THE PARABLE OF THE TENANTS
Key Verse: 12:1b
planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and
built a watch-tower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away
on a journey.”
Today’s passage covers Jesus’ third day of ministry in Jerusalem. Jesus declared his Lordship when he entered Jerusalem triumphantly. Jesus revealed his love for his father’s house by clearing the temple and restoring the temple’s purpose as a house of prayer for all nations. The religious elites felt that their positions were threatened by Jesus’ actions. So, they questioned his authority. The parable of the tenants is his indirect answer to their question. Jesus declared that his authority comes from God. Jesus is more than the servants of God. He is the Son sent by God to bring us back to God. Let’s us accept Jesus’ authority by obeying his world mission command. Jesus wants us to be a blessing to all people of the earth. I pray that God may open our spiritual eyes to accept God’s ownership for our life and give back some of the fruit of the vineyard as our thanks. May God bless us to use our gifts for his glory!
PART I. THE AUTHORITY OF JESUS
Look at verses 27-28. “They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. ‘By what authority are you doing these things?’ they asked. ‘And who gave you authority to do this?’” Though Jesus knew that it was dangerous for him to walk in the temple courts, he came back to the temple courts again because the temple was his father’s house. It was unbearable for him to see his father’s house become a house of robbers. Jesus knew that they would fight back. Yet Jesus was not daunted at all. The next morning, Jesus entered the temple and walked around freely in his Father’s house. His love for God was running high. As we see in Mark chapters 12-13, Jesus taught the truth of God to his disciples and to all other people from early morning to late night. Jesus restored the true function of the temple as the place to meet the holy God through his word, and to pray for all nations.
While Jesus was serving God in the temple, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came up to him. They questioned Jesus’ authority to drive out licensed merchants from the temple area. What they are saying was that you have no authority to do these things. It was illegal. How did Jesus respond? Look at verses 29-30. “Jesus replied, ‘I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!’” Jesus did not answer their questions. Instead, Jesus gave them a counter-question. Most lawyers use a counter-question to discredit their opponents. Since John was his forerunner, he asked them where John’s authority came from. Jesus’ question posed a great dilemma. They had three potential answers to Jesus’ question. No. 1 is from heaven, no. 2 is from men, and no. 3 is “none of the above.” Which one did they choose? They chose no. 3 by saying, “We don’t know.” What gutless, heartless, hypocritical, and coward people they were! If they said, “From heaven,” they should acknowledge Jesus as the Christ and repent of all their sins against him over the past three years. On the other hand, if they said, “From men,” they would lose credibility with ordinary people. The only answer they had was “We don’t know.” They seemed wise outwardly but they were foolish inwardly. Jesus totally disarmed the religious leaders and silenced their question about his authority. However, Jesus fully answered their question by means of a parable.
PART II THE PARABLE OF THE TENANTS (12:1-12).
Verse 1a says, “He then began to speak to them in parables.” Jesus did not confront them directly; Jesus began to speak in parables. Jesus appealed to their hearts to accept his authority as the Son of God. In fact, to the end, Jesus had a shepherd heart for the Jewish leaders.
Look at verse 1b. “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey.” This parable explains the basic relationship between God and man. In order to understand this verse we have to go back to the beginning of God’s creation. God planted the Garden of Eden, the paradise and gave it to Adam and Eve. But Adam broke God’s command in order to become like God. He challenged God’s ownership by listening to Satan’s lies and he was expelled from the paradise. Later, God punished the sinful world by the Flood judgment. God began his redemptive work by calling Abraham. God wanted to bless all peoples on earth through his descendant. (Gen. 12:3b) Abraham became a father for the nation Israel. God made a special covenant relationship with Israel. Apostle Paul mentioned about the privileges of the people of Israel in Romans 9:4-5, “the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.” Wow! What a privilege they received as God’s chosen people. Therefore, the prophet Isaiah said in Isaiah 5:1, “I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside.” Israel became God’s loved one. Here God is the owner of the vineyard. Here the wall symbolizes for protection, and a watch tower for shelter, and security. God provided the best environment for his people. He said in Isaiah 5:3-4a, “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it?” God had been their shelter, refugee, and shield. God led them out of slavery in Egypt into the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey under Moses’ leadership. Why did God invest fully for the people of Israel for a long period of time? Did God want them to enjoy just his blessings in the new land? God had a special purpose for them. God revealed his plan in Exodus 19:5-6, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites." What was God’s purpose for Israel? It was to make them a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. God wanted them to become a shepherd nation for the whole world. He wants to reveal himself to all nations through his chosen people Israel. The Jewish people were chosen to bless all peoples on earth. From the beginning God had world mission vision because the whole world belonged to him. God expected Israel to play a special role as God’s chosen instrument. So he demanded fruit from them.
