A cornerstone, also called a foundation stone, is important because it is the very first stone laid in a building. Structurally it is the stone on which the rest of the building is constructed. Jesus is described as the Chief Cornerstone of the church (Eph. 2:20).
The tenants in Jesus’ parable had stewardship of the landowner’s land. Instead of sharing the fruit of the land with the owner, however, they rejected his authority by disrespecting and then killing each messenger he sent to collect rent. Scripture said the landowner sent “many” messengers, “some of them they beat, others they killed” (v. 5). Finally, the landowner sent his son, “whom he loved” (v. 6). Instead of paying what was due, the tenants first acknowledged that this was indeed the son, and then, decided to kill him. These farmers had a relationship with the landowner. He was allowing them to work his land.
He reached out to them repeatedly, patiently. Finally, he even sent his own son, and the workers not only rejected his efforts, they killed his son. Ultimately the farmers received just punishment for their actions (v. 9).
While some of Jesus’ parables were difficult to understand, this one was not. Verse 12 says the meaning of the parable was understood by the religious leaders. They knew Jesus was speaking to them directly. The religious teachers had continued to question Jesus’ source of authority. In chapter 11, verses 27–33, they had directly confronted Jesus about His teaching and actions. “Who gave you authority?” they asked (11:28). This occurs four times in just these few verses (vv. 28, 29, 32).
It’s potentially possible to run a church without the authority of Christ and His Word. It’s possible for a church to turn away from the gospel. We should take seriously the warning in this parable.
The picture of the landowner killing the tenants is gruesome and sobering. The Lord will hold accountable those who reject His authority through His Son, as well as those who do not follow God’s Word—those who reject the authority of the Son of God. Encourage your church to respect and follow the Word of the Lord.