By: Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: Matthew 21.33-46
Note to the Reader
The reader may be aware that I was involved in an in-depth study and research project during the closing months of 2009. The study was about the influence and use of the Old Testament within the New Testament. Considerable information has been found of which I am reflecting on, meditating about, and asking God for more guidance to understand. The study was highly rewarding, informative, and leavening for the maturation of my spiritual understanding. While I am concluding my study, I encourage the reader to invest additional time reading the Gospel of Matthew in conjunction with this article, and may the reader have a blessed and prosperous New Year.
The Landowner’s Vineyard
As we have seen, parables are a powerful means of communicating abstract truth in a non-abstract manner. This week we are going to look at another parable that Jesus gave. The truth communicated was so profound that some of the audience hearing Jesus wanted to arrest him.1 The only thing that prevented them from arresting Jesus is because the majority of the audience thought Jesus was a prophet.2 While parables are powerful in communicating abstract truth, it also seems that by making powerful abstract truth understandable, the orator runs the risk of landing himself in great trouble.
The parable we are interested in is found in the twenty-first chapter of Matthew. In the parable Jesus is talking about a landowner who planted a vineyard.3 Some readers are already familiar with the parable and know that the tenants of the vineyard beat and killed various servants that the landowner sent.4 Then the tenants plotted against the landowner’s son and killed him.5 These are powerful images of mismanagement. These are powerful images of tenant unrest. These are powerful images of things gone wrong.
After giving the images of betrayal, Jesus asked one important question, “When the vineyard owner arrives, what will he do to those tenants?”6 The answer from the crowd actually comes in two parts. The audience’s first response is that the landowner will give the tenants a horrible miserable end, meaning punishment and death.7 The audience’s second response is that the vineyard will be given to other tenants and they will be partakers of the harvest.8
The Vineyard Tenants
Verse forty-three is the pivotal point for many discussions. Jesus confrontationally claims that the vineyard workers will be replaced. There are many ideas about who the vineyard workers are, but verse forty-five tells us which vineyard tenants are going to be replaced – the chief priests and the Pharisees. There is no mistaking it, the verse reveals that they knew that Jesus was talking about them. From verse forty-three is seems proper to conclude that neither the chief priests nor the Pharisees were bringing forth the fruit that the Landowner expected.
Because some translations use the word “nation” in verse forty-three instead of “people”9 an erroneous conclusion is drawn that the Gentiles represent the “nation.” While this is not completely correct, it is not completely incorrect either. While it is tempting to claim that the Landowner (God) stripped the vineyard from the Jews and gave it to the Gentiles, this conclusion does not comport with the rest of the New Testament.
Keeping the parable in the context of Judea and Jerusalem, and in the historical context that Jesus spoke this parable prior to his death, the chief priests and Pharisees realized and understood that the Vineyard was to be taken from them and given to Jesus’ disciples. The first disciples of Jesus were Jews, only after the vineyard was given to the collective Jews (Acts 1 and 2), did the Landowner (God) hire Gentiles to also work the vineyard (Acts 10). Paul tells us that Jesus tore down the barrier, taking the two and making one10 where there is neither Jew nor Gentile.11 So to claim that the vineyard was given only to the Gentiles actually works against the teachings of Paul and the parables of Jesus (this week’s and last week’s). Whether one is from a Jewish background or a Gentile background, when both of us are followers of Jesus, together, we are the tenants in the Vineyard of the Landowner. While different culturally, we are a people of the same nature because we believe that Jesus is the Son of the Landowner.
Another tremendous lesson to be learned from The Landowner’s Parable is that God can at his discretion give his vineyard to tenants who bring forth fruit; this is the timeless lesson. All disciples come into the New Covenant, but if the disciple does not bring forth fruit, it seems proper to conclude that God will give the vineyard to another disciple who will; this is a difficult truth. We have been given a precious opportunity to be a part of the tenants of the greatest vineyard around. May the LORD bless us as we seek to bring forth fruit and labor in his vineyard.
1. “Arrest Jesus.” Matthew 21.45-46, NASB.
2. “Jesus a prophet.” Matthew 21.46b, NASB.
3. “A Landowner Planted a Vineyard.” Matthew 21.33-46, NASB.
4. “Landowner’s servants beaten or killed.” Matthew 21.35-36, NASB.
5. “Landowner’s son killed.” Matthew 21.37-39, NASB.
6. “One important question.” Matthew 21.40, NASB.
7. “A wretched end.” Matthew 21.41a, NASB.
8. “Vineyard having different tenants.” Matthew 21.41b, NASB.
9. People (NIV, NASB) and Nation (KJV, NKJV, ASV) are both translating the Greek word ethnos (G1484). The Greek word can represent a collection of people like a tribe, or Gentile (Strong’s) but it also means people who have the same nature (Thayer).
10. “Jesus tore down the barrier.” Ephesians 2.11-22, NASB.
11. “Neither Jew nor Greek.” Romans 1.15-17, 2.8-11, 10.11-12; Galatians 3.26-29; Colossians 3.10-11, NASB.