The Parables in their Setting - Part 6
Denis Clapham, Birmingham
The first of the next group of four parables to be considered was spoken by the King to His disciples to illustrate the saying of the kingdom, "But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first", Matt. 19. 30; 20. 16. A young man, both upright and rich, had come to Jesus asking how he might obtain eternal life. He had kept the commandments, but felt that he still needed to do something more. On enquiring what it could be, he was told to part with all his earthly possessions if he would have treasure in heaven, and follow Jesus. But he sadly turned away, unprepared for such a demand. The twelve, who had literally forsaken all to follow Him, on hearing, this began to wonder how they would be recompensed; what treasure would be theirs. Peter, their spokesman, raised the matter, and Jesus answering promised each one of them a throne, implying that they would be the princes of the tribes in the day when the Son of man would restore sovereignty to Israel, and renew all things on earth. Everyone who in this age renounced family and possessions for Him, He said, would be compensated an hundred-fold and inherit everlasting life^ in the age to come.
The Labourers in the Vineyard, Matt. 20. 1-16. In the parable following this incident, a householder and owner of a vineyard hired labourers throughout the day to go and work for him. With the first group he came to an agreement that each of them should earn a penny for the day's work. To the last, he simply said that they should receive what was right. When the time came for the labourers to be paid, the last to be engaged were paid first, and all alike received the same amount. Such a procedure made those who had worked the whole day complain and remonstrate with their employer. He, being a just man, referred them to their agreement with him, and in turn reminded them that he had every right to treat the last as the first, for he was but dispensing what was his own. By man's standards he had acted unfairly to some, but being a good man he had chosen to act impartially to all.
The discontent in the heart of the labourers arose because they failed to appreciate the character of their employer. And is it not necessary for men, if they would understand God's ways, to realize that He is only and always consistent with Himself; most gracious with the least deserving, and yet faithful to all without exception? At the end of man's workday (estimated as six millenniums) will God recompense him according to his effort, or so as to display the glory of God's own goodness? Surely, so as to display that kind of goodness which Mill characterize earth's sabbath. Then will man have his last lesson in resting, when and where God rests, in a peaceful scene that will harmonize with the song of redemption; cf. Heb. 4. 9-11.
On the last day of the King's public ministry in Jerusalem He spoke three parables, which all resulted from the reliance He placed upon the rule given by Moses for the acceptance of the claim to be a prophet in Israel; see Deut. 18. 21-22. More than a year earlier, a formal deputation composed of Pharisees had approached John the Baptist, requiring a reply to the question, "Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself ?", John 1. 22. His only response was that he was a voice, and that his baptism pointed to Another, who was already present among them, a Mightier One, whose shoe John was unworthy to take from Him, though He would assume all the responsibilities of the Redeemer and Bridegroom of Israel; see John 1. 26-27; Ruth 4. 7-8.
Did subsequent events in the Lord's ministry prove John to have been a prophet? Was his testimony and baptism "from heaven, or of men"?, Matt. 21. 25. It would seem that the chief priests and elders had reserved their judgment on this point, despite the fact that all the common people knew that John was a prophet, 21. 26. When therefore they came to Jesus for the last time, to enquire by what authority He had lately purged the temple, He took His stand on the strictly legal ground by which John's testimony could be either allowed or dismissed. For if John were truly a prophet then they, like the people, were bound to recognize the One of whom John spoke. Their question as to "authority" was then answered for them; it was the Lord's, that is, His own. Seeing they were not prepared to answer Jesus' question, there was no alternative but for Him to refuse to tell them of the source of the authority which they knew in their hearts could overthrow theirs. Consequently, He spoke three parables to illustrate their hypocrisy; the judgment about to overtake them; and the part that they the chosen will have with the Royal Son on His wedding day.
The Two Sons, Matt. 21. 28-32. In the two parables in Luke's Gospel of the two sons, 15. 11, and the two men who went up to the temple to pray, 18. 10, a contrast is drawn between the religious and the irreligious. In this also, the difference is marked between the duplicity of the religious leaders, and the repentance of the stubborn masses. For all the cultivated politeness of the second son, "I go, sir", he simply did not do his father's will. But the first, repenting of his rude refusal, afterward went and did what his father wanted. So, said Jesus to the chief priests and elders, "ye, when ye had seen (the obedience of the taxgatherers and harlots to John's baptism), repented not afterward, that ye might believe him". The One "which searcheth the reins and hearts", Rev, 2. 23, thus stripped off their colourful cloaks of assumed authority and religious propriety, to expose their selfish motives underneath.
The Wicked Husbandmen, Matt.-21. 33-44. The men whom Jesus thus exposed were the chief men and rulers in Israel, those who, of all men, should have acknowledged their accountability to the Lord their God. The nation was His, not theirs. He it was who had formed it by the fathers, redeemed it from Egypt through Moses, given it an inheritance under Joshua, and set over it His chosen king in David. It was meant to be for His pleasure, to serve His purpose, to mediate His praises. Instead, its sad history was one of decline, departure, disgrace. And perhaps the saddest feature of all was the way the chief men, those who should have appreciated most what was the Lord's, repeatedly usurped His rights over the people, and consistently robbed Him of His dues from them.
Many a time in the past the Lord had sternly reproached irresponsible leaders for their unfaithfulness; see Isa. 56. 11; Jcr. 50. 6; Ezek. 34; Zech. 11. 15-17. Now the time had come for the Lord's Son to spell out their utter ruin, and the loss to them of what was never theirs to grasp at. Obviously drawing a parallel with Isaiah's "Song of the Vineyard", Isa. 5. 1-7, Jesus told them another parable, which they could not fail to see applied to themselves. As their fathers had beaten, killed and stoned the righteous men whom the Lord had raised up to secure His portion from them, so they were now ready to destroy His heir and seize on His inheritance, despite the fact that Psalm 118. 22-23 and Isaiah 8. 14-15 declared the inescapable consequences. Their judgment was pre-written.
The Marriage of the King's Son, Matt. 22. 1-14. We now come to the last parable spoken to those who opposed the King. It is a similitude of the kingdom, and while appearing to have things in common with the parable recorded in Luke 14. 16-24, should be carefully compared with it, for the contrasts will serve to emphasize the points peculiar to each.
Matthew 22.1-14 Luke 14.16-24
By a king for his son. By a man for his own pleasure.
To furnish a wedding with To fill his house.
A dinner, or breakfast. The evening, or chief meal.
Servants sent out to bid. A servant sent out to compel.
One cast out. None said to be cast out.
The limits of this paper preclude our attempting anything like an adequate exposition of these distinctive features; therefore our comments should be regarded as suggestive only. We believe it likely that the parable in Luke comes as a parenthesis between verses 7 and 8 of Matthew 22. Furthermore, that it pictures the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ, the Father's house, and that present work of the Holy Spirit which will actually conclude before the King's servants are sent out for the last time, to bid even wayfarers to come to the wedding.
Jesus had pronounced the unworthiness of those bidden by Himself and the seventy. He had declared God's wrath against the remnant of Jews on whose head His own blood would be, as well as the destruction of their city, see Matt. 27. 25; 1 Thess. 2.15-16. Then, looking forward to the consummation of the age, He indicated that there would be a final ingathering of good (chosen), and bad (called, but not chosen). And in that day when the King is again revealed, He will then be responsible for rejecting from His kingdom (viewed as a wedding banquet, cf. John 2. 4) any who have not confessed Him as Lord before men, that is, such as He will perceive have not a character consistent with their profession of Him. And then He will accord the chosen the inestimable privilege of entering into the joy of their Lord.