Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 33: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MATTHEW 21:33-46; MARK 12:1-12; LUKE 20:9-19
33. Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, who planted a vineyard, and surrounded it by a ditch, and dug a wine-press in it, and built a tower, and let it to husbandmen, and went abroad, 34. And when the season of the fruits drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive its fruits. 35. And the husbandmen, having seized his servants, wounded one, killed another, and stoned another. 36. Again, he sent other servants more numerous 37 than the first, and they did to them in the same manner. 37. And last of all he sent to them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. 38. And when the husbandmen saw his son, they said within themselves, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, and seize on his inheritance. 39. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40. When therefore the proprietor of the vineyard shall come, what will he do to those husbandmen? 41. They say to him, Since they are wicked, he will miserably destroy them, and will let his vineyard to other husbandmen, who will render to him the fruit in its seasons. 42. Jesus saith to them, Have you never read in the Scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected is made the head of the corner; 38 this is done by the Lord, and is wonderful in our eyes? 39 43. Therefore I say to you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and shall be given to a nation yielding its fruits. 44. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be bruised, but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will crush him. 45. And when the chief priests and Pharisees heard his parables, they knew that he spoke of them. 46. And though they sought to take him, they dreaded the multitudes, because they reckoned him a prophet.
1. And he began to speak to them by parables: A man planted a vineyard, and surrounded it by a hedge, and dug a ditch, 40 and built a tower, and let it to husbandmen and went abroad. 2. And at the proper season he sent a servant, to the husbandmen to receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard. 3. But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty. 4. And again he sent to them another servant; and they threw stones at him, and bruised his head, and sent him away disgraced. 5. And again he sent another, and him they killed, and many others, beating some and killing some. 6. And while he had yet one son, 41 his well-beloved, he sent him also last to them, saying, They will reverence my son. 7. But the husbandmen said within themselves, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours. 8. And they seized him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. 9. What then will the proprietor of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the husbandmen, and give the vineyard to others. 10. And have you not read the Scripture, The stone which the builders rejected is made the head of the corner; 11. This is done by the Lord, and is wonderful in our eyes? 42 12. And they sought to take him, and dreaded the multitude; for they knew that he had spoken the parable against them: and they left him, and went away.
9. And he began to speak to the people this parable: A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it to husbandmen, and went abroad for a long time. 10. And at the proper season he sent a servant to the husbandmen, that they might give him of the fruit of the vineyard; and they beat him, and sent him away empty. 11. And again he sent yet another servant; and him also they wounded, and drove out. 13. And the proprietor of the vineyard said, What shall I do? I will send my well-beloved son; perhaps they will reverence him when they see him. 14. But when the husbandmen saw him, they thought within themselves, saying, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours. 15. And they cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. What then shall the proprietor of the vineyard do to them? 16. He will come and destroy those husbandmen, and give the vineyard to others. And when they heard this, they said, God forbid. 17. And he looked at them, and said, What then is this that is written, The stone which the builders rejected is made the head of the corner? 18. Every one that shall fall on this stone will be bruised; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will crush him. 19. And the chief priests and scribes sought at that hour to lay hands on him; (and they dreaded the people;) for they knew that he had spoken this parable against them.
Matthew 21:33. Hear another parable. The words of Luke are somewhat different; for he says that Christ spoke to the people, while here the discourse is addressed to the priests and scribes. But the solution is easy; for, though Christ spoke against them, he exposed their baseness in the presence of all the people. Mark says that Christ began to speak by parables, but leaves out what was first in order, as also in other passages he gives only a part of the whole. The substance of this parable is, that it is no new thing, if the priests and the other rulers of the Church wickedly endeavor to defraud God of his right; for long ago they practiced the same kind of robbery towards the prophets, and now they are ready to slay his Son; but they will not go unpunished, for God will arise to defend his right. The object is two-fold; first, to reproach the priests with base and wicked ingratitude; and, secondly, to remove the offense which would be occasioned by his approaching death. For, by means of a false title, they had gained such influence over simple persons and the ignorant multitude, that the religion of the Jews depended on their will and decision. Christ therefore forewarns the weak, and shows that, as so many prophets, one after another, had formerly been slain by the priests, no one ought to be distressed, if a similar instance were exhibited in his own person. But let us now examine it in detail.
