Our Lord declared in Matthew 21:33-41:
"'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 vinedressers and went into a far country. Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, "They will respect my son." But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, "This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance." So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?' They said to Him, 'He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.'"
This parable was an extension of the previous one (regarding the two sons), and although it contains a general condemnation of the Jewish nation for their continual rebellion against God, it was specifically directed to the leaders of the past and present (i.e., the persecutors of God's prophets and Son).
"There was a certain landowner" - The landowner represents God the Father.
"Who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower" - The vineyard depicts the Hebrew nation. They were adequately furnished with all necessary provisions and given special advantages and opportunities as a consequence of God's covenant with them (cf. Isa. 5:1-7).
"And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country" - The vinedressers represent the Jewish religious leaders. The far country into which the landowner went "for a long time" (Luke 20:9) portrays God's cessation of personal communication with Israel from the events of Sinai to the incarnation of Christ. The ministry of Joshua (and those who came after him) differed from that of Moses, who spoke to God "face to face" (Deut. 34:9,10). It should be noted that God's "withdrawal" into the far country always tests the faithfulness of His people--even today (cf. Matt. 25:5,19).
"Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit" - The physical scenario described in this verse and the previous one would have been common. Owners would provide use of their vineyards with the expectation of either receiving a fair amount of the produce in return or a comparable sum of money.
God expected the nation of Israel to bring forth fruits of godliness. He expected the leaders to direct the nation in bearing such. The servants represent God's prophets who were sent to "collect the fruit" (i.e., encourage faithful living to Jehovah).
"And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another" - The nation of Israel generally did not treat God's prophets very well (e.g., I Kings 18:13; 19:2,3; 22:24-27; II Kings 6:31; II Chr. 24:19-22; 36:15,16; Matt. 5:12; 23:37; Acts 7:51ff; Heb. 11:35-38). Since the gospel accounts vary regarding the details of the persecution of the "servants," it is not wise to try to identify a particular prophet based on the details given. Jesus seems to be speaking about God's prophets in general and not trying to get His listeners to identify any specific one.
"Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them" - The fact that God sent numerous prophets (as well as His Son) in an effort to "collect His fruits" is a wonderful indicator of His compassionate patience with humanity.
"Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.'" Luke's account says - "Probably they will respect him when they see him" (20:13). By this time the owner of the vineyard was in disbelief at the outrageous actions of the vinedressers. Yet he was hopeful that sending his son would be sufficient. The vinedressers would not mistreat his son, the one who represented his rights and authority better than anyone else, would they? The son depicts Jesus (cf. Phil. 2:8). Although Israel hadn't heeded the voice of the prophets, they should have respected God's Son! Tragically, the religious leaders of Jesus' day certainly didn't respect God's Son. Instead of submitting to Him, they demand to know by what authority He did anything in the vineyard (cf. Matt. 21:23)!
"But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, 'This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance'" (cf. Mark 11:18; John 11:47-53). The wickedness of the vinedressers is apparent here. They, rather than respect the son, intend to do away with him and attempt to steal the vineyard for themselves. The vinedressers recognized the heir, which seems to imply that the murder of Jesus was not a totally ignorant act on the part of the Jews (cf. Luke 23:34; Acts 3:17). The Jewish rulers regarded the nation of Israel as their property, and thus they would kill the Son out of envy to withhold it from Him (cf. Matt. 27:18).
"So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him" - Jesus' parable had been a history thus far, and now He begins to prophesy. In three days the Jews would fulfill this detail by casting Jesus outside the city walls and crucifying Him.
"Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?" - Jesus asks a simple question and initially gets the correct answer. "They said to Him, 'He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons" - It is likely that this is the answer of the common people, which Jesus affirms to be correct (cf. Mark 12:9; Luke 20:16). They heard the parable, without perceiving its application, and unhesitatingly pronounced the proper judgment.
However, others (probably the religious leaders), after hearing this answer, immediately respond with - "Certainly not!" (Luke 20:16). They understand Jesus to be speaking against them (cf. Luke 20:19), and their response literally means: "May it not be so!"
"Then He looked at them and said, 'What then is this that is written?'" (Luke 20:17). Jesus is about to quote from an Old Testament passage that contradicts their incorrect answer. It seems likely that Jesus looked at them in a manner similar to a parent surprised at the outspoken rebellion of his children.
"Jesus said to them, 'Have you never read in the Scriptures: "The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes"? Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.' Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitude, because they took Him for a prophet" (Matt. 21:42-46).
"The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone" (cf. Psa. 118:22,23). The stone represents Jesus. The religious leaders were like unskilled builders who reject the very cornerstone of the building that they seek to construct. They eagerly desired to set up a Messianic kingdom, but were blind in failing to understand that such a kingdom could not be properly built unless it rested upon Jesus as its foundation!
"This was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes" - The leaders and the Jewish nation rejected Jesus, but nevertheless it was God's will that He become the chief cornerstone anyway (cf. Acts 4:11; Eph. 2:20). It was God's will that He be raised from the dead and eventually crush all of the disobedient (cf. Matt. 21:43,44; I Pet. 2:7,8). How wonderful it is that the rebellion of men cannot foil the eternal plan of God!
"Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it" - This new nation would be the church of Christ (cf. I Peter 2:9 - "a holy nation"), the spiritual Israel of God (cf. Gal 6:16). The Jews would lose their special advantages as Jehovah's covenant people. The kingdom of God would no longer be something that one could be physically born into; rather, one (whether Jew or Gentile) must be spiritually born into this kingdom (cf. John 3:3,5) and bear fruits of righteousness.
"And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder" - The chief cornerstone was the most important part of the foundation of a building. All the other stones had to line up with it. The same is true with men today. We must "line up" (i.e., believe and obey) our chief cornerstone, Jesus Christ, or we will be "broken" in this life (cf. I Cor. 1:23) and ground to "powder" at the Judgment (cf. Rev. 6:15-17).
The religious leaders are undoubtedly infuriated with Jesus, especially since "He was speaking of them" in His parables. Since they perceived that He was speaking about them, they should have also understood the answer to their question from Matthew 21:23; that is, Jesus acted with authority because He was God's Son!
The desire of the religious leaders to kill Jesus is exceedingly intense the entire last week of His life (cf. Mark 11:18). The only thing hindering them from implementing their evil plans is their fear of the multitudes, who considered Jesus to be a prophet. These leaders show the hardness of their hearts by persisting in their wicked intentions even after hearing Jesus' warning that they would be killing God's Son and would reap the consequences.
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.