Mark 12v01-12, Parable of the Wicked Tenants

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1456053183_thumb.pngWhat are you going to do with Jesus? That may be a question that you have ignored for far too long. The question of what you will do with Jesus may seem irrelevant to you. The importance and relevance of a man who lived nearly 2,000 years ago may escape you. You may not think that it matters to you, or has any bearing on your life. But the question of what you do with Jesus and how you relate to him cannot be ignored indefinitely. Sooner or later, too late perhaps, you will face that question.

In Mark 12, Jesus responds to the religious authorities who have already made up their minds about him. They have not considered the evidence; they have simply considered their own positions and comfort and have concluded that Jesus is too dangerous to have around. They have come to the conclusion that Jesus cannot be ignored.

1.      First, Let’s Trace Some of the Background

From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus faced opposition from the religious leaders of the nation of Israel. From the first chapter of Mark, people began comparing Jesus with the Jewish religious leaders. People were “astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22). The scribes did not appreciate the comparison.

So the scribes question Jesus’ authority to forgive sins:

Mark 2:7 (ESV) “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

  • The scribes question his association with tax collectors and sinners (2:16).
  • The Pharisees question his apparent lack of spirituality since his disciples did not fast (2:18).
  • When his disciples pick grain on the Sabbath, the Pharisees question his understanding of the Sabbath (2:24).
  • When Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, the Pharisees join forces with the Herodians, their political enemies, to try to destroy Jesus (3:2-6).
  • When he casts out demons, the scribes say that he is possessed by Satan and that he gets his power from Satan (3:22).
  • They even oppose Jesus because his disciples did not wash their hands before eating! (7:2-5).

What would they do about Jesus?

Up to this point the opposition had been limited. The opposition was mostly in Galilee, not Judea, far from Jerusalem. But some of the scribes had been sent from Jerusalem to oppose Jesus.

Now, Jesus has come to Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel. This is not the first time that he has been to Jerusalem, nor is it the first time that he has faced opposition in Jerusalem, as we learn from the other Gospels. But never has the opposition been so intense. Never has the opposition been so united against him.

Until now, Jesus has been opposed by the scribes and the Pharisees. But now that Jesus is in Jerusalem, we read for the first time in the Gospel According to Mark that “the chief priests and the scribes and the elders” are joined together in their opposition against Jesus. Hostility to Jesus has risen to a new level of intensity. It is no longer just the scribes and Pharisees who are opposing him; Jesus is now facing real political power. The chief priests and the scribes and the elders are plotting together how they will eliminate the competition. This will be the last week of Jesus.

On Sunday, Jesus made his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem to the shouts of acclamation: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mk. 11:9-10 ESV).

On Monday, Jesus entered the outer court of the temple, the Court of the Gentiles. The Court of the Gentiles was the place where Gentiles were supposed to be able to pray, but instead it had become a marketplace full of oxen and sheep and pigeons and money-changers. Jesus overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. By his action, he condemned the temple practices because the religious authorities had turned his Father’s house into a den of thieves (11:17).

On Tuesday, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders demanded to know what right Jesus had to do these things. They asked Jesus where he got his authority. They were not honestly interested to know where Jesus got his authority; they simply wanted to silence him, and they would silence him by any means possible.

Jesus responded by asking them where John the Baptist got his authority. The religious authorities discussed what answer they should give. Rather than giving a straightforward answer, they calculated that a decision for John would imply support for Jesus, but a decision against John would alienate the people. So they answered, “We do not know.”

These men were not interested in entering into an honest dialogue with Jesus. They had their positions to think of. John’s Gospel reveals their real concern:

John 11:48 (ESV) If we let him go on like this [they said], everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

The truth is that they did not want to know. They were unwilling to know. They were unwilling to commit themselves.

Perhaps you are trying to keep an open mind about Jesus. You want to keep your options open. You are opting to suspend judgment. You want to wait and see. Let’s face the truth: you are opting for “skepticism, unbelief, and cowardice.”[1] Like these men, you are more concerned about your position and power and prestige. You are more concerned about what your family will say. You are looking at what it might cost you to follow Jesus.

What will you do about Jesus?

The religious authorities had followed Jesus’ ministry from the beginning. On numerous occasions, the Sanhedrin had sent scribes to gather information. They had asked many questions. They had made accusations, all in their attempts to undermine this man who was gathering great crowds wherever he went. Now that Jesus was in Jerusalem, he was in their territory. This was their temple. This was the place where they wielded their greatest authority. They had opposed him from the beginning. They had opposed him from a distance. But now it was time to get rid of Jesus once and for all.

