Robbers about to kill passerby - Artist unknown

Jesus shared another parable with the Pharisees.

“There was a landlord who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it, and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved away to another place.

When harvest time drew near, he sent his servants to collect his share of the fruit from the tenants, but the tenants seized his servants. They beat one, killed another, and stoned a third.

The landlord again sent servants to the tenants, more than he sent the first time. The tenants treated them the same way.

Finally, the landlord sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he thought. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir to the vineyard. Let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’

So, the tenants took the son and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.”

Jesus asked the Pharisees,

“When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

The Pharisees responded, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end. Then he will rent the vineyard to other tenants who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”

Jesus said to them,

“Have you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.’

Therefore, I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to the people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, anyone on whom it falls, will be crushed.”

When the chief priests and Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that Jesus was a prophet.

What the story means to us today

The Universe belongs to God – we are merely temporary tenants.

Parable of the Tenants

The landlord makes various attempts to get the tenants to pay their rent. Finally, the landlord sends his son to collect the rent believing the tenants will respect the son. The tenants believe they can take what belongs to the landlord by killing the son, the landlord’s heir. However, the landlord owns the land and will ultimately receive what is rightfully his. The same applies to us and our agreement with God.

The parallels in the parable are clear. God first sent his prophets (the first messengers the landlord sent) to strengthen his message to mankind. Then he sent his son, Jesus, as the ultimate authority. Jesus tried to explain God’s message to the Pharisees. Instead, they rejected him. As a result, God gives their birthright to those who “will produce his fruit” – the Gentiles – while the Pharisees will be crushed for their rejection of the Messiah.

Additional thoughts and considerations

The participants in the Landowner and the Tenants parable

The participants in this parable, which symbolizes Israel’s reject of Jesus, are clear.

  • The landowner – God
  • The vineyard – Israel (or the world)
  • The tenants – the Israelites or leaders of the nation
  • The servants – the prophets that arrived ahead of Jesus
  • The landlord’s son – Jesus

Jesus again predicts his own death

The landlord’s son, whom he sent as a last resort to get the tenants to comply with their contract, symbolizes Jesus. The son in the parable is thrown from the vineyard and killed, not because of anything he did, but for who he represented. The parable couldn’t be a clearer analogy of Jesus’ fate who was ultimately thrown out of Jerusalem and crucified. In this parable, Jesus again predicts his own fate, this time, not just to the disciples, but to the very leaders that will soon demand his death.

The Wicket Husbandmen - Harry Kossuth Bowyer Bible

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone

Jesus tells the Pharisees, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” The verses Jesus references come from Psalms 118:22. The verses in Psalms also symbolize Israel, the nation, as the cornerstone. Ironically, in the Old Testament Psalms verses, the cornerstone (Israel) was rejected by the Gentiles – the very people Jesus tells the Pharisees will be given the kingdom of God.

Israel portrayed as a vineyard

Isaiah 5 also uses a vineyard to symbolize the nation of Israel. In Isaiah, the vineyard land (Israel) is cleared of stones and the vineyard constructed on the newly cleared land. But the vineyard in Isaiah only yielded “bad fruit”. Because of this, the landlord allowed the vineyard to be destroyed, its walls torn down, and its fruit trampled.

God’s care for his vineyard

Recalling that the vineyard represents Israel (or more broadly, mankind in general), note the parallels between the landlord’s care of the vineyard and God’s care for mankind. The landlord cared greatly for the vineyard. He built a wall to protect it. He installed a watchtower to look over it. He builds a winepress, confident that the vineyard will eventually bear fruit. The vineyard belongs to the landowner, not the tenants, and although the tenants tend to the vineyard, he has the power to remove the tenants from it if they refuse to adhere to his rules.

The science and history behind the story

The cornerstone

Jesus says, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in their eyes.”

