Arrogance of Legalism Blinds the Soul
Matthew Lesson #128
July 17, 2016
“Father, we’re so thankful for Your Word. Your Word is beyond our ability to probe its depths. It is the light that illuminates our thinking so that we can perceive who You are, who we are, we can understand the basic problem that we have which is sin, and Your gracious provision in providing a salvation that is complete through the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross Who died in our place.
Father, we are thankful that we have Your Word because it also illuminates our thinking to Your plan and purpose in History. To understand why we have gotten to where we are and where You are taking us, we must understand Your Word.
Father, we pray that as we study today, we’ll not only come to a greater understanding of Your plan and purpose, especially in relation to the nation Israel, but also in relation to principles that apply to our own thinking and our own spiritual life.
We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew 21. We’ll begin in verse 33, but first a little review.
What we’re seeing throughout this section, as Jesus confronts the religious leaders of Israel, confronting the chief priests, confronting the scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the elders of Israel, is the fact that they have adopted an approach to a relationship with God that is just as idolatrous as the religions that they had adopted during the Old Testament period.
Continuously in the Old Testament, God warned them against idolatry. He warned them that He was to be worshiped as God alone, and that all of these false gods were no gods, and He warned them that if they violated the covenant with Him, and were disloyal and committed treason, that God would visit various judgments and various stages of divine discipline against the nation, the most horrid which would be that God would remove them from the land that He promised to give them through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and that God would scatter them among the nations, and that they would reap the consequences of their spiritual infidelity.
When the Jews return to the land from the captivity in Babylon, God fulfilled His promise of discipline by having the Northern Kingdom destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BC, the Babylonians in 586 BC, and when the Jews return to the land, they sent forth to not commit that same sin of idolatry again.
So in the development of a Pharisaism from the time of Ezra the priest up until the first or second century BC, there was this gradual development of what they came to call the Halacha or the oral law, the way of walking. It was their interpretation of the law that added a lot of traditions to it. These traditions they thought of as a fence that would protect the law, so that if they didn’t commit certain sins, if they didn’t commit certain acts, it would protect them from violating any of the 613 commandments in the Law. So they set up this fence around the Law that took on the same authority as the Law itself; it’s the Scripture. So this tradition was elevated to the level of a divine mandate.
We see the same kind of thing happening in our own culture. When you get into certain denominations, they decide that the best way to glorify God is to apply the Scriptures in a certain way, and that may have to do with the style of clothing, that may have to do with avoiding certain kinds of activities, and those decisions then become instantiated in concrete, and they become as authoritative is the Word of God. And this creates what we call legalism.
The problem with the religious leaders of Israel is they had created an idolatry out of their legalistic application, so that their ideas had the same authority as that of God. And so how they applied laws, like the sabbatical laws, how they applied laws related to spiritual cleanliness, these things went far beyond what was actually stated in the Mosaic Law.
So this was a more of a mental form of idolatry as opposed to the worship of gods made of stone or wood or metal. All idolatry, as we’ll see, is grounded in arrogance. Man thinking that he can somehow do things that will so impress God, that God will bless them. That’s the essence of legalism.
The essence of grace is to recognize, not that we can do whatever we want to, grace isn’t licentiousness, but grace is a realization that God has provided all of the solution, and the solution to sin is not our obedience, but the righteousness of Christ, which we receive at the instant of salvation. So what we see in this condemnation running through Matthew 21– 23 is this problem of arrogance in the religious arrogance of the Pharisees.
I’ve titled this lesson “The Arrogance of Legalism Blinds the Soul.” It blinds the soul to grace. It blinds the soul to truth. And we end up rejecting God, being unable to see or understand His grace or His goodness because we’re more concerned about upholding our own opinion rather than what He has said in His Word.
Let’s review just a minute as to where we’ve come from in this section:
It actually begins back in Matthew 21:23 when Jesus came into the Temple. He’s confronted by the chief priests and elders who challenge His authority. They question, “What’s the basis of Your authority? How can You do what You’re doing, say what You’re saying, teach what You’re teaching?”
Jesus in an extremely sophisticated manner is going to turn this back on them. He uses, as I pointed out the last two or three lessons, He uses their methodology against them, and He uses the rabbinical Q&A, question and answer technique, against them. They have asked Him to defend the basis for His authority, and He says, “I’ll do that, but first let Me ask you a question.”
