to God, so it is with his people today. Jude says, “keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 20-21). “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk. 9:62). Our attitude should be that of a willingness to serve, yet, “.. . when ye have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do” (Lk. 17:10).
Though the owner of the vineyard was absent as far as conspicuous oversight and retribution were concerned, there was nonetheless the responsibility of fulfilling the owner’s expectations of finding fruit (Matt. 21:34; Isa. 5:2-4). The idea of leasing (“let it out”) was common in Bible times. But with this leasing there was the entrustment and commitment to the charge of paying a portion to the owner. Those in charge had a responsiiblity that had to be fulfilled. In God’s purpose for redemption this involved the responsibility to propagate the kingdom of God. Since the responsibility of the Jews was rejected by them, the charge was taken from them and given to the Gentiles (Matt. 21:43-44).
God’s people today have the obligation to fearfully reverence God and keep his commandments (Eccl. 12:13-14). We are expected to spread the borders of the kingdom (Matt. 28), produce fruit thereof (Gal. 5:22-23) and prove what is acceptable to God (Eph. 5:9-10). God will bring all men into account in the day of judgment (2 Cor. 5:10-11). “For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be bad” (Eccl. 12:14).
The refusal of those in charge of the vineyard to pay their dues is manifested by subsequent ill-treatment in various ways. They go to extreme lengths several times over to reject those commissioned to ask for the fruits due the owner. These servants were beaten and killed by the vine growers (Matt. 21:35). Other servants that were sent were treated the same way (v. 36). The longsuffering and merciful vineyard owner then sent his son, thinking they would respect him (v. 37). But these vineyard laborers, with their robber-like conspiracy, plotted against the son and heir of the vineyard in order that they might become the owners (v. 38). Thus the murderous sequel took place when the son of the owner was sent with the belief that his action would encourage a proper response. They cast him out of the vineyard and killed him (v. 39). The slain servants represent the prophets who had pleaded for obedient trust in God and for fruits thereof of due him. From Matthew 23:37 it can seen that there was uniform hositlity to the prophets. This display in-creased with indulgence. The more God pleaded with them, the more self-conscious and bitter becomes their hatred. As the antagonism increased so was the beseeching appeal on the part of God. The continuous rebellion on the part of the nation of Jews caused them to stand with frowning hatred before the Son of God as he spoke. This treatment of Jesus was the living em-bodied of the spirit which had animated their forefathers. The fountain of wisdom and love was poured out for all mankind, but it was a fatal issue for them (Matt. 21:37-39). No more patience would be accorded them. The cup of guilt was filled to the brim. They would be cast forth and punished! The rebellious Jews had dashed themelves to pieces on the stone sent with irresistible impetus from the throne of God as a final interposition in their favor (“but last of all . . .” cf. I Pet. 2:4,6-8). The acceptance or rejection of Christ is the determining fctor in human history. They chose to crucify the Son of God, who after his resurrection was made both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). The fear of the loss of ruling power became the motivating force among the Chief Priests and Pharisees. But they lost their control over the Law and the conduct of the people when the kingdom was taken exclusively from them and given to the Gentiles (Matt. 21:45-46; Acts 13:46-49; 15:13-18).
The Punishment of the Jewish Nation
There were three aspects of the punishment inflicted upon the Jews: (1) The first was national, in that the kingdom of God was taken from them and given to another nation which would bring proper fruit. Because the Jews had rejected God’s mercy they would be “broken in pieces.” There would be scattered like chaff, that is, the nation would go into dispersion. This new nation included
Jews and Gentiles alike and it was not of this world. This nation is made of all the nations saved. It is the church, the kingdom of God (Col. 1:13). It does not have earthly origin. Since it is not the same nature as the Jewish nation according to the flesh, it does not have similar functions to that of civil government On. 18:36; 2 Cor. 13:3-5; 1 Pet. 2:9). It is spiritual in nature.
Just as the wicked (represented by the Jewish nation) are destroyed in the parable, so the Jewish nation (fleshly Israel) was brought to an inglorious end. The last remnant thereof was rejected. They lost their privileges and were broken. The prophecies of the destruction, which began to be executed at the cross of Jesus, took place under the leadership of Titus in 70 A.D. (2) When the fall of Jerusalem took place under the leadership of Titus in 70 A.D., the second aspect of the threefold punishment. Such is the punishment of anyone who stumbles over the Stone and who doubt the truth of Jesus being the Son of God. To these the “living Stone” becomes a rock of offense (1 Pet. 2:4,8). Though these are lost in sin, some of them later believed to the saving of their souls (Acts 2:36-41). (3) The third punishment has to do with the fact that he upon whom the stones falls will be ground to dust and blown as chaff in the wind. This applied to the Chief Priests, Pharisees and Sadducees who had the Lord cruficied and who continued in their rebellion. When Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. some of them died and some were sold in slavery. This was their punishment for their hardened, impenitent conduct in rejecting salvation. “Grind them” is an expression of terrible vengeance and destruction that left national Israel without hope of recovery (Dan. 2:34-35,44-45). Christ in his humility is the stone against which wicked men fall. Christ in his glory and exaltation is the stone which falls on them. The cross of Christ thereafter became unto the Jews a stumblingblock and to the Gentiles foolishness (1 Cor. 1:23).
Those who oppose Christ today are slain and buried by what should be their joy. Their dwelling and refuge becomes their tomb. God’s great purpose of redemption for those who believe and destruction in an eternal hell for unbelievers will continue to be fulfilled. So if one attempts to work out by his own means an eternal success with the Lord, his action would be as foolish as standing in the path of avalanche of stone in order to stem it. “How shall we escape is we neglect so great a salvation?” (Heb. 2:3) “He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Heb. 5:8-9).
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 6, p. 8-9
March 17, 1994