After Jesus’ discussion of the fig tree, He and the disciples enter the Temple courts and are observed by the priests and their entourage; the priests waste no time in challenging Him…
Parallel Texts: Matthew 21:23-27; Luke 20:1-8
The Chief Priest demands to know by what authority Jesus is saying and doing the things He’s been up to, and I’m sure that His attack on their little Temple gold mine was foremost in their minds. Jesus, a tough customer, isn’t going to play their game, so He asks them a question of His own: By what authority did John the Baptist do what he did?
Pay close attention to verses 31-32 and look at their reasoning: Pure politics! They settled on “I don’t know” in an attempt to dodge the question, so Jesus told them that He wouldn’t answer them either. Notice in His wording that He fully recognized their dodge. The text tells us they feared the people who believed John, but they also must have known that John testified concerning the identity of Jesus; He really had them in a corner.
Then, remarkably, Jesus answers their question in a parable.
Parallel Texts: Isaiah 5:1-7; Matthew 21:33-46; Luke 20:9-19
The Chief Priest, the other priests, teachers, Pharisees and all the rest of them, knew exactly what Jesus was saying in the Parable of the Tenants; He was telling them the history of their people in a nutshell. Just as in Isaiah 5, the vineyard is Israel, they themselves are the tenants who beat and killed all of the servants God sent to them, yes, for those servants were the very prophets these guys talked about all the time. Now, God (the owner) has sent His Son to them, and they will kill Him too… and they will pay quite a price for their evil deeds.
Jesus finishes the parable off with a quote from Psalm 118 for good measure; they knew instantly who the “cornerstone” was… the stone the builders rejected. Jesus wasn’t going to play their games, but He was most assuredly speaking their language, and they were not pleased. It’s interesting don’t you think, that nobody stopped to consider the likelihood that Jesus was telling them the truth and offering them a way out of their jam.
At this point, they retreated. Jesus has fought off the first attack, but there were more coming, after all, it wasn’t even lunch time yet!