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Download audio Read Luke 20:1 - 20:19

Tom shows how Jesus' parable of the tenants establishes his authority to lead God's people in Luke 20: 1-19.


The Parable of the Tenants

Right at the heart of this passage is an aggressive questioning of Jesus’ authority, by the chief priests and elders.

Their question: “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things?” is, in effect, saying to Jesus, “Who do you think you are, to speak to us in this way!”


The authority of Jesus questioned

The chief priests posed their questions hoping to give the impression that they were simply investigating the truth. But what they were really looking for was an excuse to refute the authority of God and carry on in their disobedience. They were ultimately looking for an excuse to put Jesus to death.

But Jesus responded with a question. He refused to be manoeuvred into their trap. He chose to do the questioning in order to expose them.

“John’s baptism – was it from heaven or from men?” Luke 20:4

Jesus knew, as did the chief priests, that John the Baptist was highly regarded by the Jewish people as a prophet. So, this question placed them in a serious dilemma. They would not want to criticise John in public, by answering ‘From men,’ because they feared being stoned by the Jews. But if they said ‘From heaven,’ then they were, in effect, accepting Jesus as the promised King. They did not want to face up to this truth, because they feared the consequences.

A bigger dilemma raised by this passage is that the authority of John and the authority of Jesus stand or fall together. If the chief priests accepted that John was a heavenly messenger then they had to listen to what he said about Jesus, and therefore they would have to submit to Christ. If they were allowing people to believe that John was a messenger from heaven, then they, too, had to be seen to listen to Jesus’s teaching. They could not deny him publicly. They could not ask Jesus to insult John the Baptist.

Jesus was in absolute control in this situation

Hence, although they thought they had trapped him, his question to them had exposed them. The word of God is sharper than a double- edged sword and judges the attitudes of the heart. Here Jesus Christ was judging the attitudes of men’s hearts.

Their questioning had merely shown that they were seeking excuses to carry on in their own unbelief.


The authority of Jesus described.

In verses 7-8 the religious leaders answered, “We don’t know where it was from.”

Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

Jesus is not going to tell them on their terms but on his terms. - In his own way. - From his own parable.


The parable of the tenants.

Here Jesus was preaching an obituary for a nation. It is a parable which manages to sum up thousands of years of history - in 180 words

Verse 9 tells us: “A man planted a vineyard and went away for a long time”.

Isaiah 5:1-2 Is helpful for understanding Luke 20. It is known as ‘The song of the vineyard.’

This illustration from Isaiah would have been very well known to a Jewish audience.

The vineyard of the Lord is the nation of Israel. The vine represents the people of Judah whom he delights in. They were taken from Egypt and planted in their own land. They were the apple of the Lord’s eye, and precious to Him. They grew into a great nation.

The parable of the tenants presents a picture of the Lord’s fruitful community, and in order to care for them, [i.e. to cultivate their fruitful life], he gave them some leaders.

Luke 20:10

“At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard.”

Such servants would be the judges and prophets of the Old Testament - the faithful messengers in history. They would bring the word of God to the people of God and challenge unfaithfulness. They were to encourage the leaders and gather the fruit to offer to the Lord.

But what the servant found was the opposite.

Verse 10: ‘But The tenants beat him and sent him away empty handed.’

In total three servants were sent in this way, and each was attacked and thrown out.

Isaiah 5 tells a similar story. Verse 2 reads:

“He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.”

The people of Judah are represented by the vines he delighted in and when the prophets arrived, what they found was anti-fruit. In place of justice - bloodshed, instead of righteousness - cries of distress, instead of grapes - bad fruit.

The Lord’s house of fruit i.e. a house of prayer for all nations, had been turned into a den of robbers. Fruit turned into anti -fruit; and the leaders were responsible for this.

This demonstrated that the rot of a nation started at the top and worked its way down.

Not only did the servants find anti-fruit, but they themselves were beaten, thrown out, destroyed and despised.

