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The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (also call the Parable of the Landowner, etc.) is related in all three synoptic gospels with only minor variations. What struck me recently in reading it again is that, if the vineyard owner is God, there seems to be an implication that He did not intentionally send Jesus to die, but hoped he would be accepted.

In the parable, a man plants a vineyard and then, after a certain period, rents it to wine-growers and goes on a journey. He sends servants to collect the rents due to him, but they are rejected and treated shamefully. (These apparently represent prophets whose message was not accepted.) Finally:

He had one more man to send, a beloved son; he sent him to them last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son. (Mark 12:6)

The son, of course, is not only rejected but killed, foreshadowing Jesus' persecution and death. But in the parable, it seems this death is not intended by God. Quite the contrary, God hopes his "beloved son" will be accepted. This interpretation dovetails with the expectation of the disciples that Jesus would "restore the Kingdom to Israel" (Acts 1:6) and Jesus' own sincere efforts to stimulate his people to recognize him (Matthew 23:37).

Why would God say "they will respect my son" if in fact he predestined Jesus to die on the cross from the outset?

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    This is overstretching the meaning of a parable
    – Michael16
    Aug 29, 2023 at 10:58
  • If the parable was written "they will kill my son", would it raise more puzzle to the parable, particularly to those who listened at that time. Why would someone send another one to a sure death? Sep 1, 2023 at 22:01

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The question can be resolved by considering who it was to whom Jesus addressed that parable. Matthew's account shows that:

"And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? Who gave thee this authority?" Matthew 21:23 A.V.

When the parable is viewed from Jesus' point of view (he being God's Son), he was showing that - before it happened - he knew they would put him to death. In three places in the gospel accounts, he advises his own disciples that he would be put to death, but rise on the third day.

When the parable is viewed from the priests' and elders' point of view, they know they are being told that Jesus is the son, who will be killed by them. Because they refused to admit that Jesus had his authority from God himself, that is why Matthew's account continues:

"And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them. But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitudes, because they took him for a prophet." Matthew 21:45 A.V.

This means, therefore, that the parable cannot be taken to mean that God did not send his Son to die, whether looked at from Jesus' point of view, or that of the ones to whom Jesus addressed that parable. The point of it is about the authority Christ came with, and what would happen when those witnessing his power and authority refused to acknowledge it as from God himself.

EDIT as per request: As for, "They will respect my son" - The fact of this being a parable accounts for the wording there. No parable in the Bible is to be taken as a word-for-word theological exposition on doctrine. They are stories that could be true, but which are invented for the audience to learn a particular point. That audience knew the truth of the history Jesus depicted; God's people beating up and killing the prophets sent by God. Now they needed to know that, finally, God had sent his Son, and God expected them to respect his Son. This parable was designed to leave them without excuse for despising the authority of Jesus, the Son of God sent to them.

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    Excellent answer, viewing the perspective from Jesus' point of view and from the priests' and elders' points of view. (But not from the point of view of an unbelieving skeptic.) Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 28, 2023 at 13:47
  • I see how the answer is relevant but not how it explains why the character representing God would say "the will respect my son." Aug 28, 2023 at 14:58
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    @DanFefferman The fact of this being a parable accounts for the wording there. No parable in the Bible is to be taken as a word-for-word theological exposition on doctrine. They are stories that could be true, but which are invented for the audience to learn a particular point. That audience knew the history; beating up, killing the prophets sent by God. Now they needed to know that God had sent his Son and God expected them to respect his Son. This parable was designed to leave them without excuse.
    – Anne
    Aug 29, 2023 at 8:11
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    @DanFefferman This is not a parable trying to teach God's foreknowledge. It is a parable with the same intent as Nathan's parable to David (accusatory) exposing rightful authority and wicked stewardship: Jesus has entered Jerusalem as King, He has cleansed the temple as Priest, He has cursed the fig tree as Prophet and the stewards of God's vineyard seek to kill Him because they want what is rightfully His. Aug 29, 2023 at 13:24
  • it's the "they will respect my son" that I can't get past here. I grant that parables should not be taken literally, but if the landowner represents God, why portray him as saying this if it doesn't represent God's hope? I'll try to not make this into a debate...so this will probably be my last comment here. Aug 30, 2023 at 0:57
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But did not the lord of this parable send also the servants with a hope that they would be heard? Had he been sure that the servants wouldn't be heard but beaten or killed, sending of them to those villains would be an act of sadism, and worse, of a murder. Thus, hope is entailed both in the case of the servants and in the case of the son, however, in the case of the son this hope is greater, for servants are not as close to the lord as is the son, so, the logic goes, "they had to respect my servants for my sake, but if they disregarded them, thinking that harming them is not a radical offence against me, given that they are not too close to me, then at least in case of my son they will know that disregarding him will be a direct affront against me, which they will hopefully abstain from doing".

