The parable of the tenants reminds me a little bit of Nathan confronting David over the Bathsheba incident. Nathan got David to condemn himself by condemning an anonymous person for a similar crime. Jesus does the same thing to the religious leaders with the parable of the tenants. After telling them the parable, he asked them what the master of the house will do when he discovers what the tenants had done. They replied that he will put the tenants to death and find other tenants who will give him the fruits of the vineyard when they ought.
In today’s verses, Jesus, like Nathan before him, tells his audience that they have condemned themselves with their answer:
42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. (Matthew 21:42-43)
I’m not sure what the religious leaders thought Jesus was trying to tell them with the parable, but it clearly wasn’t this. In verse 42, Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22-23 to show that he is the son that the tenants rejected and killed. As we saw when we looked at Matthew 16:18, this idea of Jesus being the rejected cornerstone was not lost on the early church, especially Peter (Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:4-8). In verse 43, Jesus confirms that God, as master of the house, would indeed take his vineyard (the kingdom of God) away from the tenants who rejected and killed his son (Israel) and give it to people who would produce its fruits (typically interpreted as the Church).
There are a lot of theological implications of how one interprets verse 43. Some see it as God permanently taking the kingdom away from Israel and giving it to the Church. This view usually sees the Church as the New Israel, inheriting all the OT promises God made to the nation of Israel. Another interpretation is that God’s plan for the nation of Israel has been paused (for lack of a better word) during the Church Age, and that it will resume one day in the future (during the End Times). There are a lot of nuances and minority opinions in each of these camps, but these are the broad views of each. Based on the entirety of Scripture, I hold to the latter view and believe that God is not yet finished with the nation of Israel. But no matter which view one adheres to, it’s clear that verse 43 changes radically changes things from how God interacted with Israel throughout the Old Testament. Because the nation of Israel rejected and killed God’s son, there is at least a period of time when true Israel would be reduced to only a remnant existing within the Church.
But instead of getting caught up in all the ecclesiological and eschatological debates surrounding verse 43, I want to focus on the last half of the verse: given to a people producing its fruits. Whether one thinks God permanently or temporarily removed the kingdom from the nation of Israel, what isn’t debated is that the people producing its fruits refers to the Church. In light of the fact that Israel rejected the Messiah and his message while failing to produce fruit, I think we need to ask ourselves if we are doing any better. In the part of his sermon on Matthew 21:18-32 that dealt with Jesus cursing the fig tree, my pastor illustrated some of the fruit of a spiritual life as F.I.G.S.:
- Fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23)
- Increasing love for God’s people (Jn. 13:35; 15:12; 1 Jn. 3:14; 4:7-8)
- Good works (Eph. 2:10; Col. 1:10; 2 Tim. 3:17; Titus 2:14; 3:8, 14)
- Sensitivity to sin and a hunger for holiness (1 Jn. 1:8-10; 2:6, 29; 3:2-9)
I need to ask myself: am I producing that fruit?
Additionally the church is called to make disciples and then baptize them and teach them to observe what Jesus has commanded (Mt. 28:19-20) and to be salt and light in the world (Mt. 5:13-16). Am I doing that individually? Are we doing that corporately as a local church? Is the universal Church in the world doing it?
Matthew 21:43 implies that the Church Age will produce fruit, but I think it’s important that we regularly examine ourselves (2 Cor. 13:5) because Israel clearly didn’t. They failed to heed the words of the Lord, choosing instead to reject his prophets and kill his Son. It’s easy for us to fall into the same traps they did and fail to produce fruit due to self-righteousness or unrepentant sinful behavior. The Church Age will produce fruit, but are we (am I) right now currently producing fruit? Or are we (am I) rejecting the word of the Lord through his prophets and Son to continue living as we (I) want?