The question He asked is related to John the Baptist. And it puts them on the horns of a dilemma because if they answer it one way, they will be condemned by the crowd. If they answer another way, they will also be condemned by the crowd. We learn in their statement that they fear the multitude. This will come up again in in the second parable, the one that we’re studying this morning.
So Jesus doesn’t directly answer their question about the basis for His authority. He avoids it, but then He answers it indirectly through three parables. And this is one of those sections of Scripture that’s important.
I have often read, you may have as well, different writers, theologians dealing with different issues and topics, and they will focus on one or another of these three parables, but they don’t take the time to recognize that these three parables stand together. There’s a flow in the thought of Jesus as He presents these parables, and therefore, they have to be understood within that particular context.
Each of these parables features a father, a son or sons, and a response to the father’s authority. Thus we see in each of these parables a part of the answer to the question, the challenge, the basis for Jesus’ authority.
In the first parable in Matthew 21:28 Jesus says, “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son go today to work in my vineyard.’ ”
Then He develops this, and as He does so, He’s pointing out again that the issue that He is expressing is that the Pharisees and the chief priests have failed to trust in God. I focused on this last time.
Matthew 21:32, Jesus’ final statement and explanation of that first parable says. “For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but tax collectors and harlots believed Him.”
So the contrast is between the religious leaders who did not believe John and the tax collectors and the prostitutes who did believe. That’s the issue.
Then Jesus Christ drove the point home again, and He said, “And when you saw this, you did not afterward—so they had a second chance. God is the God of grace and the God of many chances—you did not afterword regret or relent and believe Him.”
So the issue is belief. The issue in the gospel is always faith alone in Christ alone. It’s not their feelings.
That’s what I pointed out last time when I looked at the difference between the word that’s used here, METAMELOMAI, which is an emotional word, as well as the word METANOEO, which is usually translated “repent,” and that word is not used here, but to understand that the issue in Scripture is to believe in Jesus.
In our conclusion of the study last time is that the word “repent” simply means to change your mind. So it’s embedded within the idea of belief, to change your mind; that Jesus is not important or Jesus isn’t the Messiah, to change your mind and believe that He is.
At this point, Jesus introduces the next parable in verse 33. He says, “Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it, and built a tower. And he leased it to vine dressers and went into a far country.”
When we look at this parable, we have to understand a couple principles about parables:
First of all, not every detail in a parable is significant spiritually. It’s a story, the general story of which is designed to teach a general principle. There are details that are important that have application and usually the Lord identifies what those elements are so that we can properly understand and interpret the parable.
The parable here is reminiscent of some stories and parables and analogies that are used in the Old Testament. When you read or you may hear a sermon, you will frequently hear that this parable is built off of an analogy that God uses in Isaiah 5.
In Isaiah 5 we read, “Now let me sing to my Well-beloved a song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard: My Well-beloved has a vineyard on a very fruitful hill. He dug it up and cleared out the stones and planted it with the choicest vine. He built a tower in its midst, and also made a winepress in it; so He expected it to bring forth good grapes, but it brought forth wild grapes.”
In this analogy that is being used by Isaiah, which is very similar to how Jesus sets this up, Israel is the vineyard. You will find about 80% of commentary make the statement that the vineyard here is Israel. It’s not. You have to pay careful attention to what Jesus says later on in the passage. I’ll point that out in just a minute.
He begins here with another parable. So it’s another of the same kind, and that first phrase tells us that what He is saying in the second parable is related to and develops out of what He is saying in the first parable, all of which is related to this authority question.
We look at the parable. There are several elements to the parable: We have a landowner. We have a vineyard. We have a contract between the landowner and the vinedressers or tenant farmers that are going to take care of the vineyard. We have a wall or fence that is built around the vineyard. There is the mention of a winepress and a tower, and these tenant farmers are vine dressers. So we need to identify who these different elements describe or what they describe.
First of all, we have the landowner. Now the Greek for the landowner is the word OIKODESPOTES. It’s a compound word. OIKO comes from OIKOS, which means a house or maybe a building, but OIKOS refers to a house. And DESPOTES is a word for a master. We get our word despot from this Greek word. So it refers to somebody, primarily who has authority over a house. This is describing God in terms of His sovereign control over human history. So the landowner represents God the Father, who is the Creator God who rules over human history.
