The Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers (Tenants)

“Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country.34 Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. 35 And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them.37 Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.

40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?”

41 They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

‘The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the LORD’s doing,
And it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. 44 And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”

45 Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. 46 But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet. – Matthew 21:33-46.

This parable is based on Isaiah 5:1, 2: “Now let me sing to my Well-beloved A song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard: My Well-beloved has a vineyard On a very fruitful hill. He dug it up and cleared out its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine. He built a tower in its midst, and also made a winepress in it; So He expected it to bring forth good grapes, But it brought forth wild grapes.” The meaning is clear: the landowner is God, the vineyard is the kingdom of God (v. 43), the servants are the prophets, the son is Jesus, the tenants are the Jews who oppose Jesus, the killing of the son is the Crucifixion, and the removal of the tenants is the transferral of the kingdom to a new people of God that includes Gentiles. Those wicked men will be punished for their wrongdoing. The strong implication, that the religious Jews have rejected the prophets and now reject God’s Son, is clear to see.

In response to the challenge to His authority (v. 23), Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22, 23: “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes,” as evidence that His authority is given by God rather than derived from men.

This saying (v. 44) combines two prophecies. Isaiah 8:14: “He will be as a sanctuary, But a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense To both the houses of Israel, As a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem,” and Daniel 2:34, 44: “You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces…And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.” Jesus claims to be the destroyer of earthly kingdoms, the founder of God’s kingdom on earth, and at the same time points out that the Jewish leaders are, as prophesied, opposed to this kingdom. Jesus’ quotation of Psalm 118 and the allusion to Isaiah 8:14 and Daniel 2 provide the ground for the “stone” as a reference to Christ that appears frequently in the New Testament (Acts 4:11; Romans 9:33; 1 Peter 2:6–8).

Pre-eminent (vv. 42-44) — The Lord will take the rejected stone and make it into the chief cornerstone. That stone will break those who do not bring forth the fruits of repentance and faith. This is clearly a reference to the pre-eminence of the Lord Jesus Christ, His rejection, death, resurrection and ascension, as well as a reminder to His religious hearers of their desperate position before Him.

Perception (vv. 45-46) — The chief priests and Pharisees perceive that the parables are about them. They are the sinful rebels who need to repent and turn to Christ. Though inwardly seething, they dare not lay hands on Jesus because the crowds revere Him as a prophet.

The landowner entrusted the welfare of His vineyard completely to the care of His people. His people were made fully responsible for it. The landowner trusted the tenants. He left them to care for his vineyard as they wished. They were given the privilege of being free to use their own ingenuity and ideas, and not have someone looking over their shoulders and forcing them to work in a particular way. This shows how God trusted His people. Unfortunately they abused that trust. The religious leaders led the whole nation to reject God’s sovereignty.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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