What would they do about Jesus?

These men, the chief priests and scribes and elders, represented the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was “a buffer organization” between the Roman Empire and the Jewish nation. It was composed of 71 members and “held near complete freedom in religious matters and restricted freedom in political matters.”[2] These men held the fate of Jesus in their hands. Or so they thought.

What would they do about Jesus?

Mark 11:18 (ESV) And the chief priests and the scribes … were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.

2.      The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Mark 12:1-12)

We now arrive at Mark 12. We might have thought that Jesus would be intimidated when confronted with the political power of the Sanhedrin. We might expect him to avoid the controversy. We might expect him to defend himself. But Jesus does not adopt a strategy of evasion and escape. He goes on the offensive. Jesus further reveals his own self-understanding as the Son of God through the Parable of the Wicked Tenants:

Mark 12:1-12 (ESV) And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. 2 When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. 5 And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. 6 He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 7 But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. 9 What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Have you not read this Scripture: “’The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; 11 this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” 12 And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away.


2.1.     Interpretation

Jesus uses an illustration from absentee land ownership. The absentee landlord would lease (or hire) his land to “tenant farmers.” At harvest, he would send a hired hand to collect his produce. But instead of sending the landlord his due, the farmers paid their rent in blows: they beat the landlord’s servant. The landlord then sent others who received the same treatment or worse. Finally, he decides to send his son. Surely they will respect his son! But no! The farmers see things differently. If they kill the son, there will be no heir and the property will be theirs. They kill the son and thrown him in the ditch and seize the property. Will their plan work? No. The landlord comes and destroys the wicked tenants and then leases the land to others who are more deserving.

Mark tells us that that the chief priests and the scribes and the elders “perceived that [Jesus] had told the parable against them.” That means that this parable is not a judgment upon the Jewish people as a whole. Rather, it is a condemnation of the Jewish leaders, the shepherds of Israel, particularly the Sanhedrin.

This is the first time since chapter 4 that Jesus has told a major parable. It is “a story of Israel’s relationship to the Son of God.”[3] The Jewish authorities understood this parable because it was drawn from the Hebrew Scriptures. Isaiah, the prophet, identifies Israel as the Lord’s vineyard:

Isaiah 5:1-4 (ESV) Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. 3 And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?

Isaiah 5:7 (ESV) For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!

God complains of Israel in Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 2:21 (ESV) … I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine?

Jeremiah 8:13 (ESV) When I would gather them, declares the LORD, there are no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree; even the leaves are withered, and what I gave them has passed away from them.”

Jeremiah 12:10 (ESV) Many shepherds have destroyed my vineyard; they have trampled down my portion; they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness.

The landlord is God himself. He planted the nation of Israel:

Psalm 80:8 (ESV) You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.

He wanted the fruit of righteousness, but…

2 Chronicles 24:18-19 (NLT) They decided to abandon the Temple of the LORD, the God of their ancestors, and they worshiped Asherah poles and idols instead! Because of this sin, divine anger fell on Judah and Jerusalem. 19 Yet the LORD sent prophets to bring them back to him. The prophets warned them, but still the people would not listen.

2 Chronicles 36:15-16 (NLT) The LORD, the God of their ancestors, repeatedly sent his prophets to warn them, for he had compassion on his people and his Temple. 16 But the people mocked these messengers of God and despised their words. They scoffed at the prophets until the LORD’s anger could no longer be restrained and nothing could be done.

Nehemiah 9:26 (ESV) “Nevertheless, they were disobedient and rebelled against you and cast your law behind their back and killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you, and they committed great blasphemies.

So God planted the nation of Israel as a choice vine, and sent prophets to bring about the fruit of righteousness. But they mistreated the prophets and even killed some of them.

Mark 12:6 (ESV) He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

The landlord “had still one other, a beloved son.” This is the third time we find the phrase “beloved son” in the Gospel According to Mark. At the baptism of Jesus in Mark chapter 1,

Mark 1:11 (ESV) And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Then on the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John,

Mark 9:7 (ESV) And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

The landlord would send his beloved son. The tenants recognize the son: “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and the inheritance will be ours!” (Cf. Genesis 37:20a.) Their recognition of the son “only intensifies the gravity of the crime.”[4]

The tenants are shrewd and wise in their own eyes.

Isaiah 5:21 (ESV) Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!

