The Bible often compares Israel to a vine or a collection of vines in a vineyard (Psalm 80:8-15; Isaiah 5:1-7). The vinedressers represent the civil and religious leaders of Israel and Judah whose duty was to guide the nation righteously but who were corrupt in their dealings. The vineyard being leased to them symbolizes their temporary possession and responsibility to care for it. The landowner (God) planted a hedge (the law with all its ordinances) around the vineyard to protect the vineyard from outside attack, keeping Israel separate from other nations for His special purpose. The tower symbolizes God's watchful oversight of the nation.
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record Jesus' Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers (Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19). Not long before, the scribes, chief priests, and elders had accused Him of taking too much authority upon Himself, but in this parable, they find themselves indicted for high crimes. Having discounted Jesus Christ as the Son of God with all authority, in this story they—and the people (see Luke 20:9)—learn His identity, who sent Him, and the death He would die at their hands. In earlier parables, He had exposed the religious leaders of His day as spiritually empty impostors, and now, in this more condemnatory parable, He reveals them to be persecutors and murderers as well.
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers
These verses contain another parable to the leaders of the Jews, where Jesus uses the example of a householder leaving his vineyard with a husbandman or manager. God had left these leaders of physical Israel in Moses' seat, but they beat His true servants and even rejected His Son. In response, God would reject these husbandmen (verses 41-45)! The chief priests and Pharisees perceived He was talking of them (verse 45). He was removing them from office! They would no longer mean anything as physical leaders of Israel, for Christ would give their authority to others! This enraged them to the point of trying to kill Christ on the spot (verse 46).
Those who had been in charge and seemed to be first in importance would be last in order of both resurrection and influence! Those who had been in the first marriage with Christ and rejected Him were no longer of any spiritual value until the second resurrection! They were being supplanted by a New Testament church whose leaders would now be in charge. Yes, God would offer them salvation later on, but not in the time and order they expected!
Who Are the 'Guests at the Wedding'?
Jesus is God's primary communicator of salvation. Despite their human limitations as compared to Jesus, the prophets were also sent in their time as communicators on God's behalf. Humanity claims that our Creator does not communicate with His creation, but this is a bald-faced lie. Right from the beginning, He personally communicated with Adam and Eve, showing His intention, and He patiently followed through with it, most especially to those of Israelite descent after God's work with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Of particular note is what is directly commanded in Matthew 17:5 during the Transfiguration: We and all mankind are to “Hear Him [the Son]!” This charge is no mere random command from the Father but a direct commission to the apostles—and of course, to all who followed what they learned from the Son, the highest and greatest of all of God's spokesmen.
The reality is that most of humanity is not listening—at least not thoughtfully and carefully, with a willingness to accept His teaching—as His elect do. Instead, mankind has reacted as the Jewish religious leaders did upon hearing His parables. Even so, God has made the knowledge of Jesus and His work available to the world, especially among the Israelite peoples, and this awareness has made it possible, primarily through the printed word, to communicate for almost two millennia what Jesus taught.
God does not lie. This parable provides evidence that He has continuously tried to communicate faithfully and honestly with mankind. However, humans just as frequently and sometimes violently reject God's every effort and then blame Him for it! Eventually, God must communicate differently, as He did with Israel, stripping their advantages from them to shake them into a more profound awareness of Him. Not since the original apostles walked the earth has as true and strong a witness been made to Israel as they scattered to the north and west of Jerusalem to where God desires they reside at this time in His purpose.
In the early chapters of Acts, we witness the Jews' continuing rejection of the Son through persecuting His church and God's turning to the Gentiles by preaching the gospel to them, most notably through the apostle Paul. Thus, we find the Jews having a difficult time accepting Christ. The epistle to the Hebrews, probably written before AD 70, contains theological argument after theological argument about why people must recognize their resistance to the very Son of God, overcome and repent, and move forward in godly living.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Nine)
"The kingdom of God" in Matthew 21:43 refers not to the future establishment of Christ's Kingdom on earth, but to a dominion then in existence.
The context of this parable begins in Matthew 21:23, indicating that its audience was “the chief priests and the elders of the people.” Verses 45-46 show their reaction:
Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet. (Emphasis ours throughout.)
Even though God had not given the religious leaders the means to understand all the mysteries of the Kingdom (Matthew 13:11), they could still perceive that Jesus aimed several of His teachings directly at them.
The chapter break obscures that Jesus continued speaking to the same leaders in the Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14), another parable of “the kingdom of heaven” (verse 2). The king sends out invitations to the feast in batches. The first two sets are declined, signifying the response of the physical nation of Israel. Only after the “king . . . sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city” (verse 7)—foreshadowing Jerusalem's destruction forty years after they rejected the gospel of the Kingdom—does a third call go out, and his servants find suitable guests for the wedding.
This third group of guests represents those whom Christ later gave, not only entrance to the wedding feast, but also authority to rule. As He had earlier told Peter, a representative of the spiritual nation, “I will give you the keys of the Kingdom” (Matthew 16:19). The stewardship of the Kingdom would be transferred.
Likewise, Jesus foretold of a future time when His followers would receive greatly increased authority: “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). Even as Jacob supplanted Esau, so God would make certain that Jacob's descendants would likewise be supplanted (though not forgotten) because of their unfaithfulness.
In these two parables, we can see a critical facet of God's dominion. Jesus considered the chief priests, the elders, and the Pharisees part of God's Kingdom, and also certified that they would have the Kingdom taken from them. They, like tenant-farmers, had a measure of responsibility over that national Kingdom because of their leadership positions within it. They wielded religious power that Jesus acknowledged (Matthew 23:2-3), which had its source in God (Romans 13:1).
In the Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers, the vineyard is the Kingdom of God, and the vinedressers are those tasked with attending to it. Jesus prophesied that stewardship would be transferred because the original caretakers had proven themselves unfaithful. Psalm 80:8-19 also represents the Kingdom of Israel as a vineyard (as does Isaiah 5:1-7), and the shared symbol confirms that the Kingdom of Israel was the Kingdom of God at that time, though not in its fullness.
Similarly, the Parable of the Wedding Feast, though a parable of the “kingdom of heaven,” deals at length with Israel, specifically Judah. It illustrates the physical descendants of Abraham as not acting like Abraham at all (see John 8:30-38). God told Israel even before she made the covenant, “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6), revealing that His original intent for Israel was to be a Kingdom.
Israel's first human king, Saul, was unfaithful, and the Kingdom was taken from him and given to David. After the people contributed for the Temple, David praised God, saying, “For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and You are exalted as head over all” (I Chronicles 29:11). Similarly, Abijah refers to the house of David as “the Kingdom of the LORD” (II Chronicles 13:8). Both Asaph and Isaiah proclaim that God was still Israel's King, even though earlier the nation had requested a king “like all the other nations,” rejecting God (Psalm 74:12; Isaiah 33:22; see I Samuel 8:4-8; Deuteronomy 17:14). The Kingdom of Israel was an aspect of the basileia—the sovereign dominion—of God. It was a Kingdom with its origin and authority in heaven.
David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part One)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Matthew 21:33: