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Eternity 134 - The Parable Of The Vineyard

Allegorical interpretation is not popular today but the following parable is plainly an allegory based on the vineyard passage in Isaiah 5:1-7. First the parable in Matthew (see also parallel passages in Mark 12:-12 & Luke 20:9-18)

(Matthew 21:33-46 NKJV) "Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. {34} "Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. {35} "And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. {36} "Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. {37} "Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' {38} "But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, 'This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.' {39} "So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. {40} "Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?" {41} They said to Him, "He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons." {42} Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures: 'The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord's doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes'? {43} "Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. {44} "And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder." {45} Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. {46} But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet.

This is based on a very well-known passage in Isaiah:
(Isaiah 5:1-7 NKJV) Now let me sing to my Well-beloved A song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard: My Well-beloved has a vineyard On a very fruitful hill. {2} He dug it up and cleared out its stones, And planted it with the choicest vine. He built a tower in its midst, And also made a winepress in it; So He expected it to bring forth good grapes, But it brought forth wild grapes. {3} "And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, Judge, please, between Me and My vineyard. {4} What more could have been done to My vineyard That I have not done in it? Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes, Did it bring forth wild grapes? {5} And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned; And break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. {6} I will lay it waste; It shall not be pruned or dug, But there shall come up briers and thorns. I will also command the clouds That they rain no rain on it." {7} For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant. He looked for justice, but behold, oppression; For righteousness, but behold, a cry for help.

So with the straightforward clues provided by Isaiah most of the interpretation is straightforward:
The landowner = God
The vineyard=Israel
The servants = God's servants, especially the prophets
The vinedressers = the Jews, especially the leaders of the Jews who were to care for the vineyard.
The fruit = The things God looks for and wants the nation to bear e.g. righteousness and justice
The nation bearing the fruit of it = The Gentiles
The Son = the Messiah, Jesus
The punishment = the destruction of Israel and especially of its leadership

So, from the distance of two thousand years we can say "the Jews were spiritually barren and rejected Christ and were judged in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem, ta-da, parable fulfilled, now move on". Whoa! Not so fast! What about the Church as God's vineyard? Are their churches that do not bear the fruit of love? Barren church politicians, shrewd manipulators, hardened and tough controllers, frequent nepotism and greedy and grasping clergy are sure sign of a vineyard out of control.

Maybe it speaks to us today? Maybe this vineyard building parable has been going on in Church history all the time! A denomination or movement is formed and starts as a work of God, carefully tended by Him. However in time it becomes institutionalized and predictable. Its spiritual life fades away and it becomes dry, barren and fruitless. Jesus sends His servants to renew it and they are rejected and cast out. Finally Jesus sends a precious messenger, who is utterly rejected. After a while comes the judgment - the split, the scandal, the financial crisis, the leadership clash, and the prominent place that movement or denomination once held is taken by another church, more obedient to God. Years later it fulfills the Isaiah passage - broken down, burned, trampled, full of prickly people (the briars and thorns), unpruned, tangled, messy, dry and unwatered by the Spirit. The sad, tattered end of a once grand spiritual bureaucracy.

So the obvious lesson is - God wants His Church to produce spiritual fruit. He wants to be honored by His Church and to see them obeying Him and respecting His servants and listening to His Son. A second lesson is like it -to get control of the church is not final victory. When they kill the Son, they have not won the inheritance, rather they have lost their lives! Godless church politics, of the sort that abounded in Jesus day, and is still around today, is not clever, nor successful. Its simply accumulating wrath.

Jesus uses an unusual illustration for God's wrath - a rejected cornerstone. The builders are the "nation builders" and "church builders" who have authority to place people "in position". The builders say which stones go "up" and which are cast out, they who determine social position and control the ecclesiastical hierarchy. The cornerstone Messiah is rejected by the social and ecclesiastical hierarchies but not by God, and eventually becomes the chief cornerstone. The cornerstone then seeks justice by stumbling some and crushing to fine dust others. The cornerstone metaphor is used 9 times to refer to Christ. Firstly in the Psalms: (Psalms 118:22-23 NKJV) The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. {23} This was the Lord's doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. Then Isaiah uses the cornerstone metaphor of Christ in different ways as precious, tried ad tested (Isaiah 28:16 NKJV) while Zechariah says the cornerstone shall come from the tribe of Judah (Zech 10:4)

In the New Testament it is used three times in the gospels (in the parallel passages of this parable), once in Acts and once in 1 Peter. The Acts interpretation is clear and pointed in the context of the healing of the lame man:
(Acts 4:8-12 NKJV) Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: {9} "If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, {10} "let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. {11} "This is the 'stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.' {12} "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."

Peter then quotes the same passage in his epistle applying it to the Church:
(1 Peter 2:4-10 NKJV) Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, {5} you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. {6} Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, "Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame." {7} Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, "The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone," {8} and "A stone of stumbling And a rock of offense." They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed. {9} But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; {10} who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.

Going back to the original parable Jesus says: "And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder." Peter provides some clue as to what Jesus means when he writes: "They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.". Those who stumble are those who are flagrantly disobedient to the word of Christ and they seem to have been "appointed" in some way to this terrible fate. But who are those upon whom the stone falls? In the context of the parable Israel is the clear first reference and the Stone fell in 70 AD. with the total destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple and the hardened and fanatical Jewish religion. The Stone will fall again in the end times when Christ returns to judge the world and Babylon will fall. But does the Stone fall on people now, in our present time? Could it ever fall on a church? Lets go to Daniel for an answer:

(Daniel 2:34,35, 44-45 NKJV) "You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. {35} "Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth..... "And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever. {45} "Inasmuch as you saw that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God has made known to the king what will come to pass after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation is sure."

The Stone here falls on human empires and nations. Wherever human beings set up their own fiefdoms and take control of God's vineyards and become independent of His rule and rebellious, then the Stone will come with a crash and beat that kingdom to fine dust. Churches can become fiefdoms. Churches can be little kingdoms. Churches can even defy God. If they do, then one day, the Stone will fall and they will find themselves non-existent.

What does this say to us who work in the vineyard? That we work for the Owner, not for the system or for ourselves. We are not in control of our churches, missionary societies, movements, schools and kindergartens - God is. Its His and He wants the fruit of righteousness, justice, impartiality, mercy, and the fruit of the Spirit. We are to be both leading our people and listening to the Owner with reverent and soft and obedient hearts at all times.