The following parable used by Isaiah was used later by Christ. Jesus adapts the following parable to make it relevant in the context of His discussion, but upon investigating the two passages, it is evident that Jesus was intentionally, and specifically using the following parable to apply to the context of His coming. As I have been investigating these prophecies of Isaiah in the approach of seeing them through their New Testament fulfillment and application, we will look at this passage a little differently than the verse by verse format, instead comparing the original parable to Christ’s usage of it which will give us another window on the parable’s meaning, and the relevance of the entire prophecy in the New Testament context – the text of each version of the parable (Is 5:1-7 & Matt 21:33-46) is at the bottom of his post.
Let’s remember Isaiah’s context: Isaiah was the prophet in Judah during a time that Israel, and Judah were divided into two seperate nations – In fact the nations were in such contrast during Isaiah’s time that Israel would even attempt to conquer the nation of Judah, and instate a new king there. The prophecy in which the below parable is used as a whole is four chapters long, having started in chapter 2, it ends with the last verse of chapter 5; the prophecy is said to be ‘concerning Judah and Jerusalem.’ In the content of the words of this prophecy it is evident that by ‘Judah and Jerusalem’ is meant the spiritual leadership of the whole of Israel – not specifically the then current nation of Judah with Jerusalem as its capital, but again: the spiritual leadership of the whole of Israel – i.e. all the people of God as a whole.
This is important to distinguish because when Jesus came, and applied the following parable from Isaiah’s prophecy, Jesus ALSO applies the passage to the spiritual leadership of the whole of spiritual Israel. Neither Isaiah, nor Jesus were speaking to a nation in the social, or political sense of the word; both are speaking to the spiritual congregation of those who are God’s people. This is evident in Isaiah’s prophecy by his universal language of ‘Jacob’s house’ (i.e. all Jews, generally) which would include both Judah, and Israel. Also, specifically in this parable, Isaiah declares that the parable is definitively speaking of the whole ‘house of Israel’ (5:7) not, rather from his political vantage point, Judah only. In seeing the political context of Isaiah’s day, we can see clearly that he was not speaking of national patriotism, but that the concern of his prophetic content was those who were (under that dispensation) the elect of God in the entirety of their congregation. It is likewise evident in Jesus’ telling of the parable that He speaks of spiritual Israel by His clear application, and the Gospel author affirms that His meaning was clearly understood (Matt 21:45).
In the parable, the people of God are compared to a vineyard (I use the term ‘people of God,’ rather than ‘Israel’ to avoid misunderstanding between national Israel, and spiritual Israel: the people who are currently in covenant with God are Israelites indeed, and no other (see Rom 2:28, 29; 9:6-8; Gal 4:22-28 & 6:15, 16), so here I say: ‘the people of God.’). In Isaiah’s parable the point of conflict is with the vineyard, itself: God planted and cultivated a vineyard, but the vineyard brought forth ‘wild grapes,’ i.e. it behaved as though it had never been cultivated at all: the people of God were given every privelege, and help from God, but behaved as though they were not the people of God.
In Jesus version of the parable, the vineyard is still the people of God, but the point of conflict is with the keepers of the vineyard, and not with the vineyard, itself. Just as Isaiah’s prophecy in its context was to the spiritual leadership of Israel, so Jesus’ direct application was to the spiritual leadership of Israel. Where Isaiah’s parable condemns the whole of Israel, Christ’s usage condemns only the spiritual leaders. Interestingly both versions of the parable are told in seven verses, but the verses following the parable from Matthew gives us the conclusion which is not fully laid out in Isaiah’s version – which is no shock because Christ’s coming was the fulfilment of it. Likewise, Christ’s version includes in no uncertain terms the primary reason for the judgment, which Isaiah only implies: the murder of God’s Son.
(While the main portion of Isaiah’s parable is completed in the first seven verses of the chapter, it sets the framework for the remainder of the prophecy, and the allegory set forth continues to be used, but we will look at its continuance in the subsequent post.)
Isaiah’s parable concludes by revealing the justice of God’s judgment (v.5-7) which Isaiah has already declared is coming upon the house of Israel in chapter 3 of this prophecy. Likewise, at the conclusion of Jesus’ telling of this parable, He quizes His hearers as to what justice clearly demandsin response to the Truth of the parable their response is the same judment implied by Isaiah: ‘He will miserably destroy those wicked men…’ with a concluding REDEMPTIVE thought added: ‘…and will let out his vineyard unto OTHER husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their season.’ (Matt 21:41)
Isaiah’s parable is really he heart and pinnacle of the whole prophecy of Isaiah 2-5; in it, he plainly lays out the fact that the entire matter is God’s dealing with the dichotomy of the house of Israel, and the elect remnant. Isaiah showing that it was God’s intention to make the house of Israel His own cultivated people, but their general unanimous lack of faith (Heb 3:19) (not wholly unanimous, for there has ever been a remnant of them who followed after the Lord in faith) in which they would choose the carnal worship of God rather than worship in spirit and in truth made them unrecognizable as spiritually brought up by God – i.e. not the people of God. Wherefore God would punish the entire house of Israel by removing ‘…the whole stay of bread [God’s Word, i.e. Jesus], and the whole stay of water [the anointing].’ (Is 3:1b)
Jesus, then plainly declares to the nation of Israel and its leaders the mystery which Isaiah prophesied: ‘Therefore I say unto you, the kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.’ (Matt 21:43)
Why? Because as the apostle John declared: ‘He came unto His own, but His own recieved Him not. But as many as recieved Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that BELIEVE on His name: which were born… of God.’ (John 1:11-13)
But here we also must understand by ‘nation’ (in Matt 21:42), Jesus is not speaking of an earthly country but of people from every nation tribe and tongue who flock to Christ, who reigns in New Jerusalem – an heavenly place, rather than an earthly – as Isaiah predicted at the begining of this prophecy (Is 2:1-4).
1 Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill:
2 And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.
3 And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard.
4 What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?
5 And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down:
6 And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.
7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.
33 Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country:
34 And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it.
35 And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another.
36 Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise.
37 But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son.
38 But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance.
39 And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him.
40 When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen?
41 They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.
42 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 marvellous in our eyes?
43 Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.
44 And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.
45 And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them.
46 But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet.