The parable of the vineyard - This is also recorded in Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19.
Hear another parable - See the notes at Matthew 13:3.
A certain householder - See the notes at Matthew 20:1.
Planted a vineyard - A place for the cultivation of grapes. It is often used to represent the church of God. as a place cultivated and valuable. Judea was favorable to vines, and the figure is frequently used, therefore, in the sacred writers. See Matthew 20:1. It is used here to represent the "Jewish people" - the people chosen of the Lord, cultivated with care, and signally favored; or perhaps more definitely, "the city of Jerusalem."
Hedged it round about - This means he enclosed it, either with a fence of wood or stone, or more probably with "thorns," thick set and growing - a common way of enclosing fields in Judea, as it is in England,
And digged a wine-press in it - Mark says, "digged a place for the wine-fat." This should have been so rendered in Matthew. The original word does not mean the "press" in which the grapes were trodden, but the "vat or large cistern" into which the wine ran. This was commonly made by digging into the side of a hill. The "wine-press" was made of two receptacles. The upper one, in Persia at present, is about 8 feet square and 4 feet high. In this the grapes are thrown and "trodden" by men, and the juice runs into the large receptacle or cistern below. See the notes at Isaiah 63:2-3.
And built a tower - See also the notes at Isaiah 5:2. In Eastern countries at present, these towers are often 80 feet high and 30 feet square. They were for the keepers, who defended the vineyards from thieves and animals, especially from foxes, Song of Songs 1:6; Song of Songs 2:15. Professor Hackett (Illustrations of Scripture, pp. 171, 172) says of such towers:
They caught my attention first as I was approaching Bethlehem from the southeast. They appeared in almost every field within sight from that direction. They were circular in shape, 15 or 20 feet high, and, being built of stones, looked, at a distance, like a little forest of obelisks. I was perplexed for some time to decide what they were; my traveling companions were equally at fault. Suddenly, in a lucky moment, the words crossed my mind, ' A certain man planted a vineyard, and set a hedge about it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country,' Mark 12:1. This recollection cleared up the mystery. There, before my eyes, stood the towers of which I had so often read and thought; such as stood there when David led forth his flocks to the neighboring pastures; such as furnished to the sacred writers and the Saviour himself so many illustrations for enforcing what they taught.
These towers are said to be sometimes square in form as well as round, and as high as 40 or 50 feet. Those which I examined had a small door near the ground, and a level space on the top, where a man could sit and command a view of the plantation. I afterward saw a great many of these structures near Hebron, where the vine still flourishes in its ancient home; for there, probably, was Eshcol, whence the Hebrew spies returned to Joshua with the clusters of grapes which they had gathered as evidence of the fertility of the land. Some of the towers here are so built as to serve as houses: and during the vintage, it is said that the inhabitants of Hebron take up their abode in them in such numbers as to leave the town almost deserted.
And let it out ... - This was not an uncommon thing. Vineyards were often planted to be let out for profit.
Into a far country - This means, in the original, only that he departed from them. It does not mean that he went out of the "land." Luke adds, "for a long time." That is, as appears, until the time of the fruit; perhaps for a year. This vineyard denotes, doubtless, the Jewish people, or Jerusalem. But these circumstances are not to be particularly explained. They serve to keep up the story. They denote in general that God had taken proper care of his vineyard - that is, of his people; but beyond that we cannot affirm that these circumstances of building the tower, etc., mean any particular thing, for he has not told us that they do, and where he has not explained them we have no right to attempt it.
And when the time of the fruit drew near ... - The time of gathering the fruit.
The vineyard was let out, probably, for a part of the fruit, and the owner sent to receive the part that was his.
Sent his servants - These, doubtless, represent the prophets sent to the Jewish people.
And beat one - The word translated here as "beat" properly means to flay or to take off the skin; hence to beat or to whip so that the skin in many places is taken off.
And killed another - Isaiah is said to have been put to death by sawing him asunder.
Many other of the prophets were also put to death. See Luke 13:34; Hebrews 11:37; I Samuel 22:18; I Kings 19:10.
And stoned another - This was among the Jews a common mode of punishment, Deuteronomy 13:10; Deuteronomy 17:7; Joshua 7:25. Especially was this the case in times of popular tumult, and of sudden indignation among the people, Acts 7:58; Acts 14:19; John 8:59; John 10:31. This does not I imply, of necessity, that those who were stoned "died," but they might be only severely wounded. Mark says, "At him they cast stones and wounded him in the head, and sent him away," etc.
There is a little variation in the circumstances as mentioned by Matthew, and by Mark and Luke, but the substance is the same. Mark and Luke are more particular, and state the order in which the servants were sent one after another. They all denote the dealing of the people of Israel toward the prophets. All these things had been done to them. See Hebrews 11:37; Jeremiah 44:4-6; II Chronicles 36:16; Nehemiah 9:26; II Chronicles 24:20-21.
Last of all ... - Mark adds that this was an only son, greatly beloved.
This beautifully and most tenderly exhibits the love of God in sending his only Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to die for people. Long had he sent the prophets, and they had been persecuted and slain. There was no use in sending any more prophets to the people. They had done all that they could do. God had one only-begotten and well-beloved Son, whom he might send, and whom the world "ought" to reverence even as they should the Father, John 5:23. God is often represented in the Bible as giving his Son, his only-begotten and wellbeloved Son, for a lost world, John 3:16-17; I John 4:9, I John 4:14; Romans 8:3, Romans 8:32; Galatians 4:4.
Saying, They will reverence my son - To "reverence" means to honor, to esteem, to show deference to. It is that feeling which we have in the presence of one who is greatly our superior. It means to give to such a person, in our feelings and our deportment, the honor which is due to his rank and character.
But when the husbandmen ... - They determined to kill him, and as he was the only son, they supposed they could easily seize on the property It was rented to them; was in their possession; and they resolved to keep it.
This circumstance has probably no reference to any particular conduct of the Jews, but is thrown in to keep up the story and fill up the narrative. An heir is one who succeeds to an estate, commonly a son; an "inheritance" is what an heir receives.
And they caught him ... - This refers to the conduct of the Jews in putting the Saviour to death.
So they understood it, Matthew 21:45. The Jews put him to death after they had persecuted and slain the prophets. This was done by giving him into the hands of the Romans and seeking his crucifixion, Matthew 27:20-25; Acts 2:23; Acts 7:51-52.
And cast him out of the vineyard - The vineyard in this parable may represent Jerusalem. Jesus was crucified "out" of Jerusalem, on Mount Calvary, Luke 23:23. See the notes at Hebrews 13:12.
When the lord, therefore ... - Jesus then asked them a question about the proper way of dealing with those people.
The design of asking them this question was that they might condemn themselves, and admit the justice of the punishment that was soon to come upon them.
They say ... - They answered according as they knew people would act, and would act justly in doing it.
He would take away their privileges and confer them on others. This was the answer which Jesus wished. The case was so clear that they could not answer otherwise. He wished to show them the justice of taking away their national privileges, and punishing them in the destruction of their city and nation. Had he stated this at first they would not have heard him. He, however, by a parable, led them along to "state themselves" the very truth which he wished to communicate, and they had then nothing to answer. They did not, however, yet see the bearing of what they had admitted.
Matthew 21:42, Matthew 21:43
Jesus saith ... - Jesus, having led them to admit the justice of the great "principle" on which God was about to act toward them proceeds to apply it by a text of Scripture, declaring that this very thing which they admitted to be proper in the case of the "husbandmen" had been predicted respecting themselves.
This passage is found in Psalms 118:22-23. It was first applicable to David, but no less to Jesus.
The stone - The figure is taken from building a house. The principal stone for size and beauty is that commonly laid as the cornerstone.
Which the builders rejected - On account of its want of beauty or size it was laid aside, or deemed unfit to be a cornerstone. This represents the Lord Jesus, proposed to the Jews as the foundation or cornerstone on which to build the church, but rejected by them - the builders - on account of his lack of comeliness or beauty; that is, of what they esteemed to be comely or desirable, Isaiah 53:2-3.
The same is become ... - Though rejected by them, yet God chose him, and made him the foundation of the church. Christ is often compared to a stone, a cornerstone, a tried, that is, a sure, firm foundation - all in allusion to the custom of building, Acts 4:11; Romans 9:33; Ephesians 2:20; I Peter 2:7.
Lord' s doing - The appointment of Jesus of Nazareth to be the foundation of the church is proved by miracle and prophecy to be the work of God.
Marvellous in our eyes - Wonderful in the sight of his people. That he should select his only Son - that he should stoop so low, be despised, rejected, and put to death - that God should raise him up, and build a church on this foundation, embracing the Gentile as well as the Jew, and spreading through all the world, is a subject of wonder and praise to all the redeemed.
The kingdom of God ... - Jesus applies the parable to them - the Jews.
They had been the children of the kingdom, or under the reign of God; having his law and acknowledging him as King. They had been his chosen and special people, but he says that now this privilege would be taken away; that they would cease to be the special people of God, and that the blessing would be given to a nation who would bring forth the fruits thereof, or "be righteous" that is, to the Gentiles, Acts 28:28.