Workers in the Vineyard Codex aureus Eptemacensis

The cornerstone mentioned here could also be a “capstone” or keystone (the translation in the verses is flexible). A capstone was placed atop masonry work, the exterior of staircases, or the top of a rock wall. They were common in ancient Israel, as was their usage in parables.

Notes on Biblical translation

The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces

Regarding the cornerstone, which symbolized Jesus, the verses tell us:

“The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, and the one on whom it falls will be crushed.”

Some older translations do not include this verse, However, newer manuscripts have shown us that this line should be included so it is now considered authentic.

They “threw him out of the vineyard and killed him”

The Wicket Tenants - Adriaen Colleart (1618)

Matthew and Luke both note that the landlord was first taken out of the vineyard, then killed. This is taken as an analogy of Jesus’ death who was first taken out of the city and then crucified. Mark, however, reverses the order of events and says the landlord was killed and then thrown out of the vineyard. The order doesn’t matter except for dramatic effect. Still, most consider the order given in the parable should correspond to Matthew and Luke’s account of events.

Bible Text

NIV

33 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

35 “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

38 “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

41 “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

         “ ‘The stone the builders rejected

         has become the cornerstone;

         the Lord has done this,

         and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” 

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. 46 They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The NET Bible

21:33 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a fence around it, dug a pit for its winepress, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenant farmers and went on a journey. 21:34 When the harvest time was near, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his portion of the crop. 21:35 But the tenants seized his slaves, beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 21:36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first, and they treated them the same way. 21:37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 21:38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and get his inheritance!’ 21:39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 21:40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 21:41 They said to him, “He will utterly destroy those evil men! Then he will lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him his portion at the harvest.”

21:42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:

    ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

    This is from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

21:43 For this reason I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 21:44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, and the one on whom it falls will be crushed.” 21:45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 21:46 They wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowds, because the crowds regarded him as a prophet.

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

New King James Version

33 “Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. 34 Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. 35 And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. 37 Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.

40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?”

41 They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

    ‘The stone which the builders rejected

    Has become the chief cornerstone.

    This was the LORD’s doing,

    And it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. 44 And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”

45 Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. 46 But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet.

The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

The Message

      33–34 “Here’s another story. Listen closely. There was once a man, a wealthy farmer, who planted a vineyard. He fenced it, dug a winepress, put up a watchtower, then turned it over to the farmhands and went off on a trip. When it was time to harvest the grapes, he sent his servants back to collect his profits.

      35–37 “The farmhands grabbed the first servant and beat him up. The next one they murdered. They threw stones at the third but he got away. The owner tried again, sending more servants. They got the same treatment. The owner was at the end of his rope. He decided to send his son. ‘Surely,’ he thought, ‘they will respect my son.’

      38–39 “But when the farmhands saw the son arrive, they rubbed their hands in greed. ‘This is the heir! Let’s kill him and have it all for ourselves.’ They grabbed him, threw him out, and killed him.

      40 “Now, when the owner of the vineyard arrives home from his trip, what do you think he will do to the farmhands?”

      41 “He’ll kill them—a rotten bunch, and good riddance,” they answered. “Then he’ll assign the vineyard to farmhands who will hand over the profits when it’s time.”

      42–44 Jesus said, “Right—and you can read it for yourselves in your Bibles:

           The stone the masons threw out

             is now the cornerstone.

           This is God’s work;

             we rub our eyes, we can hardly believe it!

      “This is the way it is with you. God’s kingdom will be taken back from you and handed over to a people who will live out a kingdom life. Whoever stumbles on this Stone gets shattered; whoever the Stone falls on gets smashed.”

      45–46 When the religious leaders heard this story, they knew it was aimed at them. They wanted to arrest Jesus and put him in jail, but, intimidated by public opinion, they held back. Most people held him to be a prophet of God.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

King James Version

33 Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country: 34 And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. 35 And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise. 37 But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. 38 But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. 39 And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. 40 When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? 41 They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons. 42 Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? 43 Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. 44 And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. 45 And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them. 46 But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archaeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database
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