The Parable of the Vineyard (Matthew 21:33-41)
"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. When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 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, "This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance." And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" 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 does the Text Say?
This parable shows Christ's mastery of history. Unlike many of modernity's attempts to re-paint historical events, exonerating villains and smearing heroes, Christ builds His message on historical events (Isaiah 5:1-4). Jesus is right in line with the long, unbroken line of redemptive history beginning in the Old Testament. Throughout the Old Testament, God's people are described as plants, and God is the farmer. This parable plainly presents Israel as the vineyard, and the leaders of Israel (the Pharisees, chief priests, and elders in particular) as the tenants. The vineyard had already been destroyed once, in 586 BC, and now Jesus speaks of its re-destruction. In this, God is presented as the owner of the vineyard who has a plan for it, provides for it, and has the authority to do with it as He pleases.
What does the Text Mean?
This parable shows God's plan of redemption. Jesus strolls up to the leaders, the very tenants themselves, and asks them, "What would you do if you were the vineyard owner?" They answer correctly: they will be killed and the vineyard given to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons. How is this fulfilled? Jesus, the son of the vineyard-owner, is taken out of the city and crucified, and the vineyard (God's people) given to a new "people" (vs 43). This means that God's people are no longer equated with the Jewish race, but it also does not mean that the Church has "replaced" Israel. Rather, the "vineyard" is expanded to encompass Jews and Gentiles, in fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. God's goal in covenanting with His people has always been the fruit. How can we bear the fruit God desires?
Jon Herr is a deacon and ministerial student at All Saints Church (CREC, Lancaster PA). He is a graduate of Philadelphia Biblical University and currently a student in the MATS program of Reformed Theological Seminary. He and his wife Jackie live in Lancaster, PA with their daughters, Louisa (b. March 2012), Idelette (b. May 2014), and Cyrus (b. February... read more