Lexham Discourse Greek N.T. Matt. 21:40-46 w/translation & Commentary


Matthew 21:40–46 (LDGNT)
40ὅταν οὖν ἔλθῃ ὁ κύριος τοῦ ἀμπελῶνος τί ποιήσει τοῖς γεωργοῖς ἐκείνοις
41λέγουσιν αὐτῷ Κακοὺς κακῶς ἀπολέσει αὐτοὺς καὶ τὸν ἀμπελῶνα ἐκδώσεται ἄλλοις γεωργοῖς οἵτινες ἀποδώσουσιν αὐτῷ τοὺς καρποὺς ἐν τοῖς καιροῖς αὐτῶν
42λέγει αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς Οὐδέποτε ἀνέγνωτε ἐν ταῖς γραφαῖς Λίθον ὃν ἀπεδοκίμασαν οἱ οἰκοδομοῦντες οὗτος ἐγενήθη εἰς κεφαλὴν γωνίας παρὰ κυρίου ἐγένετο αὕτη καὶ ἔστιν θαυμαστὴ ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖς ἡμῶν
43διὰ τοῦτο λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι ἀρθήσεται ἀφʼ ὑμῶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ δοθήσεται ἔθνει ποιοῦντι τοὺς καρποὺς αὐτῆς
44Καὶ ὁ πεσὼν ἐπὶ τὸν λίθον τοῦτον συνθλασθήσεται ἐφʼ ὃν δʼ ἂν πέσῃ λικμήσει αὐτόν
45Καὶ ἀκούσαντες οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι τὰς παραβολὰς αὐτοῦ ἔγνωσαν ὅτι περὶ αὐτῶν λέγει
46καὶ ζητοῦντες αὐτὸν κρατῆσαι ἐφοβήθησαν τοὺς ὄχλους ἐπεὶ εἰς προφήτην αὐτὸν εἶχον

Translation

Matthew 21:40–46 (LEB)
40Now when the master of the vineyard arrives, what will he do to those tenant farmers?”
41They said to him, “He will destroy those evil men completely and lease the vineyard to other tenant farmers who will give him the fruits in their season.”
42Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, this has become the cornerstone. This came about from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
43For this reason, I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and will be given to a people who produce its fruits.
44And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, and the one on whom it falls—it will crush him!”
45And when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they knew that he was speaking about them,
46and although they wanted to arrest him, they were afraid of the crowds, because they looked upon him as a prophet.

Commentary

Lexham Context Commentary

Jesus Interprets the Parable (21:40–46)

Jesus now asks the religious leaders what the master of the vineyard will do to the tenant farmers, and they respond correctly that he will destroy the tenant farmers and release the vineyard to worthy tenants. Jesus then interprets the parable, first quoting Ps 118:22–23. The quotation of the psalm connects its imagery of a rejected stone with the rejection of the son in the parable. He then tells the religious leaders that the kingdom will be taken away from them and given to others who will produce fruit. The religious leaders realize that the parable is against them and want to arrest him, but fear the crowds.

21:40 Jesus now turns to the religious leaders again (21:31) and asks them what that master of the vineyard will do when he returns.

21:41 The religious leaders respond to the question Jesus posed to them in the previous verse, stating that the master of the vineyard will destroy the tenant farmers and lease the vineyard to worthy tenant farmers.

21:42 Jesus’ words are brought into focus with a present-tense verb. He asks the religious leaders whether they’ve not read Ps 118, quoting Ps 118:22–23. The quotation introduces different imagery, but equates the rejection of the stone by the builders in the psalm with the rejection of the son by the tenant farmers in the parable.

21:43 Jesus now draws a principle from both the parable and the imagery of the rejected stone, his words highlighted with the metacomment “I say to you.” Jesus’ words are even stronger against the religious leaders in the interpretation of this parable. At the end of the previous parable, Jesus indicated that tax collectors and sinners are going ahead of the religious leaders into the kingdom (21:32). While this may have been an unwelcome teaching, it did not exclude them from the kingdom. Here Jesus declares that the kingdom is being taken away from them and given to those who will produce fruit. This teaching corresponds closely with the message of John the Baptist to the religious leaders (3:7–12) and Jesus’ own teaching (7:14–20; 12:33–37). It also continues the close connection between Jesus and John evidenced through this exchange with the religious leaders (21:24–27, 32).

