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Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard in Isaiah 5 was the basis of Jesus’ parable of the vineyard in Matthew 21:33-43. Jesus applied Isaiah’s Song to Judah and Jerusalem in His day, showing how the nation (and city) had failed to bring forth the fruits of the Kingdom. He changed some of the details, but the essential meaning was consistent and provided us with an interpretation of Isaiah.
The Rejection of John
The occasion for Jesus’ parable was the Jews’ rejection of John the Baptist, because the preceding verse is Matthew 21:32, where Jesus tells them,
32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.
John, of course, had come to Judah as God’s fruit inspector to investigate the sin of Jerusalem. Such investigations are legally known as visitations, and they are patterned after the angelic visitation of Sodom in Genesis 19. After John was executed, Jesus Himself took over the investigation for the next three years, and then in Matthew 21:19 He cursed the fig tree that represented Judah, prophesying that it would never again bear fruit.
Jesus’ Parable of the Vineyard
Following this, Jesus told His parable of the vineyard, which enlarged upon the significance of His verdict. Matthew 21:33 begins,
33 Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard and put a wall around it and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and rented it out to vine-growers, and went on a journey.
We know from Isaiah’s prophecy that the “landowner” was God who planted the vineyard through the hands of Joshua, who in turn was a type of Christ. The “vine-growers” were not exactly renters but were men who had been given authority in the earth as God’s agents. Yet these agents turned out to be usurpers of the vineyard.
Matthew 21:34-36 continues,
34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves [the prophets] to the vine-growers to receive his produce. 35 The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Again, he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them.
This covered the entire time of the prophets, whom God sent to obtain the new wine for His table. But the prophets were rejected, abused, killed, and stoned. Jesus enlarged upon this later in Matthew 23:29-39. So it is clear that Jesus’ parable was directed at Jerusalem and its religious leadership in particular.
Matthew 21:37-39 finished the parable, saying,
37 But afterward he sent his son [Jesus] to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” 38 But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.” 39 They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophets (Matthew 11:13; Luke 16:16). After he was killed, the Land-owner sent His Son, Jesus, but the religious leaders “threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.” This, of course, had not yet taken place when Jesus spoke this parable, but His crucifixion was imminent. Hence, He foretold His death a few days before it happened.
It is also important to note that the vine-growers did not misidentify the Son of God. In fact, it was because they recognized Him that they killed Him. They knew that He was “the heir.” They killed Him specifically, Jesus said, to “seize his inheritance.” After all the signs and wonders that Jesus had done, the religious leaders were convinced that He was the Messiah, but they did not have faith in Him. They wanted a different sort of Messiah, one who was obedient to them and who would carry out their wishes and expectations by overthrowing Rome.
The parable thus lays out the problem and clearly reveals their motives. No blame is put on the Romans. It was not the Romans who crucified Jesus. In fact, because Jesus was to be the ultimate Sacrifice for the sin of the world, only the priests were authorized to make such a sacrifice. If the Romans had done it, one might question the legitimacy of that great Sacrifice.
Having finished His parable, Jesus then asked them to render the verdict in this hypothetical story. Not knowing yet what this parable was revealing, they judged themselves. Matthew 21:40, 41 says,
40 Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers? 41 They said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.”
We are reminded of the story of King David, after he sinned with Bath-sheba. God sent the prophet Nathan to tell him a story about a rich man who took a poor man’s only lamb to feed his guest. David was incensed, thinking it was a real incident, and he rendered the judgment: “As the Lord lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die. He must make restitution for the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing and had no compassion” (2 Samuel 12:5, 6).
Nathan then told David that he was the guilty man. David had stolen Bath-sheba from her husband, Uriah. As a result, David lost four sons: (1) the baby in 2 Samuel 12:19; (2) Amnon in 2 Samuel 13:32; (3) Absalom in 2 Samuel 18:15; (4) and Adonijah in 1 Kings 2:23-25. The last death occurred after David’s death.
