New Testament · Parables · Simple Truths

Parable Surprises – Wicked Servants

In our last post on the parables, (See Parable Surprises – Two Sons), we watched as Jesus reached out to the Jewish leaders, seeking to find a willingness on their part to repent. He spoke of their rejection of John the Baptist and of His own ministry, and of how they yet would not change their minds.

This parable turns a page. No longer is the opportunity granted, but the Kingdom is going to be taken away from them.

Let’s read this sobering parable.

Matthew 21:33-44

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. 34 When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. 35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 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.’ 39 And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 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.” 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’? 43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

Questions to Consider

Who were the audience?

Luke 20:9 states that Jesus began to tell this parable to the people. Mark 12:1 simply tells us that he began to speak to “them”. The order of the gospel of Matthew implies that the parable was spoken to the Jewish leaders that had been interacting with the Messiah in the previous parable.

When did the Lord give this parable?

This parable was delivered to the people of Israel as His ministry was coming to a close, and the cross was casting it’s shadow over the Son of God.

Where did the Lord teach the parable?

The Lord was in the temple of God delivering this parable. Both Luke and Matthew provide this parable as a continuation of a discussion in the temple.

Why did the Lord give this message?

This is sometimes the hardest question to answer in this series, for the motivation of a parable sometimes isn’t as clear as I would like. (And sometimes the reason for giving the parable is a bit difficult to accept). This parable is the first that we have come up against where the judgement of national Israel is clearly pronounced. Jesus is entering into a time where He provides the Jewish leadership the national consequences of their rejection of God. His reason for providing this parable is two fold; to declare the loss of kingdom status to national Israel, and to call individuals into the everlasting kingdom.

What was the message for the original audience?

Jesus presents a microcosm of the history of Israel in a picture of a landowner. This landowner has invested much time and effort in creating a vineyard out of bare land, fencing the area, installing a winepress, building a guard towner and providing purpose for those who became the tenants of the vineyard. After all the work was completed in building the vineyard, the landowner trusted to tenants to provide him with his share of the fruits of his labor.

Remember that as tenants, they were joining in on the benefit of the vineyard, receiving a portion of the fruit for their management of the vineyard. The tenants did not own the vineyard, but they were safe, they had purpose and they were productive. At least that was the intent.

The parallels with the history of national Israel seems so obvious to us as we look on this parable after the fact. Often in the Old Testament, the God of Jacob would refer to Israel as a vineyard. Let’s read Isaiah 5:1-7 to see if Jesus may be taking advantage of the Old Testament writings in providing this parable of the wicked tenants.

Wild Grapes

1 Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. 3 And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? 5 And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. 6 I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. 7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry! – Isa 5:1-7 ESV

How could the Jewish leadership have been so blind as to not see where Jesus’ parable was heading? Sure, Isaiah was referring to bad fruit, and Jesus was referring to bad management, but the similarities are amazing in the set up of the parable. Isaiah provided the very theological framework defining the nation of Israel, that Jesus used in this parable. How could they have been so blind?

The message for the first century audience? Run! Run as fast as you can from the trust you may have in the leadership of the nation of Israel. RUN!

Trusting in the national status of Israel as God’s display of His kingdom was coming to an end. Babylon took them out over 500 years ago, and the utter final destruction of the theocratic nation of Israel, as we will learn of in future parables is within a generation. The management (leadership) has a track record of actively working against God, killing God’s servants and now conspiring against the Son of the landowner. Jesus again prophecies of his own death at the hands of the Jewish leadership, even to the detail of His death being outside of the vineyard!

The Jewish leadership/tenants defined their own destruction in their response to Jesus.

Two Stone Passages

Jesus concludes His parable with the very Scriptures the Jewish leadership claim to trust! Two stone passages, centered on the Lord Jesus.

The first passage, Psalm 118:22, the Messiah is depicted as the corner stone for an edifice, a building that God is building, but that is rejected (not ignored) by the tenants. The most important stone of the entire construction! Thrown away by the builders. Utter foolishness, or better said – utter rebellion!

The next “stone” passage refers back to Daniels dream of the great statue of Nebuchadnezzar. The stone (Messiah) would destroy the kingdoms and become a great mountain, filling the entire earth. Daniel 2:44 is instructive

And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, – Dan 2:44 ESV

The everlasting kingdom (that shall never be destroyed) will be established out of the destruction of the existing national kingdoms the Stone destroys. Being everlasting, this kingdom will stand forever and not be left to another people. The kingdom set up will be the final kingdom. Previous kingdoms will be destroyed. Jesus is clearly including Israel with those kingdoms, when he concludes

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

Like the Master said earlier – It (the everlasting kingdom) shall break in pieces all those kingdoms, bringing them to an end. But what of an individual application to this tectonic prophecy concerning a nation?

And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him. Matthew 21:44

The Stone falls on You

The text states it will crush whoever it falls on. If any of you are reading along with me in my Psalms for Psome series, (See Psalms for Psome – Ps 35 – B) we discussed the wicked as chaff. The same general picture is provided here.

When Jesus is giving this truth, the Greek word He uses for crushing (likmaō) also refers to grinding to powder, to a chaff. This image is of a grinding stone in a mill, cleansing away the chaff from the grain by winnowing. Not only a crushing, as if that is not dire as it is, but the subsequent casting to the wind, allowing the wind to carry the waste away.

Why would anyone let the Stone fall on them?

You Fall on the Stone

To fall (piptō) upon the Stone has many uses in the New Testament, but a few are instructive.

To fall upon the Stone can simply mean to fall prostrate. To agree with His authority over your life, to relinquish your own lordship and follow after Him. Many in Israel were looking to the Messiah, and more would come. Many, many more would fall upon the Stone.

One other use of (piptō) is to describe the decent from a state of prosperity, or to lose authority, to no longer have force. Is this not striking at the very heart of the Jewish leaderships core sin? They would not bow to the authority of John the Baptist, and they are heading to greater sin by rejecting the Source of all authority.

What is the message for us today?

The message is the same for us as it was for the individuals hearing the message two millennium ago. You have a choice to allow the Stone to fall on you, or to fall on the Stone!

Which will it be? There is no other option. He has not provided any other option to choose, and don’t deceive yourself that you have any special status before Him through works, beliefs or bloodlines. He has not made that available!

He is the only One we are to trust.


Thanks again for coming to visit. I hope you found something of interest in this post and would appreciate a comment, to begin a discussion.

Follow Considering the Bible on WordPress.com