These small group studies of Matthew contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, verse by verse commentary, and applications.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

Matthew 21:33-46 Inductive Bible Study – Discussion Questions and Verse by Verse Commentary

Matthew 21:33-46 – Parable of the Tenants

I. The parable of the tenants (21:33-41)
II. Jesus expounds on the parable (21:42-46)

I. The parable of the tenants (21:33-41)

Discussion Questions

Do you remember the context as to why Jesus shared this parable with the people?
Who specifically was He sharing it with?
Who does the landowner represent?
Who or what does the vineyard represent?
Who or what do the farmers/tenants represent?
Who or what do the landowner’s servants represent?
If the servants represent the prophets from God, then share examples of these prophets being mistreated in the Old Testament?
What were the servants going to collect in the parable? (The landowner’s share of the proceeds.)
Then what did God expect to receive from the people when He sent His prophets and His Son to them?
How should the Israelites have responded to the prophets’ and Jesus’ message?
What question did Jesus ask at the end of the parable? What message was He conveying to them with this question?
Do you agree with the people’s answer? Why or why not?


Isaiah 5:1-7 – The Lord planted a vineyard, namely Israel.

Psalm 80:8-15 – Israel is a vine which the Lord planted and took care of.

Genesis 49:22 – Joseph is a fruitful bough.

Jeremiah 2:21 – I planted you a choice vine, but you turned into the degenerate shoots of a foreign vine.

Jeremiah 8:13, Isaiah 7:23 – The vines will be destroyed if the people turn from God.

Luke 11:48 – Your fathers killed the prophets.

Matthew 23:37 – Jerusalem kills the prophets.

1 Kings 18:4 – Jezebeel killed the prophets.

Jeremiah 38:4-6 – Jeremiah is thrown into a pit.

Hebrews 11:36-38 – A list of some of the trials and torture the prophets faced because of the message they brought.

Verse by Verse Commentary

1. Jesus told this parable in response to the authorities questioning Jesus. There is a clear implication in this parable that as the Son of the Landowner (God), Jesus has authority over this who were merely workers in the vineyard. But more than this, Jesus is turning the tables on them. While they are doubting Jesus’ authority, He is letting them know how dangerously close they are to incurring God’s wrath. They had not yet killed His Son so in some sense this parable is also a prophecy, warning them of the consequences of the dangerous choice they were even now contemplating.

2. In this parable the landowner represents God while the vineyard represents His people Israel. The tenants were workers who were supposed to take care of the vineyard and help it grow, namely the spiritual leaders of the country. They include the priests, scribes, and Pharisees and anyone who claimed to be working for God in His vineyard. Interestingly, these people could both be described as a tenant/farmer/worker and as the vine itself. In the same way believers are sometimes called a vine (John 15:5) and sometimes called a worker. We have different roles. For example a pastor may shepherd others, but he also has the need to be shepherded himself. Finally the servants of the landowner represent the prophets of the Lord whom He sent with His message to the people of Israel and its spiritual leaders.

The wall, wine press, and watchtower likely do not represent anything specific (although they are mentioned in Isaiah 5:2). Instead they are representative of the care and energy the landowner put into His vineyard. He created it and then took care of. He had a personal investment in it. It belonged to Him. Based on the amount of love and care He put into it, He expected that it would have a return to Him.

Application: We too are like a vine, a garden, of the Lord. Our life is His handiwork. Just as He cared for Israel, He cares for us. He first planted the seed in our heart. He waters it. He sends people into our lives to care for us. He watches us grow. All of this is to bring about the plan He has for us, which is to bear fruit for Him. God is our gardener. We must let Him remove the hard stones in our heart and till the hard soil of our minds so that it can become soft and good for growing fruit for Him.

3. When harvest time approached – The landowner naturally had an expectation of a “return on His investment.” He had a right to receive a return. The vineyard and everything in it was His. But the tenants did not give Him what was rightfully His. This situation reminds me of the reason Jesus cleansed the temple. The leaders allowed buying and selling on the temple grounds, likely for personal profit. People were coming to worship God and pray, to give Him thanks. This was the type of return He was looking for. But the priests instead were selling stuff and making money, in essence stealing from the Lord. They were personally seeking benefit from people coming who wanted to serve God.

4. Verses 35-39 – In these verses we see the history of God’s dealings with Israel. He sent His prophets to them taking the message of repentance and salvation. But these prophets were largely rejected. Moses was the most famous and popular prophet. But he was not popular during his day. The people constantly grumbled against his leadership and would not listen to his pleadings with them to be obedient to the Lord. Samuel’s advice on anointing a king was rejected. Jeremiah was thrown into a pit. Isaiah was likely sawed in two (Hebrews 11). John the Baptist was beheaded. See Hebrews 11:36-38 for a longer list of what reception the prophets received. Finally, the son of the landowner (Jesus, the Son of God), was killed.

