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21. The Rejected Son

The Passage:
Matt 21:33-44

(Mark 12:1-11, Luke 20:9-18)

The Parameters

  • This parable is similar to Isa 5:1-5.
  • This is the passion week. Jesus, the Son of God, is about to be killed.
  • Jesus had just condemned the leaders for not believing John the Baptist while the tax gatherers and harlots had. That should have motivated the leaders to get with the program.
  • Jesus introduces the parable (in Mat) with the words, “Listen to another parable.” Therefore, this parable is somehow connected to the preceding parable. It is connected in the following ways: It is a further indictment against the leaders who said they followed the Father, but didn’t. This parable also gives more insight into the reason why the religious leaders didn’t believe John and didn’t receive Jesus.

The Problem

Why didn’t the leaders accept Jesus?

To what extent did God appeal to Israel as His servants? How hard did God try to save Israel?

What will be the ultimate result of their rejection of their accountability.

What will God do to those who reject Messiah?

What will happen to the kingdom?

The Progression: Biographical

The characters in the story are representative of real people.


I think Jesus is making an allusion to Isa 5:1-5. Therefore, the Landowner represents God. Some of the parallels that we can see between the landowner in the story and God:

  • Details of vineyard preparation demonstrate the vineyard owner was generous and gave the vineyard keepers everything they needed to operate with.
  • The wall and tower represent protection.
  • The owner went on a journey. His going away gave them opportunity to produce, to be fruitful. This possibly represents God’s setting Israel in the promised land and being less “visibly” involved than during the exodus. The leaders had the stewardship of the nation.
  • The vineyard owner was trusting because he trusted the tenants to keep their end of the bargain and He sent a slave to collect what was due.
  • Mat 21:34 says “when the harvest time approached...” This gives the impression of imminency. Israel was always anticipating the coming of the Messiah.


Represent Israel’s leaders who were the keepers of God’s revelation and promises.


Represent God’s prophets who were sent time and again with the message of repentance, but Israel did not listen and killed some of them. (e.g. Amos 7:10)John the Baptist is the last in a long line of prophets. The previous parable and discussion about the authority of John are relevant here. It is not possible to identify who the servants represent exactly (i.e. former prophets, latter prophets, etc.) The emphasis is on the repetition.


Represents Christ, who came to do the same thing as the prophets which was to “collect the fruit” of repentance and gather those who would follow Him. Instead the vine-growers killed Him.

Notice the phrase, “afterward” or “Last of all.” That has a ring of finality for which judgment is deserved (also cf. Heb 1:1-2).

Matthew emphasizes heirship. The father assumes they will respect the son because of their father/son relationship. Mark and Luke emphasize “beloved son.” The unique relationship of Jesus to God expects good treatment.

    The Rejection

The recognition of the heir (vs. 38). The vineyard keepers knew this was the son. The religious leaders knew who Jesus was. Pilate understood this. He knew they killed him out of jealousy. I think we usually think that the leaders didn’t really know who Jesus was, but this parable indicates that they knew and wanted control of the nation for themselves. They weren’t willing to submit to Jesus’ leadership.

The resolve to kill him. It was planned.

The reason for their action. They wanted to have the inheritance. They wanted to control Israel. They probably also hated him for what he said at the Sermon on the Mount.

The result - They took him, threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. The order is not important. (Matthew and Mark are different) It is the imagery that is important. The killing is because of rejection.

    The Response of the Owner

Jesus pulls a Nathan and they take the hook. He asks them what the owner will do and they get it right, because it is obvious. They should have known better. I think we often just assume the Jews didn’t know who Jesus was, but this and other passages show that they did know and rejected him. Therefore, they really do deserve judgment.

Jesus gives them a little stab. He asks the teachers of the scriptures, “Have you ever read your Bible?” and quotes Ps 118:22f and Isa 8:14-15. He uses building imagery of builders (religious leaders) rejecting a stone (Christ). God would take what they rejected and build a whole knew structure around it.

Therefore (vs. 43) the kingdom would be given to another nation. Who is the nation? It is not Israel because this word is never used of Israel. It is not Gentiles because it is singular. Cf. 1Pe 2:4-9 We are neither Jew nor Gentile. We are a new creation with a citizenship in heaven.

The Point

Those who reject Christ will be replaced by others. “Because of the rejection of Christ, Israel is doomed to judgment and is replaced in the Kingdom program of God (for the present) by those who will demonstrate the fruits of faith.” (Bailey)

The Relation of the Parable to the Kingdom of God

The Jewish leadership and Israel who followed them, who rejected the Messiah, would be replaced, and the kingdom would be given to the Jewish outcasts and/or Gentiles who believed that Jesus was the Messiah.


The vineyard owner was patient and sent several slaves and finally his own son. He didn’t come and destroy them after the first messenger was abused. But, the vineyard owner (God) is just and will punish the evil. Therefore, we can conclude that God is patient. He gave Israel many chances. But don’t presume upon the patience of God.

Be careful not to abuse the privileges that God has given us. He might replace us with someone who will produce fruit.

Don’t be proud that we are included. It only happened because the original group rejected. Rom 11:11? says if we get cocky, He might cut us off.

The quote from Ps 118: showed that the rejection was predicted. Jesus was not supposed to be a surprise to the nation. The prophets had been coming time and again to get the people ready, but they ignored, rejected or killed them.

The leaders were not convicted by this parable, they were infuriated. This shows their hardness.

This parable speaks of human privilege (all that God has provided for us to accomplish His work), of human freedom (He has left us the freedom to make our own choices of how we want to accomplish the tasks), of human responsibility (there comes a day when we will have to answer to God for what we have done.) and it tells of the deliberateness of human sin (sin doesn’t just happen.) (William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 263.)

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