Of course God does not want any innocent man to be murdered, never! Not only "does not" but He cannot want it ontologically, for justice is a divine feature not by reason of Him participating in the immaterial idea of Justice, as we do, but the immaterial idea of Justice is the intrinsic idea in Him, so that He cannot be not-just and cannot ever desire an innocent man to be killed. Moreover He cannot desire a man who is not only innocent, but self-sacrificially loving not only his friends but also enemies, as Jesus was doing, to be sadistically killed on a cross, - impossible! And God is always hopeful that we, the murderers of His Son (yes, murderers, because any time we commit sin, we crucify His Son, for we commit sin out of love of the latter's sweetness - lewd sex, power, money, vengeance etc. all are demonically sweet, enticingly piquant and delectable! - but this love we always have simultaneously with the hatred to Christ, who always "mercilessly" "poisons" this love by His commandments) repent and start loving Him.

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    Upvoted this because I think you're right. They had a freedom to choose
    – Leonard
    Aug 29, 2023 at 11:36
  • @Leonard Yes, indeed! Thanks for the feedback and the upvote Aug 30, 2023 at 0:45
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We need to exercise extreme caution here for two very significant reasons:

  1. The parable of the wicked tenants is just that - a parable and so cannot be held responsible for every detail, except the point of the story which is
    • (a) to display the extreme contempt the Jewish leadership had for the promised Messiah; and,
    • (b) to show that God was to let the vineyard (the kingdom of God) out to new tenants (the Christian church).
  1. The only person that killed Jesus was Jesus because God had forsaken Him! Note the following:
  • Matt 27:46 - About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
  • Rom 5:6-8 - For at just the right time, while we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
  • John 10:14-18 - I am the good shepherd. I know My sheep and My sheep know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father. And I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them in as well, and they will listen to My voice. Then there will be one flock and one shepherd. The reason the Father loves Me is that I lay down My life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. (See also John 2:19.)

Then there are several records that Jesus' death would happen as predicted by Jesus.

  • Matt 16:21 - and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
  • Matt 17:23 - They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.
  • Matt 20:19 - and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!
  • Mark 9:31 - They will kill him, but on the third day he will come back to life.
  • Mark 10:34 - who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.
  • Luke 18:33 - they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.
  • Luke 9:22 - The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Thus, it appears that even if Jesus had not been murdered, he would have died anyway. However, this is a rather theoretical possibility, because one of the reasons for Christ's death was to demonstrate the sinfulness of sin - that sinners could stoop so low as to murder the Messiah!.

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  • I upvoted this answer because of the useful hermeneutic principle you announce, that as a parable it should not interpreted too literally. I admit that the preponderance of the NT evidence supports the idea that Christ must die. But I continue to wonder if Jesus isn't hinting here at another possibility that God hoped for. Aug 28, 2023 at 15:06
  • @DanFefferman Do you think there is a possibility that God wasn't sure what would happen as in, "Gee, I hope they don't crucify Him"? If not, then do you think He was hoping for what He knew could never happen? This is the confusion that occurs when a parable is pushed too far. Aug 29, 2023 at 13:31
  • Since Jesus went as it was written of Him (Matthew 26:24) and that to be crucified (Matthew 26:2-5) I would say any theoretical possibility of Him dying in a different manner would entail a breaking of the Scripture...so impossible. I would have upvoted if not for this aspect that you included. Aug 29, 2023 at 13:44
  • @MikeBorden - It is only a hypothetical possibility since God knows the end from the beginning. Thus, events were always going to turn out as they did.
    – Dottard
    Aug 29, 2023 at 20:38
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    @MikeBorden I don't look at the text through the theological prism of God's absolute foreknowledge. For me God's foreknowledge includes more than one outcome. In terms of biblical evidence see for example see Jeremiah 18:8 "if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I planned to bring on it." Aug 30, 2023 at 1:08
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I think the basic premise is God extends the opportunity to all his chosen people, but understood that not all would accept this opportunity. Then the opportunity would be given to others. The same basic premise is repeated in an equivalent but different parable of the wedding feast.

