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“And it came to pass, that on one of those days, as He taught the people in the temple, and preached the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes came upon Him with the elders, and spake unto Him, saying, Tell us, by what authority doest Thou these things? or who is He that gave Thee this authority? And He answered and said unto them, I will also ask you one thing; and answer Me: The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; He will say, Why then believed ye him not? But and if we say, Of men; all the people will stone us: for they be persuaded that John was a prophet. And they answered, that they could not tell whence it was. And Jesus said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things. Then began He to speak to the people this parable; A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it forth to husbandmen, and went into a far country for a long time. And at the season he sent a servant to the husbandmen, that they should give him of the fruit of the vineyard: but the husbandmen beat him, and sent him away empty. And again he sent another servant: and they beat him also, and entreated him shamefully, and sent him away empty. And again he sent a third: and they wounded him also, and cast him out. Then said the lord of the vineyard, What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him. But when the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be our’s. So they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do unto them? He shall come and destroy these husbandmen, and shall give the vineyard to others. And when they heard it, they said, God forbid. And He beheld them, and said, What is this then that is written, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner? Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder”—Luke 20:1-18.
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The rejection of Christ by the world is what fixes the Christian’s place in this scene. He to whom the believer owes everything for eternity has been spurned, cast out, and crucified by those who represented the present world-order; for both Jew and Gentile united in refusing to acknowledge as Lord Him whom the Father sent intc the world. This comes out clearly in the parable of the vineyard and in what follows here and in the twenty-first chapter. The world was tested by the personal presence of the Son of God, who had come in grace, seeking man’s blessing and telling out the love of the Father’s heart. This is the One of whom men said, “We will not have this Man to reign over us.” Rejected by men, He has gone up to the Father’s right hand, where He waits expectantly until His enemies shall be made His footstool (ver. 43). Meantime the world continues unchanged in its opposition to its rightful King, as manifested by its hatred of those who now are called to represent Him in this scene. When the restraints of Christian light are withdrawn, its true character will be manifested, as we see in many lands today, both in Europe and Eastern Asia, where for many years the cause of Christ seemed to be in the ascendant, but where new persecution has broken out as violently as in any past period.
In the first eight verses we have the controversy between Jesus and the chief priests, scribes, and elders of Israel. These leaders of the people, who had from the very first rejected the testimony of Christ, were now gathered about Him as He taught the people in the temple: that is, the outer court of the temple, where teachers met with their disciples. They put the question to Jesus, “Tell us, by what authority doest Thou these things?” They referred to the cleansing of the temple which had taken place shortly before. They asked a second question: “Who is He that gave Thee this authority?” They resented the thought that a mere carpenter from that mean village of Nazareth should have dared to enter the precincts of the temple and undertake to cleanse it by driving out those who sold doves, lambs, etc., for sacrifices, and they challenged Him in this way. Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one thing; and answer Me: The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men?” What did that have to do with their question? Well, it had everything to do with it. Declaring he was sent to prepare the way of the Lord, John had pointed the people to Jesus as the Messiah of Israel. He said, “I knew Him not: but He that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, the same is He which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.” John had directed the people to Jesus, exclaiming, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” How blessedly John preached the gospel! I have heard it said that John the Baptist never knew the gospel, that all he preached was legal instruction, pressing upon the people the guilt of their sins and calling upon them to be baptized in order that their sins might be remitted. But the records as given in Holy Scripture will show that statement to be false. John never promised forgiveness of sins through baptism; he did not preach that baptism could cleanse men of their guilt. Those who came down to John to be baptized were not justified through baptism. In their baptism they acknowledged their sins and need of remission, and John bore witness to the Christ as the Son of God, the Lamb of God, through whom alone sins could be put away. John was the forerunner of Jesus, and he pointed men to our Lord as the Messiah and the Saviour. If these leaders accepted John as a prophet they would know who gave to Jesus the authority to enter into the temple and cleanse it, for it was written in the Old Testament, “The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in” (Mai. 3:1). When the Lord put this question to these self-righteous legalists, “They reasoned with themselves, saying, If ye shall say, From heaven; He will say, Why then believed ye him not? But and if we say, Of men; all the people will stone us: for they be persuaded that John was a prophet. And they answered, that they could not tell whence it was. And Jesus said unto them, Neither tell I you by authority I do these things.” Notice that our Lord never attempted to make things clear to these hypocrites; He never attempted to explain divine mysteries to men who were not genuine. If people came to Him as serious inquirers, who were honest and really wanted help, He gave gladly what they needed; but as to these men who had rejected deliberately His testimony and had refused to accept Him, He did as He had commanded His disciples: “Neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” (Matt. 7:6), He never sought to answer their cavils.
