Vineyards appear throughout the Bible as vivid images. Many references to them appear in the Old Testament and then Jesus used the imagery numerous times in his teachings as recorded in the New Testament.
We read about the Exodus of Israel described in the language of a vineyard:
You transplanted a vine from Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground for it,
and it took root and filled the land. Ps 80:8-9
Later, the prophet Isaiah gives us a image of the vineyard:
I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside.
He dug it up and cleared it of stones
and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
but it yielded only bad fruit. Is 5:1-2
This text, as does Psalm 80, describes Israel as God’s vineyard. We see key statements: The one who dug the vineyard also cleared it of stones and planted it with the best vines. The watchtower was built to protect it and the vine keeper also cut a winepress. He put much work into his vineyard and expected a good crop.
The picture here is similar to Genesis 2 where God forms a lush garden and instructs the man to tend it.
In both Genesis and in Isaiah, people fall short of being good tenants.
Jesus picks up the theme in a parable about the tenants, found in Matthew 21, Mark 12 and Luke 20.
Jesus has just entered Jerusalem on a donkey to a cheering crowd who welcomes him as a king. But the religious leaders challenge his authority and Jesus, after a few interchanges, tells this parable.
The parable relates the story of a vinedresser who worked hard to plant a vineyard, place the protection of a watchtower in place, and prepare a winepress. When the vineyard was ready, the vinedresser turned it over to tenants to care for it. The hard work was already done.
But when the vinedresser sent servants to gather his share of the crops, the servants were turned away. Some were beaten and others were killed.
So the vine keeper sent his son to gather what was his. The tenants, seeing an opportunity to clinch their hold on the vineyard, killed the son.
The vine keeper then killed the tenants and gave the vineyard to others.
Jesus had entered Jerusalem celebrated as a king but the religious leaders questioned his authority. Now he suggests that God, who had planted the vineyard called Israel, was sending his son to collect the fruit. And the tenants were going to reject/kill the son.
The vine keeper expected good fruit; the tenants wanted to be the owners instead.
The imagery of the vineyard, threaded from Genesis where God gave humans the duty of tending the earth, to the gospels where Jesus reminded God’s people of their rebellion, makes for a powerful story.
Consistent imagery cements the emphasis.