The more grace the owner demonstrated, the more the hatred of the workers increased.

Finally, in Verse 13, contrary to all expectation, the owner of the vineyard, decided to send his son. whom he loved, hoping that, perhaps, they would respect him.

There is no doubt who this son represents. It is the language of baptism and transfiguration. Jesus is the son loved by the father, sent to the people. Perhaps they would respect him. Respect can also mean to turn around/change/repent. The owner thought to himself: ‘Perhaps they will turn around if I send him.’

The patience and long suffering of God, demonstrated here, is astounding. Despite the cruelty and blaspheming of the leaders, he was holding out his hand in grace.

Jesus Christ is love made manifest.

Isaiah 5:3-4

“Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than what I have done for it?”

But the tenants plotted to kill him. They threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

What is the right thing for the master to do in this situation?

You could use the illustration of a family home. Imagine that the owner had to go away taking some of his family with him. He left behind some family members, together with a friend who was entrusted to take care of the house. The owner returned to find that the ‘friend’ had taken it over, changed the locks, boarded the windows and even worse, abused the members of the family.

In this example and in today’s passage, what is the right thing for the owner to do?

In the parable he killed the tenants and gave the vineyard to others, demonstrating that the days of God’s patience are not limitless.


The authority of Jesus proclaimed

Luke 20:16: When the people heard this they said, “God forbid!’’

What were they so upset about?

Did they reject this picture of their ancestry?

Did they think the judgement too harsh?

Or did they really hate the fact that God really would give the vineyard to others.

Jesus is saying, if you reject the prophets and if you reject me then the days of your privilege will be over. The gospel will be handed over to the gentiles and they will take possession.

The Jewish people were horrified. ‘That must never happen!!’

The stark reality is that it was happening! The parable was being fulfilled in its telling.

And it is happening today. John the Baptist was the last prophet to visit them and they did not believe him.

After this encounter with the chief priests, they looked for a way to arrest Jesus immediately.

In response to their accusation against Jesus: “What right do you have?” comes verse 17:

“Jesus looked directly at them.

‘What is the meaning of that which is written: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone?’”

Here Jesus was quoting from Psalm 118.

He is the rejected son who will become the Lord of the church, the Cornerstone. That is not a random choice of words. He is effectively telling them, ‘I have every right!’

Psalm 118 is also quoted in Luke 19 v 37-38.

‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord’.

That is not an accident. He claims it for himself in their presence. ‘I am ‘the temple’ preaching in the temple.’

Here he is clearly saying ‘Yes I’m going to be rejected and die on a cross as a sacrifice for sinners. But I will rise again and be vindicated. Unless you produce the fruit of repentance you will stumble and be destroyed.’

If you despise the authority of the son, you will pay for it.

Brothers and sisters, if you switch off and mock this message, then you have completely missed the meaning. This is not about Israel. It is about you and me.

Sin makes us want to enjoy the fruits of God’s blessings, -the good things. But we want to chuck the son on a pile of rubble. We don’t want Him, but we want what he can give us.

Covid-19 is a real problem, but it is not our biggest problem.

If we walk away from this parable like the leaders did, then we have actually walked into this parable, even in the telling.

Respect the son by trusting him. God has sent the son into the vineyard of this life to give you life.

As Christians, we are the temple of the Lord, the vine that he delights in. How is the fruit of our vine?

If Jesus were to come into the vineyard, would he find a resistance to his message, or would he find life?

We are in a unique moment in history, and people are asking big questions, so it is a real encouragement to keep speaking out the truth.

The heavens declare God’s glory day after day, and we must go to the vineyard of this world and speak of the son.

By God’s grace may we submit to it.

Luke 20:1 - 20:19

20:1 One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know where it came from. And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

And he began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. 10 When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. 13 Then 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 tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ 15 And 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 those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” 17 But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone’?

18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

19 The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. (ESV)