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Matthew 21:33-45 2BC

Matthew 21:33-45
Lesson for April 1-2, 2017
Scott Susong


Baseball season is upon us! At the start of every baseball season, I think of the player/coach, good old Charley Brown, in the Peanuts comic strip. He is standing on the pitcher's mound after yet another loss, and he laments, "How can we continue to lose every game when we are so sincere?" Well, Charley, it might have something to do with the fact that you have lousy players. Sincerity is not the issue.
Perhaps we get a chuckle out of that story, but many people approach religion in the same way. It doesn't matter what you believe - just be sincere. If you are sincere, they say, then God will understand and will accept you into heaven. That approach is a deadly trap that influences too many people. The fact is that it makes all the difference in the world and for eternity what you believe concerning one subject: Jesus Christ. To sincerely believe in something other than Jesus Christ is to reject Him and to reject Him results in dire consequences.
Jesus made this point crystal clear to a group of religious leaders in our passage for today.


It was Wednesday in the last week of Jesus' earthly ministry, during Passover week. Jesus had come into Jerusalem and cleansed the temple. The religious leaders were threatened by Him and challenged His authority in Matthew 21:23. To answer their challenge, He taught three parables. The parable for today's lesson is called The Parable of the Landowner or The Wicked Husbandman and is one of the three parables which Jesus taught in Matthew 21-22. The other two parables in this section of Matthew are The Parable of the Wedding Feast (22:1-14) and The Parable of the Two Sons (21:28-32). All three parables were directed primarily at the religious leaders because of their rejection of Him as Messiah.

A parable is a simple story which illustrates a profound spiritual truth and Jesus was the Master Teacher, which includes His parables. A parable helps the listeners move from the known to the unknown. Jesus would always begin His parables with something common and with which His audience was familiar: seeds, soil, planting, harvesting, families, etc. The parable would then build to one central spiritual point. The parables are captivating, compelling stories in and of themselves even apart from the spiritual truths which they teach.

     I. THE FACTS OF THE PARABLE, verses 33-39

The best way to study a parable is to start with the facts as Jesus presents them and to not run ahead of the facts. The lesson will unfold in due time.

Verse 33 - Jesus describes a landowner or house Lord who went to much care and expense to make a productive vineyard. Vineyards were common in Israel, and Jesus' hearers would have been thoroughly familiar with this process. Some of the wording is from Isaiah 5:1-7. A common figure representing the nation of Israel was a vineyard carefully prepared by God. Another term for vine-growers is tenant farmers. They did not own the vineyard, but they were entrusted with working the vineyard and providing the landowner with a pre-arranged portion of the produce, either cash or crops.

Verses 34-36 - As per the agreement, the owner sent his servants to receive the fruit at harvest time, but the vine-growers did an amazingly evil thing: they beat, stoned and killed the servants. No doubt, Jesus' listeners were drawn in and gripped by this story so far.

Verses 37-39 - The owner then sent his son. Mark 12:6 says, "one son"(KJV). The owner hoped that they would respect him. The vine-growers threw the son out of the vineyard and killed him, thinking that since he was the heir, if they got rid of him then they would inherit the vineyard for themselves. Their wickedness had become even more shocking.

Verses 40-41 - In a typical method of teaching, Jesus, rather than stating the main lesson of the parable, asks the crowd, "what will the owner do to those vine-growers?" The answer is obvious, and the people answered correctly: he would bring "those wretches to a wretched end" and rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who would obey the owner.


Let's identify each element of the parable.

The landowner is God the Father.

As we have already established, the vineyard is Israel. The parable is based on Isaiah 5:1-7.

The wicked vine-growers are the current religious leaders in Israel: chief priests, scribes, Pharisees and those who follow these leaders. God had entrusted the care of His vineyard Israel to the religious leaders.

The servants who the landowner sent to collect the produce are the OT prophets whom God had sent to Israel and who had been treated shamefully by Israel's leaders throughout the history of Israel. In fact, many of those prophets were killed - see Matthew 23:31-35.

The owner's son is Jesus Christ. The son being thrown out of the vineyard represents what the religious leaders would do to Jesus - kill Him outside of Jerusalem. The place of crucifixion in Jesus' day was outside the city walls - Golgotha, Place of a Skull. The Latin term was "Calvarius" or "Calvary."

Jesus' question at the end of the parable was to drive home the point that the religious leaders were His target. In the parable, it appears that from the very beginning the vine-growers never planned to give the landowner his due at all.
William Arnot in his book, Parables of Our Lord, says of the vine-growers, "Obviously, they determined from the first to retain the whole produce of the vineyard for themselves."(page 239) No doubt, the religious leaders were in the audience, and they got the message. In fact, they were part of the listeners who answered Jesus' question as to what would happen to those tenant farmers. Thus, they condemned themselves!

