In recent studies I’ve been drawing from The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Matthew 21:33-46) in an effort to show the nearness of the eschatology of the New Testament. The Old Testament prophets prophesied of the time in which the New Testament disciples lived (1Peter 1:10-12). Moreover, Jesus, himself, drawing on those prophecies, predicted his Second Coming would occur in those days in which his then present audience lived (Matthew 16:27-28). So, when we look at the eschatology of Matthew 21:33-45, Jesus was speaking of those very same Jewish authorities who listened to him and rightly understood that he was speaking of them (Matthew 21:45).
One of the most obvious connections of Jesus’ words with the Jewish authorities occurs in his mention of the rejected stone:
Jesus said unto them, Did you never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. (Matthew 21:42-44)
Jesus was quoting from one well known passage in the Old Testament (Psalm 118:22-23) and alluding to at least one more (Daniel 2:44-45, but also see Isaiah 8:14-15), and he does this in the context of taking away the Kingdom of God from the Jewish authorities at that time and giving the authority over the Kingdom to another nation. (Matthew 21:43). In fact, by asking those same Jewish authorities what they thought the lord of the vineyard would do to the wicked tenants, Jesus caused them to judge their own behavior. Thus, they condemned themselves for how they had conducted their office of leadership (Matthew 21:40-41).
Notice that Jesus’ drawing from Daniel 2:44-45 (cf. Matthew 21:44) puts the fulfillment of the prophecy in the latter days (Daniel 2:28), i.e. the days of the first century AD, when Daniel’s fourth kingdom (Daniel 2:40-44), Rome, would rule over the world. Thus, Daniel’s latter days (Daniel 2:28) are tied to the existence of the Roman Empire. In other words Rome’s presence showed that Jesus’ days were the last days to which Daniel’s prophecy pointed. Moreover, it was in the days of this fourth kingdom, i.e. in the days of the Roman Empire, that the Kingdom of God, which would never be destroyed, would be set up and eventually break all the other kingdoms in pieces (Daniel 2:44-45).
Jesus then applies this Stone, which crushes all other kingdoms, to the Kingdom of God (Matthew 21:42). This Stone, representing the eternal Kingdom in Daniel 2:44-45, is the very Stone that the builders (the Jewish authorities) rejected. This Stone is the chief Cornerstone of the Kingdom of God, and the Jewish authorities, who were supposed to be waiting for the establishment of that Kingdom, rejected him!
Moreover, Peter would later speak of this very thing in Acts 4:10-12 when he and John were brought before the Sanhedrin to give an account for their healing a man in the name of Jesus in Acts 3. Later, Peter would write to believers in five Roman provinces in Asia Minor, and he would place the context of their suffering into the theme of numbering themselves with Jesus, who is that rejected Stone upon whom the then rulers of the kingdom of Israel stumbled (1Peter 2:4-8).
They were the wicked tenants of Jesus’ parable, and they rejected the very Kingdom they hoped would be established in their day, because they simply wouldn’t accept Jesus’ interpretation of that Kingdom. They looked for the establishment of a physical kingdom, ruled by the Messiah, ruling visibly and physically in physical Jerusalem. But, if Jesus, whom they rejected, was the foundation Stone, the chief Cornerstone of that Kingdom, what would such a Kingdom of God look like? How could a physical kingdom have a living cornerstone? Moreover, such is the problem, as well, for today’s futurists who look for a physical Jesus to come out of the sky on a cloud to establish is physical kingdom among men. The idea simply cannot be supported in scripture.