In the parable of the tenants, Jesus presents himself as the Son of God, and the chief cornerstone (Messiah) of God's kingdom. He warns the Jews' religious authorities that if they stumble over and reject his claims, the kingdom will be taken from them and given to a new people (the Church).
The Triumphal Entry (v1-11)
Matthew tells us in verses 5 and 9 that Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem fulfilled two Messianic prophecies. Verse 5 is a quote of Zechariah 9:9, and verse 9 is a quote of Psalm 118:25-26. Both of these prophecies have a dual fulfilment. Several days after the triumphal entry, Jesus prophesies a second fulfilment of Psalm 118 when he says in Matthew 23:39, "For I tell you, you will not see me from now until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!" Similarly, Zechariah 9:9 is set within the context of Messiah's end-time deliverance of Israel and the establishment of his worldwide kingdom. Let me give you a glimpse of what I mean by quoting Zechariah 9:9-10, "Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem! Look! Your king is coming to you: he is legitimate and victorious (or 'bringing salvation'), humble and riding on a donkey – on a young donkey, the foal of a female donkey. 10 I will remove the chariot from Ephraim and the warhorse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be removed. Then he will announce peace to the nations. His dominion will be from sea to sea and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth".

The triumphal entry on Palm Sunday is a bit like the trailer for a movie. It gives you a glimpse of what is to come, but the movie gives you the full context of what takes place. His entrance into Jerusalem was in humility, riding on a donkey. In the end times, his triumphal entry will be in glory, wearing royal robes, riding a majestic white warhorse, and leading a great army (e.g. Psalm 24:7-10, Isaiah 63:1-6, Revelation 19:11-16). In its proper end time context, Psalm 118 is a celebration of Israel's great deliverance from her enemies by her Messiah king. In his first coming, Jesus provided for Israel's deliverance by his victory over sin. At his second coming he will deliver Israel by his victory over Satan-incarnate and all who follow him.

Parable of the Tenants (v33-46)
In this parable, which Jesus partially interprets in verses 42 to 46, the vineyard represents the Kingdom of God (v43). It also represents Jerusalem (v39) or Israel as a whole. The tenant farmers represent Israel, the owner represents God, and the owner's slaves represent Old Testament prophets (including John the Baptist) whom Israel shunned and abused. The owner's son represents Jesus who by implication is the Son of God. When the tenants throw the son out of the vineyard and kill him (v39), Jesus was prophesying that he would be killed outside of Jerusalem.

Jesus prophesies that the owner of the vineyard (God) will destroy the wicked tenants (the Jewish authorities responsible for Jesus' death). Instead he will give the vineyard (the Kingdom of God and Jerusalem) to other tenants who will give the owner his portion of the harvest (vs 41, 43). These other tenants represent the Church, a new kingdom movement that includes both believing Jews and Gentiles (Galatians 3:26-29 and Ephesians 2:11-18).

In verse 42, Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22-23 (see also Isaiah 28:16). The stone the builders rejected is Jesus. He has become the cornerstone. The cornerstone is the first foundation stone to be set in the construction of a new building. All other stones are then set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure. The Apostle Paul uses this metaphor in Ephesians 2:19-22, in which he explains how God has included the Gentiles in his household, " So then you are no longer foreigners and non-citizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit". By quoting from Psalm 118, Jesus is claiming to be Israel's Messiah, the cornerstone of God's kingdom. Isaiah uses the metaphor of a cornerstone in Isaiah 28:16, which Peter expounds upon in 1 Peter 2:4-10.

In verse 44, Jesus alludes to Isaiah 8:14, which uses the metaphor of a stone that is a stumbling block. Jesus warns the Jews that if they stumble over his claims to be the cornerstone (Israel's Messiah), they will fall and be crushed. Verse 45 tells us that Jesus directed his parable, not against all Jews in general, but specifically against the chief priests and the Pharisees. Some of the Jews believed in Jesus, and became part of the Church. As such, they became the new tenants of God's kingdom.

The relationship between Israel and the Church is an important end-time topic. See my commentary on Romans 9-11. In the next chapter, Jesus makes many of the same points in the Parable of the Wedding Banquet.

