Monthly Archives: December 2010

Parables of Christ: Part 2 (Parables of a Divided House)

Some aspects to keep in mind from part one apply here as well in saying that the parables are about the kingdom and that we are very often tempted to place ourselves in the “good guy” roles when in reality we are in the same places as the bad guys. One major theme which ties these particular parables together is Israel’s unfaithfulness in the face of her Messiah’s arrival.

This theme is fairly explicit in what is commonly called the “Triumphal Entry” where we see Jesus and his disciples coming into Jerusalem. We see crowds in front of him and crowds behind him spreading their cloaks and branches (you probably hear about this every palm Sunday in your church) in the road and the crowds are shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21, starting in verse 6). It would seem that they receive Him with open arms right out of the gate but as soon as Jesus enters, He claims lordship over the temple mount by overturning tables and driving out people who were turning the temple into a “den of robbers” (12-13). He then proceeds to heal blind and lame people within the temple precinct which was an utter act of defilement according to the elders and traditions of the time. The reason for this is because the Pharisees were actually a group of people who wanted to purify Judaism and start a sort of “back to Torah” movement (radical conservatives, you could say). They wanted to rededicate not only themselves but all Jews to the strict adherence of the law, basically enforcing “traditional values” and in so doing there was absolutely no way that anyone who was blind or lame or a Gentile etc. would have been allowed on the temple precinct at all.

Interestingly, there is very little mention of what happens directly after Jesus does all this except to say that the chief priests and scribes were very upset and confronted Jesus attempting to make Him answer to the claims that the crowds were making. We read several times in Jesus’s interactions with the chief priests/scribes/pharisees/saducees that their intentions are to trick Him in order that they may find reason to kill Him and while it doesn’t specifically say that in this section, they certainly were asking out of being “indignant”. “and they said to him, ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Yes: have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’? And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.” (21:16-17) Here Jesus is quoting from Psalm 8:2 and the remarkable thing about using that particular passage to justify the children’s praises is that in Psalm 8, God ordained worship for Himself from the lips of children. Jesus is indirectly claiming the prerogative of deity, and you can be certain that the chief priests would have been well aware of what Psalm 8 said.

The following day Christ curses the fig tree (18-19) and it’s interesting to note that the disciples asked Him about the miracle that the fig tree had instantly withered. Jesus says “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen.” and there are some parallels between how Jesus acts in the temple earlier in the chapter and how He reacts to the fig tree. Earlier He drove out the buyers and sellers and overturned the tables whereas later He curses the fig tree. Also of note is the reference to a mountain being commanded to be thrown into the sea. This has a connection with the temple mount itself as it somewhat echoes Zachariah 4:6-7, which is echoing Isaiah 40:4; 42:16. Basically, He’s saying that the current temple and the temple mount are in the way.

A particularly audacious thing that Jesus says is when the chief priests and elders start to question His authority. Interestingly, Jesus was in the temple preaching when these people came up and interrupted Him to ask the question of “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” which seems to be as much of a challenge as it is a question (again, keep in mind the usual nature of their motives for questioning Jesus). After skillfully avoiding their intentions by answering in the form of a question of His own, Jesus moves into the Parable of the Two Sons.

Parable of the Two Sons

This parable is similar to the one commonly called the “prodigal son” but is not entirely the same.

“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today. And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.” (Matthew 21: 28-32)

Can you imagine the reactions of his listeners to that! Keep in mind that we’re talking about the groups of people who were trying to make the requirements as ‘pure’ and strict as they possibly could in preparation for a preconceived notion of a messiah ‘ they wanted to see arrive. Jesus is basically taking two groups of people who were, by their standards, the lowest of the low classes in society and telling them that all despite all their self-avowed piety, that even tax collectors and prostitutes will enter into the kingdom while they will not. This parallels Romans 2 where Paul talks about exactly what it is that the law does in terms of the relationship between God, mankind, and the law.