“Then began He to speak to the people this parable; A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it forth to husbandmen, and went into a far country for a long time.” It is God Himself who is here set forth under the symbol of the Owner of the vineyard, which represents the people of Israel (Isa. 5:1-7). The husbandmen were their rulers, temporal and spiritual. “At the season he sent a servant to the husbandmen, that they should give him of the fruit of the vineyard: but the husbandmen beat him, and sent him away empty.” So they had treated the prophets who were sent to Israel in the name of God to call the people back in heart to His law; yet they not only turned deaf ears to their entreaties, but also persecuted them for telling the truth (Matt. 6:12). “And again he sent another servant: and they beat him also, and entreated him shamefully, and sent him away empty.” Other messengers were sent from time to time, only to be treated with contempt and contumely (Acts 7:52). All this revealed the actual state of the hearts of Israel’s leaders.
“And again he sent a third: and they wounded him also, and cast him out.” For long centuries one prophet followed another, seeking fruit for God, but it became more and more evident that there was no desire to glorify Him on the part of those who had been blessed so greatly. As we look back in the Old Testament records we find that this agrees perfectly with the history of the prophets. They had been misused, ill-treated, and their testimony refused; some of them were actually put to death, and others treated most insolently.
Last of all we find the Lord of the vineyard saying, “What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him.” What an insight this gives us into the heart of God! We can see Him, as it were, looking down upon Israel, conscious of all the sinfulness, the waywardness of the people, yet saying, “I am going to send My Son to them. Surely, they will not treat Him as they have treated the prophets.” Of course God knew exactly what would take place, but this is what theologians call an “anthropomorphism”—God represented as speaking and acting on the human plane. In the fulness of time He sent forth His Son (Gal. 4:4). He who was the delight of the Father’s heart was sent into the world, to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt. 15:24), to reveal the love of the God of their fathers. The people ,of Israel had misused God’s messengers; they had put many of the prophets to death; but at last He sent His Son. Would they accept Him and yield obedience to His word? Instead of that, we are told that “When the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be our’s.” This was sinful man’s response to the love of the Father. Instead of reverencing the Son, they were determined to get rid of Him, and they refused to acknowledge His authority.
“They cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him.” Our Lord here anticipates that which He knew was soon to take place. He showed His enemies that He foresaw all that they were about to do. His death was foreordained ,of God, but their part in rejecting Him was the expression of their own wicked hearts, as Peter told them later on (Acts 2:23). The picture is clear. Now what will be the next step? Jesus puts the question to His hearers: “What therefore shall the Lord of the vineyard do unto them?” What should be done with a people who had enjoyed such privileges but bad spurned all of them? The answer comes: “He shall destroy these husbandmen, and shall give the vineyard to others.” These words were fulfilled literally some forty years after the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ, when God in His governmental dealing, permitted the Roman army to overrun the land of Palestine, encircle the city of Jerusalem and utterly destroy it. Israel has been a nation of wanderers ever since. Her day of opportunity, for the present at least, is over, and God has given His vineyard to other husbandmen; and the Gentiles are enjoying the blessing Israel might have had. Having forfeited all claim upon God because of their attitude toward Christ, Israel after the flesh must be set aside and the vineyard be given to those in a later day who will turn to God in repentance. It is not exactly the call of the Gentiles that is here set forth, but the regenerated Israel of the last days. Some day there will be a remnant of Israel who will be brought back, when they will once again be gathered in the land promised to them in the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. During this age they are cast out because of their rejection of their c Messiah. The Lord Himself makes the declaration that God will destroy these wicked husbandmen and give the vineyard to others.