Cleansing the Temple (v12-17)
Jesus going to the temple and cleansing it after his triumphal entry was a prophetic act in several different ways. Malachi 3:1 prophesied, "…the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his temple". Malachi continues in verse 5, "I will come to you in judgment. I will be quick to testify against those who practice divination, those who commit adultery, those who break promises, and those who exploit workers, widows, and orphans, who refuse to help the resident foreigner and in this way show they do not fear me". Jesus overthrew the tables of the money changers and merchants, testifying against the misuse of God's temple by the Jewish leaders. He says in verse 13, "My house will be called a house of prayer,’ (a quotation of Isaiah 56:7) but you are turning it into a den of robbers (a quotation of Jeremiah 7:11)!"

Isaiah 56:7, in its original context, expresses God's acceptance of foreigners who become his followers, and his provision of the temple as a place where all nations can pray. So the abuse of the temple's outer courtyard, that was intended for such purpose, represented an exploitation of the resident foreigner in the manner prophesied by Malachi.

Jeremiah 7:11 in its original context was part of Jeremiah's warning that the temple would soon be destroyed by the Babylonians, and the people of Judah driven out of the land. Jeremiah pointed to how Shiloh had been destroyed by the Assyrians, and the northern kingdom taken away into exile. He warned that the same was about to happen to Jerusalem and Judah. As such, Jesus' quotation of Jeremiah 7:11 was a subtle warning to the Jewish leaders of his day that Jerusalem would soon be destroyed by the Romans, and the people driven out of the land once again.

After Jesus end-time triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he will cleanse the temple from the 'abomination of desolation' set up by the Antichrist (Daniel 12:11, Matthew 24:15). At that time, Zechariah 14:8 records that "living waters will flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea (i.e. the Dead Sea) and half of them to the western sea (i.e. the Mediterranean)". Ezekiel 47:12 describes the healing properties of this millennial river of God. Although it will one day be a literal river, figuratively it also represents the Holy Spirit, by whose power Jesus healed many sick people during his earthly ministry. Revelation 22:1-2 describes a similar river with similar healing properties in the New Jerusalem, the eternal city.

It is therefore appropriate and prophetic that immediately after cleansing the temple, Jesus healed many people there. It was as though the river of the Holy Spirit was flowing out from him, there in the temple where his throne will one day be located (Ezekiel 43:7, 47:1, Zechariah 6:13).

As a result, the people again shout 'Hosanna to the Son of David' (v15) as they had already done at the triumphal entry. Hosanna is an expression of praise meaning 'May the Lord save us', and comes from Psalm 118:25. It is verse 26 of the same Psalm that says "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord". These two proclamations were both understood to be expressions of praise reserved for Israel's coming Messiah. The title 'Son of David' was also a Messianic title, going back to 1 Chronicles 17:11-14 in which God promised that one of David's descendants would reign forever upon his throne.

When the chief priests and experts in the law heard the people so openly proclaiming Jesus as their Messiah, they became indignant (v15), and challenged Jesus, "Do you hear what they are saying?". Jesus knew full well what they were saying and its implications. Jesus' response was even more provocative, "Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of children and nursing infants you have prepared praise for yourself'?". Jesus was quoting Psalm 8:2. The 'you' in this verse refers to God. Jesus was claiming not just to be Messiah, but also Jehovah God!

The Withered Fig Tree (v18-22)
After spending the night at Bethany, Jesus is returning to Jerusalem early in the morning, passing the Mount of Olives on the way. Feeling hungry, he notices a fig tree by the road, but there is no fruit on it, only leaves. The parallel account in Mark 11:13 tells us it was not the season for figs, suggesting that Jesus did not expect to find figs but was making a symbolic statement. The fig tree is symbolic of Israel (see my commentaries on Matthew 24:32 and Luke 13:6-9). Jesus curses the fig tree saying, "Never again will there be fruit from you!" (v19). Matthew tells us the fig tree withered immediately. It seems that it was only Jesus' disciples who witnessed this event, so Jesus was trying to teach them something. But was does it mean? It seems that Jesus was warning his disciples what would happen to Israel, or perhaps to the leaders of Israel, if they did not produce the fruits of repentance and faith that Jesus desired from them. In Luke 13:6-9 Jesus publicly told the Parable of the Fig Tree, in which he warned the Jews that they had one more year to produce the fruit of repentance, or they risked being 'cut down'.