The main lesson of the parable: there are dire consequences for rejecting Jesus Christ. Rejecting Him results in judgment. In this case, the religious leaders were not only judged but replaced.


Jesus now changes figures from a vineyard to a building. Notice, in verse 42, Jesus switches to the second person plural - "you." He is openly and directly addressing the religious leaders when He asks, "Did you never read in the Scriptures..." and then He quoted from Psalm 118:22-23. Whenever Jesus speaks to the religious leaders and asks something like, "Have you never read?" it is a put-down because those leaders prided themselves on knowing the OT Scriptures. Here is the problem Jesus is addressing: they had read the Scriptures, they "knew" the Scriptures, but they had not correctly applied those Scriptures either to themselves or to Jesus in the present situation. So, by Jesus asking them the question He is saying in effect that they had missed the point of those Scriptures especially as they related to Him as Messiah.

Now, what about this passage in Psalm 118? The cornerstone of a building is part of the foundation and is the most important stone in the building. In some ancient buildings, it was a massive stone. It supports the structure, finalizes the shape of the building and determines the lay of the walls and the crosswalls throughout the building. All other stones must be adjusted to the cornerstone, or they will be out of line. [from William Hendricksen's Commentary on Matthew, page 787]

It is evident that the chief cornerstone is Jesus Christ, which is the point Jesus is making here. This concept and passage appear in several other Scriptures:

  • Isaiah 28:16.
  • Acts 4:11 - Peter's sermon.
  • Romans 9:32-33, which refers to the "stone of stumbling and a rock of offense," and whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.
  •  Ephesians 2:20, which speaks of the church, with the foundation of the apostles and prophets "Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone."
  • 1 Peter 2:6-8, which refers to those who disbelieve, being disobedient to the word and "to this doom they were also appointed." In this last verse, Peter mentions the consequence of not believing in Jesus as "doom." Judgment awaits those who reject Jesus Christ!

Dr. Constable states, regarding Matthew 21:42, "Jesus made another strong messianic claim when He applied this passage to Himself."(page 346)

In verses 43-44, Jesus again speaks directly to the religious leaders who had rejected Him. They had refused to produce the fruit God desired - they had stumbled over Jesus, rejecting Him as Messiah. Thus, they lost the privilege of preparing the people for the coming Kingdom. That was given to another group, namely, believers in the church. Jesus' apostles became the core leadership of the church. The judgment of the unbelieving religious leaders is referred to as being crushed (verse 44). It is a deadly serious thing to reject Jesus Christ.

Verses 45-46 - The religious leaders got the message loud and clear! They knew who Jesus was - the Messiah. Did they repent? Did a revival break out among the Pharisees? Not hardly. Their hearts were hardened even more. In fact, they wanted to arrest Jesus but were afraid of the people, who held Jesus to be a prophet. Little did those leaders know that Jesus was not finished with them yet - another parable would follow!



1. The parable presents God as the landowner who was more than patient with the wicked tenant farmers. He not only sent his servants but he sent his only son. However, once the rejection was complete, his patience had run out. It was time for judgment. The window of opportunity does not remain open indefinitely.

2. As has already been stated, it is a serious thing to reject Jesus Christ. There are not "many roads up the mountain" as non-Christian cults would have us believe. Jesus Christ is not one of several equally good options. He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. In our passage for today, He presents Himself as the only way to God. All others will be crushed. There is no place of neutrality. Have you believed in Him as your Lord and Savior?

3. Once we have believed in Him as Lord and Savior, we must apply Principle #2 to others around us - family, neighbors, co-workers, etc. Because it is such a serious thing to reject Christ, we need to look for opportunities to share Christ and explain the gospel.

4. The religious leaders in Jesus' day were not only judged but replaced. They forfeited their opportunity to be used of the Lord to bring people into His Kingdom. The same could happen to us. Jesus said to His disciples (and to us) in John 15:16, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He
may give you."(NASB) Part of the fruit is that others are won to Christ through us. If we are disobedient in sharing the gospel with our generation, the Lord will use someone else. We will miss the blessing.

5. Judgment is coming for everyone. No one is exempt. At the end of the lesson in the Lifeway Leader's Guide, it asks this compelling question: "Should anyone reasonably expect God to overlook rejection of His Son when we stand before His judgment seat? (page 59) The obvious answer is - no. He will not give anyone a free pass for rejecting His Son.