Jesus’ Life and Ministry
Exposed by Vineyard Illustrations
JESUS is at the temple. He has just confounded the religious leaders who demanded to know by whose authority he was doing things. Before they recover from their confusion, Jesus asks: “What do you think?” And then by means of an illustration shows them what kind of persons they really are.
“A man had two children,” Jesus relates. “Going up to the first, he said, ‘Child, go work today in the vineyard.’ In answer this one said, ‘I will, sir,’ but did not go out. Approaching the second, he said the same. In reply this one said, ‘I will not.’ Afterwards he felt regret and went out. Which of the two did the will of his father?” Jesus asks.
“The latter,” his opponents answer.
So Jesus explains: “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and the harlots are going ahead of you into the kingdom of God.” The tax collectors and the harlots, in effect, initially refused to serve God. But then, like the second child, they repented and did serve him. On the other hand, the religious leaders, like the first child, professed to serve God, yet, as Jesus notes: “John [the Baptizer] came to you in a way of righteousness, but you did not believe him. However, the tax collectors and the harlots believed him, and you, although you saw this, did not feel regret afterwards so as to believe him.”
Jesus next shows that the failure of these religious leaders is not simply in neglecting to serve God. No, but they are actually evil, wicked men. “There was a man, a householder,” Jesus relates, “who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and erected a tower, and let it out to cultivators, and traveled abroad. When the season of the fruits came around, he dispatched his slaves to the cultivators to get his fruits. However, the cultivators took his slaves, and one they beat up, another they killed, another they stoned. Again he dispatched other slaves, more than the first, but they did the same to these.”
The “slaves” are the prophets that the “householder,” Jehovah God, sent to “the cultivators” of his “vineyard.” These cultivators are leading representatives of the nation of Israel, which nation the Bible identifies as God’s “vineyard.”
Since “the cultivators” mistreat and kill the “slaves,” Jesus explains: “Lastly [the owner of the vineyard] dispatched his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ On seeing the son the cultivators said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance!’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.”
Now, addressing the religious leaders, Jesus asks: “When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those cultivators?”
“Because they are evil,” they answer, “he will bring an evil destruction upon them and will let out the vineyard to other cultivators, who will render him the fruits when they become due.”
The religious leaders thus unwittingly proclaim judgment upon themselves, since they are included among the Israelite “cultivators” of Jehovah’s national “vineyard” of Israel. The fruitage that Jehovah expects from such cultivators is faith in his Son, the true Messiah. For their failing to provide such fruitage, Jesus warns: “Did you never read in the Scriptures [at Psalm 118:22, 23], ‘The stone that the builders rejected is the one that has become the chief cornerstone. From Jehovah this has come to be, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? This is why I say to you, The kingdom of God will be taken from you and be given to a nation producing its fruits. Also, the person falling upon this stone will be shattered. As for anyone upon whom it falls, it will pulverize him.”
The scribes and chief priests now recognize that Jesus is speaking about them, and they want to kill him, the rightful “heir.” So the privilege of being rulers in God’s Kingdom will be taken from them as a nation, and a new nation of ‘vineyard cultivators’ will be created, one that will produce suitable fruits.
◆ Whom do the two children in Jesus’ first illustration represent?
◆ Who are represented by the “householder,” the “vineyard,” “the cultivators,” the “slaves,” and “the heir” in the second illustration?
◆ What will become of the ‘vineyard cultivators,’ and who will replace them?