Reading Time: 7 Minutes
The parable of the Wicked Tenants was directed at the religious leaders who controlled the Temple in Jerusalem. For a full understanding of the events surrounding the parable, it will be helpful to read the entire chapter of Matthew 21.
The message of this parable is full of important warnings and challenges, especially for leaders. As a religious leader for the majority of my life, I have to ask myself how I may resemble the “bad guys” in this parable.
Leaders of all kinds, should take notice of Jesus words. If you are a teacher, a parent, an AA sponsor, run a recovery program, a small group leader, a pastor or other kind of leader, this parable is for you.
The Parable and an Interpretation
The setting for the parable of the Wicked Tenants surrounds the opposition that Jesus faced from the religious authorities of the Temple. Jesus told three parables to challenge their thinking about God’s kingdom and his role in it. This is the second parable.
Jesus said, “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country” (Matthew 21.33).
The Temple authorities would have immediately recognized the beginning of the parable as coming from Isaiah’s parable of the vineyard (Isaiah 5.1-7). The verses that followed the parable in Isaiah 5 categorize the sins of Israel’s leaders and their followers.
— Verses 8-10 – The people were greedy for larger houses and lands.
As was in Isaiah’s day, the leaders of Jesus’ day were guilty too. Archaeological exploration has discovered that the largest houses in Jerusalem were those surrounding the Temple. It is believed that the Temple priests lived in those houses.
— Verses 11-16 – The nobility knew how to eat, drink and party. They failed to guide and care for the people under their leadership.
— Verse 20 – They called evil good and good evil, and put darkness for light and light for darkness.
— Verse 21 – They were wise in their own eyes, and shrews in their own sight.
Their behavior demonstrated that they did not personally know God or his purposes for humans.
— Verse 23 – They took bribes and handed out pardons instead of delivering justice.
Jesus adapted the parable in Isaiah 5 to his setting and said, “When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.
“Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way.
“Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’
But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him” (Matthew 21.34-39).
The religious leaders would have understood the intent of Jesus’ parable. They would have seen the “servants” as the prophets and the “son” as referring to Jesus.
Prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos and Hosea were not well liked. They spoke for God and confronted attitudes and actions that were contrary to God’s will. They suffered and at times had their lives threatened.
Jesus certainly knew that the leaders wanted to kill him. The parable revealed to the authorities his knowledge of their hearts.
Like many of his parables, Jesus asked his listeners to be the judge of the parable’s events.
He said, “Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”
“They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time'” (Matthew 21.40-41).
Jesus used the parable to cause the religious leaders to look in the mirror at their own behavior. That is the same thing that he wants to occur in our lives.
At this point in the lesson, we need to pause and ask ourselves if any of Isaiah’s criticism of the behavior of the people applies to us. Are we aligned with God’s purposes, or do we resist his will?
Jesus Applied the Parable
Jesus applied the parable by using another Old Testament reference.
He said, “Have you never read in the scriptures:
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?” (Matthew 21.42, see Psalm 118.22-23)
If there was any question about what Jesus meant by the parable, the quote from Psalm 118 made his intent very clear.
Jesus told the religious leaders that they had rejected God’s Son, but their rejection will be reversed by God and the leaders will lose their role in God’s purposes.
Application of the Parable
Jesus often told parables to help people do their own personal spiritual inventory. Leaders especially need to ask themselves in what way they resemble the “bad guys” in this parable.
The issue of leadership is crucial. As one man said, “If no one is following you, you are not a leader. You are just taking a walk.”
Without a doubt, leaders do have followers. Can you imagine how different things would have been if the Temple leaders would have welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem, listened to his message and followed his teaching?
It is crucial for leaders to examine themselves, to correct their attitudes and actions, so that they are aligned with Jesus. We definitely need to fill our minds, hearts, and behavior with the knowledge of how Jesus lived and taught.
Leaders need to live a Jesus-kind-of-life, because they have followers who will be influenced by what they say and do.
As the great revivalist of another generation, Billy Sunday, used to say, “Don’t pop up your spiritual umbrella and let my words run off on somebody else.” Take this parable of Jesus to heart.
If leaders refuse Jesus’ direction, they will be judged and removed from leadership. Then, they will be replaced by someone who is aligned with God’s plans and purposes.
This is a very serious parable for leaders. If you are a leader, please take some time to reflect on Jesus’ parable and Isaiah’s message in chapter 7.
About This Blog
Klyne Snodgrass has devoted 12 years of study to produce the book, Stories With Intent. His book is recognized as the best book on the parables in print. I am indebted to Dr. Snodrass’ work that helps shape my articles.
If you have a prayer request, please email me at email@example.com or private message me on Facebook. I will pray for you and so will the prayer team at Maywood Baptist Church.