Luke 20:9-18 – Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Oct 1st)

Message Notes:  Rejecting the Cornerstone Oct 1


Ask your group members if they have ever seen a grape vineyard. Have them describe what it looks like, more specifically if they have ever seen people working on it. What kind of work did they do? Another option is to ask your people if they have ever used a parable, or a story, to drive home a point to someone. It may have been a child, student, or even a friend. Why did they use a story to make their point? In today’s passage, Christ uses a parable to show the religious leaders in Jerusalem about the fate that awaits them for rejecting him as the Son of God. 


Synopsis:  Jesus uses a parable to challenge the legitimacy of the religious elites in Jerusalem.

The parable of the wicked tenants appears to have been addressed to the same audience as mentioned in 20:1. However, although spoken to the people in the temple, Luke clearly understood the parable as directed against Jesus’ opponents, who were described as “teachers of the law and chief priests.” The parable was based on the practice of absentee landlords letting hired people till their land for a commission or portion of the profits. Jesus described unexpected reversal. The tenants revolted and mistreated the landlord’s messengers, refusing to pay the owner’s share of the income. This pictures Israel’s history with God’s messengers. He sent them. They killed them. The prophetic message in Scripture they so ardently taught and argued over had its foundation in people who died at the hands of these leaders’ forefathers.


  • Jesus’ parable accuses them of failing in their duty as leaders of God’s people and threatens the end of their tenancy.
  • He predicts that they will kill him.


READ Luke 20:9-18 and answer the questions below:

To whom was Jesus telling this parable?

What did the owner of the vineyard do after he built it?

What did the tenants do when the owner sent servants to the vineyard?

How many servants did the owner send to the vineyard? 

What happened when the owner sent his own son on his behalf? 

How did the owner respond when they killed his son?

How did the religious leaders respond to Jesus’ parable? How did Jesus respond to them?

From where was Jesus quoting in v. 17?

Jesus then told a parable to describe His authority. A parable about a vine was not new for Israelites. Isaiah had used the figure to refer to the nation (Isa. 5:1–7), and the symbolism would have been clear to the hearers. The owner of a vineyard sent three servants to gain fruit from his vineyard (Luke 20:10–12). But the tenant farmers … beat each of the three. Finally, he sent his son, whom they killed so that they could gain the inheritance (vv. 13–15). Jesus then asked his listeners a rhetorical question, What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He answered His own question—He would kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others (v. 16).

This culminated all of Jesus’ messages concerning the fact that Gentiles and outcasts would be added to the kingdom whereas many from Israel would not be allowed to enter. The crowd responded with a strong statement of negation—May this never be! They understood the implications of what Jesus was saying: the Jewish system was being set aside because the religious leaders were rejecting Him. Luke pointed out the seriousness of the situation by recording that Jesus looked directly at them and quoted from Psalm 118:22, a verse which noted that a seemingly insignificant thing (a stone thrown away by stone masons) was really the most important thing (this stone became the capstone). Jesus’ point was that He, the most important element in the Jewish nation, was being rejected, but ultimately would be supreme. He also would be the means of judgment.


Use the information from the text and the commentary notes below to help discern responses to the following questions. 

  • Why do you think Jesus used this parable with the religious leaders in Jerusalem?
  • Why do you think the religious leaders responded the way they did to Jesus’ parable?
  • Why do you think Jesus referenced the Old Testament passage regarding “the cornerstone?” 

The parable, which is found in all three Synoptic Gospels, contains several allegorical allusions to the fate of Jesus and Israel in God’s salvific plan of history. A man planted a vineyard and leased it to tenants. The vineyard functioned as a symbol of Israel’s privileged status as God’s people (see comments on 20:9). The servants sent to obtain fruit from the tenants, i.e., Israel and in particular the rulers, represented the prophets whose treatment had already been described. Yet the owner had one more hope for obtaining fruit from his vineyard, and so he sent his “beloved son.” The evil tenants, however, took him outside the vineyard (the crucifixion took place outside the city of Jerusalem) and killed him, as had been foretold (cf. 9:22). Jesus asked rhetorically what the owner would do and then answered the question. Judgment would come upon the tenants (a.d. 70), and the vineyard would be given to others. These “others,” for Luke’s readers, would be understood as Gentiles (cf. Acts 13:45–47; 18:6; 28:25–28).