The second element that we see is the vineyard. As I pointed out, there are many who go back to Isaiah 5 and say the vineyard is Israel. That’s about 80% true. It’s got to be made more specific than that, but there’s nothing in the context of what Jesus is saying that causes us to interpret what He is saying on the basis of Isaiah 5. That’s just an assumption that is brought to the text. There’s nothing there that indicates you have to go back to Isaiah 5 in order to interpret what He is saying.
In fact, what Jesus says when He interprets it to the religious leaders, He says, “Therefore I say to you”—He’s talking to these religious leaders, to the Pharisees and the chief priests and the scribes. He says, “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you.”
In the analogy of the parable, remember the vinedressers don’t ever give the fruits of the vineyard to the landowner. So God never receives the fruit that was expected from the vineyard. So the vinedressers are going to be taken away. The fact that the vinedressers are taken indicates that they’re removed from the position. So the vineyard that they are removed from is identified by Jesus in this statement as the Kingdom of God.
Further, we should notice that when He says the Kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation, if the vineyard represents Israel, then that would have to mean Israel is taken from you and given to another nation. That doesn’t even make sense. So we can’t interpret the vineyard here as Israel. We must interpret it as the kingdom that has been offered and rejected by Israel.
The vineyard represents the theocratic kingdom that is being offered to Israel, and what we have seen is all through the Gospel of the Kingdom of God is consistent with the Old Testament promise and prophecy of the Kingdom of God, that this is a literal geophysical kingdom that is established on the land that God promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that’s bordered by the river of Egypt, the Euphrates River, and the Mediterranean. That is the Promised Land. It is a literal physical kingdom on the earth, ruled by a king from the throne of David in Jerusalem.
This isn’t a spiritual kingdom. This isn’t a kingdom that has somehow been transformed from the physical concept in the Old Testament to a spiritual concept in the New Testament. It’s not a kingdom that is in our hearts. Therefore, it doesn’t fit what is the amillennial interpretation of the Bible, that there is no literal physical Jewish-based kingdom in the future, that the Church Age is the Kingdom of God, and this is now ruled by Jesus who is sitting on the throne of David in Heaven. This is a spiritualized or allegorical interpretation, it is grounded in a theology that is known as Replacement Theology—we’ll look at that in just a minute.
It’s very clear that the Kingdom of God, Jesus mentions in verse 43, is this literal geophysical kingdom, the one that John the Baptist announced, that He announced, that the leaders rejected, and so He’s talking about the fact that again, what He announced in Matthew 12, that this kingdom will be taken from them, “from you,” and He’s talking to the religious leaders.
It’s important to understand that He’s not talking to all of Israel, to all of ethnic Israel, He is talking to the religious leaders and their failure. This is seen in verse 45, “Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them”—not of Israel, okay, but of them. So this is going to be a condemnation of that leadership at that time in Israel’s history.
So the landowner is God. The vineyard represents the kingdom offered to Israel and rejected by the religious leaders, and there is a contract mentioned as the landowner hires these vinedressers.
He leased it to vinedressers. There’s a contractor there. That represents the Mosaic Covenant where God delegated this to Israel and the leaders of Israel to rule over the nation. So the Mosaic Covenant is the contract.
Now there are three things that are mentioned together: That there is a fence that is built around the vineyard; there is a winepress where the grapes would be crushed; and the juice would run out.
This would be made, usually in Israel, what you will find is that there’s a lot of rocks there, and they’ll find a large rock, and then they will chisel out that rock and hollow it out and have a slope in it, and then chisel out a drain, and that becomes the winepress where they press out the grapes. Then there is a tower built. So the wall of the fence is designed to keep the thieves out, so that they don’t come in near harvest time and steal the grapes.
The winepress is to develop the production and to create a profit from the vineyard, and the tower is a watchtower so that during the time that, as the grapes near the ripening stage, then they can have a guard there to protect the vineyard.
Each of these together, we can’t build a case for each one, refers to something. Each of these together shows the attention and the care of the landowner to provide for the security and productivity of the vineyard.
