Matthew 21: 33-46, The Parable of the Wicked Tenants
General Idea: This parable is about rejection. The illustration of a landowner who uses his money, time, and resources to build a business of making wine is a parallel on how our Lord was received and treated. This business was necessary and essential in that time. Others sought to take advantage and then tried to take it away. The landowner put forth efforts and sought others to care for his property. When he sent messengers to collect what was his, they rejected the messengers. They not only rejected, they became violent, even resorting to murder to get their way and not seek his. Even though it was his vineyard, they only saw it as opportunity to get something without using their own money, labor, or efforts. They wanted for themselves what they were not wiling to strive for. When the landowner sent his son, he expected better treatment; but their true wickedness showed as they killed him, too.
The tenants represent the people whom God brought out of Egypt and slavery, and gave them a land they did not make. God sent His Law and prophets, and they beat and killed them; when God sent His Son, they were to do the same. A messiah was promised and they killed both the messenger, John the Baptist, and the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ. They sought their gain, but only obtained their own depravity. They did not honor or respect the things and call of God. Jesus quotes one of their favorite Psalms to show them their error in their own words! Furthermore, they did not listen or respect the Son of God.
1. Landowner here represents God. Culturally, most of the western world at this time was controlled by landowners who hired tenants to care for their lands and businesses while they leisured. They hired people to collect their money and goods, and to manage their properties. In the U.S. this was called "sharecropping." In the time and thought of the Middle Ages, this was what "peasants" were. Most such landowners treated their workers as slaves and oppressed them for personal gain.
a. The image of a benevolent landowner would be peculiar, and draw attention to the subject. An actual landowner, in this culture, who would act this way, would be considered naive or foolish. The irony is in context; the landowner is depicted as benevolent and the leaders as wicked, just as the tenants (Matt. 21:23)!
b. Vineyard represents the Kingdom of God (Isa. 5).
c. Tenants are the Jewish leadership who opposed Jesus (Isa. 5).
d. Servants represent the Prophets (Matt. 20:1-2).
e. The Son represents Christ. Killing the son represents the crucifixion to come.
f. Destroy the tenants refers to the Judgment to come (Matt. 25:31-46).
g. Given to a nation represents the grafting in of the Gentiles (Matt. 3:9; 8:11-12; John 10:16).
h. Leaders are custodians to the tending and development of the people in their care; the leaders were the wicked tenants. They were negating their oath and responsibility.
i. The image in the O.T. is the shepherd caring for the sheep, despite the fact that the leaders were negating and harming their sheep (Jer. 23; Ezek. 34). In Isaiah, chapter five, the image is the care of a vineyard as this passage asserts. Here, God is the gracious Landowner who patiently seeks to deal with His sinful people in a kind and loving way.
j. Planted. Jesus' portrayal is exactly how and in what stages a vineyard is built and maintained (Psalm 80: 8-18; Isa. 5:1-4).
k. Watchtower was an elevated platform made of wood or stone, normally 15 feet high and six feet in diameter, and was used for guarding the vineyard and observing the crops.
l. Receive its fruit refers to the payments from the profits of the harvest. (Fruit in Scripture means result, something that happens because, such as, the work of the Spirit within us creates spiritual fruit.) A certain percentage went to the workers and tenants, and the bulk went to the owner, as per agreement.
m. Beat. Normally, the landowner was the one who hired people to inflict punishment and retribution.
2. He sent his son. The landowner had the right to act swiftly and remove the tenants by lethal force, but chose to be slow to vengeance and offer a stronger and more powerful emissary that they would respect. The image is that Christ, even though He is slow to vengeance for our sin, they (we) still sought to kill Him.
a. The tenants had no rights to the land either legally or morally. Only the government or a wealthier landowner could seize land in that time and culture, unless a piece of property went unclaimed; it could then be declared "ownerless," and claimed by the tenants. This created the image that the tenants were dim-witted, so consumed with greed and personal objectives that they lost sight of reality, as they would have to kill off the owner's entire family. The leaders also lost sight of their call and the reality of God! Both were only serving themselves and not God.
b. What will he do? The answer, in that culture, was obvious; kill the tenants and replace them with loyal ones. The real question is, how is this like you? How are you, as a leader, like those wicked tenants? Do you understand how patient God is with you even when you are being foolish and murderous? Jesus was looking to see if they would realize their own sin and so judge themselves (2 Sam. 14:8-17; 1 Kings 20: 27-43). The tenants were acting like an owner in power, exploitation, and in corruption.
c. Other tenants represents the Gentiles (Ac 13:46; 18:6).
d. Over the centuries, the Jewish leaders martyred many of the prophets, acting like the wicked tenants. (It is interesting to note that by the second century, the early church members were nearly all Gentiles!)
e. Jesus said. Jesus followed the standard, Jewish, rabbinic way of asking questions to provoke people to take a careful look at them- selves. David also became the wicked tenant for a time (2 Sam. 12).
