The leaders of the Temple had their position by virtue of birth and education. They challenged Jesus’ authority with a question that he initially didn’t answer (Luke 20.1-8).
The parable in Luke 20.9-16 is Jesus’ answer to their question. All of his parables were efforts to prod them in the direction of repentance.
As Jesus began to tell the parable, his listeners would have recognized the similarity between it and Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard (Isaiah 5.1-7).
In Isaiah, the vineyard is the nation. In Jesus’ parable, the “tenants” are the Temple officials.
The Parable of the Wicked Tenants
There are two different audiences who are listening to the parable, the leaders and the people. If the leaders won’t listen to Jesus, there is hope that the people will.
— Luke 20.9-12 – He began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, and leased it to tenants, and went to another country for a long time.
“When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants in order that they might give him his share of the produce of the vineyard; but the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed.
“Next he sent another slave; that one also they beat and insulted and sent away empty-handed.
“And he sent still a third; this one also they wounded and threw out.”
The parable is consistent with tenant farming. The slaves worked as agents for the owner and were able to share in the prosperity of their masters.
On another occasion, Jesus confronted religious leaders with their treatment of the Old Testament prophets.
— Luke 11.47-48 – “Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed.
“So you are witnesses and approve of the deeds of your ancestors; for they killed them, and you build their tombs.”
The treatment of the slaves in the parable is a clear reference to prophets like Jeremiah, who were treated harshly by the power structures of their day.
Just as in the day of Isaiah, Jesus knew the behavior of the power brokers in his era.
He [God] expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;
but heard a cry! (Isaiah 5.7)
A Clear Reference to Jesus
Jesus didn’t stop with the ill-treatment of the prophets. The next words of his parable referred to himself and the reaction of the religious officials to him.
–– Luke 20.13-16a – “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’
“But when the tenants saw him, they discussed it among themselves and said, ‘This is the heir; let us kill him so that the inheritance may be ours.’
“So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.”
The religious authorities knew the text of Psalm 2. They also should have known that their behavior resembled what was written there.
Why do the nations conspire,
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and his anointed [Messiah], saying,
“Let us burst their bonds asunder,
and cast their cords from us.” (Psalm 2.1-3)
Not only did the Temple officials resist the Lordship of Jesus, we also can be guilty of similar behavior.
Whenever we enthrone ourselves in our hearts and refuse Jesus’ guidance, we just like them.
Let’s not forget, Jesus’ parables are designed to bring about change. Let’s ask Jesus to reveal our spiritual state, as we study this parable.
The Temple authorities understood the parable and that they were implicated by it.
— Luke 20.16b-19 – “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?
“He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”
When they heard this, they said, “Heaven forbid!”
“But he looked at them and said, “What then does this text mean:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone’?
“Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”
When the scribes and chief priests realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people.
Contrary to the Song of the Vineyard in Isaiah 5, this parable was not about the destruction of Israel. It was about the removal of oppressive leaders and their replacement with people loyal to God’s agenda.
This is a message for all times. When leaders abuse and manipulate those under their care for personal reasons, they run contrary to God’s consistent message in the Bible.
Rudy Ross brings a Jewish perspective to this parable. Rudy is a Jewish follower of Jesus, a serious Bible student, and a lover of God. The YouTube video on the Bob Spradling features insights by Rudy.
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