In the Fulness of Time/Part 129

By: Dr. Thomas O. Figart; ©2010
Three possible sources of Jesus’ authority are possible: from Satan, from heaven or from men. All three possibilities hold difficult implications for the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day.

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His Rejection: Jesus’ Authority Questioned Matthew 21:23-27

Matthew 21:23-27 “And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? And who gave thee this authority? And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also, will ask you one thing, which, if ye tell me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where was it? From heaven, or from men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, from heaven, he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him? But if we shall say, from men, we fear the people, for all hold John as a prophet. And they answered Jesus and said, We cannot tell. And he said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.”

The rejection of Christ after His public presentation is a continuation of rejection manifested back in Matthew 11-12, which culminated in the accusation that Christ was performing miracles in the power of Beelzebub (12:24). Now the chief priests and elders, along with the scribes (Mark 11:27; Luke 20:1) intensify their opposition by interrupting His teaching ministry in the Temple, asking for the source of His authority for “doing these things.” This must have included not only the teaching, but the cleansing of the Temple and the healing of those in the Temple.

Three sources of authority were possible. In 12:24 they accused Him of using Satanic authority. Here, Jesus mentioned two other realms, “from heaven” or “of men” when He questioned them about John the Baptist. They were unwilling to commit themselves either way. If they admitted to John’s authority as from heaven, then, as they themselves reasoned, Jesus would ask, “Why did ye not then believe him?” Consider for a moment just what they would have had to accept. John commanded them to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2). He presented Jesus as “the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). John also said: “The one who cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; he shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matt. 3:11).

Jesus summed up this message by saying in Matthew 21:32: “John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not.” How could they deny that John’s authority came from heaven? Their second choice was no better, because, as Luke 20:6 reveals, “But if we say, Of men, all the people will stone us; for they are persuaded that John was a prophet.” Their first choice would have been correct, but it would have compelled them to believe that Jesus was their Messiah/ King. As it happened, this revealed their hypocrisy. Nor could they accept the alternative choice, for this would have meant their death; and this revealed their cowardice! It meant that they had to plead ignorance; but at the same time it gave Jesus the opportunity to show their real lack of character to the people. His refusal to answer their question, therefore, was not an evasion at all, but was, indeed, an answer in itself. To demonstrate the reality and seriousness of His answer, Jesus immediately offered three parables which illustrated their rejection of Him.

His Illustrations: Their Rejection of Him in Three Parables Matthew 21:28-22:14

The Parable of the Two Sons Matthew 21:28-32

Mt. 21:28-32 “But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work today in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not, but afterward he repented and went. And he came to the second son, and said the same. And he answered and said, I go, sir, and went not. Which of the two did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you that the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not; but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him; and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.”

Although all three parables deal with the rejection of Jesus by the rulers of the Jews, this first one concerns more directly the rejection of the message of John the Baptist concerning Jesus. Fortunately, Jesus interprets the parable so that there is no doubt of its application.

There are some textual differences whether it is the first son or the second son who says: “I go” and then does nothing, but the argument over the text is not at all clear. The New International Version agrees with the King James Version, which is somewhat unusual. Whichever way it is taken, the application of the hypocritical son is toward the Pharisees and scribes, who made an outward pretense of obeying the Father, but never did repent of their hollow self-righteousness and believe John’s message concerning the Son.

Then too, in a literal sense, many of the tax collectors and harlots actually came to John the Baptist, repented, and accepted his message about Christ. They entered “the kingdom of God before you” (that is, before the rulers, who never believed “the way of righteousness” which John presented). Here, for the fourth time in Matthew, Jesus used the expression “kingdom of God,” and He will use it again in verse 43 for the final time. In each case it refers to a spiritual kingdom, connected with “the way of righteousness” which was introduced by John the Baptist. This was that which represented “the will of his father” (verse 31) rejected by the scribes and Pharisees.

The Parable of the Wicked Farmers Matthew 21:33-46

Mt. 21:33-46 “Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, who planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and dug a winepress in it, and built a tower, and leased it to tenant farmers, and went into a far country. And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the farmers, that they might receive the fruits of it. And the farmers took his servants and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants, more than the first; and they did the same unto them. But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the farmers saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. When the lord, therefore, of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto these farmers? They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will lease his vineyard unto other farmers, who shall render the fruits in their seasons. Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner; this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits of it. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken, but on whomsoever it shall fall, it shall grind him to powder. And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spoke of them. But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they regarded him as a prophet.”

Jesus presents a straightforward story about a common occurrence in the land of Israel in His day, and even the application is simple enough for the ungodly rulers of Israel to comprehend. There are some things which deserve attention. Most of the basic issues are clear; the householder is God; the son is Jesus, the wicked tenant farmers are the chief priests and Pharisees in this text; and certainly include the leaders of Israel in the Old Testament; the servants sent by the householder are the prophets. The rejection of the prophets was a matter of history by that time, and the rejection of the Son would soon be fulfilled by His death. Much of this is reiterated in chapter 23:29-37 where Jesus pronounced woes upon the scribes and Pharisees who “are the sons of them who killed the prophets” and who would kill additional “prophets and wise men, and scribes” who would be sent by the Lord (23:21-24). Further, Jesus laments over Jerusalem “that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee” (23:37).

