The small, selfish heart sees the gracious carpenter from Nazareth as the ultimate threat.
What did the Pharisees really think of Jesus?
I’ve heard a lot of speculation about it down through the years and I believe it might shed some light on the nature of unbelief in general.
We could easily adopt Paul’s view in 2 Corinthians 4:4 that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers” (that is, due to their previous commitment to unbelief, they have been rendered blind toward any glory in Christ). Paul also wrote in Romans 1:18 that they “suppress the truth” (they know it, but deny it because they don’t want its influence in their lives).
At any rate having been an unbeliever myself, I realize the mechanics of unbelief can become complicated, and perhaps only God is able to sort it all out.
But Luke 20 is one of those places in Scripture that offer a fleeting window into the reasonings of non-faith at the time Jesus walked the earth. This parable of Christ was spoken to an audience of Pharisees, His chief detractors:
Lk. 20:9 And he began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. 10 When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. 13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ 15 And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
They saw the vineyard (Israel), and its fruit (the people established in God’s glory), as their possession. It all belonged to God, and yet they had come to think of it as their turf. When God had sent servants (prophets) to inquire about that fruit, these tenants had been outraged, the typical attitude of the religious elite.
Then Jesus showed up.
In the parable the tenants said, “This is the heir.”
They recognized him.
Now I understand the danger of overworking the details of a parable, and thus missing the whole point of it. But here might be a hint that the vineyard tenants of Israel, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, intuited His straight-line connection to God. They noticed His uttermost fidelity to divine law, not only to the letter of it, but the spirit of it, his incisive judgments, His magnetic grace toward the common man.
If there was an heir of the nation, He was it. Not them.
Hence, their plan: “Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.”
This was camouflaged of course, by many alleged religious concerns, concealed so well within their hearts that they saw their plot as perfectly reasonable. Ironically, what they couldn’t see in themselves, Pontius Pilate saw clearly: “He knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up” (Mt. 27:18).
Never would they have admitted to being threatened by a mere carpenter, and yet jealousy had possessed them to the point of murder.
Jesus had warned them that throwing Him out of the vineyard and killing Him would never work: “I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mt. 26:64)—a wonderful promise with a potentially terrible yield for those who wished never to see Him again.
Strange how unbelief at that time shares a common theme with us now.
“In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Heb. 1:2).
Maybe you’ve detected in Him the tiniest fragment of divine heirship—not only of Israel, but of everything. Faced again with this same Jesus, we intuit the magnetic grace, the limitless commitment to truth, the self-sacrifice of an ugly cross, the judgment that says to your every argument I know better and promises so lofty we hardly understand how far they go, how brilliant, how life-changing.
Yet our first impulse is to grab hold of everything we have. My money. My body. My rights. My future. My truth.
The Heir seems to “threaten” all of it.
The first time I felt this, I scrambled to get rid of Him. I told the gospel preacher who talked to me that I wasn’t ready, and walked away. Simple as pie. There, I told myself. That’s that.
But, thank God, it wasn’t.
Two years later I found myself in a totally different situation, having lost all the things I had been scared of losing to Jesus.
With nothing but crow left to eat, I told the Heir to go ahead and take what I had left, this time sure that even if I had a million dollars left, it wouldn’t be worth guarding.
Not from Him, anyway.