Luke 20:9-19


The scene is Jerusalem on the Tuesday before Jesus' crucifixion and death.  It is paralleled at  Matthew 21:33-46  and   Mark 12:1-12.  Jesus addresses the people but His words are aimed especially at the members of the Sanhedrin (Scribes and Chief Priests) who hear what He says.  Luke is abbreviated in comparison with Matthew and Mark.  But all three say exactly the same thing.

Luke 20:9 He went on to tell the people this parable:  "A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time.

Note that Jesus addresses the people but is actually warning them about what their leaders will do. The leaders are listening and definitely get the point. Perhaps these people are pilgrims in Jerusalem for the Passover.

All the commentators note the similarity of this parable to   Isaiah 5:1  and following.

In the application of the parable  "went away" does not denote lack of concern but rather that God entrusted the Covenant to Israel from the time of their deliverance from Egypt.  "A long time" denotes the whole time from the giving of the Covenant on Sinai to Christ's time.

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. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed.

"At harvest time" is when fruit would be expected. He sent a commission.  "Servant" used here and later obviously means the prophets. The rest of the first sentence in verse 10, in application, simply means the fruits of Law and Gospel, repentance and its fruits.

As the owner had sent the servant they authoritatively in arrogance send him away after flaying him. They despised the Word and God's prophet.

Luke 20:11 He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed.

The repetition is a Hebrew literary method to denote emphasis, but this time worse than the first. They are more insolent and vicious, they beat and insult the servant.

Luke 20:12 He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.

Again, their attitude becomes violent. They wound this servant, and the same verb is used which is used of Christ in verse 15.

Luke 20:13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, 'What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.'

The absentee-owner of the vineyard was called  "a man" in verse 9. Here he is called  "the owner"  or  "the Lord."  It is becoming clear that Jesus is speaking of God, that the  "the keepers"  are the Jewish leaders, and that the  "vineyard"  is Israel under the Old Covenant. What shall I do"  is asked because the situation is serious, not because the owner does not know what to do.

The addition of  "whom I love"  reminds us of Luke 3:22. God sent His very dearest.

At this point we realize that the story is not from ordinary life but is deliberately exaggerated to show the awful circumstance in Judaism.

"Perhaps"  does not mean that God is unsure but denotes His great long-suffering toward Israel.

Luke 20:14 But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. 'This is the heir,' they said. 'Let's kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.'

They audibly and rationally talked over, with each other, a crime. Christ is the heir of the Old Covenant people who had a perfect right to expect the fruits of repentance and obedience. The tenants wanted the inheritance for themselves on their own terms.

Luke 20:15 So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?

Some commentators argue that  "threw him"  denotes Jesus' crucifixion outside Jerusalem. But it is better to apply it to the whole attitude and action of the Jews toward Jesus which culminated in the crucifixion. It denotes the fact that they completely disowned and rejected Him.

At this point look at Matthew 21:41. The people themselves give the obvious answer. In Matthew the people or the Chief Priests and Scribes answer. Here Jesus Himself gives the answer.

Luke 20:16 He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others."  When the people heard this, they said,  "May this never be!"

The absentee-owner of the vineyard finally comes himself, but not to look for fruit. From verses 9-15 we see the great love and long-suffering of the Father. In verse 16 His justice sent in. Punishment is commensurate with their crimes.  "Others" means the Gentiles, as  Matthew 21:43  plainly states. Under the Old Covenant the people had the Kingdom of God. Who said:  "May this never be!"  The people. What did they mean by it? That the leaders should not be treated thus? That the Kingdom should not be given to the Gentiles? We prefer the explanation of Lenski:

The cry meant that these pilgrims hoped to God that it would not come to such a terrible end as the killing of the heir and the judgement on the vine-growers. The fact that all who heard the parable understood its real drift should not be doubted.

If, as Arndt suggests, the Sanhedrists are included, then their plotting immediately after, in verse 19, shows that, though they said:  "May it not be!", their total rejection of Him made them helpless. They acted contrary to their own wish.

Luke 20:17 Jesus looked directly at them and asked,  "Then what is the meaning of that which is written: 'The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone '?

Marshall: The loving, reproving, and yet winning look of Jesus, the chief example of which we have in 22:61.

He really cared for them. The parable has ended and Jesus now makes an emphatic point. It's as if Jesus says:  "You mean to tell me it won't happen? It will. It has been prophesied."

The Jewish leaders could not stand the thought of someone taking the leadership from them. They did away with Him because of jealousy and envy as is pictured in the parable.

The quotation is from Psalm 118:22, a Messianic Psalm. The prophecy, recorded centuries before, spoke of this as if it were already fulfilled. Now it is about to reach its consummation. The prophecy is to be fulfilled in three days, assuming that this was happening on Tuesday.

Commentators argue whether this means  "key-stone" or "cap-stone" . In any case it means that the stone which they considered worthless was actually the most precious.

Luke 20:18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed."

Is the first part of the verse Gospel, and the second part Law? Or is it parallelism, both parts Law? Lenski is of the former opinion, meaning that individual Jews will come to repentance. All others, so far as we know, consider both parts Law, denoting the utter destruction of obdurate Judaism. This is interpretation is preferable. Note the allusions to Isaiah 8:14 and Daniel 2:34 and Daniel 2:44.

Luke 20:19 The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.

The Jewish leaders react immediately. Just as with reference to the betrayal of Judas, no one caught Jesus unawares. He knew precisely what they would do to Him, better than they did. As in the case of Judas, it is a final warning for them to think twice. The long-suffering and justice of God are so plain here. It should be applied the church today.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Luke-John, Festival Season Sundays Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1979, pp. 52-54. Used with permission.

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