In Mark 12 verses 1-11, Jesus tells a parable of the vine-growers.

Verse 2:

At the harvest time he sent a slave to the vine-growers, in order to receive some of the produce of the vineyard from the vine-growers. (NASB)

The whole parable revolves around the man repeatedly sending servants (and finally his son) to receive this produce. What does the “produce of the vineyard” represent in this parable?


What an interesting question, one that gave me pause to stop and think. It is obvious that the produce from a vineyard is grapes, but what do “grapes” represent in this parable? The context in which Jesus delivers this parable is important. Mark 12:12 proves that Jesus’ parable was being made against the chief priests and scribes who wanted to silence Jesus and have him removed. In this parable God is the absentee landlord who first sends his servants (the prophets) to receive the landlord’s share of the fruit of the vineyard. When that fails, he sends his son, the rightful heir, but the tenant farmers kill him.

The vineyard and grapes are a metaphor for Israel:

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry! (Isaiah 5:7 ESV)

“Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit.” (Hosea 10:1 ESV)

The produce from the vineyard is a metaphor for those who belong to God: Time and again Israel turns away from God and is disobedient yet He forgives His chosen people:

I planted you a choice vine (or fruitful vine in Septuagint), wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine? (Jeremiah 2:21 ESV)

God ejects the wicked tenants and gives the vineyard to others: The wicked tenants want to kill the son, the rightful heir, but when the owner of the vineyard returns there will be righteous retribution:

He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons. (Matthew 21:41 ESV)

The Kingdom of God will be taken away from those who reject the Son: Jesus quotes from Psalm 118:22-23 (about the cornerstone rejected by the builders) and issues this warning to the chief priests and the Pharisees, the religious leaders:

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him. (Matthew 21:43-44 ESV)

The produce of the vineyard are those who belong to Jesus, the Son and heir, and who bear fruit:

”I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away... he prunes that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:1 ESV)

Conclusion: The produce of God’s vineyard are all who accept the Son of God and who abide in Him.

It is worthwhile to read all three accounts of this parable:

Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19

P.S. Please be aware there was only one answer to this question on Wednesday evening when I started to do some research. I was unable to post this answer till Thursday morning and had not seen the other answers.

EDIT Regarding the quote from Psalm 118:22-23, this snippet of information landed in my in-box this morning. It's about people who don't believe Jesus is the Messiah:

In 1851, the Truro Church of England minister William Haslam was preaching from his pulpit on the text in Matthew 22:42, “What think ye of Christ?” This was Jesus’ question to the hypocritical Pharisees who refused to believe he was the foretold Messiah. As he preached, he became convicted that he was just as hypocritical as those Pharisees, because he did not believe Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of God. He broke down and wept, and was converted to Christ. A man stood up in the congregation and exclaimed, “The parson’s been converted! Hallelujah!” and the rest burst out in praise. After the commotion died down, others testified that they, too, had been converted, such was the convicting power of the Holy Spirit during that half-finished sermon.

  • Thank you so much for this helpful answer, Lesley! It clearly answered the question of what the produce represents - I don’t know if this is taking the parable too far, but I wonder if you have thoughts on why the servants (and the son) came to take the produce away to the owner? Does this act of trying to bring the produce away (but being prevented by the tenants) bear significance in the context of what you shared?
    – Gremosa
    Oct 15 '20 at 16:40
  • @Lesley The passages you quoted are helpful, but where do they indicate that the produce/fruit represents people? Instead they seem to indicate that the produce of the vineyard is not people (who Jesus says are the branches, not the fruit, in John 15), but rather justice and righteousness (in Isaiah 5 at least). This would be comparable to (same category as) the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5.
    – LarsH
    Oct 15 '20 at 18:49
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    @Gremosa – It was customary for absentee landlords to rent their vineyards to tenants who would harvest the grapes and then pay the landlord in the form of harvested grapes. By refusing to hand over what is rightly owed to the landlord (God,) abusing His servants (the prophets) and killing His Son (Jesus), the tenants (the Jewish religious leaders) were preventing the produce (grapes) from being returned to the rightful owner of the vineyard. Everything in the vineyard, including the produce, belongs to God – not to the tenants.
    – Lesley
    Oct 16 '20 at 13:47
  • @Gremosa (continued) The Jewish religious leaders were preventing people from entering into the kingdom of God (Matthew 22:43). That is why God saw fit to open up the kingdom to the Gentiles. The Jewish religious leaders rejected and then killed the Son of God so new tenants were found.
    – Lesley
    Oct 16 '20 at 13:49
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    @LarsH- In Matthew 22:43 Jesus says the kingdom of God will be given to a people who will produce its fruit. Yes, those believers indwelt by the Holy Spirit produce the fruit of the Spirit. But in the parable Jesus is rebuking the religious leaders who are preventing people from entering into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 23:13). People, not grapes, are what God harvests and the people belong to God. That is why new tenants were found – the kingdom was opened to the Gentiles.
    – Lesley
    Oct 16 '20 at 13:54