The parable concludes with a quotation from Ps 118:22 in which Jesus declared that he is God’s foundation stone. God will establish his kingdom on him, and he will be the focal point of judgment. This is followed by a comment that the teachers of the law and chief priests sought to arrest Jesus because they knew the tenants in the parable represented them (cf. 19:47–48). They were kept, however, from carrying out their desire at the present time because of the people, who were supportive of Jesus (19:48; 20:6, 16b). By means of the parable and concluding statement, Luke continued to prepare his readers for the crucifixion.

Cultural/Historical Background

Jesus’ parable reflects the agrarian situation in Palestine where absentee landlords let out estates to tenant farmers in return for an agreed share of the produce. A vineyard was a long-term investment in that new vines would not produce a significant harvest (and therefore any profit for either the owner or tenants) until the fourth year.

The imagery of Israel as God’s vineyard was well known from several Old Testament passages, and the motif of fruit denied would probably call Isaiah 5:1-7 to the mind of those listening, even without explicit allusion. Moreover, when Christ makes reference to the “stone that builders rejected” those who heard would have likely been reminded of Ps. 118:22. In the psalm, these words refer to the king rescued from his enemies and established by God as ruler.


What do you think Jesus wanted his audience (as well as us) to know about the fate of those who reject God’s Son? In other words, what can we learn from this passage?

Read 5:1-7. How does this passage compare to Jesus’ parable in Luke and what does it mean to be a good steward of the “vineyard?” How are we considered “tenants of the vineyard” God has given us?

Who are people in your life that have rejected the message of the Gospel? What does this passage say about their fate? What are some practical ways that you can pray for them to see the life they can have if they surrender to Christ as Savior?     


20:9 He went on to tell the people. This ties the parable with the preceding scene (20:1), but the parable is directed primarily to Israel’s leaders (cf. 20:19). A man planted. Literally a certain manA vineyard. Even though Luke abbreviated the introduction by omitting the reference to a wall, the pit for the winepress, and the watchtower (cf. Mark 12:1; Matt 21:33), the use of “vineyard” as a metaphor for God’s people is clear. Here it refers to Israel’s privileged position of being the covenant people and heirs of God’s kingdom (cf. Matt 21:43). Rented it to some farmers. The term farmers (geōrgois) can refer to farmers or vinedressers. The latter is more likely here due to the reference to a vineyard in Luke 20:10, 13, 15–16. Went away for a long time. It has been suggested that this is an allusion to the delay of the parousia. Yet since it is the “man,” i.e., God, who went away for a long time and not the son, and since this took place in part during the OT period (the servants are the OT prophets), it is unlikely that Luke was alluding here to the delay of the parousia. Likewise, the judgment that was forthcoming was not the judgment the Son of Man brings at the parousia (cf. 17:22–37; 21:25–28) but the judgment of a.d. 70 and the gospel’s being given to the Gentiles (20:16). Thus the “delay” appears to refer to God’s long-suffering toward his people and the judgment that the rejection of his Son would bring upon disobedient Israel. Nevertheless, the reference to “a long time” after which God brings judgment is unique to Luke. While this verse is not a direct reference to the parousia, God’s patience in delaying judgment upon his people might have resulted in some of Luke’s readers’ thinking, That’s kind of like God’s long delay in sending the Son of Man.

20:10 At harvest time he sent a servant. The servant represents the OT prophets. Three servants were sent. Luke may have chosen “three” to parallel the “three” in 19:16–23. The suggestion that the servant was beaten because he refused to go away without receiving what was owed his master loses sight of the fact that this is parable. The tenants beat the servant because the storyteller wanted them to do so. If there was a “reason” for a beating, it lies in the reality that the speaker wanted to be symbolized by this action. A more legitimate question would be, Does the beating symbolize Israel’s abuse of the OT prophets? Almost certainly it does.

20:11 Beat and treated shamefully. The abuse of the second servant is increased. The question about whether the second sending took place during the same year is again beside the point because of the parabolic nature of the material. If this were important for the message of the story, the storyteller would have mentioned it.