However, there is much difference of opinion concerning the proper interpretation of the “vineyard,” the “kingdom of God” and the “nation” which will bring forth the fruits of it (21:43). How each of these terms is interpreted will certainly affect how the others are viewed; therefore, all three constitute one consistent message.

Because of the parable of the vineyard given in Isaiah 5:1-7 (as well as Jeremiah 2:21; Psalm 80:8) with many of the same details as those found here in Matthew 21:33, Israel is considered as the vineyard according to some writers. However, if Israel, the vineyard, is taken from the rulers of Israel (the wicked farmers), what sense does this make? Further, Jesus Himself identifies the “kingdom of God” as the vineyard, by stating that it will be given to “a nation bringing forth the fruits of it” (verse 43). Surely no one could say that Israel was taken from anyone and given to anyone! This leads to the problem of identifying just who or what the “Kingdom of God” (the vineyard) represents.

Toussaint, following Alva J. McClain, sees no real difference between the terms “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven.” He asks: “What then do the two terms mean? Throughout the entire Gospel of Matthew both terms refer to the literal, earthly kingdom promised and prophesied in the Old Testament” (Toussaint, Stanley, D. Behold The King, A Study of Matthew. Portland: Multnomah Press, 1980, p. 68). Later, on page 182, he interprets the leaven put in three measures of meal in the parable of Matthew 13:33 as evil running its course, but that: “the parable stops when this amount is leavened, so the kingdom will come when evil has run its course.” Yet, Luke 13:20-21 declares that “the whole was leavened.” Attempting to show that there is no profession without reality in either the kingdom of God nor in the kingdom of heaven, Toussaint says, “Actually the darnel and the bad fish are never said to be in the kingdom of the heavens’ (p. 67). If this is true, how could Jesus have stated in Matthew 13:14 that He would send His angels: “and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them that do iniquity”? Thus it is rather confusing when Toussaint interprets the “nation” to whom the kingdom is given in Matthew 21:43 as the Church (Ibid., p. 251).

McClain proposes a similar interpretation. He says first that: “During the present Age, from Pentecost to the second coming of Christ, the Mediatorial Kingdom must said to be in abeyance, in the sense of its actual establishment on earth. In another sense, however, it might be said that the Mediatorial Kingdom does have a present de jure existence, even prior to its establishment… as those born into the royal family, we enter judicially into the kingdom before its establishment, a divine action so remarkable that Paul speaks of it as a translation (Col. 1:13)” (McClain, Alva J. The Greatness of the Kingdom. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1939, pp. 439-440). This latter statement assumes that “the kingdom of his dear Son” in Colossians 1:13 is the Messianic earthly kingdom of Christ (the words de jure, mean, “by right”). Although it would be wrong to characterize McClain as a Progressive Dispensationalist, yet it is confusing for him to state that the Mediatorial Kingdom has a present de jure existence, prior to its establishment.

How then should the statement of Christ be interpreted? As already stated, Jesus affirmed that the kingdom of God is the vineyard, taken from the wicked farmers and given to “other farmers” (21:41) to “a nation” (21:43) who will produce fruit. The time span for this transfer of the vineyard to other farmers would necessarily have to be after the Son was rejected, and it would include the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of Israel in 70 AD and extend throughout the Church Age, plus the seven years of the Great Tribulation, when the “Stone” which the builders rejected would fall upon the wicked and grind them to pieces at the return of Christ to earth (21:44). To say that the “kingdom of God” is the Church is not accurate. Rather, this time span is identical to that of the parable of the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13 and can be similarly defined as “The Age of the Mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven” which began with the rejection by Israel in Matthew 11:20-26, before His death and will extend to the time of His return to earth to defeat all His enemies and set up His Mediatorial Kingdom.

Further, the term “kingdom of God” in this context can rightly be identified as the “sphere of belief” so to speak, which was offered to Israel, and as Paul says: “blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in” (Rom. 11:25). This will definitely include the Church Age, but it also includes the ministry of Christ and His apostles in the period after His rejection in Matthew 11-12, and all the millions to be saved during the seven years after the Church Age is completed.

The chapter closes with the quotation from Psalm 118:22-23 concerning the stone which the builders rejected becoming the head of the corner (Cf. Matthew 16:18 for exposition) as well as the prophecy of the smiting stone from Daniel 2:34 depicting the return of Christ to earth in judgment.

There was no question on the part of the chief priests and Pharisees that Christ was speaking to them as the wicked farmers, but there was no repentance on their part. They would have killed Him right then and there, but they feared the multitude. From the divine standpoint, it was not yet “in the fulness of time,” because Jesus had another parable to give, in addition to an entire series of woes against them (Matthew 23) and an extended prophecy of the end times (Matthew 24-25) before His arrest and crucifixion.

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