This is the idea. God has provided everything for Israel. He is their security. He is depicted in the Psalms as their strong fortress, as their tower. He is the One who hedges them about. He is the One who builds that protection.
So what all of this is designed to do in the parable is to show that the land owner has provided everything necessary for the productivity of the vineyard, and then He goes into a far country. Now that is just a part of the story, he is an absentee landlord, but he has leased out this to these tenant farmers or vinedressers, and they are identified by Matthew 21:45 as the religious leaders of that generation. It’s that generation that has rejected the offer of the kingdom, and it’s that generation that is going to come under judgment that is fulfilled in AD 70 when Jerusalem is overrun by the Romans and the Temple is destroyed.
This refers to the religious leaders of that generation, and it’s the religious leaders who lose access to the kingdom. It’s not Israel. That’s why if the vineyard is Israel, then you’ve got a problem. But if the vineyard is the kingdom and the parable is about the loss of authority of the religious leaders in judgment on them, then you realize Jesus is not saying that Israel is going to lose the kingdom forever and ever.
The reason that is important is in church history, this is one of several verses that have been used to teach what is known as Replacement Theology. Matthew 21:43 says that it is the Kingdom of God that’s taken from you; that is the religious leaders, not from Israel but from you.
Now this thing that I mentioned, Replacement Theology, I had some questions about it recently. I mentioned it two or three weeks ago when we talked about Jesus cursing the fig tree, which depicts the overall theme here, when Jesus cursed the fig tree, it was because He found no fruit on the fig tree. Now we have a further development in this parable that the fruit isn’t being produced for the land owner, for the one who should receive it.
Now let me give you a couple of definitions of Replacement Theology. I gave you a couple when I mentioned this before. This one is the same, and I’m going to add a new one. Ronald Diprose’s book, Israel and the Church, which is a study of Replacement Theology, defines it this way, “the Church completely and permanently replaced ethnic Israel in the working out of God’s plan and as a recipient of Old Testament promises to Israel.”
So that when God promised a specific piece of real estate to Abraham bounded by the Mediterranean, the Euphrates, and the river of Egypt, Abraham thought that referred to a piece of real estate, but now in the New Testament, we realize it really meant Heaven.
So there’s a change in terminology because they moved from a literal interpretation to an allegorical interpretation, and in most forms of Replacement Theology, the New Testament is used to interpret the Old Testament, and Israel becomes almost, the significance of Israel becomes irrelevant and unimportant.
Another work that has been done has been written by Michael Vlach, who’s a professor at The Master’s Seminary. He’s given several papers on this at the Pre-Trib Conference, and He says there are a couple of important features to Replacement Theology.
First of all, “the nation Israel has somehow completed or forfeited its status as the people of God and will never again possess a unique role or function apart from the Church.”
The Church is what’s important, not Israel, and so modern Israel has no significance and never will have a significance in God’s plan or purpose because God is through with Israel.
The second aspect is that “the Church is now the true Israel that has permanently replaced or superseded national Israel as the people of God.”
Now that word “superseded” is important because the more academic term for this is called “supersessionism,” and that’s becoming a little more popularly used today.
So Michael Vlach concludes that “the Church is the new and/or true Israel that has forever superseded the nation Israel as the people of God.”
The danger with Replacement Theology, and Replacement Theology goes back to the mid first century, is the first time that it is articulated that Israel will no longer have a place or purpose in God’s plan, it develops over the next 200 or 300 years until it becomes the formal position of the Roman Catholic Church by the time of Augustine, who’s the Bishop of Hippo and the great theologian of the early Medieval church.
By the time of Augustine, allegorical interpretation has become the only acceptable interpretation of the Bible in the Roman Catholic Church, and this shapes everything through the period of the Middle Ages, and in fact, it shaped the thinking of the early reformers: Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli. These early reformers in the Reformation never quite got away from Replacement Theology, and so their theological systems that still exist today, such as Lutheranism, most forms of Calvinism in terms of Covenant Theology, and some of the other forms that came out of the of The Reformation, still hold to Replacement Theology.
Replacement Theology is not necessarily anti-Semitic, but it’s the soil out of which Christian anti-Semitism developed, and it’s the soil out of which the horrors of the Holocaust developed. Not everyone who holds to a form of Replacement Theology is necessarily anti-Semitic, but that’s where it automatically and eventually leads if you follow it out to its logical conclusion.