Look at verses 2-3. “At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed.” When the gracious owner sent his servant to collect some of the fruit, the tenants reacted irrationally. They beat him and sent him away empty-handed. How had the tenants become like this? What was their motive to treat God’s servant in this way? It was their greedy and selfish hearts. They were too greedy to give any of the fruit back to the owner. Before entering Canaan, God gave Israel repeated lessons in Deuteronomy that they should not forget God and worship idols and they should love God with their hearts, soul, and strength. Man’s basic duty is to give some of the fruit back to God. But you know what happened to the people of Israel. They changed their minds when God blessed them. When God blessed them to live in a nice house they did not build and have food in their refrigerators, they became materialistic and selfish. They began to worship idols who would bring material blessings. They forgot about God’s mission to become the light of the Gentiles. They refused to give some of the fruit to the owner. But when people do not give fruit to God, they become unthankful, disrespectful, and offensive to God. They even become irrational and violent toward God’s servants. In this way the tenant farmers became evil, dishonest, unfaithful, and violent. They became useless tenants in the eyes of the owner.
How did the owner respond? We might expect him to destroy them at once by sending his troops. Yet look at verses 4-5. “Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.” As violence increased from beating and wounding to killing, so the love of the owner increased all the more by sending more servants. Divine love and patience is represented as striving even thought hate and resistance are increasing! This is unusual because most landlords expel their tenants right away when they do not pay rent. We see the long suffering patience of the owner in this parable. Whenever one of his servants was mistreated, the owner felt the pain and humiliation in his own heart. When his servant was beaten, he felt he was beaten. When his servants were killed, he grieved deeply for them. Yet, he continued to send them one by one, team by team, until he had sent them all. There is a baseball rule, “Three strikes, you are out!” But God did not give up on his people. Though they were stubborn and stiff-necked, God warned them with the hope of restoring them. The prophet Elijah killed 850 Baal prophets but he was running for his life from evil Queen Jezebel. He said, “Take my life, I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19:4) How much he suffered to warn the people of Israel to turn from idol worship to God! We understand his pain and suffering that he prayed that he might die. My favorite prophet is Isaiah. He warned Israel people to worship God saying, “Ah, a sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evil doers, children given to corruption.” (1:4a) Isaiah was sawed in half by evil king Manasseh; Jeremiah was stoned; Amos was murdered with a club; John the Baptist was beheaded; Stephen was stoned to death. God wept when they were mistreated and killed by evil tenants. We understand God’s sorrow and anguish over his people.
God is patient with sinners. God forebears our sins and mistakes and persists
in reaching out to us through his word and his servants. God does this in the
hope that we may someday repent. 2 Peter 3:9b says, “He is patient with you,
not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” How should
we respond to God’s patience? We should thank God and repent humbly (Ro 2:4).
How about the tenants? They misunderstood the owner’s patience as weakness. This made them all the more bold to express their rebellion. They began to treat the servants shamefully. To our shock, they ended up as murderers. We learn here that sin spreads progressively in a person or community until it brings forth death (Jam 1:15).
Look at verse 6. This teaches us the heart of the owner. It says, “He had one left to send, a son whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’” The owner reached a painful juncture to make a critical decision, “To send his only son or not.” The owner knew the violent pattern of behavior of his tenants. It was risky to send his son to the violent tenants. All his servants were used to warn them but the tenants remained unwilling to listen to his message. Now the owner was willing to send his son, whom he loved, to the tenants. This tells us that love motivated him in patient endurance and sacrifice. The owner was not just a landlord to the tenants. The owner loved the tenants. He loved them enough to risk his son’s life to restore his relationship with them.