21:44 The language of the stone is now drawn from the quotation of the psalm. Jesus sees the stone as the rejected Messiah, and the language of the stone in this verse likely alludes to several OT passages (Isa 8:14; 28:16; Dan 2:34–35, 44–45). Together these “stone” passages teach of the Messiah and the kingdom he ushers in. In the saying here, the strength and permanency of the stone surpasses all else.

21:45–46 The religious leaders recognize that Jesus has identified them as the tenant farmers and as the builders who rejected the stone in Ps 118. Indication has already been made that the religious leaders want to destroy Jesus (12:14; 16:21; 20:18), but this is the first mention of arrest in the Gospel. They refrain from doing so because they fear the crowds. Just as the crowds have recognized John as a prophet (21:26), so too they regard Jesus as a prophet (21:11).

Mangum, D., ed. (2020). Lexham Context Commentary: New Testament (Mt 21:40–46). Lexham Press.

NICNT Commentary

40–41 The “coming” of the owner needs no allegorical interpretation (e.g. the destruction of Jerusalem); it is simply part of the story. It can hardly refer to Jesus’ own parousia (so Gundry, 428): Jesus is the son, not the owner. As in the previous parable Jesus asks for his hearers’ verdict, and here, as there, there is only one answer that can be given, even though again it will be turned against them. The fate of the tenants is to be not merely eviction but “destruction”, presumably referring to capital punishment for the murder they have committed. Matthew’s vivid double addition of “bad” (“bring to a bad end” is literally “destroy badly”) emphasizes that the punishment fits the crime. The replacement tenants are not at this point identified; all that matters is that they will “return” what is due to the owner.

42 Since the fate of the tenants has been expressed in Matthew’s version not by Jesus himself but in the reply of the chief priests and elders, Jesus’ own comment on it is still awaited. It will come in v. 43, but that logical sequence is interrupted by what at first sight appears to be a change of subject. The quotation of Psalm 118:22–23 is the concluding element of this parable tradition as represented by Mark and Luke,31 but why could Matthew not delay it until after Jesus’ direct comment on the fate of the tenants in v. 43?

This would also have allowed the further stone allusions of v. 44 to follow on directly from the original stone quotation in v. 42.32 Matthew does not generally seem averse to reordering sayings material to give a more coherent sequence of thought, so that the bumpy sequence of vv. 41–44 stands out as untypical. This suggests that Matthew goes straight on to the psalm quotation here not simply mechanically because it follows in the tradition, but because he needs it at this point. See introductory comments above on how the quotation fills out the message of the parable by providing the element of vindication which the story itself lacks. Without that element the readers will find it difficult to understand who the “nation” of v. 43 can be. They are the people of the vindicated and resurrected Son of God who has become the cornerstone.


For “Have you never read?” cf. 12:3, 5; 19:4; 21:16; 22:31, and see on 12:3. In each case the text quoted is well known, but Jesus is using it in a way his hearers would not have thought of. Psalm 118:22–23, here quoted exactly according to the LXX version, is part of the climax to the Hallel psalm which has already featured in Jesus’ royal ride to the city (v. 9, alluding to vv. 25 and 26). The speaker is probably the king, speaking on behalf of the nation, and the vindication of the rejected stone represents Israel’s triumph over the enemies who despised her.

Thus the text does not in itself require a messianic application, but we have seen in 2:15 and 4:1–11 how naturally it comes to Matthew (and presumably to the wider Christian tradition within which this parable was handed on) to present Jesus as the personal embodiment of Israel, the “son of God.” If it was Jesus himself who linked this quotation with his vineyard story, that would go a long way to accounting for the rapid development of such “new Israel” typology among his followers. The link would more naturally have been made by Jesus speaking in Aramaic because of the well-known assonance of “son” and “stone” (see on 3:9); in Greek there is no such echo.


