Obedient? Or Legalistic?


The Parable Of The Tenant Farmers

Matthew 21:33-45

“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.

Farm and vineyard“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.

The Parable of the Tenant Farmers (also sometimes called the Parable of the Vineyard) appears in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, with Matthew’s account being the most complete.  Early in the morning, Jesus goes to the temple courts to teach.  While He is teaching, the chief priest and elders confront Him, wanting to know by what authority He is teaching.  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 (which I wrote about last week), and the second is this parable, the Parable of the Tenant Farmers.

The chief priest and elders have claimed to accept the message from God but they have failed to live up to it by being obedient. Outwardly, they are pious and appear to be people of God, but God knows the heart, and there they have failed miserably.

Let Me Unpack The Story

The majority of Jesus’ parables are pretty intuitive if we slowly and thoroughly read and meditate on what Jesus is attempting to convey.  In this parable, however, the characters and the story are much more complicated to understand at face value.


There are six characters in this parable: 1) the landowner—God, 2) the vineyard—Israel, 3) the tenant farmers—the Jewish religious leadership, 4) the landowner’s servants—those who had remained obedient and preached God’s word to the people of Israel, 5) the son—Jesus, and 6) the other tenants—the Gentiles. 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.

Unrepentant Israel

The landowner sent his servants to collect his portion of the harvest and were cruelly rejected by the tenants – beaten, stoned, and even killed. The servants represent the prophets that God had sent to His unrepentant people, Israel, that were rejected and killed by the very people who were claiming to be of God and obedient to Him.

Then the landowner sent his own son, believing that they will surely respect him.  The tenants believe that if they kill the son they will then receive his inheritance. The law at the time provided that if there were no living heirs to inherit property upon the owner’s death, the property would pass to those in possession of it (this is where the adage, “possession is nine tenths of the law” comes from).  In this part of the parable, Jesus is foretelling exactly what they are going to do to Him.


Jesus then asks the religious leaders, what will the owner do to the evil tenants?  This metaphorically presents the question of what Israel’s leaders are going to do with the Messiah, the Son of God, whom He refers to as the “chief cornerstone.”  Cornerstones are used in scripture to symbolize Christ as the foundation of the church, the head of the church, foundational to the church, stands over the church, and is guiding the church to fulfill its divine destiny.  Jesus ultimately tells the leaders that because of their disobedience they will be left out of the kingdom of heaven, both individually and as a people.


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