Ask the people in your Bible study group to share a one word summary of what they learn about what people are like here.

In these verses we see the nature of people. Rebellious. Sinful. Depraved. Ungrateful. Selfish. Disloyal.

What do we learn about God?

On the other hand, we learn that God is amazingly patient. He waited, and still waits, a long time to punish those who act so rebellious and scornful toward His good plans for them. Even hanging on the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them.” God’s mercy is vast and His patience is great. But these also have a limit. We also see God’s justice here. His patience will not last forever. One day He will come and punish all these rebellious people who reject Him and His good gifts.

Application: God is both merciful and just. You can pick which one you receive. Which will you pick? What must you do to receive His mercy? What must you do to receive His justice?

5. Jesus closed with a question – His parables were not just mental exercises. Instead He wanted His audience to think about and apply them. Without obedience and life change they would not be useful to their ears. Amazingly, the leaders gave the right answer. And they understood that Jesus was talking about them (verse 45). Unfortunately instead of repenting, they doubled down on their position and sought to kill Him. Their hears were set on wickedness. The warning from Jesus about their mortal danger of incurring God’s wrath in the end did not shock them awake, but actually served to make them more angry and take further steps to bring it about. It confirms that their hearts were hard, just like Pharaoh’s in the book of Exodus long before.

Application: When we teach others, leave them with a question to think about. Try to make the Bible sharing practical and useful. Give them a decision to make. Encourage a response.

II. Jesus expounds on the parable (21:42-46)

Discussion Questions

What is the key point of this parable?
Who or what does the cornerstone in verse 42 represent?
Why is Jesus referred to as a cornerstone?
What is the result for people who do not accept God’s message of salvation?
If someone or a group of people do not respond, what does God do (take’s His offer elsewhere?)
If a person is not responsive or even hostile when you share the gospel, what should you do?
What does it mean to “produce its fruit?”
Are you producing this fruit? In what area can your produce more fruit?
How do you understand verse 44? What does this verse mean?
How did the rulers respond to Jesus? How should they have responded?
How will you respond to this parable? What do you need to do to obey the principles found inside?


Psalm 118:22 – The stone which the builders rejected became the cornerstone.

2 Corinthians 6:2 – Today is the day of salvation.

Matthew 7:19 – Every tree that does not bear fruit will be uprooted.

John 15:1-16 – Vines in Jesus should bear fruit.

Matthew 3:8 – Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.

Verse by Verse Commentary

1. The cornerstone – Story tells that when Solomon had the famous temple built, the builders rejected a stone that had been brought to them for the building. This was cast aside and viewed as unsuitable for the temple. However, later they changed their minds and eventually used this stone as the key stone (cornerstone) for the whole temple. We can see this in Psalm 118:22. Jesus takes this Messianic verse and applies it to Himself. Just as the stone was rejected, but was in fact the most important stone, Jesus too would be rejected, but is the cornerstone.

2. Verse 43 – God’s offer of salvation was not forever. See 2 Corinthians 6:2. Today is the day of salvation. When the Lord extends and offer of salvation He does not promise it for tomorrow. If you will believe, you can do so and receive salvation now. But tomorrow is not guaranteed. Maybe He will extend the offer again tomorrow, but then again maybe tomorrow will be too late (if the person dies, or if the Lord returns first). It is flirting with danger to put off receiving salvation until the future.

Will be taken away from you (Jews) and will be given to people who will produce fruit (Gentiles.)

Application: God wants us to bear fruit. See Ephesians 2:10. We should respond to His love and care for us by believing, thanking, and praising Him and by telling others about Him. Are you giving Him the place He deserves in your life?

3. In verse 44 we see some characteristics of this stone, Jesus. He shatters those who don’t believe. It could be that someone looks at that stone and throws himself on it to cause injury to it. This is what happened when Jesus was crucified. They believed Jesus was weak and pathetic and easy prey. However, they would be shattered. Jesus as the Judge would finally pour out justice and punish those who wrongfully treated Him so. Finally He will crush those who don’t believe.

4. Verses 45-46 – The religious leaders did not repent. But they became more firm in their resolve to kill Jesus.

Application: God wants us to have humble and repentant hearts. Is there anything you need to change today in order to have more fruit? Is there anything you need to prune or cut out of your life so that you will be a healthier and more fruitful tree? If there is something in your life that you know is not right, do not keep doing it like the Jewish leaders did. It is extremely dangerous and may lead in disaster. Instead confess it and change while there is still time.