The point is that God often allows men to judge themselves. This happened in the case of Jesus’ parable of the vineyard. Their verdict was precisely what was imposed upon Jerusalem. Not only were the usurpers brought “to a wretched end,” but the vineyard was also given “to other vine-growers” who would not usurp its fruit.
Jesus then confirmed their verdict in Matthew 21:42-44, saying,
42 Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, this became the chief corner stone; this came about from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? 43 Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing the fruit of it. 44 And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.”
Jesus first quoted Psalm 118:22, 23, establishing the fact that the Messiah would be rejected, i.e., cast out of the vineyard. He then confirmed the earlier verdict that the custodians of the vineyard were to be fired and the vineyard was to be given to other people—those who would indeed produce the fruit that God desires.
The only ones who can produce the fruit of the Kingdom are those who believe in Christ and who are begotten as sons of God. No unbelievers qualify. This includes the fig tree nation that Jesus cursed, saying, "No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you" (Matthew 21:19). To become a fruitful branch, one must be attached to the "true vine" (John 15:1, 2).
The Prophecy to be Fulfilled
Jesus then concluded His verdict by referencing another prophecy concerning the “stone,” this one from Daniel 2:34, 35,
34 You continued looking until a stone was cut out without hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and crushed them. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found. But the stone that truck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.
This prophecy, of course, was Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the great image that had prophesied of the four empires: Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. At the end of the age a fifth Kingdom was to arise, the Kingdom of God, pictured as a stone, rather than as a metal. The stone is also Jesus Christ Himself, the King of this Kingdom. This stone was to crush all of the previous empires which had ruled the earth from the fall of Jerusalem in 604 B.C. to the end of the age (the present time).
Jesus was warning the people of Judah and their leaders not to be found sitting on the “feet” of this image when the time came for the stone to crush the image on its feet. In other words, do not become part of this “image.” Do not take a position of authority at the end of the age, for if you do, you will become the “feet” of this image that will be crushed.
We see, then, that Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 A.D. was only a prophetic type of a greater destruction of Jerusalem that was yet to come at the end of the age. The modern Zionist movement has succeeded in gaining authority over the final form of the beast empires known in the book of Revelation as Mystery Babylon. Jerusalem has again been repaired or rebuilt, and it will soon be destroyed a final time according to Jeremiah 19:10, 11.
Meanwhile, the Land-owner has given the vineyard to other people—the overcomers, those who do indeed bring forth the fruit that God requires. It is the fruit of the womb, the sons of God, who manifest the fruit of the Spirit.
Thus, Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard, as enlarged upon by Jesus, laid the foundations for the verdict against Jerusalem. Isaiah 5:6 says that God was to “lay it waste” and turn aside the rain so that the Holy Spirit would not come upon the city. The prophet gave no word of hope for Jerusalem.
Likewise, Jesus’s parable renders the verdict, removing Judah from its position as custodian of the vineyard, transferring authority to obedient and fruitful people. This is consistent with Paul’s discussion in Galatians 4, which tells us that the earthly Jerusalem is “Hagar” with her children of the flesh as spiritual Ishmaelites. In other words, those who adhere to Judaism with its Old Covenant (“Mount Sinai”) and continue to reject Christ and His New Covenant (Mount Sion) are disinherited. Neither will their genealogy make them the chosen inheritors.
The fact that Jesus brought the “stone” into the picture and warned the people of Jerusalem not to identify with the “feet” of the Babylonian image shows that the earthly Jerusalem will indeed be crushed when time comes for the image to be ground like chaff in the summer wind. Such is the end of Zionism.
Yet Jesus’ warning to the Jews still stands, for no individual needs to remain under the jurisdiction of the Old Covenant, nor does anyone need to remain in Jerusalem when the stone arrives to utterly destroy the city and “cast out the bondwoman and her son” (Galatians 4:30). As of this writing, there is yet some time to escape the verdict that was rendered in Matthew 21.
There is still time to believe the plain word of God.