Excellent question? In fact I was thinking about this parable today and then I spotted your question. One of the main points of the parable is the fact that The Son Jesus Christ preexisted His incarnation.

I looked through some of my papers from 12 years ago and found a detailed explanation by a man named James Montgomery Boice. Under the title of his paper he wrote,

Background: There are 6 main characters in this parable: 1) the landowner-God, 2) the vineyard-Israel, 3) the tenants/farmers-the Jewish religious leadership, 4) the landowner's servants-the prophets who remained obedient and preached God's word to the people of Israel, 5) the son-Jesus, and 6) the other tenants-the Gentiles.

The explanation of all these points is rather lengthy and after some research I found the following site by Mr. Boice. https://brakeman1.com/2012/05/12/what-is-the-meaning-of-the-parable-of-the-vineyard/ He has written books on the various parables and at least to me he makes sense.

Like I said at the start, one of the main points is the preexistence of the Son. Notice from the Mark 12:1-12 account that at verse 6, "He had one more to send, a beloved son; he sent him last of all to them, saying, "They will respect my son." Verse 7, "But those vine growers said to one another, "This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours."

The point being that in order for the Son to be sent he had to have preexisted.

  • How does this answer the question about produce? (Also, the argument that the parable is making a point about Jesus' preexistence seems very weak. "Sending" does not have to refer to the incarnation itself. Yes, Jesus preexisted his incarnation, but if this parable makes a point of it, then it would seem also to be making the same claim about the prophets, whom God also "sent.")
    – LarsH
    Oct 15 '20 at 18:56
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    @LarsH The produce/grapes can be found at Isaiah 5:1-7. Verse 7, "For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel. Lesley gave an excellent explanation of the verses. Now, you just admitted that Jesus prexisted his incarnation and since that is true it stands to reason that He was sent or came down/descended from heaven. The prophets did not preexist to be sent to Israel. Just read John 6:42, "I have come down from heaven." John 6:38, "I have come down from heaven to do the will of Him WHO SENT ME." Ephesians 4:10, "He who descended is Himself who ascended far above the heavens."
    – Mr. Bond
    Oct 16 '20 at 20:56

It should not surprise anyone that an agrarian society and economy used the idea of "fruit" widely as a metaphor as well as literally. The word καρπός (karpos = "fruit") occurs 66 times and most often us used metaphorically. Here is a sample:

  • Literal fruit: Mark 11:14, etc.
  • Children of parents: Luke 1:42, 12:17, etc.
  • Converts or citizens of the kingdom of heaven: Matt 13:8, 26, 21:19, 34, Mark 4:8, 29, 12:2, Luke 8:8, 20:10, John 4:36, 12:24, 15:2, 4,5, 8, 16, etc.
  • Personal discipline and attributes consistent with conversion, eg, repentance and good works: Matt 3:8, 10, 7:16, 17, 18, 19, 12:33, Luke 3:8, 9, 6:43, 44, 13:6, 7, 9, Gal 5:22, 23, etc.
  • Heavenly rewards: Matt 21:41, 43, etc.

When discussing a parable, the details are less important than the conclusion. In the parable of Mark 12:1-12, the vineyard represents the Jewish nation whose probation was drawing to a close. Jesus made this explicit in His pronouncement of Matt 23:37, 38

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling! Look, your house is left to you desolate.

... and Matt 21:43 which is parallel to Mark and draws the obvious conclusion:

Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.

The Jews had not been the people that God hoped for (John 8:44, see Ex 19:5, 6) so the promises (Gal 3:29) were transferred to the Christian church as per 1 Peter 2:9-12 which quotes Ex 19.