A man planted a vineyard. This comparison frequently occurs in Scripture. With respect to the present passage, Christ only means that, while God appoints pastors over his Church, he does not convey his right to others, but acts in the same manner as if a proprietor were to let a vineyard or field to a husbandman, who would labor in the cultivation of it, and make an annual return. As he complains by Isaiah (Isa 5:4) and Jeremiah, (Jer 2:21,) that he had received no fruit from the vine on the cultivation of which he had bestowed so much labor and expense; so in this passage he accuses the vine-dressers themselves, who, like base swindlers, appropriate to themselves the produce of the vineyard. Christ says that the vineyard was well furnished, and in excellent condition, when the husbandmen received it from the hands of the proprietor. By this statement he presents no slight aggravation of their crime; for the more generously he had acted toward them, the more detestable was their ingratitude. Paul employs the same argument, when he wishes to exhort pastors to be diligent in the discharge of their duty, that they are stewards, chosen to govern the house of God, which is the
pillar and round of truth, (1Ti 3:16.)
And properly; for the more honorable and illustrious their condition is, they lie under so much the deeper obligations to God, not to be indolent in their work. So much the more detestable (as we have already said) is the baseness of those who pour contempt on the great kindness of God, and on the great honor which they have already received from Him.
God planted a vineyard, 43 when, remembering his gratuitous adoption, he brought the people out of Egypt, separated them anew to be his inheritance, and called them to the hope of eternal salvation, promising to be their God and Father; for this is the planting of which Isaiah speaks, (Isa. 60:21, Isa. 61:3.) By the wine-press and the tower are meant the aids which were added for strengthening the faith of the people in the doctrine of the Law, such as, sacrifices and other ritual observances; for God, like a careful and provident head of a family, has left no means untried for granting to his Church all necessary protection.
And let it to husbandmen. God might indeed of himself, without the agency of men, preserve his Church in good order; but he takes men for his ministers, and makes use of their hands. Thus, of old, he appointed priests to be, as it were, cultivators of the vineyard. But the wonder is, that Christ compares the prophets to servants, who are sent, after the vintage, to demand the fruit; 44 for we know that they too were vine-dressers, and that they held a charge in common with the priests. I reply, it was not necessary for Christ to be careful or exact in describing the resemblance or contrariety between those two orders. The priests were certainly appointed at first on the condition of thoroughly cultivating the Church by sound doctrine; but as they neglected the work assigned them, either through carelessness or ignorance, the prophets were sent as an extraordinary supply, to clear the vine from weeds, to lop off the superfluous wood, and in other ways to make up for the neglect of the priests; and, at the same time, severely to reprove the people, to raise up decayed piety, to awaken drowsy souls, and to bring back the worship of God and a new life. And what else was this than to demand the revenue which was due to God from his vineyard? All this Christ applies justly and truly to his purpose; for the regular and permanent government of his Church was not in the hands of the prophets, but was always held by the priests; just as if lazy husbandman, while he neglected cultivation, claimed the place to which he had been once appointed, under the plea of possession.