Now when we talk about Replacement Theology, somebody asked me just recently, “What’s the relationship of Covenant Theology to Replacement Theology?” Covenant Theology is just one form or expression of Replacement Theology. Covenant Theology was developed within the history of Calvinism in the late 1600s, and yet Replacement Theology goes further.
Most systems of theology have some form of Replacement Theology, and then some are more extreme. Some teach that because God is punishing Israel because they rejected and crucified Jesus, then Christians should also punish and be harsh towards the Jews. That is the most extreme form of Replacement Theology.
A lot of Replacement Theology is milder than that and doesn’t go that far and would reject, especially since the Holocaust, try to reject some of those harsher elements, but they still have a form of Replacement Theology. The Pope has come out and stated the Roman Catholic Church no longer holds to Replacement Theology. What he’s talking about is they’re trying to say they don’t hold to the harsher forms of Replacement Theology, but they still hold to forms of Replacement Theology.
Many other groups, because what’s happened in the way language games are played in the last 50 or 60 years, they’ve defined Replacement Theology as that which would produce the Holocaust. We don’t agree with the Holocaust. That was an extreme and wrong application of Replacement Theology, so therefore, we don’t believe in Replacement Theology. But we still believe that Israel no longer has a place in God’s plan. It’s been replaced by the church. So it’s just word games. What we’ll see is that in nations that have their history grounded in the Replacement Theology of the Middle Ages, that they’re anti-Semitism is just below the surface.
You can see this in modern France. After the Holocaust everybody pulled back, they tried to cover up their anti-Semitism, but in the last five or six years there have been more and more instances in France of synagogues being burned, of Nazi graffiti being put on synagogues, of Jews being assaulted in the street, things of this nature, and it’s not just coming from the Muslims that are living in France. It is also coming from the non-Muslim community. So that anti-Semitism was just beneath the surface, and even though they are no longer what we would call very religious in France, they’re still influenced by those ideas that came out of the Replacement Theology in their history.
Matthew 21:43 has been one of those verses that has been used to try to support this Replacement Theology.
Also Matthew 21:19, as I mentioned earlier, when Jesus cursed the fig tree, and He said let no fruit grow on you ever again, immediately, the fig tree withered away. These are not verses that are announcing a permanent eternal judgment on Israel, but a judgment on that generation. Consistent with Matthew 12 and other passages that it was that generation that was receiving this judgment.
How do we, as we look at this, how do we understand that? Well, first of all, before I continue with the Replacement Theology, the basic problem that they had at this time, that generation, was legalism. And that’s what is being judged.
Now in defining legalism, a lot of people get confused over this. Legalism is not coming along and saying you should do this, you shouldn’t do that. There are more imperatives in the New Testament than in the 613 commandments of the Old Testament. Saying thou shalt do this and thou shalt not do that is not legalism. Legalism is when the “thou shalts” and the “thou shalt nots” don’t have anything to do with the specifics of Scripture.
- Legalism is basically man seeking God’s approval for his own works of righteousness. “I’m going to do good, I’m going to give to charities, I’m going to help people, I’m going to go to church, I’m going to give to the church, I’m going to do Christian service, and somehow God’s going to bless me for that.” That’s the idea, basically, of legalism.
- Secondly, legalism, therefore, is a product of human arrogance. Human arrogance is the opposite of submission to God’s authority. So it’s man saying, “I’m going to define what righteousness is, and then I’m going to produce my definition of righteousness, and God is going to bless me.”
- Third point is that all arrogance blinds us to the truth. Arrogance is blinding and arrogance is also tenacious. It’s hard to get rid of our arrogance, and we have to face that. Our sin nature is grounded in arrogance, and it affects every single one of us. And even at times when we think we’re not being arrogant, it’s just a pseudo-form of humility.
- Fourth is a commitment to arrogance always leads toward hostility to God. So what happens is when Jesus comes along and tells the religious leaders that they are wrong, they’re going to react. They want to kill Him because that is what happens in arrogance. We’re being told that we’re wrong, and we want to destroy the person who tells us that we’re wrong.
