The parable of the vineyard in Matthew 21:33-46 is a parable about the unfaithfulness of Israel to do the things that God had provided for them to do. This parable also describes the actions of Israel in killing the Son of God out of jealousy. The lead-in to this parable is the previous one about the two sons in verses 21 to 32. This previous parable teaches how the religious leaders of Israel failed to obey God and work in His vineyard, while the ones who were the greatest sinners repented and served God. The meaning and summary of this previous parable is stated in the following verse:
(Mat 21:31 KJV) Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.
(Mat 21:32 KJV) For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.
We now begin a verse-by-verse exegesis of this parable of the vineyard.
(Mat 21:33 KJV) 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:
In this verse, the householder is God the Father. The vineyard represents the kingdom of God. The hedge represents the division or separation by God of the work in the vineyard from the world system. Those who work in the Lord’s vineyard are striving to enter the kingdom of God and to help others to enter this kingdom. The winepress was normally hewn out of rock for the purpose of mashing the grapes to release the juice. The grapes were normally mashed by treading them with the feet to release the juice. Abundance of wine speaks of God’s salvation and blessings, but the winepress represents the judgment of God.
The watchtower represents the place of God for special servants who watch over the vineyard and protect the vines from the beasts of the field, and from thieves that would come to destroy and steal from the vineyard. God has special servants that man the watchtower to protect the vineyard. These servants are the prophets and teachers.
Oftentimes a vineyard would be let out or leased to husbandmen who would take care of the vineyard for the owner. The husbandmen in this parable are the religious leaders of Israel who were to tend the vineyard.
(Mat 21:34 KJV) And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it.
In this verse God sends the prophets to Israel to receive the fruit of the vineyard.
(Mat 21:35 KJV) And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another.
The leaders of Israel treated the prophets of God despitefully by beating them and even killing them. This is seen in the following verses:
Jeremiah is beaten and imprisoned in the following two verses:
(Jer 37:15 KJV) Wherefore the princes were wroth with Jeremiah, and smote him, and put him in prison in the house of Jonathan the scribe: for they had made that the prison.
(Jer 38:6 KJV) Then took they Jeremiah, and cast him into the dungeon of Malchiah the son of Hammelech, that was in the court of the prison: and they let down Jeremiah with cords. And in the dungeon there was no water, but mire: so Jeremiah sunk in the mire.
Urijah the prophet is killed in the following verses:
(Jer 26:20 KJV) And there was also a man that prophesied in the name of the LORD, Urijah the son of Shemaiah of Kirjathjearim, who prophesied against this city and against this land according to all the words of Jeremiah:
(Jer 26:21 KJV) And when Jehoiakim the king, with all his mighty men, and all the princes, heard his words, the king sought to put him to death: but when Urijah heard it, he was afraid, and fled, and went into Egypt;
(Jer 26:22 KJV) And Jehoiakim the king sent men into Egypt, namely, Elnathan the son of Achbor, and certain men with him into Egypt.
(Jer 26:23 KJV) And they fetched forth Urijah out of Egypt, and brought him unto Jehoiakim the king; who slew him with the sword, and cast his dead body into the graves of the common people.
Zechariah is stoned in the following verses:
(2 Chr 24:20 KJV) And the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, which stood above the people, and said unto them, Thus saith God, Why transgress ye the commandments of the LORD, that ye cannot prosper? because ye have forsaken the LORD, he hath also forsaken you.
(2 Chr 24:21 KJV) And they conspired against him, and stoned him with stones at the commandment of the king in the court of the house of the LORD.
(Mat 21:36 KJV) Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise.
The Lord sent prophets to both the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah, but the prophets were treated the same in both kingdoms. The following verse confirms that the Lord sent prophets to Israel and Judah:
(2 Ki 17:13 KJV) Yet the LORD testified against Israel, and against Judah, by all the prophets, and by all the seers, saying, Turn ye from your evil ways, and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by my servants the prophets.
(Mat 21:37 KJV) But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son.
Last of all, God sent His Son Jesus to Israel to garner the fruit of Israel. The passage in Mark 11:13-21 discusses the barren fig tree that Jesus found when he came to Israel searching for fruit. Jesus cursed the fig tree and it withered from the roots up. Israel remained under the curse and the fig tree began to blossom and send forth leaves again in 1948. It is still not time for the fruit, but Israel will once again began to bear fruit with the 144,000 Jewish Firstfruits, and the remnant of Israel will receive their atonement at the end of the seven year tribulation, and they will bear fruit during the millennium.