35. And wounded one, and killed another. Here Mark andLuke differ a little from Matthew; for while Matthew mentions many servants, all of whom were ill-treated and insulted, and says that afterwards other servants were sent more numerous than the first, Mark and Luke mention but one at a time, as if the servants had been sent, not two or three together, but one after another. But though all the three Evangelists have the same object in view, namely, to show that the Jews will dare to act towards the Son in the same manner as they have repeatedly done towards the prophets, Matthew explains the matter more at large, namely, that God, by sending a multitude of prophets, contended with the malice of the priests. 45 Hence it appears how obstinate their malice was, for the correction of which no remedies were of any avail. 46
37. They will reverence my son. Strictly speaking, indeed, this thought does not apply to God; for He knew what would happen, and was not deceived by the expectation of a more agreeable result; but it is customary, 47 especially in parables, to ascribe to Him human feelings. And yet this was not added without reason; for Christ intended to represent, as in a mirror, how deplorable their impiety was, of which it was too certain a proof, that they rose in diabolical rage against the Son of God, who had come to bring them back to a sound mind. 48 As they had formerly, as far as lay in their power, driven God from his inheritance by the cruel murder of the prophets, so it was the crowning point of all their crimes to slay the Son, that they might reign, as in a house which wanted an heir. Certainly the chief reason why the priests raged against Christ was, that, they might not lose their tyranny, which might be said to be their prey; 49 for he it is by whom God chooses to govern, and to whom He has given all authority.
The Evangelists differ also a little in the conclusion. For Matthew relates that he drew from them the confession, by which they condemned themselves; while Mark says simply that Christ declared what punishment must await servants so unprincipled and wicked. Luke differs, at first sight, more openly, by saying that they turned away with horror from the punishment which Christ had threatened. But if we examine the meaning more closely, there is no contradiction; for, in regard to the punishment which such servants deserved, there can be no doubt that they agreed with Christ, but when they perceived that both the crime and the punishment were made to apply to themselves, they deprecated that application.
42. Have you never read in the Scriptures? We must remember what we said a little before, that, as the priests and scribes kept the people devoted to them, it was a principle current among them, that they alone were competent to judge and decide as to the future redemption, so that no one ought to be received as Messiah, unless he were approved and sanctioned by their voice. They therefore maintain that what Christ had said is impossible, that they would slay the son and heir of the proprietor of the vineyard. But Christ confirms his statement by the testimony of Scripture, and the interrogation is emphatic, as if he had said, “You reckon it highly absurd to say that it is possible for the vine dressers to conspire wickedly against the Son of God. But what then? Did the Scripture (Ps 118:22) foretell that he would be received with joy, and favor, and applause; or did it not, on the contrary, foretell that the rulers themselves would oppose him?”
The passage which he quotes is taken from the same psalm from which had been taken that joyful exclamation, 50 Save, 51 O Lord. Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. That it is a prediction of the reign of the Messiah is evident from this consideration, that David was appointed by God to be king, on the condition that his throne would remain forever, so long as the sun and moon would shine in heaven, and that, when decayed, it would again be restored by the favor of God to its former prosperity. Since, therefore, that psalm contains a description of the reign of David, there is also added the perpetuity of it, on which the restoration depends. If the discourse had related to any temporal reign, Christ would have acted improperly in applying it to himself. But we must also observe what sort of reign God raised up in the person of David. It was that which He would establish in the true Messiah to the end of the world; for that ancient anointing was but a shadow. Hence we infer that what was done in the person of David was a prelude and figure of Christ.
Let us now return to the words of the psalm. The scribes and priests reckoned it incredible that Christ should be rejected 52 by the rulers of the Church. But he proves from the psalm, that he would be placed on his throne by the wonderful power of God, contrary to the will of men, and that this had already been shadowed out in David, whom, though rejected by the nobles, God took to give an instance and proof of what he would at length do in his Christ. The prophet takes the metaphor from buildings; for, since the Church is God’s sanctuary, Christ, on whom it is founded, is justly called the corner stone; that is, the stone which supports the whole weight of the building. If one were to examine minutely every thing that relates to Christ, the comparison would not apply in every part; but it is perfectly appropriate, for on him the salvation of the Church rests, and by him its condition is preserved. And therefore the other prophets followed the same form of expression, particularly Isaiah and Daniel. But Isaiah makes the closest allusion to this passage, when he represents God as thus speaking,
Lo, I lay in Zion a foundation-stone, a precious and elect stone, against which both houses of Israel shall stumble!