“What is this then that is written, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner?” Jesus drew the attention of His hearers to that same 118th Psalm from which the children sang as He rode into Jerusalem, where, in verses 22 and 23, both His rejection and His triumph are prophesied. According to Jewish tradition, Psalm 118 was written about the time of the completion of Solomon’s Temple and may even have been sung at its dedication. It is said that the passage Jesus quoted may have reference to something that occurred during the building of the temple. It will be remembered that Solomon was seven years in constructing this glorious sanctuary, and that he had many thousands of workmen, who labored six months at a time and then were superseded by others; consequently very few who were in the early relays were engaged upon the building when it was about to be completed. From the Book of Kings we learn that the stones for the temple were all hewn and cut to order in the quarry below before being sent up to the great platform on the top of Mount Moriah.
The Jews say that these stones were practically all the same size and shape, but that one stone was sent up which was so different from the rest that they were at loss to know what to do with it. It did not seem to fit anywhere. After consultation they decided a mistake had been made, and so they placed it upon rollers and pushed it over to the edge of Mount Moriah and tumbled it down into the vale below. “The stone which the builders rejected!” But as time went on and the temple was nearing completion, the day drew near for the placing of the chief cornerstone. There was nothing suitable on the platform. Word was sent down to the quarry-men to send up this cornerstone, as they were now ready for it, but the answer came back, “We sent it to you long ago; you must have it there upon the temple site.” But a thorough search failed to reveal it. Then an old workman said: “I remember now; there was a stone sent up when we first began to build, but we saw no place for it, and we hurled it down into the abyss. Go down below, and you will find it.” And so they sent a searching party and eventually discovered it almost covered with debris and overgrown with moss. They raised it with great effort to the platform above and found it fitted exactly into the place prepared for it. Thus the rejected stone became the head of the corner.
“Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken.” Israel fell upon the stone, and they have been broken to pieces nationally and scattered among the nations (Isa. 8:14). “But on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” When He comes the second time the Lord will fall, like the stone in Daniel 2:34, 35, 45, upon the great nations of the Gentiles and break them in pieces, in order that the kingdoms of this world may become the kingdom of our Lord and His Christ (Rev. 11:15).
The Lord Jesus said, practically, “I am that Stone, for I have come to you, but you do not know that I am the Corner Stone of the spiritual temple that God is now about to build.” So they rejected Him. They cast Him ,out, but God the Father raised Him from the dead and has made Him the head of the corner. “Jesus Christ Himself,” we are told, “being the chief Corner Stone” (Eph. 2:20).
“And the chief priests and the scribes the same hour sought to lay hands on Him; and they feared the people: for they perceived that He had spoken this parable against them. And they watched Him, and sent forth spies, which should feign themselves just men, that they might take hold of His words. that so they might deliver Him unto the power and authority of the governor.” Unable to answer Him, and having wilfully rejected Him, they stooped to the meanest and most contemptible methods in order to discredit Him before the people, and to find some occasion against Him in order that they might accuse Him before Pilate.
Men are not lost because they do not know better; they are lost because they sin against the light which God gives them. These men had abundance of light, but they spurned it. He who is Himself the Light of the world stood in their midst, but their eyes were blinded by unbelief and self-righteousness, and they knew Him not. Nothing brings out the corruption and incurable evil of the heart of sinful man like the presence of Jesus. His holiness emphasizes man’s unholiness. His righteousness throws into bold relief man’s unrighteousness. His love stirs up man’s hatred. It is a sad commentary on fallen human nature that when God Himself came unto His own creation in the Person of the Incarnate Son, men, instead of being melted by His grace, were hardened by His goodness, and were never satisfied until they saw Him nailed to a felon’s cross. God has declared, “As in water face answereth face, so the heart of man to man” (Prov. 27:19). It is only the grace of God working in the soul that leads anyone to trust Christ and to repent of rejecting Him in the past.