And what did God want from the tenants? He said, “They will respect my Son.” God expressed his last hope for the tenants. He wanted their respect. What God really wants from man is to respect him as God. This is really amazing. The Almighty Creator God who made all things wants us to respect him from our hearts. As God’s children we must respect God as God and honor God from our hearts. God wants us to accept his ownership over our life. When we recognize God’s ownership and sovereignty over our life, then we can be healthy and happy and enjoy God’s world in joy and peace. Here we must deeply acknowledge and accept the love of God for us. How did the tenants respond?
at verses 7-8. “But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come,
let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed
him, and threw him out of the vineyard.” The tenants did not recognize the owner’s
patience and love. Though they knew that he was the heir, they killed him to
take over the vineyard as their own. They became bold sinners to God. They were
spiritually blind and lived in an illusion that if they killed the son they
would gain the inheritance. They forgot that they were just tenant farmers.
They forgot the grace of the owner. They forgot their true identity. They
wanted to become the owners ignoring their own positions. When men do not thank
God and respect God as God, Satan comes into their hearts. Finally they become
the enemies of God. They killed the Son of God. Thus they invited God’s
judgment. Although God’s patience is great, there will come a day of reckoning.
It is inevitable.
Look at verses 9-11. “What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. Haven't you read this scripture: "'The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?"
rebellion invited God’s wrath upon them. Contrary to the tenants’ illusion, they
did not become heirs. Rather, he came and killed them all and gave the vineyard
to others. God’s long patience ended. God never stops being God. Historically,
in A.D. 70, the Roman General Titus invaded Jerusalem. In the slaughter that
followed, more than one million Jewish people were killed. God’s blessing
implies responsibility and faithfulness. As Peter declares, God made the
Christian church a royal priesthood and a holy nation (1Pe 2:9). The blessings
and privileges promised to Abraham have come to the Gentiles through Jesus
Christ (Gal 3:14). God’s blessings were transferred to more worthy and faithful
tenants. Not only would God’s judgment prevail, but Jesus would rise again. The
Jewish leaders rejected Jesus and killed him. They treated him like a useless
stone to be rejected in making their building. However, God took rejected Jesus
and made him the capstone, the crowning glory of the building. God did this
when he raised Jesus from the dead and made him the foundation stone of his
redemptive history. In Jesus, God’s purpose to make a kingdom of priests and a
holy nation was fulfilled. In Jesus, God’s world salvation purpose was
fulfilled. Jesus broke all human barriers and brought all people together as
How can we apply this parable to us? What is Jesus’ message to us? Are we better than the religious leaders? Apostle Paul gives his warning in Romans 11:20b-21, “Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.” If we do not live worthy of God’s calling, we will face the same failure of Israel. We must take warning from Israel’s history. God has given us these privileges that we might give him fruit. This is why we pray constantly to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. This is not just the story of the religious leaders who tried to kill Jesus but also our own story today. God blessed America because this nation was built by the pilgrims and the Puritans who obeyed God’s mission. They believed that America was the city on a hill to shine the light of Jesus for the Gentiles. They sent one million missionaries in the 20th century. They accepted the authority of God in their lives saying ‘In God we trust.” God blessed America the beautiful. But today our spiritual condition is not good. There are no more early morning prayers and there are many churches on sale. People say, “In money we trust or in pleasure we trust.” Materialism, humanism, and hedonism replaced God. People refuse to accept God’s authority in their life. Jesus said in Matthew 28:18b-19a “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciple of all nations.” Jesus’ command is to go and make disciples of nations. This is Jesus’ world mission command. Jesus did not call us to live well and eat well but called us to serve his world mission purpose. Jesus called us to be a blessing to all nations. We must not forget our first love and repent and do things we did at first. It means that we must love God with all our heart, soul and strength. God gave us the privilege to live as his servants and Bible teachers and shepherds. These days I find great hope from YDJ. They went out campus fishing and began to take responsibility for the work of God. S. Hannah Brogi went mission trip to Mexico and she returned as a new person with God’s heart. She accepted Jesus’ world mission command and wants to go as a short term missionary in the summer.
In this passage we have learned of God’s grace, longsuffering patience and love for mankind. Jesus came as the best expression of God’s love. Let’s accept this Jesus as Savior and Lord from our hearts. Let’s show our respect by making our lives and ministries and campuses and nation most fruitful for his glory. Let’s read the key verse 1b.