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Matthew Lesson 5 - 21:33-45

SSL 5 - Matthew 21:33-45

Prayers & Announcements

LAST WEEK (Mt. 21:1-11):  We covered Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem during the last week of His earthly ministry.  ASK:  When he entered the city on the colt of a donkey, what did it signify?  ANSWER:  Two things:  (1) It fulfilled the prophecy of Zech. 9:9 regarding the colt of the donkey and (2) that He was coming-as the Messiah-in humility as the "Prince of Peace."  When He entered, the huge crowd in Jerusalem for the Passover Feast hailed Him as the "Son of David, the foretold Messiah."  However, He was not the type of Messiah they were expecting; no, they were expecting the warrior on a white stallion, a mighty political and military figure who would free them from the bondage of the Roman Empire and reestablish Israel's past glories.  This misunderstanding relates back to the question Jesus asked His disciples in Mt. 16:13:  "Who do they say I am?"  Thus, except for His disciples and His committed followers, the great mass of people who saw Him enter Jerusalem that day didn't understand who He was or why He came.

THIS WEEK:  This lesson begins on Wednesday in the last week of Jesus' earthly ministry during the Passover celebration.  As the chapter starts, after Jesus came into Jerusalem from Bethany, he cleansed the Temple by throwing out the money changers and the Pigeon-sellers (21:12-17).  The religious leaders of Jerusalem, angered by His act, challenged His authority (as Messiah) in vv. 23-27.  To answer their challenge, Jesus taught three well-know parable in Chaps. 21 and 22.  All three were directed primarily at the religious leadership for their rejection of Him as the prophesied Messiah of OT Scripture.  The Parable of the Two Sons in vv. 28-32, which the lesson skips, demonstrated the religious leaders' failure to recognize John the Baptist's prophetic ministry (recall that, after the Transfiguration, Jesus explained that John the Baptist he came in the spirit of Elijah in fulfillment of Mal. 4:6.  Mt. 17:10-13). Today we will focus on the Parable of the Wicked Tenants and next week, we will cover the Parable of the Wedding Feast (Mt. 22:1-13).

COMMENT ON PARABLES:  A parable is a simple story which is used to illustrate a profound spiritual truth, which helps the listeners move from the known to the unknown (i.e., a "mystery").  The parable always begins with something common and known to the audience, e.g., seeds, soil, plants, families, etc., and then would built into one central spiritual point.

Read Mt. 21:33-37 - SON SENT

Introduction:  The "parable" (v. 33) was about a landowner who leased his vineyard to tenant farmers for a share of the harvest (i.e., "share-cropping").  However, at harvest time, the tenant farmers refused to pay their share.  When the owner of the vineyard sent his servant to collect the share, the tenant farmers beat them up and killed one of them.  Then, as a last resort, the owner of the vineyard sent his son, thinking the tenant farmers would have some respect for him.

v. 33:  "Hear  another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country."

  • "master of a house" - Large farming estates owned by foreigners or affluent Jews were common at that time, and the owners routinely leased the vineyards to tenants so they could attend to their business interests elsewhere.  People listening to Jesus tell the story would have been very familiar with this type of arrangement.  The language used by Jesus parallels Isa. 5:1-7, where the nation of Israel is pictured as a vineyard owned by God.  In those verses, the vine-growers don't own the vineyard but are tenant farmers who are entrusted with working the vineyard and providing the owner with a pre-arranged share of the crop. 

v. 34-35:  34 When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants[a] to the tenants to get his fruit. 35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 

  • "servants" - Per his agreement with the tenants, the vineyard owner sent his servants to collect his share of the produce, but instead of paying them, the tenants beat one of the, killed one,  and stoned another.  By this time, Jesus' listeners would have been very drawn-in to the story and interested in what would happen next.

v. 36:  36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them.

  • "other servants...did the same" - Jesus audience was probably surprised to hear this:  they would have thought by this time, the vineyard owner would have sent in armed troops to utterly crush and annihilate the wicked tenants.

v. 37:  Finally he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' 

  • "respect my son" - The key word used here is "respect."  In the parallel account of Mk. 12:6, the term 'beloved son" implied that the vineyard owner had this one and only son to send.  Surely,  listeners would think the tenants would receive and respect his son as the authorized agent of the owner.  How could they not? 

Read Mt. 21-38-39 - SON REJECTED  

v. 38:  But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, 'This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.' 

  • "this is the heir" - This statement makes it obvious that the tenants recognized him as the vineyard owner's son. 
  • "have his inheritance" - But even worse than their previous crimes against the owner's servants, the tenants planned to murder the son and steal his inheritance.  Jesus' audience would have been outraged by this development in the story. 

v. 39:  And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

Note:  We'll come back to this verse when Jesus explains the mystery of the parable.

