The Parable Of The Wicked Tenants


Some people like to say that this is a parable about ‘The wicked tenants’ but by the time we have finished, you’ll see that it’s more like the parable of ‘The rejected Son’.

We all know what the Pharisees and Sadducees were like, they hated Jesus and they were always plotting for a way to get rid of Him. And there were many reasons for this but one of the main reasons they wanted Jesus out of the way was because they couldn’t or wouldn’t accept who Jesus was. They were always questioning His authority, Mark 1:21-22 / Mark 11:27-33.

They wouldn’t answer Him because they feared the people. And it’s with this final rejection of the source of the Lord’s authority that Jesus goes on to tell them the parable.

“He then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed.” “Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.” “He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ “But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard.” “What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. Haven’t you read this scripture: “‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes’?” Then they looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away.” Mark 12:1-12

This parable tells us a lot about our God, mankind and Jesus Himself.

First, let’s look at what it says about our God. This parable tells us 4 things about our God.

1. Our God is a gracious God.

The Jewish leaders forgot to look back into their history and recognise just exactly who they were and where they came from, Matthew 20:1.

In Ezekiel 16 we find a very graphic picture of what the nation of Israel was like when God took them under His care. And then God goes on to describe how they grew up into something beautiful and how they were like a queen, Ezekiel 16:4-7.

But what a pathetic and helpless and hopeless picture this is. These religious leaders had forgotten just who they were and where they came from. They were God’s people and God owned them.

It was God who made them into the nation that they were. It was God who cared for them when they were lying by the side of the road hopeless.

And when Mark tells us in Mark 12:1 that a man planted a vineyard, he’s telling us that, that man was God, it was God who planted the vineyard.

And notice that the vineyard was given everything it needed to do its work. It was given a wall around it to mark out its boundaries, to keep out robbers and to defend it from wild boars.

There was also a winepress in the vineyard where people would trample all over the grapes with their feet. And underneath the winepress, there was a wine vat and that’s where all the juice from the grapes would flow.

And they were given a tower, and it’s in this tower that the wine would be stored and the people would also live there too. And it’s from there, that they could look out for robbers at harvest time, that’s why it’s called a watchtower, Isaiah 5:2.

The vineyard owner gave the vineyard everything it needed to make their work easy and profitable. And notice that God didn’t just give them a task to do, He also gave them the means by which to do those tasks, 1 Peter 4:10.

When Jesus is talking about those who were given talents, He said one had 5 talents another had 2 talents and yet another had one talent. But Jesus clearly tells us in Matthew 25 that all were given a talent.

But He says, you have a talent and you need to use and develop that talent the best you can because if you don’t, He will give it to someone else who will use it.

2. God trusts us enough to do the work at hand.

Mark 12:1 tells us that the owner of the vineyard went away on a journey. God trusted the tenants to run the vineyard by themselves while He was away.

The responsibility of sharing the good news about Jesus Christ with people is in our hands. God trusts us enough to do that and He trusts us enough to give us freedom of choice about how we do that and how we live our lives.

God has entrusted us to look after His work here on earth but unlike those tenants, we don’t have any rights. We don’t have any right to abuse the Word of God.

We don’t have any right to compromise the Word of God. We don’t have any right to abuse any of the gifts He has given us. But God trusts us enough to allow us to make mistakes and do so much for ourselves.

3. Our God is patient.

Notice how the master sent servant after servant, Mark 12:2-5. We know that Jeremiah was a prophet of God who was beaten up time and time again by the so-called leaders of God’s people, Jeremiah 37:15.

Uriah is another prophet that was killed by the so-called leaders, Jeremiah 26:23. Zechariah was another prophet who was killed by the so-called leaders, 2 Chronicles 24:21.

Hebrews 11:37 tells us that many of God’s servants “Were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated.”

These servants of God were God’s holy prophets who were treated like this. And even after the first one was abused and ill-treated, God still didn’t get angry with them and come after them with vengeance. Oh no! He gave those tenants chance after chance, to respond to His appeals.

And He does the same with people today. He doesn’t cast us away after we sin as Christians. He gives us chance after chance to live holy lives and gives those who aren’t Christians time to become Christians, 2 Peter 3:9.

4. God will serve justice.

These tenants pushed their luck, they pushed God’s patience, 2 Peter 3:10. And like this parable tells us, the world can push its luck with its disobedience and rebellion but there’s a time coming when justice will be done. People will either be born again or wish they hadn’t been born at all, Hebrews 9:27.

And unlike the world believes, our God has the right to judge the world. Our God is a patient God and He as the owner of our souls has the right to expect us to work in the field with the gifts He has given us. He has given us everything we need for life and godliness, 2 Peter 1:3.

This parable also tells us two things about mankind.