The same mode of expression frequently occurs in the New Testament.
The amount of it therefore is, that the kingdom of God will be founded on a stone, which the builders themselves will reject as unsuitable and useless; and the meaning is, that the Messiah, who is the foundation of the safety of the Church, will not be chosen by the ordinary suffrages of men, but that, when God shall miraculously raise him up by a secret and unknown power, the rulers, to whom has been committed the care of the building, will oppose and persecute him. There are two things here which we ought to consider. First, that we may not be perplexed by the wicked attempts of men, who rise up to hinder the reign of Christ, God has warned us beforehand that this will happen. Secondly, whatever may be the contrivances of men, God has at the same time declared, that in setting up the kingdom of Christ, His power will be victorious. Both ought to be carefully observed by us. It appears to be monstrous that the Author of salvation should be rejected, not by strangers, but by those who belonged to his own household, — not by the ignorant multitude, but by the rulers themselves, who hold the government of the Church. Against such strange madness of men our faith ought to be fortified, that it may not give way through the novelty of the occurrence. We now perceive how useful that prediction is, which relieves godly minds from the terror that would otherwise be produced by the mournful spectacle. For nothing is more unreasonable than that the members should rise up against the head, the vine-dressers against the proprietor, the counselors against their king, and that the builders should reject the foundation of the building.
That stone is made the head of the corner. Still more emphatic is this clause, in which God declares that the wicked, by rejecting Christ, will avail nothing, but that his rank will remain unimpaired. The design of it is, that believers, relying on that promise, may safely look down with contempt and derision on the wicked pride of men; for when they have made all their contrivances, Christ will still, ill opposition to their wishes, retain the place which the Father has appointed to him. How fiercely soever he may be assailed by those who appear to possess honor and dignity, he will nevertheless remain in his own rank, and will abate nothing on account of their wicked contempt. In short, the authority of God will prevail, that he may be the elect and precious stone, which supports the Church of God, his kingdom and temple. The stone is said to be made the head of the corner, not that he is only a part of the building, (since it is evident from other passages that the Church is entirely founded on Him alone,) but the prophet merely intended to state that he will be the chief support of the building. Some go into ingenious arguments about the word corner, that Christ is placed in the corner, because he unites two separate walls, the Gentiles and Jews. But in my opinion, David meant nothing more than that the corner-stone supports the chief weight of the building.
It may now be asked, How does the Spirit call those men builders, who are so strongly bent on the ruin and destruction of the temple of God? For Paul boasts of having been an honest builder, because he founded the Church on Christ alone, (1 Cor. 3:10, 11.) The answer is easy. Though they are unfaithful in the execution of the office committed to them, yet he gives them this title with respect to their calling. Thus the name prophet is often given to deceivers, and those who devour the flock like wolves are called pastors. And so far is this from conferring honor on them, that it renders them detestable, when they utterly overthrow the temple of God, which they were appointed to build. Hence we draw a useful warning, that the lawful calling does not prevent those who ought to have been the ministers of Christ from being sometimes his base and wicked enemies. The legal priesthood had certainly been appointed by God, and the Lord had bestowed on the Levites permission to govern the Church. Did they therefore discharge their office faithfully? or ought the godly to have obeyed them by renouncing Christ?
Let the Pope now go with his mitered bishops, and let them boast that they ought to be believed in all things, because they occupy the place of pastors. Even granting that they were lawfully called to the government of the Church, yet they have no right to claim any thing more than to hold the title of prelates of the Church. But even the title of calling does not belong to them; for, in order to raise them to that tyranny, it would be necessary that the whole order of the Church should be overturned. And even though they might justly claim ordinary jurisdiction, yet, if they overturn the sacred house of God, it is only in name that they must be reckoned builders. Nor does it always happen that Christ is rejected by those who are entrusted with the government of the Church; for not only were there many godly priests under the Law, but also, under the reign of Christ, there are some pastors who labor diligently and honestly in building the Church; but as it was necessary that this prediction should be fulfilled, that the builders should reject the stone, wisdom must be exercised in distinguishing between them. And the Holy Spirit has expressly warned us, that none may be mistaken as to an empty title or the dignity of calling.
