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Two Illustrations About Vineyards

Two Illustrations About Vineyards

MATTHEW 21:28-46 MARK 12:1-12 LUKE 20:9-19



At the temple, Jesus has just confounded the chief priests and the elders of the people, who challenged him as to the authority by which he is doing things. Jesus’ reply silences them. Then he gives an illustration that exposes what kind of people they really are.

Jesus relates: “A man had two children. Going up to the first, he said, ‘Child, go work today in the vineyard.’ In answer this one said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward, he felt regret and went out. Approaching the second, he said the same. This one replied, ‘I will, Sir,’ but did not go out. Which of the two did the will of his father?” (Matthew 21:28-31) The answer is obvious​—the first son is the one who in the end did his father’s will.

So Jesus tells his opposers: “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going ahead of you into the Kingdom of God.” The tax collectors and the prostitutes initially would not serve God. However, like the first son, they later repented and now are serving him. In contrast, the religious leaders are like the second son, professing to serve God but really failing to do so. Jesus notes: “John [the Baptist] came to you in a way of righteousness, but you did not believe him. However, the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him, and even when you saw this, you did not feel regret afterward so as to believe him.”​—Matthew 21:31, 32.

Jesus follows up that illustration with another. This time, Jesus shows that the religious leaders’ failure goes beyond neglecting to serve God. They are actually wicked. “A man planted a vineyard,” Jesus relates, “and put a fence around it and dug a vat for the winepress and erected a tower; then he leased it to cultivators and traveled abroad. In due season he sent a slave to the cultivators to collect some of the fruits of the vineyard from them. But they took him, beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent another slave to them, and that one they struck on the head and dishonored. And he sent another, and that one they killed, and many others, some of whom they beat and some of whom they killed.”​—Mark 12:1-5.

Will those hearing Jesus understand the illustration? Well, they may remember Isaiah’s words of criticism: “The vineyard of Jehovah of armies is the house of Israel; the men of Judah are the plantation he was fond of. He kept hoping for justice, but look! there was injustice.” (Isaiah 5:7) Jesus’ illustration is similar. The landowner is Jehovah, and the vineyard is the nation of Israel, fenced in and protected by God’s Law. Jehovah sent prophets to instruct his people and help them produce good fruitage.

However, “the cultivators” mistreated and killed the “slaves” sent to them. Jesus explains: “One more [the owner of the vineyard] had, a beloved son. He sent him to them last, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those cultivators said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed him.”​—Mark 12:6-8.

Now Jesus asks: “What will the owner of the vineyard do?” (Mark 12:9) The religious leaders answer: “Because they are evil, he will bring a terrible destruction on them and will lease the vineyard to other cultivators, who will give him the fruits when they become due.”​—Matthew 21:41.

They thus unwittingly proclaim judgment upon themselves, for they are among “the cultivators” of Jehovah’s “vineyard,” the nation of Israel. The fruitage that Jehovah rightly expects from such cultivators includes faith in his Son, the Messiah. Jesus looks straight at the religious leaders and says: “Did you never read this scripture: ‘The stone that the builders rejected, this has become the chief cornerstone. This has come from Jehovah, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” (Mark 12:10, 11) Then Jesus drives home his point: “This is why I say to you, the Kingdom of God will be taken from you and be given to a nation producing its fruits.”​—Matthew 21:43.

The scribes and chief priests recognize that Jesus “told this illustration with them in mind.” (Luke 20:19) More than ever, they want to kill him, the rightful “heir.” But they fear the crowds, who consider Jesus a prophet, so they do not try to kill him right then.