The “head of the corner” is probably to be understood as the highest stone in a corner of the wall, which holds the two sides of the building together. It is thus both conspicuous and structurally indispensable. This imagery lies behind the description of Jesus as the akrogōniaios, “top corner stone,” of God’s building, the church, in Eph 2:20; cf. 1 Peter 2:6 where the same term occurs in the LXX quotation from Isa 28:16, also applied to Jesus.

43 As a result of Matthew’s unexpected structuring of these final verses (see on v. 42), the “therefore” here does double duty. In the first place this verse is the sequel to v. 41, and applies to the chief priests and elders the verdict they have just pronounced on the defaulting tenants: in view of what you have concluded, you yourselves are to be dispossessed. But in the second place the “therefore” also takes up the theme of the psalm quotation: just as the builders rejected the stone only to find that their judgment was overturned and the stone given the place of highest importance, so you will see that the son you have rejected and killed is the one God has chosen to take your place. But instead of a single new tenant, or even a new ruling group to replace the current Jewish leadership, Jesus speaks of a “nation”.

See introductory comments above on how this unexpected substitution may be related to the theme of a new people of God arising out of Jesus’ ministry and characterized by faith in him, such as has been outlined in 8:11–12 and in the rabble of tax-collectors and prostitutes who “go ahead of” the chief priests and elders into the kingdom of God (vv. 31–32). The term ethnos, “nation,” demands some such understanding, and takes us beyond a change of leadership to a reconstitution of the people of God whom the current leaders have represented. But on the other hand the singular ethnos does not carry the specific connotations of its articular plural, ta ethnē, “the Gentiles.”

We may rightly conclude from 8:11–12 that this new “nation” will contain many Gentiles, but we saw also at that point that this is not to the exclusion of Jews as such but only of those whose lack of faith has debarred them from the kingdom of heaven. The vineyard, which is Israel, is not itself destroyed, but rather given a new lease of life, embodied now in a new “nation.” This “nation” is neither Israel nor the Gentiles, but a new entity, drawn from both, which is characterized not by ethnic origin but by faith in Jesus. If there is a deliberate echo of Dan 7:27, “the kingdom … will be given to the people of the saints of the Most High,” there is a poignant force in the transfer of this image to a different “people” which is not now simply Israel as Daniel had known it but which fulfills the role of the vineyard which is Israel.


What is lost by the current leadership and gained by the new “nation” is “the kingdom of God.” Here this more personal phrase, rather than “the kingdom of heaven,” is more easily explained than in v. 31 (see p. 804, n. 16), since this verse is the direct application of a parable in which God’s kingship has been represented by the personal authority of the landowner, and the quotation in v. 42 has spoken directly of what “the Lord” has done in vindicating his Son. Israel, they have assumed, is where God rules, but they have rejected his will and so will find themselves outside his domain, while he will rule over a reconstituted “Israel” which acknowledges his sovereignty.


The old tenants lost their place because they failed to produce the required fruit, and it is the distinguishing mark of the new “nation” that it will produce it. The point is not developed here, but this qualification potentially carries a warning also to the new “nation”. If it in turn fails to produce the fruit, it can not presume on its privileged position. The next parable will contain a sobering final scene to just that effect (22:11–13).

see p. 807, n. 3 for the textual uncertainty of this verse. If, as I think more likely, it is original here (as it certainly is in Luke 20:18) it takes further the OT imagery of a messianic “stone” which has just been discovered in Ps 118:22. The same passage will be taken up again in Acts 4:11, and two passages in the epistles (Rom 9:32–33; 1 Peter 2:4–8) testify to early Christian interest in developing this theme by searching for other references to stones in the OT which could be christologically applied; it is likely that it was Jesus’ use of Ps 118:22 which started the search. This saying contributes two further such allusions, one of which (Isa 8:14) will be used again in combination with Ps 118:22 in 1 Peter 2:8. In the absence of quotation marks it is impossible to be sure whether Matthew intends this verse to be read as the continuation of Jesus’ speech or as his own editorial comment, but in the translation above I have opted for the former both because v. 45 appears to be a comment on a speech just concluded and also because Matthew’s editorial quotations are normally marked by an introductory formula.