Parable of the Tenants

This parable, found in Matthew 21:32-46 is an excellent parallel to the parable of David and Nathan in terms of form.

“Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance. And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.” (Matthew 21: 34-45)

I mention its structural relation to the David/Nathan parable because it’s basically the same formula. There is a situation where the hearers of the parable instantly had an emotional response to the parable when they claimed that “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” and this is basically when David condemned the rich man for taking the poor man’s sheep. In David’s case he receives a “you are that man!” whereas in this case, Jesus quotes Scripture and then tells his audience (again, keep in mind who the Pharisees were) that the kingdom of God will be taken away from them and given to people who will produce its fruits. Jesus is also still saying this on the temple mount itself! Jesus also references Psalm 118:22-23 in stating that He is the cornerstone that the builders rejected. In referencing the tenants, Jesus is making claims about the prophets of old and how they were sent by God and how they were treated by the people they were sent to. This is again Jesus claiming deity in spite of what His audience is plotting.

Parable of the Wedding Feast

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22: 2-14)

Keep in mind the audience to which He was speaking. This would have been maddening to them. The first part of this parable, verses 1-10, fit into the theme of the previous parables in the sense that the heirs of the kingdom have rejected it and therefore it has been offered to others. A large point is made about the attire that people who attend the wedding must have. The second part of the parable, verses 11-14, make this abundantly clear. There are references to these garments elsewhere in Scripture, such as in Zechariah 3: 3-5 “Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord was standing by.” and again in Revelation 3: 18 “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.” and also Revelation 19: 8 “it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure.” The garments that are being referenced here is the righteousness of Christ. We see in verse 9 that all God’s servants have the task of offering the gospel to all people, and yet we also see from verse 14 that even though many are called, few are chosen. This election is not based on any previous status, these people are both good and bad as verse 10 states. This is enforced earlier in chapter 8, verses 11 and 12 “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

These parables especially emphasize the separation or division that Jesus brings—this time, not between Jew and Gentile, but even within the House of Israel and indeed within families. The weeds grow up together with weeds, until the owner separates them at the end of the age.” – Michael Horton

Parable of the Fig Tree

A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” (Luke 13: 6-9). (It’s important to note that Jesus’s ministry had been three years at this point.)

We read in the gospel of Mark that these parables were told during a single week which started with the Triumphal Entry and ended with His crucifixion:

Sunday: Triumphal Entry (Mark 11:1-11). Jesus enters to shouts of acclamation and makes his way to the temple. It’s this event that gets the dominos to start falling. By 26:64-68 they’ll be accusing Jesus of blasphemy, but for now they’re just caught off guard and bewildered by the messianic overtones of Jesus’ entry and greeting by the masses. The religious leaders ask Jesus to stop the crowd from doing this, both with the triumphal entry itself (Lk 19:39), then later when the children continue to proclaim him Son of David near the temple (Mt 21:15-16).

Monday: Cursing the Fig Tree. Full of leaves, but no fruit. He enters the temple: first the outer court (“court of the Gentiles”) where he finds the marketplace, and turns over the tables. Yet he also heals the blind and lame at the temple, against the purity regulations of the elders (21:14). The religious leaders are now figuring out how to kill Jesus, but were fearful of the crowds. Jesus leaves the temple in the evening with the disciples.

Tuesday: Jesus explains his action against the fig tree (vv 20-25). The temple mount is under judgment, ready to be cast into the sea, yet the disciples are still missing the point. They do not recognize the authority that has been committed to them as emissaries of the kingdom even with the king himself among them. (This has nothing to do with name-it-claim-it, but with the unfolding drama on the temple mount.) The religious leaders demand an explanation from Jesus: By what authority does he presume to take control of the temple and cast out the traders (vv 27-33). Jesus asks them whether John’s baptism was from heaven or from men, and the religious leaders knew that if they answered “from men,” the crowds would turn on them, given John’s popularity as a prophet.” – Michael Horton

