“Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing and it is marvellous in our eyes’? “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it (Mt21:33-43NKJV)
A few verses later, Matthew confirms to whom the wicked vinedressers referred – the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day (v45), and in view of their being supplanted by another “nation” (ethnos), by implication Israel as a whole. “The kingdom of God” would be taken from them and given to a “nation” who would bear fruit. Again this is indicative of what Matthew’s references to the Kingdom of God/Heaven actually refer to: not “individuals going to Heaven when they die” but the establishment of a divinely ordered people subject to and living in accordance with the heavenly principles Jesus had been outlining; not exclusively for their own benefit but so as to be a blessing for the whole world. The Old Testament had consistently foretold that privileged role to be Israel’s, described by Isaiah as God’s beloved vineyard (Is5). Jesus as Prophet was now indicating that that was no longer to be the case. This anticipated Paul’s revelation that my book focusses on, namely that the nation expected to inherit the privileges of the Messianic community had defaulted and were to be replaced by people derived from every nation (cf. Eph3:9,10; Rom11:11-15). His fellow apostle Peter would go on to describe this elect people as “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own special people, to proclaim the praises of Him who called them out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1Pet2:9). Such is the Church, sometimes described as the kingdom of God in mystery; inaugurated but not yet fully realised on Earth. Nor can it be until the King in Person presents Himself “whom heaven must receive until the time of the restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets (Acts3:21).