The Parable of the Vine-Growers

We are continuing our meditation on the last week before Christ’s crucifixion. After Jesus had gone into the temple courts and thrown out the sellers of animals and upturned the tables of the money changers, the religious leaders plotted to kill Jesus because of His challenge to their authority and their using religion to make money. In front of many hundreds of people in attendance in the courts of the temple, He spoke this parable:

9And He began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and rented it out to vine-growers, and went on a journey for a long time. 10“At the harvest time he sent a slave to the vine-growers, so that they would give him some of the produce of the vineyard; but the vine-growers beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11“And he proceeded to send another slave; and they beat him also and treated him shamefully and sent him away empty-handed. 12“And he proceeded to send a third; and this one also they wounded and cast out. 13“The owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14“But when the vine-growers saw him, they reasoned with one another, saying, ‘This is the heir; let us kill him so that the inheritance will be ours.’ 15“So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What, then, will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16“He will come and destroy these vine-growers and will give the vineyard to others.” When they heard it, they said, “May it never be!” 17But Jesus looked at them and said, “What then is this that is written: ‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNERSTONE’? 18“Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.” 19The scribes and the chief priests tried to lay hands on Him that very hour, and they feared the people; for they understood that He spoke this parable against them (Luke 20:9-19).

The man who planted the Vineyard represents God the Father. The farmers who have had the land leased to them are the spiritual leaders of Israel, the very leaders that were standing against Jesus and challenging His authority. They were not owners, although they thought of themselves as such. They were tenant farmers. The land had only been leased to them for a time. They were under responsibility to choose their own methods to sow the land, protect the vines from savage animals, pull up the weeds, and maximize their harvest by their efforts. The Lord had spoken in the third book of Moses as to whose land it was:

“The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants” (Leviticus 25:23).

The parable is a prophetic story of how God will call leaders to account for their rebellion and rejection of the Father’s authority over His land and people (see also Ezekiel 34). All the Earth belongs to the Lord (Psalm 24:1), but there is one small area of land and people that God has specifically set apart for His own purposes, i.e. the land that He has given as a stewardship to the children of Israel. The Vineyard was a picture of the nation of Israel, the representative of God’s covenant love and care.

There were and are evil spiritual forces at work that sought then and continue to seek in our own time to divide up God’s land, destroy the Jewish nation, and take the land for their own purposes (Ezekiel 36:5; Psalm 83:1-12). This battle over the land of Israel will continue until the Lord steps in to execute judgment on those who divide up God’s land. Governmental leaders are not owners, but tenants. They will be held to account:

I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will enter into judgment against them concerning my inheritance, my people Israel, for they scattered my people among the nations and divided up my land (Joel 3:2).

The spiritual leaders of Israel were those shepherds who had been allowed to cultivate the land and bring forth a harvest for the owner, God. Men motivated by greed and lust for power had managed to get into positions of leadership in the nation. Their motivation was to keep hold onto power by their rejection of God’s authority over the land and people of Israel. The leaders wanted profit, power, and control over the land, i.e. the very authority that Jesus was challenging. All were under God’s authority, but they were in rebellion to the thought that all authority is derived from above.

Sending servant after servant, the owner speaks of the patience, love, and desire of God to bestow mercy on those who would come to Him in repentance. God had sent prophet after prophet over several hundred years, but they had been stoned and killed. The Lord then sent John the Baptist to call the nation and the elders to repentance, but the ruling leaders would have none of it. God tried every option to reach the wayward shepherds of His flock, but now things had come to a head with the Owner of the vineyard sending His Son.

As with all of Jesus’ parables, the story pulled the people to the point where they became part of the story.  Then, Jesus got to the part where He stated the owner’s dilemma: “The owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do’?” At that point, it’s very likely that the Lord stopped speaking and looked in silence around the crowd to let the question settle into their hearts. I wonder if people in the crowd interrupted with shouts saying, “Get rid of those evil tenants.” His yearning for the leaders to repent and have a broken spirit seems to spill from this parable. Peter the Apostle wrote, “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The mercy of God amazes me!

Taken from the series on the Book of Luke, found in the middle column near to the top. To view, click here. Click on study 53. Luke 20:1-19: The Parable of the Vine-Growers. Keith Thomas