New Testament Study:

Matthew 21:33-46

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Parable of the Evil Tenants

 

33 “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 went away on a journey. 34When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

35“The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

38“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.’ 39So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

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

41“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.”

42Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43“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. 44He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.”

45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. 46They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.

    

In the previous section, Jesus told the first of a series of parables aimed specifically at the hypocritical religious leaders of the day.  Here, He begins another parable, telling the religious leaders to pay special attention: “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 went away on a journey” (vs. 33).  Immediately, we see here a similarity (certainly purposeful) between this parable of Jesus’ and the parable of the vineyard in the book of Isaiah:  “I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard.  My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside.  He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines.  He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well.  Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit” (Isa. 5:1–2).  Later, we learn:  “The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of His delight.  And He looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress” (Isa. 5:7).  Here in Matthew also, the vineyard is “the house of Israel”.  So then, the “tenants” in Jesus’ parable are the religious leaders over Israel.  As we will see, in Jesus’ parable also, there is no “justice” or “righteousness”, just “bloodshed” and “cries of distress”

Note also, in both parables, the landowner made all the necessary preparations so that the vineyard would be successful.  He “put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower” (vs. 33).  Thus, the renters could not excuse their poor behavior by saying that it was they who did all the work to make the vineyard successful.  No, it was the Lord, the landowner in the parable, who did the work that would guarantee prosperity for the vineyard.

Jesus continues:  “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” (vss. 35–36).  Reflected here in the parable is the mistreatment of God’s prophets by the leaders of God’s people.  This is spoken of directly in Hebrews:  “They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword.  They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them” (Heb. 11:36–38).  It is a demonstration of God’s love that he sends prophets who speak for Him to us, when we need to hear them.  Obviously, it is a great affront to God for us to ignore those prophets, and worse still, of course, to persecute them.  In the parable, it is the “tenants” (who represent the religious leaders of the people) who mistreat God’s servants.  Certainly, religious leaders should be in tune with what God is trying to say.  Their role should always be one of support for those who are speaking God’s word.  In this, the “tenants” gravely failed.

It was time for the landowner to take even more drastic action:  “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” (vss. 37–39).  It was an act of great patience and grace for the landowner to send his son.  Certainly, he could have had the tenants punished severely by the law for beating, killing and stoning his servants.  In fact, the patience of the landowner is quite absurd.  And indeed, the patience of God is (to put it coarsely) quite absurd, in that He gives us opportunity to repent far beyond what we deserve.  His absurd patience is due to His great love for us, and His desire that none of us perish.

The actions of the tenants are also quite absurd.  Don’t they consider the consequences of their actions?  Don’t they see that great judgment will come on them for mistreating the son of the landowner?  Any listener to the parable would recognize that they are evil and foolish, even those who are represented in the parable.  Jesus asks them directly:  “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”  The religious leaders, about whom the parable is speaking, condemn themselves:  “‘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’” (vs. 41). 

Lest his listeners misinterpret the parable, Jesus applies the parable directly to them:  “Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the Scriptures:  “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; 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.  He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed’” (vss. 42–44).  The religious leaders thought, by virtue of their genealogy and their status as religious leaders, that the kingdom of God was theirs.  We must be careful not to fall into the same trap.  We think we have a right to God’s blessing because we live in a Christian land, or we live among Christians, or we go to church, or our parents are Christians, etc.  We feel we have appropriated the blessings of God because those around us have.  However, though we worship as a congregation, God looks at the heart of each person.  Each person individually must heed God’s Word, call on the name of the Lord Jesus, and accept Him as his or her Lord.