Matthew 22:1-10

1 Jesus answered and spoke again in parables to them, saying, 2 "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a certain king, who made a marriage feast for his son, 3 and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent out other servants, saying, 'Tell those who are invited, "Behold, I have prepared my dinner. My cattle and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the marriage feast!"' 5 But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his merchandise, 6 and the rest grabbed his servants, and treated them shamefully, and killed them. 7 When the king heard that, he was angry, and sent his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

The parable above essentially has an identical meaning to Mark 12:6 and Matthew 21:33 and indeed is told immediately following it in Matthew. It is simply told in different form in much the same way that the Lost Coin and the Lost Sheep are different but equivalent parables told together and meaning the same thing. In both cases, God hopes for the best and extends an invitation that all his people will accept his son/attend the banquet (repent) but knows, in reality, some will reject him.

Additionally, the death of Christ also links back really really heavily to the first story in Genesis. The "seed of the woman" vs. the "seed of the snake". The competing motif between Good and Evil is created in the book of Genesis. It's shown that within humanity there are two competing lineages. The sinful seed from Cain follows the snake and the righteous seed from Seth calls on the name of the Lord. We have lots of really interesting linkbacks. Cains Son Tubal-Cain who will be avenged 70 times 7 times. Christ the righteous seed who will forgive 70 x 7 times etc etc.

Genesis 3:15

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.

Throughout scripture we see mankind align itself with the seed of the snake but God offers a way of repentance to reconcile back with him. God offers the way of escape but understands that man will not always accept it and I think that's simply the same here. He offers his son with best intentions, but at the same time knowing full well some would reject him.

Throughout his ministry, we see there is a specific class of people that Christ and John the Baptist link to the seed of the snake. They are the unrepentant cities and most prominently the Scribes and Pharisees. From the very start of the Gospel John the Baptist directly aligns them with the seed of the serpent from Genesis. When he sees them coming for the baptism of repentance he calls them this directly: In Matthew 3:7 In the King James Version of the Bible the text reads:

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

The World English Bible translates the passage as:

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for his baptism, he said to them, "You offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

Then Christ in Matthew 12:34 says

You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

The term generation (or offspring or seed or brood) of Vipers is a very direct pointer back to Genesis story and Adam and Eve and Cain and Able. The seed of the snake, Cain, kills the righteous Able. And Christ connects this even more explicitly at the end of the “woes to the scribes and Pharisees” that those that reject Christ are the seed of the Snake.

"Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute. Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world. From the blood of righteous Able to the blood of Zachariah"

Basically, because they have rejected the son, and refused repentance, all the blood of the righteous will be placed on their heads. Able being the first righteous man killed in the Hebrew Tanak and Zacharia being the last. They are the fulfillment or embodiment of Cain who slew his righteous brother and was cast out of God's presence. So Christ's death is essentially ordained by God for a "double-edged reason".

  1. To reconcile those that repented
  2. To heap punishment on the heads of those that did not and in so doing destroy crush the head of the snake.
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God has a plan for mankind since the beginning of time. He, being outside of time, knows what will happen, but this doesn't mean that God doesn't gave man the freedom to choose. He was free to choose since the beginning, between eating or not eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. So, in the times of Jesus's ministries on Earth, God gave them the choice between obeying Christ or not.

The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born. (Matthew 26:24, ESV)

From the verse above we can conclude that God knew what will happen, but the man that betrayed Jesus had a choice, therefore his action will have a bad consequence for himself.

Edit: If you want to understand further about the free will and God's plan, please, look at the excellent explanation of a lady called Melissa Dougherty, in the following video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNbBEhuNUsI&t=2s

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The father does not say, “They will not kill my son” but “They will respect my son.” The verb rendered as respect is in the future indicative (interlinear, biblehub.com). While the idea of hope carries with it a sense of uncertainty, the indicative is the mood of reality, not of potential or probability (Mood Indicative, unfoldingword). Given the mood of the word "respect", what the father says has the force of certainty rather than hope.

I see a parallel between the certainty in the words “They will respect my son” and the prophetic nature of the events in the parable. Both have the air of foresight and truth. Rather than contradiction, the moment that Jesus is lifted on the cross is for some the very moment of recognition and respect (cf Jn 8:28, Mt 27:54).

Matthew 27:54 NKJ

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified and said, “Truly this was the Son of God.” – Mt 27:54

What the father's statement does contradict is our human reason and ways of thinking. Contrary to expectation, Jesus' death on the cross serves both to fulfill the central event in the parable as well as set into motion the fulfillment of the father's words (see Benson's commentary on Jn 8:28-29, biblehub).

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