The Parable of the Tenants and What it Means

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

What does the Parable of the Tenats mean? To whom was it written, and what are the applications for us today?

The Vineyard

Israel was to produce fruit and be a blessing to all that are attached to this Vine.

What does the Parable of the Tenats mean? To whom was it written, and what are the applications for us today? The Parable of the Tenants might be one of the parables that most afflicted the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, and we know it was given to the chief priests and scribes since it is “to them” He spoke, and so Jesus “began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country” (Mark 12:1). It appears that this parable was a provocation of the religious leaders of the day, and they knew full well it was about them (Mark 12:12).

The Audience

The parable was directed at the self-proclaimed “holy men” and all of Israel’s leadership who had been persecuting and murdering the true prophets of God since the nation began. The Jews should have known that the vineyard was a picture of Israel because God often referred to them as such, and they knew about God’s desire to have them produce fruit. God had originally established the nation of Israel to be kings and priests and be a witness to the world (Ex 19:6), but of course they failed miserably and were eventually taken into captivity by the Babylonians, and eventually, in 70 A.D., the Jews would face the utter destruction of Jerusalem where thousands upon thousands of Jews would die with the siege and destruction of Jerusalem when the Roman armies came in 70 A.D.

The Tenants

Next, Jesus says, “When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed” (Mark 12:2-5). The prophets of God were often called His servants (Ex 14:31; 2 Chron 1:3; Isaiah 10:3; Amos 3:7), so the servants that came to the vineyard were the prophets that God sent to preach repentance and turning back to God in obedience, but instead of listening to God’s prophets, they would often kill them to silence their message because it afflicted them so much. You can read about many of these men who died in this fashion in Hebrews 11.

The Heir

Jesus, speaking directly to the religious Jews, said the owner of the Vineyard (God), “had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard” (Mark 12:6-8). In the synoptic gospels, Jesus is sometimes referred to as God’s “beloved Son” (Mark 1:11, 9:7; Matt 16:16), so the Jews knew exactly who this referred to (Jesus), so they understood that the heir was Jesus and the tenants were the Jews, and it wouldn’t be that long until the Jews would in fact kill the heir and throw him out of the vineyard, signifying how Jesus would be rejected and murdered by His own people, and just as the parable indicated. We know that it was out of envy that the Jews delivered Jesus to be killed (Matt 27:18) because Jesus’ popularity was overshadowing their own ruler-ship over the Jews. In the people’s eyes, they looked at the religious leaders as holy men, and they feared that more would be following Jesus than would be following them, so they crucified Jesus after an illegal trial, thinking, “the inheritance would be ours.”

The Rejection

Next, Jesus said, “What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others” (Mark 12:9), and that answer was given them in 70 A.D. when the Romans came and destroyed Jerusalem and killed thousands of Jews after they rebelled against the empire, so did God destroy the tenants and “give the vineyard to others?” Yes!  Those “others” would be mainly Gentiles (only a remnant of Jews today) who have repented and put their trust in Christ, and so it was to the despised, rejected and scorned of the world that God gave the vineyard, or the kingdom.

The Judgment

Catapulta, by Edward Poynter (1868).

Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22, 23 when referring to the Jews rejection of the “heir,” saying, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Mark 12:10). We know this is true because the Jews “were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away” (Mark 12:12). The tragic thing is, they rejected their only hope of salvation and since they refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Chief Cornerstone, Jesus warned them, “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (Luke 20:18). That day is coming when all of the unsaved will be judged before Christ (Dan: 12-1-3; Rev 20:12-15), and the Rock that is our salvation, will be a stumbling block for them and all who reject Christ. That same stone that believer’s stand upon will smash to pieces all who refused to trust in Him. Notice that whoever “falls on the stone will be broken to pieces and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (Luke 20:18), indicating God’s sure and certain judgment.


Even though this parable was given directly to the Jews, the implications are for all who reject Christ. That rock of offense is the Rock, Jesus Christ, and you are either for Him or against Him. You either believe and have eternal life, or reject Him and have the wrath of God abiding on you (John 3:36), so whoever refuses to repent and trust in Christ, will have this Rock fall upon them and break them into pieces, and that means they will forever be separated from God, while those who received Christ will be given the vineyard and rule with, but under the heir, Jesus Christ.

Here is some related reading for you: What Does the Bible Teach About Stewardship?

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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