In Romans 11:17-24, Paul uses a cultivated olive tree as a metaphor for Israel, and explains that because of their unbelief, some of the Jewish branches were cut off and replaced with the grafted-in branches of a wild olive, representing the Gentiles. He makes it clear that only some, not all of the Jewish branches were cut off, and that in the future if they turn from their unbelief they will be grafted back in again.

Verses 21 to 22 indicate that his cursing of the fig tree was also part of a lesson about the exercise of faith to perform miracles. He says, "if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,' it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, if you believe, you will receive". In other words, it is a kind of miracle that Jesus intended his disciples to be able to perform. Cursing the fig tree is the only destructive miracle that Jesus performed. Today some Christians who practice Christ's healing ministry sometimes curse things like cancerous growths, commanding them to shrivel and disappear. Perhaps that is an appropriate and beneficial application of this lesson. Jesus and his disciples were close to the Mount of Olives when Jesus made this statement about commanding 'this mountain' to be lifted up and thrown into the sea. Jesus is speaking figuratively about having faith to overcome seemingly immovable obstacles. It is likely that he also had some thought in his mind of the day when he will one day divide the Mount of Olives in a dramatic end-time exodus-type event (Zechariah 14:4-5).
Places: Jerusalem, Mount of Olives
Symbols: Vineyard, Tenants, Vineyard owner, Son of vineyard owner, Cornerstone, Fig tree
Tags: Triumphal entry, Jesus as the cornerstone, Jesus as Messiah, Jesus as the Son of God, Jesus as Jehovah, Israel rejects Jesus, Consequences of Israel rejecting Jesus, Israel and the Church, First and second comings, Cleansing the temple, Physical healing, River of God, Faith for miracles
The Triumphal Entry
21 Now when they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples,
2 telling them, “Go to the village ahead of you. Right away you will find a donkey tied there, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me.
3 If anyone says anything to you, you are to say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.”
4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet:
5Tell the people of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, unassuming and seated on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”
6 So the disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them.
7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.
8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road. Others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.
9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those following kept shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
10 As he entered Jerusalem the whole city was thrown into an uproar, saying, “Who is this?”
11 And the crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Cleansing the Temple
12 Then Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all those who were selling and buying in the temple courts, and turned over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves.
13 And he said to them, “It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are turning it into a den of robbers!”
14 The blind and lame came to him in the temple courts, and he healed them.
15 But when the chief priests and the experts in the law saw the wonderful things he did and heard the children crying out in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became indignant
16 and said to him, “Do you hear what they are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of children and nursing infants you have prepared praise for yourself’?”
17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and spent the night there.

The Withered Fig Tree
18 Now early in the morning, as he returned to the city, he was hungry.
19 After noticing a fig tree by the road he went to it, but found nothing on it except leaves. He said to it, “Never again will there be fruit from you!” And the fig tree withered at once.
20 When the disciples saw it they were amazed, saying, “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?”
21 Jesus answered them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen.
22 And whatever you ask in prayer, if you believe, you will receive.”

The Authority of Jesus
23 Now after Jesus entered the temple courts, the chief priests and elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
24 Jesus answered them, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things.
25 Where did John’s baptism come from? From heaven or from people?” They discussed this among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’
26 But if we say, ‘From people,’ we fear the crowd, for they all consider John to be a prophet.”
27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Then he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

The Parable of the Two Sons
28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’
29 The boy answered, ‘I will not.’ But later he had a change of heart and went.
30 The father went to the other son and said the same thing. This boy answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but did not go.
31 Which of the two did his father’s will?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, tax collectors and prostitutes will go ahead of you into the kingdom of God!
32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him. But the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe. Although you saw this, you did not later change your minds and believe him.

The Parable of the Tenants

33 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a fence around it, dug a pit for its winepress, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenant farmers and went on a journey.
34 When the harvest time was near, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his portion of the crop.
35 But the tenants seized his slaves, beat one, killed another, and stoned another.
36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first, and they treated them the same way.
37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’
38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and get his inheritance!’
39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”
41 They said to him, “He will utterly destroy those evil men! Then he will lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him his portion at the harvest.”
42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:
The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
This is from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
43 For this reason I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.
44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, and the one on whom it falls will be crushed.”
45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them.
46 They wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowds, because the crowds regarded him as a prophet.