(Mat 21:38 KJV) 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.
When the leaders of Israel saw the Son of God, they were jealous of Him and plotted to kill him, thinking that they could receive the inheritance. The inheritance is the vineyard, which is the kingdom of God. This verse indicates that the scribes and Pharisees correctly recognized Jesus as the Messiah, but they refused to follow Him.
(Mat 21:39 KJV) And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him.
It was the leaders of Israel that caused Jesus to be captured, and they cast him out of the vineyard. This means that they attempted to deprive him of the influence in the world that was rightfully his. In addition, they caused him to be crucified by the Romans who were in power at that time.
(Mat 21:40 KJV) When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen?
In this verse Jesus poses a question to the chief priests and Pharisees. This is interesting as it causes the chief priests and Pharisees to pronounce their own judgment in the following verse:
(Mat 21:41 KJV) 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.
The chief priests and Pharisees accurately pronounce their own judgment in this verse. Of course, they do this just before they perceive the meaning of the parables and realize that Jesus is speaking of them in the parables. Their understanding of the parables is seen in verse 45 below.
(Mat 21:42 KJV) 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?
Jesus summarizes the parable by saying that this very rejection of Jesus Christ by the chief priests and Pharisees was prophesied in the Old Testament. Their judgment for doing this is also explained in the following passage of Scripture:
(Isa 28:14 NIV) Therefore hear the word of the LORD, you scoffers who rule this people in Jerusalem.
(Isa 28:15 NIV) You boast, "We have entered into a covenant with death, with the grave we have made an agreement. When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by, it cannot touch us, for we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood our hiding place."
(Isa 28:16 NIV) So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed.
(Isa 28:17 NIV) I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line; hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie, and water will overflow your hiding place.
(Isa 28:18 NIV) Your covenant with death will be annulled; your agreement with the grave will not stand. When the overwhelming scourge sweeps by, you will be beaten down by it.
(Isa 28:19 NIV) As often as it comes it will carry you away; morning after morning, by day and by night, it will sweep through." The understanding of this message will bring sheer terror.
(Isa 28:20 NIV) The bed is too short to stretch out on, the blanket too narrow to wrap around you.
(Isa 28:21 NIV) The LORD will rise up as he did at Mount Perazim, he will rouse himself as in the Valley of Gibeon-- to do his work, his strange work, and perform his task, his alien task.
(Isa 28:22 NIV) Now stop your mocking, or your chains will become heavier; the Lord, the LORD Almighty, has told me of the destruction decreed against the whole land.
(Mat 21:43 KJV) Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.
Because of Israel’s rejection of the Chief Corner Stone, the kingdom of God would be taken away from Israel “and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.” The word for nation is singular in this verse, and it refers to the Church. It is true that the heavenly aspect of the kingdom (i.e., the double portion) was taken away from Israel, but the earthly aspect of the kingdom will still be accorded unto Israel at the Second Coming.
The heavenly aspect of the kingdom is given to the Church. The Church has brought forth fruits during the last two thousand years. There are numerous Old Testament types that refer to the Church as being fruitful and Israel as being barren. Leah was fruitful long before Rachael in Genesis 29. Peninnah was fruitful before Hannah in 1 Samuel. Leah and Peninnah are types for the Church, and Rachael and Hannah are types for Israel.
(Mat 21:44 KJV) And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.
Jesus was a stumbling stone to Israel and they fell into ruin because of this grave error. In addition, Jesus came down upon Israel in judgment because of their fall. In 70 A.D. Jerusalem and the temple were sacked and burned by the Roman General Titus. In addition, the judgment of the Diaspora took place, and Israel was scattered to the Four Corners of the earth as a judgment. The Greek word for “grind to powder” also means to scatter. The Greek word for “shall fall” means to enter a state of ruin.
(Mat 21:45 KJV) And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them.
After hearing the parables and pronouncing their own judgment, the chief priests and Pharisees realized that Jesus was referring to them in the parables. This enraged them and they sought to lay hands on Jesus and kill him, as stated in the following verse.
(Mat 21:46 KJV) But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet.
Even though they wanted to kill Jesus for speaking the truth about them, they feared the multitude of people that believed that Jesus was a prophet.