Having entered triumphantly into Jerusalem and cleansed the temple, the Lord Jesus now strengthened His claim to Israels throne by an extraordinary week of public teaching (Lk 19.47). This was Christs most concentrated witness to Israel that He truly was their Messiah. In His city, in His house, Israels King spoke with unequalled authority, anticipating wonderfully the last days when "many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (Is 2.2,3). Convinced that He was "a prophet" (Mt 21.46), and repeatedly "astonished at his doctrine" (Mt 22.33), "all the people hung on him to hear" (Lk 19.48, JND).
Sadly, when Israels leaders "saw the wonderful things that he did they were sore displeased" (Mt 21.15), "and sought how they might destroy him" (Mk 11.18). Humanly speaking it was only public opinion that stopped them from seizing Him (Mk 11.18). All the big names came out to play. Chief priests and scribes (Mt 21.15), elders (Mt 21.23), Pharisees and Herodians (Mt 22.15,16), Sadducees (Mt 22.23), and lawyers (Mt 22.35) all did their utmost to topple Him. When a direct challenge to His authority failed they resorted to stealth. They watched Him with sinister intent (Lk 20.20). Like trappers, they planned to "entangle [pagideuô, to entrap, lay snares for1] him in his talk" (Mt 22.15), as hunters stalking a prey, "to catch [agreuô, to take by hunting2] him in his words" (Mk 12.13). Yet the Lord Jesus was untouchable, every fresh challenge proving more convincingly that in Him "are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col 2.3). He knew their wickedness, hypocrisy, and craftiness (Mt 22.18; Mk 12.15; Lk 20.23). His calm, infallible answers confounded the brightest minds in Israel, causing them to marvel (Mt 22.22).
Each evening the Lord Jesus withdrew to Bethany (Mt 21.17; Mk 11.19,20). Returning to Jerusalem the morning after His triumphant entry and feeling hungry the Saviour spotted a fig tree. Although from a distance it had leaves, suggesting fruitfulness, on closer inspection it bore no figs (Mk 11.12-13). Christ cursed the fruitless fig tree, beginning a rapid withering process that amazed the disciples. By the following morning it was "dried up from the roots" (Mt 21.19; Mk 11.14,20). Similarly, Israel was full of outward profession through religious observance, but bore little true spiritual fruit (Hos 9.10). Their rejection of Christ accelerated the withering of the nation, this culminating in Jerusalems destruction in AD 70. And yet, it was still possible for individuals who maintained a forgiving spirit to move mountains, to achieve the impossible, through believing prayer (Mk 11.22-26; cp. James 1.6; 5.16). Christ countered the elders challenge to His authority by asking a question of His own. "The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men?" (Mt 21.25). They refused to answer because, while most Israelites embraced John as a prophet, the leaders had refused him and his message (Mt 21.25-27). Here are three parables told by Christ, and three questions (dealt with in next months article) Israels leaders used in attempting to discredit Him.
Parable 1: Two Sons (Mt 21.28-32)
The first son, who initially refused to do his fathers will but afterwards repented, represented the despised members of Israelite society such as publicans and harlots who repented at John the Baptists preaching. By way of contrast, the second son, full of good intentions, immediately agreed to do the fathers will, but never did. He stood for Israels elite, so entrenched in tradition and puffed up with pride they would not repent. Those common people who received Christ would actually enter the Kingdom of God before Israels leaders, if indeed the leaders ever did.
