A parable keeps truths about the kingdom from being understood by those who have already rejected them (cf. Mark 4:10–11, 33–34). Parables can be difficult to understand, especially when the parable quotes or alludes to OT texts, leaving one to figure out if the context of the OT passage underlies the parable at hand. A parable’s parallel passages can also add information to help interpret details that seem unclear from one Gospel to the next. Below is a smattering of notes and conclusions from my own study of Mark 12:1–12.
In the parable of the rogue tenants in Mark 12:1–12, the owner of the vineyard is God the Father (Mark 12:6; cf. 1:11; 9:7). The vineyard is the kingdom of God (cf. Matt 21:43). The tenants are the chief priests, scribes, and elders (Mark 12:12; cf. 11:27). The servants are the prophets who have been beaten and killed by Israel’s leaders throughout her history (cf. Jer 7:21–26; 25:4; Matt 23:34–35). The son and heir is Jesus who is also the cornerstone (Mark 12:6–7, 10). The Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day rejected the cornerstone and owner’s son (Jesus) and thereby disqualified themselves for watching over the vineyard (Mark 12:9).
The others to whom the vineyard is given are the apostles (a debatable conclusion). The parable was aimed at the rejecting leaders (Mark 12:12), so to give the vineyard to others is to give it to other leaders. The apostles would lead the early the church and Israel in time to come (cf. Matt 19:28). The apostles were those who were following and not rejecting Jesus (cf. Mark 12:10). The apostles would tend the kingdom of God by rightly preaching the truth about the Cornerstone, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will establish His kingdom in full in the future. The foundational truths they gave are tended by the church and its teachers today (cf. 1 Tim 3:15).
Jesus alludes to Isaiah 5:1–7 in which a vineyard that yielded wild grapes pictures Israel whose lack of righteousness led to bloodshed and a lack of justice. Matthew 21:43, however, shows that Jesus’ parable makes the vineyard out to be the kingdom of God. Perhaps the link between Isaiah 5 and Mark 12 is that Israel in its present state was unacceptable to God (i.e., by its leaders’ rejection of Christ).
Jesus also quotes Psalm 118:22–23 to picture Israel’s leaders who rejected Him as builders that rejected the stone that the Lord would make marvelous. The original context of Psalm 118 involves Israel’s king who is rejected by surrounding nations. Jesus thus paints Israel’s leaders with the hue of those who attacked the Lord’s anointed king.
Noteworthy within the parable is the compassion of God who repeatedly seeks out those who reject Him, even sending His Son. Also, Jesus’ parable implies that He knows full well that He was sent by His Father to offer Himself as King to those who would reject Him.
Pastor David Huffstutler
Pastor Huffstutler regularly writes articles for our Sunday bulletin. See his bio on our pastoral bio page.