This is what Paul says in Romans 1. Just a quick reminder, in Romans 1 Paul says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Arrogance suppresses truth in unrighteousness.
He goes on to say that everybody knows that God exists because His existence is evidenced externally, but it’s also manifest within them.
Then he goes on to say in Romans 1:20 that this is clear from the creation of the world, and that everybody knows God, but they don’t glorify Him as God in verse 21.
In Romans 1:22–23, he says, “Professing to be wise, they became fools.” That applies to the religious leaders of Israel and all religious leaders. Not Christian leaders. Not those who are grace oriented, but those who are oriented to human works.
“They profess to be wise, that they become fools—and notice what they do—they change the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.”
See that’s overt legalism. But in Pharisaism and religious legalism, it’s worshiping our own ideas about God, and that becomes a cerebral legalism.
So religious legalism is a form of idolatry—the idolatry of personal morality and religious activity.
Having understood that that’s the problem, Paul goes on to talk about other things in Romans, and eventually he deals with the issue of Israel. This goes to the issue of Replacement Theology.
In Romans 11 Paul clearly affirms that while God has temporarily set aside Israel, it is not permanent.
In Romans 11:1, he raises the first question, “Has God cast away His people?” And he forcefully says, “No! Certainly not!” In the Greek it’s ME GENOITO. It is a strong rejection. He says, “Not at all. For I am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.”
So he is reflecting in Romans 1, he’s going to reflect the same idea that we see developed in Jesus’ telling of the parable in Matthew 21:34–36.
In Matthew 21:34–36, Jesus says, “Now when vintage-time came, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit.” What did the vinedressers do? Well, to the first group, they “beat one, killed one, and stoned another.”
So the landowner sends a second group, verse 36, “and they did likewise to them,” Jesus said.
Now we can’t really press as to who these are. Maybe it’s the former prophets and the later prophets, but we really can’t press. It’s the idea that God is sending the prophets, and they are rejected by the religious leadership of Israel. They stoned them, and they killed them.
This is the same thing Paul says in Romans 11:3–5. He’s quoting Elijah in Romans 11:3, “Lord, they killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” This goes back to 1 Kings 17 and 18. This is what was happening in Israel during the time of the kings.
Then Paul goes on to say in verse 4, “But what does the divine response say to him?”
What did God say when Elijah had his pity party and said “I’m the only one left. They’ve killed everybody else.” God said, “I’ve reserved for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” There is a remnant.
The word “remnant” is a term that always refers to the remnant of Israel. The church is not a remnant. Remnant isn’t church terminology. It’s Israel terminology, and God always has a remnant. The 7,000 who haven’t bowed the knee to Baal.
“Even so then,” Paul says, “at this present time—that is, at that time the apostolic period. He says—“there is a remnant according to the election of grace.”
Now these are the Jews that accepted Jesus as Messiah. He says at that time in the early church there is a remnant according to the election of grace.
I’m going to skip a lot of Romans 11, it would take forever, but when we get down to Romans 11:11, he asked his second question. He says, “I say then, have they”—that is national, ethnic Israel—“have they stumbled?”—and the idea and that word there is a permanent stumbling, says—“have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not!” So the second “No, not at all” ME GENOITO –“But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles.”
“Now if their fall—that is the fall into apostasy of ethnic Israel—is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!” That indicates there is going to be a future fullness for Israel.
This is what Paul will conclude with at the end of the chapter. He says, “For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery—something that had not been revealed before—“lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until”—something happens. That word “until” indicates that something in the future will happen to change this—“the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.”
Once the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, then he says, “And thus—in this manner—all Israel will be saved, as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob.’ ”
So Romans 11:25 down through 29, makes it clear that there’s a future for Israel. And when Paul concludes, he says, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” God called out Israel for a specific purpose.
While Israel is temporarily set aside in God’s plan, and the church is the way in which God is working today, there will be a change in the future, and God has a future plan and purpose for the nation Israel.
So you can’t go, as the replacement theologians do, to allegorize the New Testament and say there’s no purpose for Israel.
Another point, I had one person say, “Yes, but Israel today is apostate. They’re not accepting Jesus as Messiah, so they’re not important.”
Well wait a minute! Let’s look at the Old Testament. How many times in the Old Testament were the Israelites apostate and in rebellion against God? And how many times did God punish those who treated them poorly out of anti-Semitism even though Israel was apostate?
