The Parable of the Vineyard
appears in three of the gospels
(Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19),
with Matthew’s account being the most complete. However, there are additions in the others; hence, it is wise to study all three accounts so as to achieve the greatest understanding. To get the context of what is happening, we need to look at Matthew 21:18. Early in the morning, Jesus goes to the temple courts to teach (21:23). While He is teaching, the chief priest and elders confront Him, wanting to know by what authority He is teaching.
NOT ALLOWING THEM TO
Jesus answers the question by first asking a question (21:24-26). They do not like His question nor His response to their answer; essentially, He has told them that they can’t save face from their obvious attempt to cajole Him and, therefore, He is not obligated to answer their question (21:27). What Jesus told them is that John the Baptist and He received their authority from the same source. This exchange causes the leaders to become angry and puts them in opposition to Jesus. Jesus then further frustrates the priests by telling two parables: the first one is the Parable of the Two Sons, and the second is the Parable of the Vineyard, sometimes called the Parable of the Wicked Tenants.
The first parable Jesus teaches tells the priests that they have
claimed to accept
the message from God but they have
failed to live up to it by being obedient.
they are pious and appear to be people of God,
and there they have
The next parable (the Parable of the Vineyard) is like pouring salt on a wound. Just in case they didn’t fully understand (which they did), Jesus gives a much clearer picture of what He means. Obviously, this further infuriates the priests, but it also gives the others who were present an opportunity to hear Jesus fully explain the implications of the disobedience of the Jewish people throughout the ages.
Background: There are 6 main characters in this parable: 1) the landowner—God, 2) the vineyard—Israel, 3) the tenants/farmers—the Jewish religious leadership, 4) the landowner’s servants—the prophets who remained obedient and preached God’s word to the people of Israel, 5) the son—Jesus, and 6) the other tenants—the Gentiles. The imagery used is similar to Isaiah’s parable of the vineyard (it would be prudent to study this also) found in Isaiah chapter 5. The watchtower and the wall mentioned in verse 33 are means of protecting the vineyard and the ripened grapes. The winepress is obviously for stamping out the juice of the grapes to make the wine. The farmer was apparently away at the time of harvest and had rented the vineyard to the tenants. This was customary of the times, and he could expect as much as half of the grapes as payment by the tenants for use of his land.
Explanation: Verses 34-36
the landowner sent his servants
to collect his portion
of the harvest and how they
rejected by the tenants;
beaten, stoned, and even
Then he sent even more the second time and they received the same treatment. The servants sent represent the prophets that God had sent to His people/Israel and then were rejected and killed by the very people who were
to be of God and obedient to Him.
Jeremiah was beaten (Jeremiah 26:7-11; 38:1-28), John the Baptist was killed (Matthew 14:1-12), and others were stoned (2 Chronicles 24:21). In this parable Jesus is not only reminding the religious establishment what they were like, but He was putting in their minds a question: how could they claim obedience as God’s people and still reject His messengers? We don’t know how many servants the owner sent, but that is not what is important; the theme is God’s repeated appeal through His prophets to an unrepentant people. In the next verses (37-39), the situation becomes even more critical. The landowner sends his own son, believing that they will surely respect him. But the tenants see an opportunity here;
BELIEVE that if they
THE SON THEY
The law at the time provided that if there were no heirs then the property would pass to those in possession (possession is nine tenths of the law).
This amounts to conspiracy
to commit murder by the Jewish
and it is prophetic in the sense that Jesus is now telling them what they are going to do to Him (see Psalm 118:22; Isaiah 28:16). After Jesus’ death, Peter would make the same charges against the religious establishment (Acts 4:8-12). The tenants probably thought that the fight for the property was over, but it wasn’t; the owner would now appear on the scene.
Jesus now (vs.40-41)
asks the question, what will the owner
do to the evil tenants?
What He is doing is forcing the religious
leaders/priests to declare their own
condemnation for their
This is similar to the question that Nathan put to David (2 Samuel 12:1-7). Up to this point, Jesus has been dealing with the immediate situation of Israel and its past disobedience; now Jesus leaves open the question of what Israel’s leadership is going to do with the Messiah, the Son of God, whom He refers to as the “chief cornerstone” (vs 42). Cornerstones and capstones are used symbolically in Scripture and picture Christ as the main piece of the foundation of the church and the head of the church, respectively. Jesus is the beginning of and is foundational to the church, and He now stands over the church in His rightful position of honor, guiding the church to fulfill its divine destiny. This verse makes clear prophetically how Jesus will be rejected by the religious establishment and ultimately be crucified (see Psalm 118:22-23).
The key to understanding this parable and what it says about the religious leaders is found in verse 43, where Jesus makes their lack of obedience personal. Jesus tells the leaders that because of their disobedience they will be left out of the kingdom of heaven (individually and as a people); that they have let their opportunity for the time being slip away to be given to the Gentiles (see verse 41, “other tenants”). This will be more than they can tolerate, as we will see in verses 45 and 46. He is saying that there will be a new people of God made up of all peoples who will temporarily replace the Jews so that Jesus can establish His church. This will change the way God deals with man, from the old dispensation of the law to a new dispensation of God’s grace. It will usher in a period of time where man will no longer understand forgiveness of sins as man’s work through what he does or doesn’t do or by the sacrifices of animals on the altar, but by the work of Christ on the cross. It will be a time where each individual can have a personal and saving relationship with the One and only God of the universe. The exciting part of the verse is the phrase “who will produce fruit”; this gives authority to the church to share the gospel of Christ to the lost of the world. Up to this time, the Jews
felt that they had
automatic membership in God’s kingdom
because of their relationship to Abraham; this is why they put so much emphasis on genealogies.
But the new people of God would truly have what
God wanted for Israel all along: a personal and holy relationship
that would be honored through the spreading of God’s word to all peoples
(see Exodus 19:5-6).
Jesus continues the stone metaphor
in verse 44 to show
how a stone can be used to
build something beautiful,
such as His church,
be used to
CRUSH and DESTROY,
on the SITUATION.
This could be likened to God’s word:
to some it is salvation, peace and comfort.
To others it is foolish and disconcerting because
of its ability to convict man of his sins
(2 Timothy 3:16).
Verses 45 and 46 give us three insights into the psyche of the
chief priest of the religious establishment.
1) They are jealous and envious of Jesus’ popularity
with the common people.
This encroaches on their
authority and power
2) They have come to the realization that Jesus is talking about them.
This hurts their pride
and embarrasses them
in front of the people.
3) They understood the analogy of the son and that
Jesus was referring to Himself.
This would be blasphemous to them, and they would
now seek to kill Jesus.
From here the leaders
would meet in secrecy
how they would
get rid of Jesus
Why all the secrecy?
The people thought of Jesus as a
prophet from God;
arresting Him could
cause an uprising
An uprising would jeopardize
the leaders’ relationship
something that the
Jews did not want at
Application: We apply this parable to our lives by asking two questions;
first, have you come to know Christ as your Lord and Savior, or
have you rejected Him
like the Jewish leadership
The process is simple, as long as you are sincere in seeking a relationship with Christ. You need to recognize your sins, and then accept Christ as
the only One who can save you from
the penalty of your sins.
Second, if you are a believer, what have you done with Jesus? Are you like the bad tenants, rejecting His Word and living a life of disobedience? If you are, you need to study God’s Word and pray for guidance, seeking His will for your life and living out that will as best as you can, moment by moment, day by day.