The Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen was spoken by Jesus in the temple on the day following his triumphant entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-18). Jesus was teaching the people when he was interrupted by the chief priests, scribes and elders (Matthew 21:23; Mark 11:27-28; Luke 20:1). They demanded to know by what authority he taught (Matthew 21:23; Mark 11:28; Luke 20:2). Doubtless these religious leaders expected Jesus to defend himself from their attack on his authority. However, our Lord's response not only surprised them, but it also prompted these religious leaders to become defensive themselves (Matthew 21:24-27).
"And he answered and said unto them, I will also ask you one thing; and answer me: The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then believed ye him not? But and if we say, Of men; all the people will stone us: for they be persuaded that John was a prophet. And they answered, that they could not tell whence it was. And Jesus said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things" (Luke 20:3-8).
In the context of this verbal exchange, Jesus spoke two parables which he applied to these religious leaders. Our Lord concluded The Parable of Two Sons by saying ". . . the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you" (Matthew 21:31). Immediately, Jesus then presented The Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen.
"Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country: And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise. But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons. Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them. But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet" (Matthew 21:33-46).
In this latter parable, Jesus referred to a form of agriculture with which all inhabitants of Palestine were very familiar. Vineyards abounded and were especially adaptable to terraced hillsides where other crops were less suited. The vineyard that Jesus described excelled some vineyards. The householder himself planted it. He "hedged" it, essentially putting a fence around the vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-7). This vineyard also had a winepress and a tower (Matthew 21:33).
A winepress consisted of two troughs that were either dug in the earth and lined with stone or hewn in bedrock. The elevated vat into which the grapes were placed was where laborers mashed the grapes with their feet (Judges 9:27; Isaiah 63:3). Through a small hole in the side of this trough, grape juice flowed into a lower trough.
A tower provided a vantage from which watchmen could view all the vineyard. Men guarded the vineyard from thieves and animals. This vineyard lacked no advantage and was a thriving business.
The householder rented his vineyard ". . . to husbandmen, and went into a far country" (Matthew 21:33). The rent due was a portion of the crop. We might say that the householder was to be paid in kind. At the time of harvest the vineyard's owner sent servants to receive the fruit (Matthew 21:34).
However, the wicked husbandmen respectively beat, stoned and killed the householder's servants (Matthew 21:35-36). Finally, the householder sent his only son, his heir, who the husbandmen murdered. They plotted to steal the vineyard for themselves (Matthew 21:37-39).
Then Jesus paused and asked, "When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen?" (Matthew 21:40). The religious leaders answered the question correctly, unaware, at first, that the parable applied to them; they unwittingly condemned themselves (Matthew 21:41).
In an earlier reference already cited, God through Isaiah compared the Jews to a vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-7). Also, one of the characteristics of parables was that their auditors often acknowledged their messages before realizing that the respective parables applied to them (2 Samuel 12:1-9). Jesus used The Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen and the one preceding it precisely this way.
In the parable before us, the householder represents God. The vineyard is the church, first in prophecy initially prophesied to old physical Israel. Afterward, taken from them, it was given to new, spiritual Israel. Compare Paul's teaching in Romans 11:15-24. The Jews were amply prepared by God for the arrival of Christ and the establishment of the church. However, they crucified the Christ and persecuted the church.
The husbandmen in the parable are old, physical Israel. The far country represents the centuries of divine silence between the testaments. The servants are the prophets of God. They were abused and killed (Matthew 23:34-35; 1 Kings 18:13; 19:10; 2 Kings 16:31; 22:24; 2 Chronicles 36:16; Jeremiah 20:1-2; Acts 12:1-3; Hebrews 11:36-38). The new husbandmen are the Gentiles (Romans 11:15-24).
The son and heir is Jesus Christ. In Mark's account of this parable, the householder had one beloved son (Mark 12:6). As the heir in the parable was killed outside the vineyard, Jesus Christ was killed outside Jerusalem. Through this parable Jesus prophesied this own death (Matthew 16:21).
As the servants preceded the heir in the parable, the prophets preceded Jesus Christ. As the heir occupied a superior advantage over the servants, Jesus is superior to the prophets. In the parable, the heir was sent last. Jesus also was sent last.
Jesus Christ is the only redeemer whereby mankind can be saved. The Jews who cast off Jesus had no other redeemer to whom they could appeal (Hebrews 10:26). From the parable, evidently the Jewish religious leaders were not completely unaware of the Divine nature of Jesus, whom they caused to be killed (John 3:1-2).
"The admission that the Son was the "heir" reveals that the murder of Christ was not a totally ignorant act on the part of the Jews (cf. Luke 23:34; Acts 3:17). [Wayne Jackson, The Parables in Profile, Star & Bible Tract, Corp., p. 34.]
All three accounts of The Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen record the acknowledgment of the chief priest, scribes and elders that the parable was spoken against them (Matthew 21:46; Mark 12:12; Luke 20:19). Therefore, they desired to capture and afflict Jesus. They restrained themselves, though because they feared the people, who recognized Jesus to be a prophet from God. Religious leaders should have guided the people to receive Jesus as more than a prophet the Christ, the Messiah. Instead, these leaders could have learned from the people. Little did these dishonest and incompetent leaders realize that God's providence would use their maliciousness to accomplish redemption through Christ (John 11:47-53; Acts 3:23-36).
Our Lord concluded this discourse by referring to Old Testament prophecies, which he applied to himself. The religious leaders rejected Jesus similarly as the "stone" in prophecy was rejected. Like the durable, victorious stone, Jesus taught that he would triumph over the Jews who opposed him. Compare the following passages.
"The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. . ." (Psalms 118:22ff).
"Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder" (Matthew 21:42-44).
"Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste" (Isaiah 28:16).
"Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces" (Daniel 2:34-35).
"To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed" (1 Peter 2:4-8).
See also 1 Corinthians 1:23 and 10:4.
Jesus is the stone and the rock cited in the verses above. A cornerstone joins and strengthens two walls. Jesus Christ, through prophecy and fulfillment, joins the Old and New testaments.
Did Jesus have authority to teach the people? Unquestionably he did; honest souls found that conclusion inescapable. Not only does Jesus continue to have that authority, dear reader, you and I will someday be judged by his words (John 12:48).