The parable of the tenants is loaded with the history of Israel, the message of the prophets, and a future prediction. It can also be called the parable of the vineyard. This parable is one of the most important parables for understanding what Jesus was doing at the time and what is happening in the story so far. Let’s dig into this amazing parable.
This parable takes place in all three of the synoptic gospels. It is recorded in Matthew 21:33-45, Mark 12:1-12, and Luke 20:9-19. We are going to look at this parable from the perspective of Matthew’s account.
“”Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
“‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
“Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.””
So there is the parable in its entirety. However, there is a major backstory that provides context for this parable. Much like the last parable we looked at with the two sons, Jesus has just entered Jerusalem at the beginning of this chapter. He rides in on a donkey and everyone is praising him as they would a king. Jesus then enters the temple and starts flipping over the money changers tables and tells them what a wicked place they have made the temple from their greed and jealousy. Then Jesus leaves and he curses a fig tree, which is a sign that Jerusalem will fall, and then gives these two parables. With all of this mind, we can go into this parable with an idea of what has just happened.
Here’s a brief breakdown. The landowner is God and the vineyard is Jerusalem. The wicked tenants or farmers, are the leaders of Israel at this time, the chief priests and Pharisees. The servants who go to collect the fruit are the prophets and servants of God. The son is Jesus which he calls the “cornerstone” which that little poem is from Psalm 118. So what does all of this have to do with us now?
Well, what Jesus says in the last part of his teaching here is important. He tells them, speaking to the chief priests and Pharisees, that the kingdom of God will be taken away from them and it will be given to people who can produce the fruit it was meant to. In other words, the way the leaders of Israel are acting, they are not producing good fruit, only bad fruit. This parable can be connected to the song in Isaiah 5 which tells us that the vineyard yielded only bad fruit. So who are the people that the kingdom of God will be given to? That answer is us. The Gentiles. Since most of the Jews rejected Jesus and the gospel, Acts 13:46, a new covenant was made that brought Gentiles salvation and brought them into the kingdom through the blood of Jesus. This is a huge deal. We have been given the kingdom of God, and it is up to us to produce the fruit the kingdom was meant to produce. Jesus said in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me.” We cannot produce good fruit unless we are a part of Jesus and have accepted him. We cannot produce fruit if we have rejected him like the leaders did. We have now been given the Holy Spirit, through belief in Christ, and now we can produce the fruit of the kingdom.
This parable also exposes the plan they were making to kill Jesus, the beloved Son. When Jesus asked them what should be done to these tenants for acting so wickedly, little did they know they were answering on their behalf. They were answering to their own demise. Jesus was telling them that they were the wicked tenants, and they will be stripped of the kingdom, because they rejected Jesus.
With this parable, there is a lot to take in. We must be sure we are not making the same mistake the leaders of Israel did in rejecting Christ. We must also realize the responsibility we have in producing fruit for the kingdom. We have been blessed with salvation and because of that, we should produce the fruit of the kingdom of God.