3. The stone is from Psalm, 118. The image is the Temple (Psalm 118:18-27).
a. The cornerstone was of the highest quality, and cut in precision to the design. It was either the top cap of an arch or the corner of the foundation, each one critical to design integrity and satiability. If cut or placed incorrectly, the building would not be built accurately and might fall. Their matter of choosing was not in the best interest of the building (Israel), but rather their personal profit and agenda.
b. A nation refers to one that is holy and obedient to God (Ex. 19:5-6). God had made it clear in His covenant with Israel that if they were not obedient, they would lose the land (Ex. 32:10; Num. 14:12).
c. He was speaking at them. I guess they got it! As my students would say, you think! They rejected Truth, and sought lies. Jesus was a threat to the power and personal agendas of the leaders. Corrupt people do not want to be shown truth or be convicted; they will fight with all of their might to destroy whatever they fear will uncover their sin!
d. Jesus' parable represents God's call versus human agenda.
e. Falls on this refers to Isaiah (Isa. 8:13-15; 28:16). Peter and Paul both used this image (Rom. 9:33; 1 Pet. 2:6-8), that those who reject Jesus as the Messiah will be judged. God's Kingdom is portrayed as a rock, and we will be cursed by it if we fight against it (Dan. 2: 34-44).
f. The idea is that Stone represents Christ (Acts 4:11; Rom. 9:33; 1 Pet. 2:6-8).
g. Feared the multitudes. Jesus was still popular, and they did not have the power to directly oppose or punish Him. They were also politicians and sought the favor of the public; so, they deceitfully conspired to do it at night, away from the crowds (Matt. 26:3).
What did the tenants receive for this malevolent attitude? What do we gain by our rejection of the Lord? The answer is, judgment and condemnation! This may not be politically correct, but it is true; we are responsible for our behaviors, actions, and how we will receive and treat our Lord Jesus Christ! We have to see how gracious and loving our Lord is with us, and throughout redemptive history. He acts slowly; we may cry fowl at Him for doing so, but He works slowly for our sake-for love's sake-to judge and to condemn at the last possible moment, giving us every conceivable opportunity to repent and place our faith in Him!
When we reject Him, we are, in fact, rejecting our growth and betterment. We are seeking destruction and not life. We are seeking corruption and not hope or cooperation. When we oppose Jesus, we are just hurting ourselves! We cannot fixate only on our rights to ourselves; life has far more to it than only what we see and perceive. Life is not about "me"; it is not about selfish determination or agendas. It is about God, who loves and cares for us-His tenants-and gives us so much of what we did not build or earn, especially His grace! Jesus wants to remove our oppositions and self realizations and replace them with the Substance that is so much more and so much better-Himself! Because, our joy and purpose in life is Christ, and our relationship in Him! Will you allow yourself to become less, and Him to become more (John 3:30)? If not, what is in the way?
1. If you had property and needed a tenant, what qualities would you look for?
2. If this had been your vineyard, how would you have responded?
3. How is this parable about rejection?
4. How do you respond when people reject you? How does God respond?
5. What would be the motivation for most landowners treating their workers as slaves, and oppressing people for personal gain?
6. Why does Jesus use the image of a good landowner? How is this goodness like God?
7. Do you think that the leaders saw their role as custodians for the care and development of the people? Do you think they saw themselves as the wicked tenants?
8. What would it have taken for the leaders to produce fruit? Why did they choose not to? Why do people today, even Christians, choose not to produce fruit?
9. Why did the landowner choose to be slow to vengeance? Why is this important? How is this like God? Why is it important for God to be slow to deal with us?
10. The real question for the leaders in Jesus time was, how is this you? Let us ask this question to ourselves. What will we find?
11. How are some leaders today like these wicked tenants?
12. Do you understand how patient God is with you, even when you are foolish and reject Him? How have you rejected God in the past? How are you doing so now? How will you do so in the future? What can you do about it?
13. How is Jesus like the stone? Why would a builder reject a perfect stone? Why would the Jewish leaders reject their Messiah?
14. Why was Jesus a threat to the power and personal agendas of the leaders? How does He "threaten" people today?
15. What do you think were the motives of the Jewish leaders to reject Truth and seek lies?
16. Why do corrupt people not want to be shown the truth or be convicted?
17. What did the tenants receive for their malevolent attitude? What do we gain by our rejection of the Lord?
18. How has your church received and treated our Lord Jesus Christ? What can be done to spur them on to think about more than just themselves?
19. What can you do, personally, to remove your oppositions and self- realizations, and replace them with the Substance that is so much more and so much better-Jesus as LORD? What about your church as a whole?
20. Will you allow yourself to become less and Him to become more (John 3:30)? If not, what is in the way?
© 2004, Richard J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership, www.churchleadership.org