Whosoever shall fall ... - There is a reference here, doubtless, to Isaiah 8:14-15. Having made an allusion to himself "as a stone," or a rock Matthew 21:42, he proceeds to state the consequences of coming in contact with it. He that falls upon it shall be broken; he that "runs against it" - a cornerstone, standing out from the other parts of the foundation shall be injured, or broken in his limbs or body. He that is offended with my being the foundation, or that opposes me, shall by the act injure himself, or make himself miserable "by so doing," even were there nothing further. But there is something further.
On whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder - That is, in the original, will reduce him to dust, so that it may be scattered by the winds. There is an allusion here, doubtless, to the custom of stoning as a punishment among the Jews. A scaffold was erected twice the height of the man to be stoned. Standing on its edge, he was violently struck off by one of the witnesses: if he died by the blow and the fall, nothing further was done; if not, a heavy stone was thrown down on him, which at once killed him. So the Saviour speaks of the "falling" of the stone on his enemies. They who oppose him, who reject him, and who continue impenitent, shall be crushed by him in the day of judgment, and perish forever.
Matthew 21:45, Matthew 21:46
At last, they perceived that he spoke of them, and would have gratified their malice at once but they feared the people.
Remarks On Matthew 21
1. Jesus is omniscient, and sees and knows all things, Matthew 21:2.
2. It is our duty to obey the Lord Jesus, and to do it at once, Matthew 21:3. When He commands there should be no delay. What he orders is right, and we should not hesitate or deliberate about it.
3. Especially is this the case where He is to be honored, as he was on this occasion, Matthew 21:3, Matthew 21:8. If it was for "our" interest or honor only that we obeyed him, it would be of less consequence; but our obedience will honor Him, and we should seek that honor by any sacrifice or self-denial.
4. We should be willing to give up our property to honor the Lord Jesus, Matthew 21:3. He has a right to it. If given to spread the gospel, it goes, as this did, to increase "the triumphs of our King." We should be willing to give our wealth that he might "gird on his sword," and "ride prosperously among the heathen." Everyone who is saved among the pagan by sending the gospel to them will be for the honor of Jesus. They will go to swell his train when he shall enter triumphantly into his kingdom at the day of judgment.
5. It is our duty to honor him, Matthew 21:7-9. He is King of Zion. He is Lord of all. He reigns, and shall always reign.
"Sinners! Whose love can ne' er forget
The wormwood and the gall,
Go spread your trophies at his feet,
And crown him Lord of all.
"Ye chosen seed of Israel' s race;
Ye ransomed from the fall;
Hail him who saves you by his grace,
And crown him Lord of all.
"Let every kindred, every tribe,
On this terrestrial ball,
To him all majesty ascribe,
And crown him Lord of all."
6. "Children" should also honor him and shout "hosanna" to him, Matthew 21:15. The chief priests and scribes, in the time of our Saviour, were displeased that they did it; and many of the great, and many formal professors since, have been displeased that "children" should profess to love and honor Jesus. They have opposed Sunday schools, and opposed the praying of children, and opposed their singing to his praise, and opposed their giving their money to spread his gospel; but Jesus loves such praise and such service. The mouths of babes and sucklings should be taught to speak his name; and whatever the world may say, whatever the proud, the rich, or the formal may say, children should seek him early and give their first years to him. He loves their praises. Perhaps few of all the songs of thanksgiving are so pleasant to his ears as the "hosannas" of a Sunday school.
7. We have here a view of the glory of Jesus, Matthew 21:9-11. Though humble yet he was King. Though most of his life unhonored, yet once he had the honors of his station rendered to him, and entered the city of his father David as a triumphant King of Zion. He will be yet "more" honored. He will come with all his saints, with the glory of his Father, and with the holy angels. There we shall be; and we should be prepared to join with the vast host in shouting hosanna to the returning King of Zion.
8. Yet, amid all these honors, he was meek and lowly, Matthew 21:5. Others would have been proud and lifted up, but he was always meek; his heart was not proud. He is the only one of kings that could bear triumph and honors without being lifted up by it and made proud.
9. Yet amid all his triumphs he wept over Jerusalem (Luke). No king, no conqueror, ever before showed compassion like this. People weep when "they" are afflicted, or are poor and needy; but what prince has ever, in the moment of his triumph, wept over the miseries and dangers of his subjects? Not an instance can be found in all history where an earthly conqueror ever showed compassion like this. So Jesus has still compassion over blind, ruined, wretched man. Amid all the triumphs of the gospel, he does not forget those I who are yet in their sins, but stretches out his arms to welcome them to his embrace.
