Today's study takes us into a parable of Jesus. Parables were used by Jesus to illustrate specific points, thus we need to beware of reading too much into it, because they have been designed for a specific illustrative purpose. Jesus is addressing the scribes and Pharisees here, and this context will prove helpful as we look at what Jesus is trying to say, and what kind of a Judge He is.
(A) A judge who owns and provides generously. (v1-2)
This is a parable set in a vineyard and focuses on a landlord and his tenants (v.1).In modern terms, we understand a landlord to be one who rents out the space, and the tenants are obliged to pay the rent. But in the time of Jesus, the tenants work the land, and pay a portion of the harvest (or the products, e.g. wine from grapes) to the landlord. The harvest or its produce are given as rent instead of money. The landlord has a rightful claim because he is the true owner.
This landlord, Jesus would have us see, did many things for his plot of land (v.1). He planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, built a tower then leased it to tenants. He did work to protect the land (fence), and for defense and safety against attacks or fires (tower), and also provided the infrastructure for making wine. This landlord provided literally everything, and all that's left is to do the work of cultivating the land and harvesting. All he required of the tenants was for them to give him his rightful share of the land.
What does Jesus mean here? Remember that He is addressing the chief priests and scribes of Israel. The vineyard is a common metaphor for Israel, and God is the landlord. The tenants in the parable refer to the teachers and leaders of Israel. These are people that have been given the responsibility of stewarding the land, in order to provide a harvest and fruit. This is the OT understanding of this metaphor. How does this change in light of the cross? Where are we in this parable? In this particular parable, we are represented by the vineyard and the tenants. We now have a responsibility to work to produce fruit.
(B) A judge who is merciful and forgiving. (v3-8)
How did the tenants react to the landlord's claim? They refused to honor their part of the contract to give the landlord what is due Him. In fact, they become progressively more violent -- from beating, to striking on the head, to killing. They took the vineyard and their harvest for themselves. Their greed led to them violating the contract, even to the extent of murder, just for their own desires.
In this parable, the patience of the landlord come across clearly. Despite the repeated rejections, the landlord still persisted in giving the tenants chances to repay what is owe he. Indeed, he is a merciful landlord who is slow to anger, because it would certainly be His natural right to be angry and act against these tenants in a more drastic manner. The landlord finally sends his own son (v.6). He assumes that it will be different this time, because the son has a different relationship to the owner. He is an heir and is directly related to the owner, and is even referred to as "a beloved son". He will carry with him authority (and legal claim) akin to the owner, and his appearance is as good as the owner appearing. The owner therefore presumes that because he is the son, the tenants would treat him differently and accord him the respect that they would the owner. The tenants, however, react in rebellion and sinfulness, choosing to kill the heir to claim his inheritance (v.7). In the same way, what is God merciful for and forgiving of? For our sins and sinfulness. This is who we really are, and what we need to acknowledge.
(C) A judge who is just. (v9-12)
Now that the landlord’s son has also been killed, the landlord declares that he will destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others (v.9). He is justified because of their past actions. Realise that he needs to deal justly with their evil rebellion, and also to send a strong message to future tenants. But if we get out of the metaphor for just a minute, is this landlord's action justified? If we see ourselves as the evil tenants, continually rejecting the authority of the landlord and being in blatant rebellion, is He still justified in acting in the way He does? Yes, God is a merciful God, but He is also a just God. He cannot just let His people continually get away with rebelling against Him. This landlord intended for His land to produce a certain fruit. He expected His tenants to produce fruit as He intended for it.
Jesus explains the parable by quoting Psalm 118:22-23, saying that the stone referred to the Messiah, while the builders are the leaders of the land. In a reversal of events, the Messiah that they rejected is actually the cornerstone that God will use.The key to understanding this passage lies in the last verse (v.12). The religious leaders went away though they wanted to arrest him. The religious leaders fulfilled the prophecy in Ps 118 immediately after they heard it. This serves as a warning to us to pay attention to the word of God. How do we react to the word of God (c.f. Ps 95)? Do we listen and hear but just turn away from His word, or do we turn away from our sin and turn to Jesus? Do we repent? This parable also shows us that the Landlord has a rightful claim on the land, and will come to claim it. Have you produced fruit as His tenant, or do you continue to reject Him blatantly and repeatedly? How do you respond to His Son?
In this study, we see the many characteristics and dimensions of this Judge. He is the rightful creator and indeed shows great mercy. But this God is also a holy and just God. We don't always like to consider this aspect of His character. It sets up a problem for us, because we who were as sinful as the tenants cannot stand before this God. He is just, but He is also the justifier. Do you see this God as a Judge? Do you profess faith in His Son, who came to justify us fully, or are you like the tenants who continually reject Him?