The Parable of the Tenants
Matthew 21:33-46
How should we rightly view the judgement of those that stumble over Jesus and thus reject him?  Strangely... "It is marvelous in our eyes."
Published February 9th, 2022
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Main point summary
Main point summary
Jesus tells a parable that illustrates Israel's continuous rejection of God's servants, which ultimately will culminate in the rejection of the Son. Jesus teaches that this was God's marvelous plan all along: the Lord will take the rejected Son and place him in a position of prominence. Those, like the chief priests and the Pharisees, who do not recognize the Son, for who he truly is, will face judgement.
Matthew 21:33-46
q “Hear another parable.
There was a master of a house
who planted r a vineyard
s and put a fence around it
and dug a winepress in it
and built a tower
and t leased it to tenants,
and u went into another country.
When the season for fruit drew near,
he sent his servants 1 to the tenants t to get his fruit.
v And the tenants took his servants
and beat one,
killed another,
and w stoned another.
x Again he sent other servants, more than the first.
And they did the same to them.
Finally he sent his son to them, saying,
‘They will respect my son.’
But when the tenants saw the son,
they said to themselves,
y ‘This is the heir.
Come, z let us kill him
and have his inheritance.’
And they took him
and a threw him out of the vineyard
and killed him.
b When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes,
what will he do to those tenants?”
They said to him,
c “He will put those wretches to a miserable death
and d let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”
Jesus said to them,
e “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
f “‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone; 1
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
Therefore I tell you,
the kingdom of God g will be taken away from you
and given to a people h producing its fruits.
And i the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces;
and j when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” 1
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables,
they perceived that he was speaking about them.
And l although they were seeking to arrest him,
m they feared the crowds,
because they held him to be n a prophet.
1. Jesus is in control The Lord Jesus, through a parable, is predicting his own death here. The cross was not unknown to our Savior: he purposefully and deliberately went to Jerusalem knowing that he had to die. But beyond just possessing knowledge, we can see that he also actively "brings about" his death. For upon arriving in Jerusalem, he strategically and wisely interacts with the Jewish establishment in such a way that his death would be accomplished. This is seen even at the end of this passage, where we can clearly see that the end result of the parable was that the religious leaders wanted to arrest him. The Lord Jesus is consciously raising the tension between himself and the leadership. This parable is just one of many deliberate jabs that Jesus makes against them. What is told in parable form here, i.e. the culpability of the leaders of Israel for the death of God's prophets, will be explicitly laid against their charge in chapter 23. 2. The danger of self-righteousness The response of the Jewish leadership in verse 41 is interesting and sobering. We see clearly that at one level, the parable was understood perfectly by these self-righteous people. They "get" that what the tenants did is absurdly wicked and evil, and therefore they were deserving of death. And more than this, they also "get" that Jesus here is speaking about them, for that is what verse 45 says. But unlike David, who repented when he found out that Nathan's parable was about him (2 Sam 12), these Jewish leaders respond with greater antagonism towards Jesus. It begs the question: what part of this parable did they not "get"? It seems most probable that these chief priests and Pharisees are blind to the fact that they are actually guilty in the first place. It is NOT that they are aware of their evil, but are too proud to admit it. It seems that they are thinking that what Jesus was doing in telling the parable was falsely accusing them of killing God's servants. This is a display of extreme self-righteous thinking; these Pharisees are convinced that they are God's servants, not those that kill them. This explains how Matthew's narrative develops as the crucifixion of God's Son takes place. The Pharisees and the religious leaders kill the Son of God, all the while thinking that that horrible act is the means by which they will receive the inheritance from God. Ironically, they will carry out the same absurd evil scenario that they condemned here in verse 41. Such is the danger of self-righteousness; a solemn warning to those who think they are saved but are not - they are at risk of the sin described in Hebrews 6, "crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him in contempt". 3. Is it marvelous in our eyes? What is most striking and surprising in this passage is undoubtedly the quotation from Ps 118 in verse 42. In this passage where we have the sobering reality of the immanent death of Jesus, the blindness of the leaders of Israel, and the inevitable resulting judgement that will take place, verse 42 seems out of place. How can it be said, that all of THIS "is marvelous to our eyes"? The parable is not a pretty story - in fact it is horrific on so many levels. If we were to be honest, "marvelous" would be very low on the list for adjectives that come to mind. Clarity is found when one zooms out from the dark depths of the sinful human heart, and when one views the grace of the sovereign God. Reflecting on the parable, at some point the question arises: Is the master's behavior here normal? What kind of a master would even think about giving such tenants a second chance? No amount of normal tolerance would allow cold-blooded murder to go unpunished when it happens the first time, and yet this master not only gives a second chance, he gives these tenants a third chance! And the third is the most gracious of all - he sends his son. The parable is teaching us that our God is gracious. He is merciful, kind and slow to anger. And though it is the case that the son is killed and the grace of the master is rejected, the ultimate lesson of the parable is this: that was God's sovereign plan from the beginning. It is the Lord's doing, to take what the builders rejected and make that the most important foundation stone from which EVERYTHING will be find its proper place. And one of the things that God must set right in this universe is sin. Israel's self-righteousness has already been noted. And what of the fact that by the time Christ arrived on to the scene, Israel for generations had already killed a countless number of God's prophets. How will God set all this right? The answer is surprising to us. It is by means of making the rejected Christ the most important part of God's structure: make the rejected Christ the standard and the judge of all!!! So today, Christ himself is the deciding factor for all mankind. One can do what the Pharisees did, that is reject him and stumble over him. The result of this decision is to crushed by Christ, the cornerstone, in a future day of judgement (see Daniel 2 for comparison). The other alternative is unfolded to us throughout the rest of the New Testament. We can accept Christ and as a result be built into God's house, the Church, as living stones (see 1 Peter 2). And of course, our incorporation into God's temple only can take place because of what Christ accomplished in his rejection, for this is how he went to the cross to die for our sins. All sinners will be dealt with, either by the Stone crushing it in judgement (Mat 21), or by the salvation and incorporation into God's building which is built upon the same Stone. The line of prophets in the Old Testament culminate in the complete revelation of God, which happened when Christ came. "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners, spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days, spoken unto us by his Son." (Heb 1:1-2) When God spoke to us by his Son, this involved his life and pathway of rejection. Because of Christ, the rejected stone, justice will reign in this universe and every wrong will be righted. Because of Christ, the rejected stone, salvation and our place in God's temple has been secured us. Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! This was the Lord's doing. It is marvelous in our eyes.
Disclaimer: The opinions and conclusions expressed on this page are those of the author and may or may not accord with the positions of Biblearc or Bethlehem College & Seminary.