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The Parables of Jesus: The Wicked Tenants

Studied at South African Bible College, UNISA and Abilene Christian University. Preaches and teaches in East London.

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Parables of Jesus: God’s Provision and Judgement

One of the seven parables found in all three Synoptic Gospels is the one that is often referred to as the parable of the wicked tenants. In Mathew’s Gospel the setting is the teaching of Jesus after he enters the Temple and is asked by the chief priests and the elders: “By what authority are you doing these things?” and “Who gave you the authority?” (Matthew 21:23 NIV translation – used with permission)

Obviously they felt that Jesus had not asked them for permission. After all they believed that they had the power to carefully control religious affairs in Jerusalem. At the same time it was apparent that Jesus was teaching with considerable authority and that the people were listening to him.

This parable is one that anyone in Palestine could understand as hiring out your property to tenants was common practice. The abuse of that situation by the tenants was also common. The setting was a vineyard as the farming with grapes was one of the most common types of farming in the country. In the parable when the time came for the tenants to hand over their payment to the owner, they abused and eventually put to death the owner’s representatives. This led to some serious retribution that included killing the tenants and handing over the vineyard to someone else. The response from the hearers as, recorded in Luke 20:26, was: “May this never be!” In Mark’s Gospel the response is: “Then they looked for a way to arrest him because they knew that he had spoken the parable against them” (Mark 12:12). Matthew has the same words in his response as Mark (Matthew 21:45).

There are some important practical lessons to be gained from this parable: Firstly; crime does not pay. Secondly; don’t forget to keep a careful check on those running your business. Thirdly; be careful who you entrust with the responsibility of taking care of your affairs. Fourthly; one bad deed often leads to another and possibly even a worse one. The reason is that one’s conscience becomes seared and so people become more reckless.

But it is obviously a deeper and more important meaning that Jesus had in mind. This is clearly shown in the way that the religious leaders of that day interpreted it. God had entrusted the riches and the responsibilities that come with such promises, into the hands of Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 12:1). He then gave them the law through Moses, and continued to guide them through the voice of the prophets. Over the years these prophets had been rejected, abused and even killed. The nation’s leaders, Judges and Kings, chose to go their own way rather than God’s way. This led to the captivity and in the time of Jesus, to the oppression by the Roman conquerors. So the chosen nation (the tenants) had failed to fulfil their responsibilities, and the religious leaders also failed because they had lost their purpose. Now a new voice was being heard by the people as Jesus taught with authority and brought a new message of peace and love.

So what conclusion can we then come to for today’s world from this interesting parable? Obviously the practical issues of running business affairs have the same implication when we see the corruption, not only in the business world, but also in the political and religious world.

But it is the religious world that the message is as vital as it was in the time of Jesus. Christians today are given the responsibility of working in the vineyard. So then it is the responsibility of the religious world is to listen carefully to the owner (God) and his representative (Jesus), and be ready when Jesus returns.

  1. It is important to recognize that God has not sent just another representative into the world but rather his beloved Son. There is only one mediator between man and God and that is Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5).
  2. The Church has the responsibility to work the vineyard, to produce the crops and to do what God has entrusted it with. “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19, 20). Luke puts it this way: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all of Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). As God’s people, the Jewish nation failed to fulfil their God given responsibility and Jesus came to point this out. What about the Church today?
  3. There will be a time of final judgement when God will hold his people to account for what they have or have not done with the precious gospel. Will the church be seen as having been good and faithful tenants in the vineyard of the Lord?
  4. Christianity has often been reduced to a system of rules and regulations limiting what the believer should not do. Rather it is a call to work in the vineyard of the Lord -as the well known hymn suggests.
  5. The parable teaches that with great opportunity comes great responsibility. Eventually even God’s patience will wear out and then he will send His Son again, not then as savior, but as judge. A warning comes from this parable, not to play games with God but to take the task set seriously.


References: NIV Translation of Bible

Lightfoot, N. The parables of Jesus.


Scriptures taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

The "NIV" and "New International Version" trademarks are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by International Bible Society. Use of either trademark requires the permission of International Bible Society.

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