The promise of God in the Abrahamic Covenant that “I will bless those who bless you” does not say “I will bless those who bless you when you’re spiritually correct.” It doesn’t say “I will curse those who curse you when you’re spiritually correct, but when you’re apostate, it doesn’t matter.” See that’s not what the text says.
The text says that it doesn’t matter whether you’re obedient, disobedient, apostate, or spiritual. I’m going to bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. So God has a plan and a purpose for Israel. Okay, so back to our parable …
“Then last of all he—the landowner—sent his son to them saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ ” This is the first time we have the use of HUIOS in these parables.
The word for “son” back in the first parable was really just male children. That could apply to an adult child. Jesus doesn’t use HUIOS until He gets to this point, so that it’s clear He’s talking about Himself as the Son of God.
“The father sends the son saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the vinedressers saw the son—who comes with the authority of the father—they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance. And so they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.”
A clear allusion to the coming crucifixion. This is Monday or Tuesday. By the end of the week, Jesus will be crucified, and He’s indicting them.
Then Jesus doesn’t interpret the parable at this point. In good rabbinical fashion, He asked him to interpret it for Him. What should happen to the vinedressers? What should the owner of the vineyard do?
A lot of times and we’re talking to people, we don’t ask enough questions, and we don’t pause to let them answer. It’s important when you’re talking to unbelievers, ask them questions. Let them come to conclusions as they think through it themselves. That’s what Jesus is doing. He is going to give them enough rope so that they hang themselves.
They can’t escape the obvious. They answer Him, and they say, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vine dressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.”
Remember what John the Baptist said at the beginning? He said, “repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” And the Pharisees and Sadducees came up to see what in the world was going on down there in the Jordan Valley. And he called them what? He called them “the seed of the serpent.” “You vipers!” “You sons of vipers!” That’s the seed of the serpent. He identifies them as descendants of the serpent in the garden.
He says, “produce works or fruit in keeping with repentance”. See, there’s no fruit. There’s no fruit on the fig tree, there’s no fruit in the vineyard that’s getting to the owner of the vineyard because of legalism. Legalism can’t produce fruit that counts. So it is going to be given to somebody else because they had failed in their stewardship of the nation, their spiritual stewardship of the nation.
Then “Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the Scriptures?’ ”
I pointed this out many times recently. The Pharisees, especially the scribes, and the chief priests, were the ones who really knew the Scriptures. They had memorized the Scripture. Many of them had the entire Old Testament memorized, the scribes especially. They had very carefully and painstakingly copied the text over and over and over again. They almost paint each letter, and they would sing little songs with each word to remind them. So there were very, very few mistakes that were ever made in the copying of Scripture. They had read it over and over again.
Now if you’re young and you’ve been indoctrinated in political correctness, and the greatest sin modern culture today is not offending anybody, then Jesus sounds like a great sinner here because He is really offending the Pharisees. See, there’s nothing wrong to offend somebody in the right way, but that doesn’t mean we go around offending everybody.
Jesus didn’t say this to everybody He met. He only said it to the arrogant, hypocritical religious leaders who claim to be the national and only interpreters of the Word of God. And He says they’ve got it dead wrong.
He says, “Haven’t you ever read this?”—knowing full well they have, but they misinterpreted it. And He goes to Psalm 118:22. We studied all of this Psalm, if you remember—“The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”
In the context that refers to Israel that had been overlooked by the builders of empires and had been captured and deported, but God restored them to fulfill His plan and purpose. This verse is applied in a number of places to Jesus in the New Testament, as the representative of true Israel. He is become “the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, and it’s marvelous in our eyes.’ ”
Peter refers to this in Acts 4:10–11. I’m not going to spend time looking at that, but he defines Jesus as a “stone which was rejected by you builders.” He’s applying it to the religious leaders.
Slides 33 and 34
Romans 9:30, Paul uses the stumbling stone metaphor, which is a quote from Isaiah 28:16 where God says, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; whoever believes will not act hastily.” It references the Lord Jesus Christ.
Guess where else this allusion is found—a direct quote of Psalm 118:22? 1 Peter 2. We’ll start getting into that on Thursday night. All of this ties together.
