We are in chapter 3 of our study titled “The Parables of Jesus”. We began with parables about the Kingdom of God and then moved on to those about the Character of God. Now we are discussing those parables that focus upon the Covenant of God. This morning we will consider the fourth parable in this category which is known as “The Parable of the Wicked Husbandman”.
There are 2 prominent covenant relationships described in the Bible. The first of these is called the Old Covenant and is the main subject of the Old Testament. It was a covenant between God and the children of Israel. The basis of this covenant was the Law of Moses. If the Jews (collectively called Israel) faithfully obeyed the Law they’d be blessed, and if not they’d be cursed. The second covenant, or the New Covenant, is the main subject of the New Testament. It is a covenant between God and the Church, the collective name for all Christians. It is based upon grace. Those who place their faith in Jesus Christ will be saved, while those who reject Him will be condemned.
There are various perspectives regarding the relationship between Israel in the Old Testament and the Church in the New Testament. These differing viewpoints have a significant impact on how one understands the Bible as a whole. As we continue our study of the parables that deal specifically with the Covenant of God, let’s pause to briefly consider 3 common approaches to reconciling God’s relationship with Israel versus His relationship with the Church.
The first approach is called Replacement Theology. It advocates that the Church has completely and permanently replaced Israel as the chosen people of God. According to this view, all of the promises that God made to Israel as a part of the Old Covenant have either already been fulfilled or are no longer valid. The Body of Christ, made up of all Christians, which is also called the Church, has taken Israel’s place. The Old Covenant is obsolete, the people of ethnic Israel have no role in future events.
The second approach is called Covenant Theology. It teaches that the Church has always existed per se, but consisted primarily of Israel during the Old Testament. After Pentecost the Church formally expanded to include Gentiles from all nations, but it still didn’t exclude faithful Jews. In short, all believers - including those from ethnic Israel - who embrace the terms of the New Covenant make up the Church. Thus, any unfulfilled Old Covenant promises that God made to Israel are still valid and are now transferred to the Church of which the true Israel is an important part.
The third approach is called Dispensational Theology. It suggests that the Church has temporarily replaced Israel as the chosen people of God, but that at some future point Israel will resume its rightful place. During the Millennium, God will reestablish Israel as the ruling nation of the world. From Jerusalem Jesus will reign over the earth as King, and all of God’s Old Covenant promises to ethnic Israel will be fulfilled. God’s covenant relationship with Israel has been suspended for a time during the Church Age, but it will be renewed someday.
As your pastor, I consider myself to be a Covenantal Dispensationalist. In other words, I believe in a combination of both Covenant and Dispensational Theology. I see a great continuity between Old Testament Israel and the New Testament Church, and though there are clearly some distinctions, I do not divide them as sharply or distinctly from one another as many others do. At the same time, I also believe in a literal Millennium in which God’s promises to both Israel and the Church will be fulfilled. This perspective greatly influences the way I interpret the Bible and, in particular, today’s parable...
I. THE MISTREATED SLAVES - Matthew 21:33-36; Mark 12:1-5; Luke 20:9-12
This parable is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. There are only slight variations between each rendering. In all 3 places, the story is told during the last week of Jesus’ life while He was teaching in the temple at Jerusalem. Among the throngs of people present to hear Him were the Pharisees and chief priests who longed to see Jesus arrested and crucified. They represented religious Israel, and the story was directed at them.
Jesus opened the parable by describing a man who’d planted a vineyard then built a wall, vat, and tower for it. After fulling preparing it, the man rented the vineyard out to tenant farmers to tend it while he was gone. When harvest time came, the man sent a slave to collect his portion of the produce. The tenant farmers beat the slave and sent him away with nothing. So the vineyard owner sent another slave, who was also beaten and mistreated. The man sent more slaves, but they continued to be beaten or killed each time.
In this parable, the vineyard owner represented God. The tenant farmers represented Israel as a whole - those who had been entrusted to keep the LORD’s vineyard. The slaves represented the many Old Testament prophets - those who God had sent periodically to address His chosen people. Just as in the parable, historically the Jews rejected the message of God through His prophets and their calls for the nation’s repentance. Instead, the children of Israel often rebuked the prophets and on occasion even physically harmed them.
II. THE MURDERED SON - Matthew 21:37-39; Mark 12:6-8; Luke 20:13-15a
Jesus continued the parable by building to a climactic moment. Finally, the frustrated vineyard owner decided to send his son to collect his share of the produce. He reasoned that, despite their repeated mistreatment of his slaves, surely they would respect his son. But when the son arrived, the tenant farmers conspired together and killed him also.
Obviously, Jesus was the son in the parable, the only begotten of His Father. Over the centuries God had sent numerous prophets to His covenant people, but in the fullness of time He finally sent His son Jesus - the promised Messiah. But just as they had done previously, again the Jews had rejected the one whom God had sent. In just a few short days after He told this parable, the Jews would have Jesus arrested, beaten, and killed also...
III. THE MODIFIED ARRANGEMENT - Matthew 21:40-41,43; Mark 12:9; Luke 20:15b-16a
After finishing the story, Jesus asked His listeners what the vineyard owner should do. After all, his tenant farmers had mistreated several of his slaves and even murdered his beloved son. Without waiting for their answer, Jesus concluded that the man would destroy the current tenants and then rent his vineyard out to others. He reinforced this statement by referring to a familiar passage in Psalm 118:22-23.
The chief priests and Pharisees clearly understood the reference and knew that Jesus was talking pointedly about them. God planned to expel Israel from its special place and to institute the New Covenant with the Church instead. All Christians, saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, would be entrusted as the new keepers of God’s vineyard. The Church would formally take up the role that Israel had once played.
I don’t believe that God is through with the nation of Israel yet, but I do believe that the parties of the New Covenant differ from those of the Old. That is the primary meaning of this parable.
In the Old Testament God called the geographical nation-state of Israel to be His chosen people through whom He sought to draw the entire world unto Himself. Ultimately, they failed to accomplish this purpose. In the New Testament, God formally established the Church and reassigned the task of worldwide evangelism to it. The Church is not comprised of a single nation, state, or ethnicity, but rather is made up of all believers. We as Christians now have the responsibility of reaching the world with the life-saving message of Jesus.