10. Prophecy will be certainly and exactly fulfilled (Luke). That respecting Jerusalem was literally accomplished; and in like manner will all that is predicted of "all" sinners assuredly come to pass. If Jerusalem had repented it would have been saved; so if sinners repent they will be saved. If not, like Jerusalem, in due time they will perish.
11. Jesus purified the temple, Matthew 21:12. It was the house of God. So our hearts should be the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit; so, also, they should be pure. All worldly cares, and traffic, and business, that would interfere with the dwelling of the Spirit there, and all wickedness, oppression, extortion, cheating, and pollution should be banished. God dwells not in such polluted temples; and unless we are "pure in heart," he will not be with us, and we shall not see his face in peace. Compare the notes at I Corinthians 3:16-17.
12. Jesus only can purify our hearts. He does it by his blood and Spirit. Over all our sins he holds the same power as he did over the traffickers in the temple. At his command they will flee, and we shall be pure. If our hearts are ever purified, therefore, it will be by the power of Jesus. Nor should we wait in sin for him to do it. We should come to him, and beseech him to have mercy, and to save us from our pollutions.
13. Envy and hatred will take hold of very small matters, to show itself against the good and even the prudent, Matthew 21:15. When the enemies of Jesus could find nothing else to blame, they chose to find fault with the shouting of children. So always in a revival of religion, or any great work of the Lord, it is some small matter that is seized upon something not exactly to the view of wicked objectors - that is made the occasion of reproach and opposition.
14. We must produce fruit in our lives as well as flowers, Matthew 21:19. A profession of religion is like the flowers of spring. A revival is like fragrant blossoms. They are beautiful, and promise much fruit; but how many wither, and droop, and fall useless to the ground! How few of all the blossoms of the spring produce ripe and mellow fruit in autumn! So, alas! it is often with those who appear well in revivals of religion.
15. If we make a profession and do not produce fruit, Jesus will curse us, and we shall soon wither away, Matthew 21:19-20. He will suffer none to enter into his kingdom on the ground of profession only. If we bear fruit and live lives of piety, we are Christians; if not, all our professions are like the blossoms of spring or the leaves of the tree. They will not save us from the withering frown of Jesus.
16. People will do almost anything right or wrong, and as often wrong as right - to court popularity, Matthew 21:24. It is generally not asked by such people what is "right" or what is "true," but what will secure popularity. If they have that, they are satisfied.
17. People often tell a direct falsehood rather than acknowledge the truth, Matthew 21:27. Especially is this the case when the truth makes against them.
18. Double-dealing and an attempt to evade the truth commonly lead into difficulty. If these people had been honest, they would have had far less trouble, Matthew 21:27.
19. A state of gross and open sin is often more hopeful than one of hypocrisy, pride, and self-conceit, together with external conformity to religion, Matthew 21:28. Multitudes of profane and licentious people may be saved, while the proud and self-righteous will be cut off. The reasons are,
(1)That the wicked, the gross, have no righteousness on which they can pretend to rely.
(2)Nothing so effectually prevents religion as pride and self-confidence.
(3)There is often really more ingenuousness and candor, and less of malignity against the gospel, among the openly wicked, than among those who are outwardly righteous, but who are inwardly like whited sepulchres, full of dead men' s bones and all uncleanness.
20. Multitudes of people profess to go, and go not, Matthew 21:30. They profess to love God, and love themselves better. They profess to obey him, and yet obey their lusts. They are hypocrites, and destruction must come upon them.
21. Sinners, when they see the effect of truth on others, should repent, Matthew 21:32. It is proof of the truth of religion, and they, as much as others, need it.
22. We see the goodness of God in sending his messengers to a lost world, Matthew 21:33-38. His prophets he sent one after another, and they were put to death. His well-beloved Son he sent, and He also was put to death. Nor is his mercy yet stayed. He still sends his message to sinners. Thousands have died, as his Son did, in attempting to spread the gospel, but still he sends it. We have often, often rejected it, yet still he sends it. What earthly monarch would be treated in this manner? What earthly parent would be so patient and so kind?
23. If we improve not our privileges they will be taken away from us, Matthew 21:43. The gospel will be sent to many of the pagan, and they will be saved, but woe to those who have had it all their lives and are not saved.
24. All who reject the Saviour must perish, Matthew 21:44.
Other Barnes' Notes entries containing Matthew 21:42:
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