We learn in the New Testament that Jesus used stories on a regular basis to teach eternal lessons.
These stories are called parables, and one such parable is found in Matthew 21:33-46. This story
is known as The Parable of the Tenants (see also Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-18; Isaiah 5:1-7). In
Matthew 21:23, we read that the chief priests and elders questioned Jesus’ authority. They said,
“By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” The Parable of
the Tenants is part of Jesus’ response to their challenge.
This story was very familiar to the listeners because an owner (“master”) leasing his vineyard to
tenants was a common practice in that day. When the time was right, both the owner and the
tenants would benefit from the produce. It is clear in verse 33 that the owner created the perfect
environment for his vineyard to flourish and produce. Afterwards, we read that he went away
“into another country.” We’re not told how long the owner was away, but it’s possible it could
have been several years. Needless to say, enough time had passed that the tenants felt as if they
deserved to keep all of the harvest for themselves.
When the time was right, however, the owner sent his servants to the tenants to collect what was
rightfully his; however, the tenants had other plans (vv. 34-36). The tenants were so determined
to keep all the profit that they became extremely violent. We learn in verse 35 that they beat,
stoned, and killed the owner’s servants. Eventually, the owner sent his son to collect what was
his. He figured that the tenants would respect his son. Verse 38 says otherwise: “But when the
tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his
Jesus then asked the chief priests and elders what they thought should happen to the tenants
when the owner finally returned. Not surprisingly, they answered correctly. “They said to him,
‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who
will give him the fruits in their season’” (v. 41). You see, they understood that the owner had
every right to demand the tenants pay up. If not, they would be kicked off of the land, and
someone else would be allowed to lease the land. As was said earlier, this was a common
What the chief priests and elders did not expect came in verses 42-46 when Jesus made the
application of the parable. Jesus told them that they were the violent tenants in the story, and that
the “stone” they had rejected had now “become the cornerstone.” Here is how we should
understand the parable: the master/owner = God; the vineyard = the house of Israel; the tenants =
spiritual leaders of Israel; the servants = Old Testament fathers and prophets; the son = Jesus
Jesus wanted them to understand that God had given them everything they needed to lead Israel
in faith and obedience, but they wanted all the credit and recognition. The spiritual leaders of
Israel would not allow the glory to go to God alone. God even sent the prophets to the house of
Israel to turn them back, but they brutally tortured and killed them (see 1 Kings 18:4; Jeremiah
38:4-6; Matthew 23:37; Luke 11:48; Hebrews 11:36-38). At the right time, God sent His only
Son to the house of Israel; nevertheless, they wanted nothing to do with the Son. Because of their
willful disobedience, Jesus told them that “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and
given to a people producing its fruits” (v. 43).
- God has provided everything we need to live in faith and obedience. He alone deserves the
glory and credit.
- God is long-suffering and merciful. He gives plenty of time and opportunity for repentance
(2 Peter 3:9).
- Jesus is God’s Son; therefore, He has been given all authority (Matthew 28:18).
- It is better to fall on the Rock (Jesus) and be broken, than for the Rock to fall on you and