The Parable of the Husbandmen — the Chief Cornerstone

In the last “Passion Tuesday” post, we saw the Old Testament roots of “The Parable of the Husbandmen.”  Israel’s religious leaders had rejected the prophets, especially John the Baptist.  They were prepared to rebel, and even murder the Son, to try to cling to power.

We’ve seen that Jesus’ words on this day were rooted in the Old Testament Scriptures, and that pattern continues as He tells the consequences of their actions.

Matthew 21:33-46

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.

Deciding The Judgment

Having told the story, Jesus asked His hearers to declare the judgment.  This parable is the kind of story He often told, and Jesus frequently challenged His hearers to respond.  Christ appealed to their sense of justice.  There was only one real answer, whether or not they realised they were condemning themselves.  He would destroy the wicked husbandmen, and hire others.  Their selfish desire to possess instead brought their own destruction.

God often works this way, appealing to principles of justice and then letting people see they have condemned themselves.  Thus did Nathan speak to David in II Samuel 12.  By engaging our sense of justice before our pride gets involved, God graciously makes it is easier for us to come to repentance.

The Prophesied Rejection

Having drawn from His hearers the just condemnation of the wicked husbandmen, our Lord now applied the parable by quoting from the Old Testament.

Psalm 118:22-23

22 The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.
23 This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.

In quoting this passage, Jesus tells them several important things:

  1. He acknowledges their position, and responsibility, as leaders (builders).
  2. He tells them they have rejected the head cornerstone — the most vital part of the building, the stone by which the foundation and all the walls are aligned.
  3. He says their rejection is not the end of that Stone.  They might kill the Son, but it is “the Lord’s doing” to build with the true Cornerstone.  Thus, this passage is an implied prophecy of His resurrection.
  4. Some may have thought that He must not be the Messiah, because the leaders had rejected Him.  He refutes that error by showing that, in fact, their rejection was actually a proof of His position, for the Scriptures told that Messiah would be rejected.

Rejection, All Along

Two days before (Palm Sunday), the people had shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest” (Matthew 21:9).  The Pharisees objected, and Jesus answered them.  Here, in quoting Psalm 118, and applying it to Himself, He answers again, for we see the following just three verses later:

Psalm 118:26

Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the LORD: we have blessed you out of the house of the LORD.

The very words of the multitude were prophesied about the One who was Head Stone of the Corner.  By citing Psalm 118 as a prophecy of their rejection, He alludes to this other prophecy in the Psalm which they had also rejected.  It is as if He said, “All along, Scripture has been fulfilled, all along you have rejected it, and that also was prophesied.”

The Judgment Applied

Now, Jesus applies the judgment which they themselves had declared.  They were the rejecting builders, the murderous husbandmen.  The kingdom will go on, the building will be built despite the builders, the Lord of the vineyard will receive fruit — but judgment will come.  The kingdom will be given to another nation, a spiritual nation that will bring forth fruit.

Those who fall on that Stone shall be broken.  Again, Jesus makes reference to the Old Testament.  There is no hope for those who stumble, who will not believe, who reject the Chief Cornerstone.  They will be broken.

Isaiah 8:14-15

14 And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
15 And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.

Those on whom that Stone falls shall be crushed.  This is a direct reference to the religious leaders, a direct application of the parable to them personally.  The parable applies to the whole nation, but especially to the leaders.

They wanted to keep the vineyard for themselves.  They wanted the preeminent position, the chief place, for themselves.  They did not want to accept the Head Stone of the Corner, for they wanted His place of honour for themselves.  But it is the Lord’s doing to put that Stone, the Lord Jesus Christ, in His rightful place.  That Stone will fall on, and grind to powder, those who try put themselves in His place.

The wicked husbandmen, though confronted by the Scripture that described their rebellion and their defeat, were confirmed in their wickedness.  They still wanted to kill the Son.  There is nothing so self-defeating, so self-destructive, as rebellion against God.

Series Summary with links to further articles: “Passion Tuesday” / Crucifixion Tuesday


About Jon Gleason

Former Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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