1. Mankind thinks it can get away with sin.

Sometimes in the world’s judicial system people fall through the cracks and get away with their crimes, but God’s justice system doesn’t have any cracks.

Remember God’s people hadn’t heard a word from God for 400 years, they hadn’t heard a word from any prophet until John the baptiser came along. Out of sight, out of mind, is the phrase they might have used.

They must have thought that God was too far away to do anything about the situation. Luke tells us in his account in Luke 20:9 that He was away for a “long time”.

And so because of that silence, they may have thought that God was dead and out of the picture. Oh, but how wrong they were and how wrong people are today who think that there’s no God or He’s a dead God.

People today think they can get away with their sinful behaviour but our God is very much alive, Acts 14:15 / Revelation 1:18. We don’t come every week to remember a dead God, our God is alive and well today and when He returns the whole world is going to know about it.

2. You can lose your privileges.

This parable has the story of what was still to come. You see the Jews had all the privileges of being God’s chosen people. They also had many responsibilities, which went along with those privileges.

But these people enjoyed all the blessings from God. He looked after them, He provided their everyday needs, He provided wisdom and guidance, food and shelter. He took care of all their needs as we looked at earlier.

And as soon as Jesus mentioned a vineyard, the Jews would know exactly what it meant. They would cast their minds back to Isaiah 5 where Isaiah is talking about the vineyard.

The problem is this parable doesn’t mean much to us today but to a Jew Isaiah 5:1-7 was a very important part of Israel’s history, which they couldn’t ignore or forget.

Have you ever sat and listened to a sermon and thought to yourself, is that preacher speaking about me?

Is God speaking to me through that preacher?

Sometimes you think maybe he’s not speaking about me, but there are times when it’s so much in your face, that you know that God is speaking to you.

And that’s what’s happening here, the religious leaders knew exactly what Jesus was going on about. Because it was very much in their face and it was very much about them. These tenants or Jewish leaders knew Jesus was speaking about them but as usual, they failed to listen and do their job.

In Matthew 23 we find Jesus talking about the so-called spiritual leaders of the Jewish nation and he says in Matthew 23:16 “Woe to you, blind guides!” He calls them “Blind fools!” in Matthew 23:17.

In Matthew 23:19 He calls them “Blind men!” In Mathew 23:23 He says, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” And on and on He goes.

But the point is that the Jewish leaders were supposed to produce the fruit, and they were supposed to protect the rest of the vineyard. They were supposed to watch out for robbers but they didn’t because they didn’t do their job properly.

And it’s because of their lack of faithfulness to God, that Jesus asks these leaders in Mark 12:9 “What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

In other words, all the privileges, all the responsibilities of being a child of God were going to be taken away from the Jews and given to a people who will be grateful for everything He has done and will do for them.

The Jewish nation will be done away with and another nation will be raised. A nation of people who will obey His words and take their responsibilities seriously, a nation of Christians.

And that would have hurt, ‘the Gentiles being a part of the kingdom of God. Never!’ A Jew would say. All the privileges the Jews had with God were now going to be available to all who would be obedient to the Gospel of Christ, Ephesians 3:4-6.

1. This was the coming of the Messiah.

Now notice that Jesus doesn’t call Himself a servant here, Mark 12:6-8. He deliberately removes Himself from the succession of prophets. He says they were servants, but He is the Son.

And so because Jesus was always being questioned about His authority, He tells them right to their face, that He is the Messiah. They knew that He was the heir, they knew they were going to kill Him.

And so it’s then that Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22-23. This stone, which was the keystone for the building, the most important stone of all, was being rejected.

The Jewish leaders rejected Christ, their long-awaited Messiah. And because they knew that but didn’t want to accept Him, Mark 12:12. This was a right in your face parable.

When it comes to dying most of us don’t know how or when that’s going to happen. But Jesus knew when and how He was going to die.

The cross of Christ didn’t come as a surprise to Jesus but it was still a brutal and shameful way to die. Hebrews 10 tells us that it had to be the cross because there was no other way, Hebrews 10:5-10.

Jesus Christ was born to die, that’s why He came to earth in the first place. He knew He was going to have to suffer and be mocked both physically and mentally.

But it’s because of His willingness to go to the cross, that we can come together and worship Him every week. The stone the Jewish leaders rejected has now become the cornerstone of a new building, the church, Acts 4:8-12.

In other words, the life, death and resurrection of Christ, the very words and the teachings of Christ are the very foundation that Christianity is built upon.

And what a privilege that is, to be a part of God’s kingdom. The question is, what are you going to do with Him? Are you going to reject Him as your Saviour or are you going to accept Him as your Saviour?

The Jews were awaiting their Messiah, He came and they missed it. If you’re not a Christian today, then like we said earlier, God is patient with you, not wanting you to perish.

But He offers you salvation today, He wants to be your personal Saviour, so don’t be like the Jews and miss out.