For centuries, God called the citizens of old covenant Israel to stop relying on the gods around them and instead lean on Him, the Rock who is faithful in all His ways and a shelter for those in need (Deut. 32:4; Ps. 71:3). This commandment to shun idolatry in favor of worship of Yahweh, the one true God, was the most basic requirement for the ancient Israelites (Ex. 20:1–3), but the people as a whole failed to keep it. Though the Lord sent prophets again and again to call the people back to covenant fidelity (Isa. 6; Jer. 1; Ezek. 2:1–7), most of them did not abandon their flagrant idolatry. The disobedience got so bad that our Creator was left with no choice but to cast the people into exile if He was to be true to the warnings and stipulations He had given to Israel (Lev. 26; 2 Kings 17:7–23).
Upon the return of the people to the land, there was a new and laudable dedication to obey the Mosaic law in order to prevent an exile from happening again (Neh. 8–10). Regrettably, however, over time the religious leaders began to treat Torah as an end in itself, adding commands and rules that obscured the true intent of that law. When the Rock to whom the law of Moses points finally came, these leaders, by and large, could not receive Him as the One in whom they were to find shelter. This entire story is encapsulated in the parable that Jesus tells in today’s passage, which reveals that He embodies the Rock upon whom His people must stand.
Jesus probably echoes Isaiah 5:1–7 here, a passage in which the prophet compares the faithless citizens of Jerusalem to the Lord’s vineyard. Christ changes this image a bit, portraying the religious leaders as the tenants of the vineyard. These tenants continually reject those who are sent by the owner of the vineyard — God — and kill the owner’s son (Luke 20:9–18). The leaders to whom Jesus is speaking recognize that the parable is about them, but instead of doing the wise thing and receiving the Son, they conspire to kill Him, thereby proving Christ’s words to be true (v. 19).
Our Savior is the Rock, and if we do not stand upon Him as our cornerstone, then we will stumble upon Him and be destroyed like the leaders who opposed Him (vv. 17–18). May we always seek to stand on Him and not the sinking sand of idolatry and works righteousness that is ever before us.