The Jewish authorities will do away with the Son. They will look out for themselves. They will protect their own positions of power and prestige. They will brook no competition to their position as leaders of Israel. All competitors must be eliminated.

The tenants took the son and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard to be devoured by the birds. This was Tuesday. On Friday, Jesus would be crucified outside the city walls. They would be rid of Jesus once and for all. Or so they thought.

The Jewish authorities think that they will have won the day once they kill the Son. But they seem to have forgotten that they will still have to deal with the owner, God. How self-defeating it is to try to “outmaneuver the owner of the vineyard.”[5]

2.2.     Warning

How unlikely it seems that a landlord would send servant after servant, and then finally his son, all in the hope that the wicked tenants would respect his son. And yet, that is exactly what God did. Through the centuries, with great patience and compassion, time and again, God sent his prophets to warn the people and to call them back to himself. Now he speaks to the Jewish authorities and to us through his Son:

Hebrews 1:1-2 (ESV) Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

Jesus tells this parable of the wicked tenants to warn these Jewish leaders that their shameful failure to fulfill their duties will bring God’s judgment upon them. They cannot escape by killing the Son, for God himself will bring judgment upon them.

God’s warnings are evidence of his patience and love for us. How careless we would be to ignore his warning and turn away from his voice.

What will you do with Jesus?

2.3.     Jesus’ Consciousness of His Sonship

Mark 12:6 (NIVO) “He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

“Last of all” points to the finality of Christ. Yes, in these last days, God “has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:2). We are not looking for more prophets. Christ has spoken the final word.

Last of all, he sent his beloved son. Jesus knows who he is and where he came from and what he came to do. He knows exactly what is going to happen to him. He has already told the disciples on three separate occasions what would happen to him in Jerusalem.

Mark 8:31 (ESV) And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.


2.4.     Rejection: The Rejected Stone Becomes the Cornerstone

So how does the parable end? Jesus caps it off with a quotation from Psalm 118:22-23

Mark 12:10-11 (ESV) Have you not read this Scripture: “’The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; 11 this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

“Have you not read?” Jesus asks. “Do you not know your Bibles? Do you not know that your plan will be overturned? You are the religious leaders of Israel and you do not know this?”

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

On the previous Sunday, as Jesus made his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, the crowd had chanted from Psalm 118:25,

Psalm 118:25-26 (ESV) Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! 26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD.

Now on Tuesday, Jesus quotes from the same Psalm (118:22-23). The Son of Man would be rejected, but the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

In Hebrew, the word son is ben. The word stone is eben.

The rulers of Israel would make a decision about Jesus, but God would overturn that decision. The Son of Man would “be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” He would be crucified on that Friday, but raised from the dead on Sunday. For forty days, Jesus would show himself to be alive by many infallible proofs. Ten days later, on Sunday, the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit would be outpoured and Apostle Peter would preach that God had overturned the decision of sinful men:

Acts 2:23-24 (ESV) this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

Again he would preach in the next chapter,

Acts 3:15 (ESV) and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.

These men who rejected Jesus and put him to death, demanded to know by what authority Peter and John had healed a lame man. Peter boldly proclaimed,

Acts 4:11-12 (ESV) This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

The temple would soon be no more. But the cornerstone for the spiritual temple was laid. Jesus is the stone that the builders rejected. But he is now the cornerstone. He is the foundation upon which the church is built. Everything must line up with Christ. According to Ephesians 2, the Church is

Ephesians 2:19-22 (ESV) built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Writing to Christians, the Apostle Peter described Christ as the cornerstone and Christians as living stones being built up as a spiritual house:

1 Peter 2:4-8 (NLT) You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor. 5 And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. 6 As the Scriptures say, “I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem, chosen for great honor, and anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” 7 Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him. But for those who reject him, “The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.” 8 And, “He is the stone that makes people stumble, the rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.

So what will you do with Jesus? God is patient, not wanting any to perish, so he warns us, calling us to himself. So it is time to make a decision. You cannot live in the land of indecision. Refusing to decide is a decision against Christ. Is he a rock of offense to you? Is he a stumbling stone? Or is he your cornerstone, the foundation of your life. Reject him no longer. God has made him the cornerstone, and it is marvelous in our eyes.

[1] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Location 6422). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[2] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 6374-6376). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[3] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Location 6439). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[4] Garland, David E.. A Theology of Mark’s Gospel. Zondervan Publishing House: 2015, p. 151.

[5] Garland, David E.. A Theology of Mark’s Gospel. Zondervan Publishing House: 2015, p. 151.


See also “Gospel of Mark”:



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