20:12 The third servant was abused even more. He suffered wounds. There is a clear crescendo of abuse heaped upon the servants that would reach its climax in the murder of the son.

20:13 What shall I do? For similar soliloquies within a parable, cf. 12:17; 15:17–19; 16:3. I will send my son, whom I love. Because of 3:22; 9:35 the reader clearly understands this as a reference to Jesus. Luke furthermore had just spoken of the son’s coming in 19:28–40. Compare the wording of the RSV, “my beloved son.” Perhaps they will respect him. This is God’s last and most gracious attempt to win over his people. The adverb “perhaps” (isōs) occurs only here in the NT. By this addition to the parable (cf. Mark 12:6; Matt 21:37), Luke may have been seeking to safeguard God’s sovereign rule over history and his ultimate control of the events surrounding Jesus’ passion.

20:14 This is the heir. Jesus in his parable gave the tenants the knowledge that this was the owner’s son. Let’s kill him. Compare 19:47; 20:19. And the inheritance will be ours. Exactly how the son’s death would have resulted in the vineyard becoming the tenants’ property is uncertain. In the parable, this is not explained, but in the situation of first-century Galilee with absentee landlords, the death of the heir in the parable could have been understood as resulting in such a situation.

20:15 So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Luke and Matthew (21:39) reversed Mark’s order (12:8) in order to correspond more precisely with the historical circumstances (cf. Heb 13:12–13; John 19:17). Although this part of the parable requires that the vineyard refers to both Israel and Jerusalem, this is understandable, for Jerusalem represents Israel. What then will the owner [literally Lord] … do to them. This is best understood not as part of the parable itself, which ends in Luke 20:15a, but as the interpretation of the parable.

20:16 He will come and kill those tenants. This judgment occurs within history, for it is associated with the giving of the vineyard to others. Luke wanted his readers to understand that this was fulfilled in Jerusalem’s destruction in a.d. 70 (cf. 13:35; 19:43–44; 21:20–24; 23:29–31). And give the vineyard to others. Compare Acts 13:45–47; 18:6; 28:25–28. Here the vineyard refers to God’s kingdom, which would be offered to the Gentiles, whose time had now come (21:24). Matthew 21:43 elaborates on this, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruits.” When the people heard this, they said. The people by their response stood in sharp contrast to their leaders (cf. Luke 19:47–48; 20:6, 19). They expressed horror at the whole course of events in the parable, and their hearts furthermore were favorably disposed to the preaching of Jesus (20:1). May this never be! This strong negative (mē genoito) occurs only here in the Gospels but thirteen times in Paul’s writings.

20:17 Then what is the meaning of that which is written? The perfect participle “written” (gegrammenon) is frequent in Luke-Acts. The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone? The capstone refers to the head cornerstone that bore the weight and stress of the two walls built upon it. Its function and importance were like that of a capstone in a cathedral without which the vaulted ceiling would collapse. Without the cornerstone, the two walls built upon it would collapse. Jesus, rejected by official Israel, is the key, foundational element in God’s building, the church. This verse found in all three parallel accounts (and also immediately following the parable in GT 65–66) comes from Ps 118:22 and was an important OT text in the early church. For “rejected” cf. 9:22.

20:18 Everyone who falls … broken to pieces. The quotation from Isa 8:14–15 demonstrates that those who are offended by the gospel and reject the stone will experience a disastrous judgment. Simeon in Luke 2:34 had already alluded to this. Jesus is the divine divider who separates the wheat from the tares, the sheep from the goats, the blessed from the damned. But he on whom it falls will be crushed. The same thought of 20:18a is repeated, but the image now involves not the Jewish leaders’ falling on the stone but their being crushed by having the stone fall upon them. Compare Isa 8:14; Dan 2:34–35, 44–45 for the source of this imagery. Compare Midr. Esth 7.10 on 3:6, which quotes Isa 30:14 and follows with the proverb: “If a stone falls on a pot, woe to the pot! If a pot falls on a stone, woe to the pot! In either case, woe to the pot!”

Posted in Group Notes, Luke 14, Luke: A Jesus for Everyone