So the problem that they had was legalism. “They were ignorant of God’s righteousness, and they sought to establish their own righteousness, having not submitted to the righteousness of God.”
Then Jesus makes the statement that says, “I am going to take the kingdom of God from you—that is the religious leaders—and give it to a nation bearing the fruits of it.”
Now there are two views here:
One view is, which is the view I believe, that the word “nation” here refers to a future nation of Israel; the nation at the end of the Tribulation period that will accept Jesus as Messiah.
There are others who take “nation” here as referring to Gentiles, but it’s not a plural, so it’s not necessarily talking about Gentiles. Of those who take this as referring to a future Gentile nation, there are two groups, a very conservative group of people: Stan Toussaint, George N. H. Peters’ The Theocratic Kingdom, Alva McClain.
These are all people who would agree 100% with everything I said about the Kingdom. They take it as applying to the church. I don’t think they’re right for a number of reasons I won’t go into it this morning.
Then there are others like Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Kenneth Wuest, and a number of others who recognize that this refers to a future nation of Israel that will respond. Alan Ross, one of my Hebrew professors at Dallas [Theological Seminary], all of these people, I think, have it, it’s talking about that God is going to give the Kingdom to a future generation because it is going to be a future Jewish Kingdom.
Some of those other people I mentioned, Stan Toussaint, George N. H. Peters, Alva McClain, they also believe in a future Jewish-based Kingdom. There is a lot of debate over this, which is something I’ve spent hours trying to wade my way through the last few weeks.
Then Jesus shifts in Matthew 21:44 having quoted from Psalm 118:22, He shifts the imagery, He changes the metaphor from the metaphor of the vineyard to the stone. He says, “Whoever falls on this stone—that is the chief cornerstone, the head of the corner. He said whoever falls on that stone—will be broken, but on whomsoever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”
There are two statements here. One is that there are those who are going to fall on the stone, and that would refer to those who reject Jesus as Messiah, and they will be judged.
Then there’s a second group, those on whomever the stone falls, which indicates a judgment by Jesus, and He is the One to whom all judgment is given in John 5:25–27—that they will be crushed or scattered. That might be an indication of the scattering of the Jewish people after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
So when it concludes, “the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables,” we’re told, “they perceived that He was talking about them.”
That’s key. He’s not talking about future generations. He’s not wiping out all future for Israel. He’s bringing judgment on that generation, just as He did the generation in 586 BC and the generation in the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 BC.
“But when they sought to lay hands on Him”—they’re angry because He’s challenged the very core of their belief system. They couldn’t do it because—“they feared the multitudes”—that’s the second time we’re told that they feared the multitudes—“because they—that is, the crowd—took Him—Jesus—for a prophet.”
The people who are listening to Jesus understood He was the Messiah. They are too numerous at this point, so the chief priests and scribes and Pharisees had to go back and plot some more. We’ll see how this develops into the next parable in Matthew 22 next time, which is one that is often taken out of context and also misused.
“Father, we thank You for the opportunity to study these things today, reminded of Your grace toward Israel, Your grace in calling out Abraham in the midst of a pagan world at the time, that through Him, You would work out Your plan of salvation. We’re mindful that even though the leaders of Israel at that time rejected Jesus’ claims to be Messiah, that You have not permanently rejected Israel, that You will in turn and in time fulfill Your promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and to Israel in the Old Testament.
Father, we pray for us, for anyone listening, that they would come to understand that the foundation here is something that the Pharisees understood and rejected, but the crowds understood and accepted, is that Jesus is claiming to be the Son of God. He claims to be the One Who fulfills the promises from the Old Testament, and He claims to be the Messiah, the One and the only One through whom we can have eternal life. He claimed to be God Himself, He stated, “I and the Father are One.” Because He is the God-Man, He is the One Who could pay for our sins, and He is the only One through Whom we can have eternal salvation.
If there’s anyone listening who has never trusted Christ as Savior, this is your opportunity to do so, that you can simply respond by believing, trusting in Jesus for your salvation, that He died for your sins, and that instant you have eternal life, and you never worry about what will happen at death again. You will spend eternity with God in Heaven.
Father we pray that you will challenge us with what we studied this morning. In Christ’s Name. Amen.”