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Heir In other New Testament passages, Jesus is referred to as an heir, and the receiver of an inheritance:

...in these last days God has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe. (Hebrews 1:2)

Ask of Me and I will make the nations your inheritance, and the ends of the Earth your possession. (Psalm 2:8)

Then in Matthew, Jesus spoke a parable to the rabbinical leaders in which the heir of the vineyard was taken and killed! (Matthew 21:33-46)

But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, "This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and take his inheritance. So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. (vs. 38-39)

Jesus then quoted a passage from the Psalms (118:22,23). And ended with a threat of "taking the Kingdom from the Jews and giving it to other people" (Matthew 21:43).

So, was this a round-about prophecy about the Crucifixion, and the subsequent Judgment on the Temple of the Jews? Were those events in the mind of Jesus prophetically? Or is this a general parable story, perhaps of a real event that happened in the land of Judea? Is there historical evidence of such an event?

Was Jesus, because He was able to know the future, taunting the Chief priests and Pharisees, OR was He letting them know that He was aware of their schemes? Or was He merely reminding them of an event which could apply to them if they persisted in unbelief?

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There are several records that Jesus predicted His death would happen.

  • 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.

Indeed, the apostle Paul says that Jesus' death and resurrection was "according to the Scriptures":

1 Cor 15:3, 4 - For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, hat He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures

Jesus' comments in Matt 21:38, 39 is simply another of Jesus' own predictions that as Messiah, he would be killed, exactly as the OP has correctly documented:

  • The parable talks of killing the "heir"
  • Jesus is confirmed as the "heir" of all things, Heb 1:2, Ps 2:8

Therefore, I see nothing even remarkable about Jesus' prophecy that He would die - this is simply one of several times Jesus said this in various ways.

The remainder of Jesus prophecy appears in V43:

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.

This was fulfilled by two things:

  • the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant; or from the Jewish chosen people to the people of faith as God's chosen people, otherwise known as the Christian church; Gal 3:26-28, Heb 8:8, Luke 22:20
  • this was necessary, as Jesus noted in Matt 21:43 because the Jewish leaders would soon say:

John 19:15 - But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.

Thus, the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus as their true king, shunned Messiah, arranged to have Him executed (according to the Scriptures and Jesus' own statements) and adopted an earthly king as their monarch. Hence, they precipitated a series of events that resulted in them being rejected as the chosen people. This is why Jesus said that the "the kingdom of God will be taken away from you [the Jews] and given to a people [Christians] who will produce its fruit."

Later, when Jesus wept over Jerusalem, He said something similar:

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! 38Look, your house is left to you desolate.

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Mtt 21:46 goes on to state:

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them.

Chapter 21 of Matthew contains a number of events, which may not strictly follow the chronological sequence in which they actually took place (NB: Mark narrates the vineyard's parable in Chapter 12 ) . Jesus' entry into Jerusalem in the stature of a king, his cleaning of the Temple with unquestionable authority, his cursing of the Fig Tree, his telling of the Parable of Two Sons and the Parable of the Heir to the Vineyard -- all these make a perfect setting for the threshold on which he discloses his preparedness to accept the 'legalised murder' foretold by the prophets and to be executed by the High Priests. And he does not mince words while speaking of the fate of unbelievers, especially of the priestly class on whom God the Father had placed much trust and hope.

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There are certainly indications in the text that Jesus knew he would be rejected and crucified. The parable is recorded a full five chapters after Jesus revealed to his disciples that this was to be his destiny:

Matthew 16:21

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.

So it is not hard to make the case that the answer to the OP is a simple yes. On the other hand, there are also indications that the disciples were surprised and shocked by Jesus' death. For example, in Luke 24, the disciples who encounter the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus speak of:

..the things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. 21 But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel...

Critical scholars tend to see scriptures like Matthew 21:33-46 as partly a creation of the church of the mid-late 1st century, rather than actual words of Jesus. Thus, the Jesus Seminar - while affirming an authentic core of the parable in the teachings of Jesus, concluded that its present form includes an anti-Jewish "overlay" (such as the the quotes mentioned in the OP) that were not part of what Jesus originally taught:

The Fellows were nearly unanimous in rejecting this overlay as originating with Jesus...(It) reflects a retrospective view of events that culminate in the crucifixion of Jesus and is therefore a creation of the Christian movement. (The Five Gospels, p. 234)

Conclusion: If Jesus indeed taught the parable in its current form as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, then "killing the heir" is clearly a refence to his own fate. However, recent scholarship has cast doubt on the authenticity of this saying.

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  • I have always been interested in the "Jesus Seminar" and wondered what evidence, apart from their conjectures and feelings, these people used to arrive at their conclusions. In this particular case, what other authoritative texts suggest that Jesus did not say these things?
    – Dottard
    Feb 24 at 20:52
  • Dottard, who are the ' these people' you are referring to ? Feb 25 at 3:16

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