What does the “produce of the vineyard” represent in this parable?

The answer can be found in Luke 3:8

Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.

The new children for Abraham become the new tenants of the vineyard as alluded to near the end of the parable in Mark 12:9

"What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.

What is the fruit in keeping with repentance?

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love ...

John 5:42 but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.

Repentant people show love: love of God and love of neighbors.


What does the produce of the vineyard represent in the Parable of the Vine-growers?

It represents " Justice"

“The vineyard of Jehovah of armies is the house of Israel; the men of Judah are the plantation he was fond of. He kept hoping for justice, but look! there was injustice.” Isaiah 5:7 reads:

Isaiah 5:7 (ASV)

7 For the vineyard of Jehovah of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah [a]his pleasant plant: and he looked for justice, but, behold, oppression; for righteousness, but, behold, a cry.

Isaiah 5:7 (NET Bible)

7 Indeed, Israel is the vineyard of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the people of Judah are the cultivated place in which he took delight. He waited for justice, but look what he got—disobedience! He waited for fairness, but look what he got—cries for help!


Remember parables are not allegories. Not everything in the parable symbolizes something.

...it has become almost universally accepted that a parable’s meaning consists of one central, decisive point. A few parables might have two major points or possibly even three, but we do not treat them as true allegories, finding hidden significance for every single element. -- Sproul, R. C. (2017). What Do Jesus’ Parables Mean? (First edition, Vol. 28, p. 7). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust: A Division of Ligonier Ministries.

One needs to ask if the produce or grapes differ significantly from the vineyard symbolizing Israel. Could the produce be the people of Israel? On the other hand the vineyard and/or produce could be the kingdom of God within Israel. What's difficult about seeing the produce as something symbolic is the produce apparently is something good and achieved, but not given to God. In a parable all the symbolic needs to joint together to make a point together. That brings into question that the produce of the vineyard represents something other than a way of showing the tenants did not recognize the prophets and Christ.

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    You make a good point, in general. In this parable, however, I think the produce of the vineyard is relevant to the main argument of the parable.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 14 '20 at 20:58

There are instances in the text where the “harvest” or “fruit” have clearly identifiable symbolic meaning. Examples include:

  • A field ready for harvest is symbolic of people/souls in the story of the Samaritan woman: “I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.” (Jn 4:35)
  • Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the weeds: “The field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom.” (Mt 13:38)
  • Fruit as visible signs of the inner spiritual state: “Every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit… Thus you will know them by their fruits (MT 7:17)

The produce in this parable could mean one or more of these things. But perhaps the symbolism is not made clear for a reason. Compare with the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Mt 20:1-16), where the focus is also not on the produce of the vineyard. In my opinion, the ambiguity of the produce allows the focus to fall on the other parts of the story, namely the characters and their relationships to one another.

First is the landowner. This parable begins with a description of a landowner whose goodness is established by the care with which he provides for the vineyard and his tenants: “There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower (Mt 21:33). Later, when the tenants harm and kill the landowner’s slaves, he would show great patience and forbearance. Sending more slaves and finally his son, he said in an almost a wistful tone, “They will respect my son” (MT 21:37).

In contrast, the tenants completely disregarded the landowner and what they owed to him. To keep all the produce of the field for themselves, they would resort to evil – harming and killing those sent by the landowner to collect the rent/produce. Blinded by their greed and self-interest, the tenants would come to kill the son as well, after reaching the illogical conclusion that they could thereby take his inheritance (Mt 21:38).

Besides the relationship of the landowner and the tenants, there is also an interesting sequence in the words that describe those sent by the landowner: first were the slaves, then came the son, who is then identified as the heir. This progression from slave, to son, to heir is echoed in Galatians: “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son…that we might receive adoption to sonship… So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir” (Gal 4:4-7).

From this perspective, the corrupt tenants can be viewed as those who think they can gain the son’s inheritance on their own terms and by force. The alternative path to inheritance, as is hinted in this parable and more clearly laid out in Galatians, is through adoption and sonship.

The question that arises is the symbolism meant by the son’s inheritance. Jesus seems to clarify its meaning in His conclusion, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom” (Mt 21:43). Reference Matthew 25:34: “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’”

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