Parable 2: The Vineyard (Is 5.1-7; Mt 21.33-46; Mk 12.1-12; Lk 20.9-19)
Christs vineyard parable was based on Isaiahs "song of my beloved touching his vineyard" (Is 5.1). Despite the considerable overlap, there is a subtle shift in the symbolism from the song to the parable. In Isaiahs song "the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel" (Is 5.7), but in the Gospel parable the vineyard appears broader in scope, symbolising the mediatorial Kingdom of God as entrusted to that nation (Mt 21.43). God did everything possible to promote Israels fruitfulness (Is 5.1,2,4). The "fruitful hill", where God planted this choicest vine, probably represented Canaan, a rich "land flowing with milk and honey" (Ex 3.8), the surrounding fence, hedge, and wall (Is 5.2,5) all corresponding to Gods protective care for Israel. Stones hamper growth. Therefore, God "gathered out the stones thereof" (Is 5.2) speaking of the extermination of the Canaanites who had defiled the Promised Land (Lev 18.24-25). The tower "could refer to Jerusalem itself from which Gods appointed priests and prophets could watch for foes".3 The winepress may be "symbolic of the Temple, where the offerings, worship and praise would be rendered".4 According to Isaiahs song, when God "looked that [His vineyard] should bring forth grapes it brought forth wild grapes" (Is 5.2). The Lord "looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry" (v.7). Israels bad fruit just kept multiplying: covetousness (v.8), drunkenness (v.11), defiance (v.18-19), perversion (v.20), pride (v.21), and corruption (v.23).
In the Gospel parable the problem was not the vineyards fruitlessness, but the refusal of the farmers (representing Israels leaders, past and present) to hand over the fruit. With escalating violence they rejected Gods servants the prophets (Jer 35.15), capping their sins by slaying the Son (Mt 21.39). In Isaiahs song God punished Israels persistent sinning by allowing Gentile nations to plunder and destroy the Holy Land (Is 5.5). In the Gospel parable those guilty of Christs death would also be judged. He warned Israels leaders that "The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation [a repentant generation of Israelites] bringing forth the fruits thereof" (Mt 21.43; cp Rom 11.15, 25-26). The symbolism now switches completely. The murdered Son becomes the rejected Stone, soon to be exalted, to the delight of all true believers (Mt 21.42). Although this refers primarily to Christs exaltation in relation to His Kingdom, a stone "cut out without hands" smiting all earthly kingdoms and becoming a great mountain that fills the whole earth (Dan 2.34-35, 44-45), the language is translated into the church in which Jesus Christ is "the chief corner stone" (Eph 2.20). "Whosoever shall fall on this stone [in the sense of attacking Him] shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall [in judgment], it will grind him to powder" (Mt 21.44).
Parable 3: The Wedding Feast (Mt 22.1-14)
In this parable the Kingdom theme continues, participation in the wedding feast equating to entering and enjoying millennial blessings (see Is 61.10; 62.5). God the King "sent his bondmen to call the persons invited to the wedding feast, and they would not come" (v.3, JND). The Kingdom was so near that it could be said, "I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready" (v.4). Those bidden were the Jewish nation (Mt 10.5-6; 15.24). Their response was two-fold. Many reacted indifferently, making light of the invitation, going "their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise" (v.5). Others, especially Israels leaders, were overtly hostile, abusing and slaying Gods servants (v.6). These servants included Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, Christ and His apostles. Judgment followed. The angry king "sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city" (v.7), an accurate prediction of Jerusalems destruction in AD 70. What happened next? A final invitation was extended "into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage" (v.9). This likely refers to world-wide gospel testimony during the tribulation period (Mt 24.14). After all, Christians are never considered mere guests at a wedding banquet, but constitute the bride herself (Eph 5.23-33; Rev 19.6-9). The expulsion of "a man which had not on a wedding garment" (vv.11-13) emphasises individual accountability and makes clear that judgment precedes the inauguration of the Kingdom (Mt 25). A solemn warning ends the parable. The only alternative to entering the Kingdom is eternal damnation, for although "many are called few are chosen" (vv.13-14).
To be continued.
1 Vine, W E. Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Hendrickson Publishers).
2 Vine, W E. Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Hendrickson Publishers).
3 Riddle, J M. What the Bible Teaches: Isaiah (John Ritchie Ltd).
4 The Collected Writings of W E Vine (Thomas Nelson Publishers).