This has been done by the Lord, As it is a matter too far removed from the ordinary judgment of men, that the pastors of the Church should themselves reject the Son of God from being their Prince, the prophet refers it to the secret purpose of God, which, though we cannot comprehend it by our senses, we ought to contemplate and admire. Let us therefore understand, that this cuts short every question, and that every man is expressly forbidden to judge and measure the nature of Christ’s kingdom by the reason of the flesh; for what folly is it to wish to subject to the capacity of our mind a miracle which the prophet exhorts us to adore? Will you then receive nothing but what appears to yourself to be probable, in reference to the kingdom of Christ, the commencement of which the Holy Spirit declares to be a mystery worthy of the highest admiration, because it is concealed from the eyes of men? So then, whenever the question relates to the origin, restoration, condition, and the whole safety of the Church, we must not consult our senses, 53 but must honor the power of God by admiring his hidden work. 54 There is also an implied contrast between God and men; for not only are we commanded to embrace the wonderful method of governing the Church, because it is the work of God, but we are likewise withdrawn from a foolish reverence for men, which frequently obscures the glow of God; as if the prophet had said, that however magnificent may be the titles which men bear, it is wicked in any man to oppose them to God.
This furnishes a refutation of the diabolical wickedness of the Papists, who do not scruple to prefer to the word of God a decision of their pretended Church. For on what does the authority of the word of God depend, according to them, but on the opinion of men, so that no more power is left to God than what the Church is pleased to allow him? Far otherwise does the Spirit instruct us by this passage namely, that as soon as the majesty of God 55 appears, the whole world ought to be silent.
43. Therefore I say to you. Hitherto Christ directed his discourse to rulers and governors, but in presence of the people. Now, however, he addresses in the same manner the people themselves, and not without reason, for they had been the companions and assistants of the priests and scribes in hindering the grace of God. It was from the priests, no doubt, that the evil arose, but the people had already deserved, on account of their sins, to have such corrupt and degenerate pastors. Besides, the whole body was infected, as it were, by a similar malice to resist God. This is the reason why Christ denounces against all indiscriminately the dreadful vengeance of God; for as the priests were inflated with the desire of holding the highest power, so the rest of the people gloried on the ground of having been adopted. Christ now declares that God was not bound to them, and, therefore, that he will convey to another the honor of which they rendered themselves unworthy. And this, no doubt, was once spoken to them, but was written for the sake of all of us, that, if God choose us to be His people, we may not grow wanton through a vain and wicked confidence in the flesh, but may endeavor, on our part, to perform the duties which he enjoins on his children;
for if he spared not the natural branches, (Ro 11:21,)
what will he do with those which were engrafted? The Jews thought that the kingdom of God dwelt among them by hereditary right, and therefore they adhered obstinately to their vices. We have unexpectedly come into their room contrary to nature, and therefore much less is the kingdom of God bound to us, if it be not rooted in true godliness.
Now as our minds ought to be struck with terror by the threatening of Christ, that those who have profaned the kingdom of God will be deprived of it, so the perpetuity of that kingdom, which is here described, may afford comfort to all the godly. For by these words Christ assures us that, though the ungodly destroyed the worship of God among themselves, they would never cause the name of Christ to be abolished, or true religion to perish; for God, in whose hand are all the ends of the earth, will find elsewhere a dwelling and habitation for his kingdom. We ought also to learn from this passage, that the Gospel is not preached in order that it may lie barren and inoperative, but that it may yield fruit.
