During Holy Week, Jesus taught in the Temple courts. He was preparing people for the coming of the New Covenant, and was reminding Israel of her duty to obey God’s messengers.
Then began he to speak to the people this parable; A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it forth to husbandmen, and went into a far country for a long time. And at the season he sent a servant to the husbandmen, that they should give him of the fruit of the vineyard: but the husbandmen beat him, and sent him away empty. And again he sent another servant: and they beat him also, and entreated him shamefully, and sent him away empty. And again he sent a third: and they wounded him also, and cast him out. Then said the lord of the vineyard, What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him. But when the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours. So they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do unto them? He shall come and destroy these husbandmen, and shall give the vineyard to others. And when they heard it, they said, God forbid. And he beheld them, and said, What is this then that is written, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner? Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. And the chief priests and the scribes the same hour sought to lay hands on him; and they feared the people: for they perceived that he had spoken this parable against them.
The identity of Jesus is important for this parable. As the Son of God, YHWH come in the flesh, He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In rejecting Him, the religious authorities destroyed their own legitimacy, because their legitimacy derived from God. This rejection at the level of the leadership would have significant implications for the nation as a whole, which is why Jesus alludes to the natural sons of the Kingdom, i.e. Israel, making way for the Gentiles.
But this parable should not be pushed beyond its limits. I am not an adherent of Replacement Theology – far from it. As far as I am concerned, Replacement Theology has done a great deal of harm in history, and I would warn all Christians to give no space to it. This parable primarily concerns the leadership of Israel and does not represent all of the people. To the extent that the leaders led the nation astray, it concerns the nation. We must remember that the early Church was predominantly Jewish. Even in the “Gentile” portions of Acts, a lot of the episodes start with conversions in synagogues, later to be followed by conversions among Gentiles.
Paul had not given up hope on his countrymen:
For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the father’s sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.
When Paul speaks of the Deliverer, he is referring to Jesus, coming once again to His people Israel. Elsewhere in the Scripture, it talks of the restoration of Israel that Jesus will effect at His parousia.
Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth.
So, as Easter approaches, and you think on the clash between Jesus and the Jewish leadership, which resulted in salvation for the Gentiles, remember that Jesus wants all to come to repentance and that He will never forget His people Israel. Salvation is found in none other than Jesus, but, little by little, He is drawing His people to a saving relationship with Him.
And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.