This is not the first time fig trees have been used in reference to the nation of Israel in talking about judgment. Calling Judah to repentance before destruction, Jeremiah brought God’s Word: “Be warned, O Jerusalem, lest I turn from you in disgust, lest I make you a desolation, an uninhabited land” (Jer 6:8). So too the Lord laments the devastation of his land by an invading nation. “It has laid waste my vine and splintered my fig tree; it has stripped off their bark and thrown it down; their branches are made white”—all of this prefiguring the Day of the LORD that will come upon Judah as well as the nations. “Be ashamed, O tillers of the soil; wail, O vinedressers….The vine dries up; the fig tree languishes…and gladness dries up from the children of man” (Joel 1:6-7,11-12).

Parable of the Ten Minas

He said therefore, ‘A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’ I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me’” (Luke19: 12-27).

We have all heard elaborate examples of missing the point of this parable. Besides treating it as an economics lecture, I have heard this parable used as a proof text for different levels in heaven, with some saints rewarded with rule over cities and other, less qualified, believers ruling little towns, and carnal Christians living in the barrios. Charles Stanley argues that Jesus’ description of the “outer darkness” of “weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth” refers not to hell but to a region of heaven occupied by carnal Christians (Eternal Security,p. 121-129).” – Michael Horton

Those examples clearly miss the point, but even the disciples thought they were going to witness the conquering King get the job done as they were in town (see verse 11), and this is why Christ tells the parable. Again, the Jewish leaders are on trial in the parable and right away Christ makes a very important distinction, that is between his two comings. “A nobleman went far into a country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return.” (v 12, emphasis added). The servants were to engage in business until Christ comes back. Note here that the Jewish leaders were given the law and the prophets before Christ came for the first time and this is exactly what the parable points out, that they were poor stewards of those gifts they were given. They absolutely did not want anyone to reign over them (see verse 14) and their judgment is sealed at the very end of the parable as the same fate of the wicked tenant.

Remaining Parable Clusters

In Matthew 25:31-46 we find the famous Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. This parable clearly has in view the last judgment at Christ’s return, when the final separation of wheat and chaff, sheep and goats, occurs. However, the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31) is more directly focused on what is happening during our Lord’s earthly ministry. It is not a window into the intermediate state. It’s not answering the question, “What happens to people after they die?” It’s answering the question, “Who is the true Israel? And how are the religious leaders who ought to receive their Messiah responding to him right now?” In the parable, the rich man (representing the religious leaders) invokes “Father Abraham” relieve their torment in Hades. The “rich man” begs Abraham to send Lazarus to dip his finger in water and cool his tongue. The religious leaders could not have missed our Lord’s point: Lazarus, a poor man covered with sores, doubtless would have been excluded from the temple as ritually unclean. Yet now he is robed in splendor, feasting with God, while the “rich man” is in torment. Even the water-dipped finger of the diseased Lazarus would be like a garden hose on a scorching summer’s day.

Finally, in this cluster of parables emphasizing Israel’s apostasy, Jesus gives the Parable of a Divided Kingdom (Mk 3:20-30). Early in Mark’s Gospel, right after Jesus appoints the Twelve, the crowd gathers against the Lord because he had proclaimed himself Lord of the Sabbath, healed, and cast out demons. We read, “And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind’” (vv 20-21). Ignoring the “insanity plea” offered by his family, Jesus enraged the religious leaders still further. They charged him with performing these miracles by the power of Satan. “And he called them to him and said to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house’” (vv 23-27). Far from conspiring with Satan, Jesus has bound him and is now plundering his house. “‘Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin—for they were saying, ‘He has an unclean spirit’” (vv 28-30).

The religious leaders were not only wrong theologically about Jesus and the power by which he performed these miracles, but were in fact committing this unforgivable sin. Christ’s kingdom is united: the Father, the Son, and the Spirit arrayed against the kingdom of Satan, with which the religious leaders were now siding.” – Michael Horton