Read Mt. 21:40-45 - SON VINDICATED

v. 40-41:  40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" 41 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 seasons."

  • "what will he do...? - In a typical method of teaching, rather than stating the meaning of the parable, Jesus asked His crowd of listeners what the vineyard owner do to these wicked tenant farmers?  The answer was obvious and His listeners gave the correct answer:  he would put those dishonest criminals to death and rent the vineyard to new tenants who would obey the owner. 

 The Meaning of the Parable:

  1. The owner of the vineyard is God the Father.
  2. The vineyard represents the nation of Israel based upon the parallel of Isa. 5:1-7.
  3. The wicked farmers represented the current religious leaders of Israel, which included the chief priests, scribed, Pharisees, and those who followed them.  These were the people to whom God the Father had entrusted His vineyard. 
  4. The servants that he owner sent represented the OT prophets whom God had sent to Israel who had been treated shamefully and killed in some instances (see, Mt. 23:31-25).
  5. The owner's son represents Jesus, the Messiah foretold in OT prophecy and the Son of God.  His being thrown out of the vineyard depicted what the religious leaders would do to Him-take Him outside of Jerusalem and kill Him.  The place of the crucifixion was a site outside the city walls known in Aramaic as Golgotha (the place of a skull), which, in Latin, translated "Calvarius," from which we derive "Calvary."

v. 42:  42 Jesus said to them, "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 marvelous in our eyes'?

  • "Have you ever read..." - Alluding to Ps. 118:22, Jesus changed the theme from a vineyard to a building.  The word "you" in the first sentence indicated that Jesus was directly addressing the question to the religious leaders present with the crowd.  Whenever in various Gospel accounts Jesus prefaced a question with, "have you ever read?," He was leveling criticism to people, like the Pharisees and scribe, who prided themselves in knowing the OT Scriptures.  It would be like asking Albert Einstein if he'd ever studied physics!
  • "the stone the builders rejected" - Here, as we see Jesus use Ps. 118:22  to remind these leaders of their rejection of Him.  Notice that it pronounces more about their guilt and their coming judgment than it says about Jesus Himself.   Despite their rejection of Him, He is still the chief cornerstone-the Messiah foretold in OT prophecy.  Therefore, turning the tables in this illustration, it is not Jesus who is on trial, but the religious leaders who rejected Him and would suffer the eventual consequences of their deeds.

v. 43:  43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people  producing its fruits.

  • "Therefore I tell you" - This proclamation from Jesus carried even more weight than the OT prophets (remember in Mt. 17:15, when God the Father spoke from heaven and said, "Listen to Him").
  • "taken away from you" - Because the religious leaders had failed in their duty to tend God's vineyard, their privileged as His tenants would end. 
  • "people producing fruit" - This is a reference to the forthcoming church that would be composed of a "new people," both Jews and Gentile gather from many nations, which would serve to unfold God's Kingdom in the present age.

vv. 44-45:  44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him."  45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46 And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.

  • "broken to pieces" -  Using powerful imagery, Jesus put the choice before the religious leaders, which is the same choice faced by anyone, then or now, who accepts Jesus Christ as their Lord, to either be broken in humble surrender before God's beloved son, the cornerstone, or to be completely crushed in judgment like the wicked tenants.
  • "perceived He was speaking about them" - The religious leaders understood the message.  ASK:  So why did they fail to repent?  ANSWER:  Because their hearts were hardened and they eyes and ears were blinded by their pride, their completely false sense of righteousness.   They feared Jesus and His popular support with the crowds who followed Him.  Pride, the antithesis of brokenness and humility, was something they could not get past.  They were their own worst enemies. 


  1. The Parable of the Wicked Tenant Farmers provides an excellent illustration of God's patience with Israel over many centuries:  God sent His servants to collect His share of the harvest, and then sent more servants who were beaten-up and sometimes killed.   Then finally, He sent His only Son.  But once the rejection was complete, His patience ran out and judgment followed.  The truth of this message is that the window of opportunity-to accept God's plan of salvation by grace through faith in His only Son, Jesus Christ-doesn't remain open indefinitely.    

  2. The religious leaders, the tenants of God's vineyard, were not only judged but were replaced.  The clear message to the new tenants of God's vineyard-present day Christians who form the Body of Christ-is that the same thing can happen to us.   Jesus commands us to bear fruit (Jn. 15:16), and a big part of that fruit is winning others to Christ.  But If we are disobedient in sharing the Gospel with our generation, the Lord will use someone else and we will miss the blessing.