44. And he who shall fall on this stone. Christ confirms more fully the former statement, that he suffers no loss or diminution when he is rejected by the wicked, because, though their obstinacy were like a stone or like iron, yet by his own hardness he will break them, and therefore he will be the more highly glorified in their destruction. He perceived in the Jews an astonishing obstinacy, and therefore it was necessary that this kind of punishment should be described to them in an alarming manner, that they might not flatter themselves, while they thus dashed against him. This doctrine partly instructs us to give ourselves up gently, with a mild and tractable heart, to the dominion of Christ, and partly fortifies us against the obstinacy and furious attacks of the wicked, for whom there awaits a dreadful end.
Those persons are said to fall upon Christ, who rush forward to destroy him; not that they occupy a more elevated position than he does, but because their madness carries them so far, that they endeavor to attack Christ as if he were below them. But Christ tells them that all that they will gain by it is, that by the very conflict they will be broken. But when they have thus proudly exalted themselves, he tells them that another thing will happen, which is, that they will be bruised under the stone, against which they so insolently dashed themselves.
45. They knew that he spoke of them. The Evangelists show how little success Christ had, that we may not wonder if the doctrine of the Gospel does not bring all men, in the present day, to yield obedience to God. Let us also learn that it is impossible but that the rage of ungodly men will be more and more inflamed by threatenings; for as God seals his word on our hearts, so also it is a hot iron to wound bad consciences, in consequence of which their ungodliness is the more inflamed. We ought therefore to pray that he would subdue us to voluntary fear, lest the mere knowledge of his vengeance should exasperate us the more. When they are restrained solely by the dread of the people from laying their hands on Christ, let us learn that God had laid a bridle on them; from which also arises a very delightful consolation to believers, when they learn that God protects them, and constantly enables them to escape from the jaws of death.
“En plus grand nombre;” — “in greater number.”
“Est mise au principal lieu du com;” — “is put in the chief place of the corner.”
“Devant nos yeux;” — “before our eyes.”
“Et y fouyt une fosse pour les esgouts d’un pressoir;” — “and dug in it a ditch for the cistern of a wine press.”
“Or voyant qu’il avoit encore un fils;” — “But perceiving that he had still one son.”
“Devant nos yeux;” — “before our eyes.”
“Son vigne;” — “His vineyard.”
“Le fruit de la vigne;” — “the fruit of the vine.”
“Que Dieu ne s’est point lassé pour la cruauté des sacrificateurs, d’envoyer des prophetes; mais les suscitant comme par troupes, a combatu contre leur malice;” — “That God did not, on account of the cruelty of the priests, fail to send prophets; but raising them up — as it were — in troops, fought against their malice.”
“Veu que tous les mayens et remedes que Dieu y a employez n’ont rien servi;” — “since all the means and remedies which God employed for it were of no avail.”
“C’est la coustume de l’Escriture;” — “it is the custom of Scripture.”
“Qui estoit venu pour les retirer de leurs meschantes façons de faire;” — “who had come to withdraw them from their wicked courses of life.”
“Pource qu’ils avoyent peur de perdre la proye; c’est a dire, de dimineur quelque chose de leur tyrannie;” — “because they were afraid of losing the prey; that is to say, of diminishing something of their tyranny.”
“Ceste priere de louange;” — “that prayer of praise.”
Our author alludes to the word Hosanna, (ὡσαννὰ) which he had explained (Harmony, vol. 2, p. 452) to be formed, by a slight alteration of the sound, from a Hebrew phrase used in the 118 Psalm, Hoshiana (הושיע נא,) Save now, we beseech thee. — Ed.
“Ne pouvoient croire que Christ peust estre rejetté;” — “could not believe that Christ could be rejected.”
“Qu’il nous souviene de ne nous arrester point a ce que nos sens pervent comprende;” — “let us remember not to stop at what our senses can comprehend.”
“Son œuvre incomprehensible;” — “his incomprehensible work.”
“La majesté du Fils de Dieu;” — “the majesty of the Son of God.”