The first clause reflects the imagery of Isa 8:14–15 where it is God himself who is described as a rock or stone which both provides sanctuary for those who trust him and forms a stumbling-block for the unfaithful; those who stumble will fall and “be smashed.” This last verb is not the same as LXX Isa 8:15, but vividly conveys the sense of being broken to pieces which is in both Hebrew and LXX. The identification of this stone with that of Ps 118 and therefore with the Messiah rather than with God, is typical of the bold use of OT imagery which we have seen e.g. in 3:3 and 11:10 where the forerunner of God becomes the forerunner of Jesus (cf. the use of Ps 8:2 in 21:16).


The second clause introduces an OT stone which neither Paul nor Peter brought into their collections, but which is of obvious messianic significance. Daniel 2 describes the vision of a statue, representing a succession of pagan empires, smashed by a stone which represents a new kingdom set up by the God of heaven which will replace all previous régimes and will last for ever. When the stone hits the statue it is “broken in pieces and becomes like the chaff of the threshing floor which the wind carries away” (Dan 2:35; cf. vv. 44–45) while the stone itself becomes a mountain and fills the whole earth.


These two stone passages together add a new dimension to Psalm 118:22. The sense of ultimate vindication and triumph is echoed in the Daniel allusion, but this verse adds the destructive effect of the stone on all who do not value it. It thus ends Jesus’ parable and interpretive comments with a severe warning of the consequences of rejecting the stone God has chosen, that is, rejecting and killing the son.

  1. Reactions to Jesus’ Parables (21:45–46) And when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they recognized that he was speaking about them; and they wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowds, since the crowds regarded him as a prophet.

The leaders’ perception of the thrust of Jesus’ parables is hardly surprising in view of the obvious OT-derived symbolism of the vineyard, and their determination to put an end to such seditious teaching is the more understandable if v. 44 with its threat of destruction is also part of his comments. The audience is apparently still the “chief priests and elders of the people” (v. 23); Matthew’s use of “Pharisees” rather than “elders” here brings in the group who will feature prominently in the following controversies (22:15, 34, 41, and throughout ch. 23). Pharisees also formed a substantial element in the Sanhedrin (cf. Acts 23:6–10), though it is likely that they were represented mainly among the scribes (the group whom Matthew has omitted in v. 23, contrast Mark 11:27) rather than among the elders.


It is possible that the “crowds” here should be understood as largely made up of Jesus’ Galilean supporters who had accompanied him into the city (see on vv. 1–11) and who then presented him as their “prophet” (v. 11). But Galileans would be a minority in the Court of the Gentiles, and we should probably think rather of the wider Jerusalem crowd, whose estimate of John as a prophet (v. 26) is now applied also to Jesus. In chs. 21–23 the “crowd” remain in the background as a wider audience for the controversy between Jesus and the leaders, and their attitude appears to be generally receptive to Jesus.

Their “amazement” at Jesus’ teaching (22:33) is probably to be taken in a favorable sense, and in 23:1–12 Jesus is able to appeal to the crowds over the heads of the scribes and Pharisees, and to assume that the crowd will support him rather than them. In 26:3–5 we find the leaders still afraid of a crowd reaction in favor of Jesus. But we shall meet a very different “crowd” in Gethsemane (26:55), and in 27:15–25, and especially on 27:24–25, the attitude of the “crowd” will be one of total rejection. Historically speaking, of course, these various “crowds” would probably have consisted of different people, but Matthew’s repeated use of the term is probably intended to allow us to trace a movement in the response of the people of Jerusalem, from an initial openness and indeed support for Jesus as a prophet to their eventual acceptance of their leaders’ view that he was a false prophet.

France, R. T. (2007). The Gospel of Matthew (pp. 814–819). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co.

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