TSP Podcast 5a: On the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, with Curtis Mitch [right click to download]
As virtually all scholars agree, the imagery of the story itself likely comes from Isaiah 5. There the Lord describes Israel as a vineyard, which he has built (cf. Isa 5:1–2, 7). Indeed, the motif of the vineyard was frequently associated with Israel in Jewish literature. Deciphering the other imagery in the story is not all that difficult.
The Meaning of the Vineyard
Some—especially those who see the story as a creation of the early Church—have read this story in terms of a supersessionist theology in which the Church replaces Israel. However, as Evans points out, this makes little sense of the parable since it is the tenants and not the vineyard which is condemned. The identity of the vineyard remains constant—it is the tenants, which changes hands. Given the context, it is most likely that the “tenants” in the parable symbolize the Jewish leadership. In fact, the Jewish leaders are described with the term elsewhere in ancient Jewish texts. In addition, the servants who are sent by the owner and who are rejected are widely recognized as representing the prophets sent by the Lord to his people. The son of the owner who is killed is obviously an image of Jesus.