In his commentary on the Gospel of Mark, pastor and author John MacArthur points out that Jesus was anything but a victim when he was crucified.
Throughout history, skeptical unbelievers have claimed that Jesus was surprised by his unexpected rejection and death; that he was an unwitting, unwilling victim. Some who advocate that pernicious and false view imagine that Jesus was merely a sage; a philosopher who taught morality and ethics. To others Jesus was a revolutionary, a crusader for social and political justice whose attempt to incite a revolution against Rome went horribly wrong. Managing to antagonize both the Jewish and Roman authorities, Jesus quite unintentionally got himself executed.
But that blasphemous caricature of the Lord Jesus Christ as a well-intentioned but misguided martyr exists only in the minds of “those who are perishing” (1 Cor. 1:18). Jesus was no victim. Neither the Romans nor the Jews had the power to take his life. “I lay down my life so that I may take it up again,” Jesus declared. “No one has taken it away from me, but I lay it down on my own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from my Father” (John 10:17-18). Far from being a surprise, his death was the very reason that Christ came into the world.
We’ve seen in our study of Mark where Jesus told his disciples about his coming death, burial, and resurrection on three separate occasions (8:31, 9:30-32, 10:23-24). In 12:1-12, Jesus tells a parable that again hints at his death and rejection. The religious leaders’ desire to murder Jesus and his understanding of his coming death come together in this parable.
The Story (1-9)
The word “parable” comes from Greek verb which means “to throw alongside.” A parable was an earthly story with a heavenly meaning, a small story with a big idea. Parables were designed to reveal truth to those who were ready to learn but to conceal truth from those who weren’t willing to hear. This particular story was a parable of judgment because it revealed to the religious leaders where their sins were leading them.
In this story, Jesus told about the owner of a vineyard. He planted the vineyard and then leased the land to some tenant farmers. When the owner sent representatives at the harvest to receive the tribute, the tenants mistreated the envoys. They even killed the owner’s son, thinking they could steal the land. Rather than let the tenants get away with the crime, the owner brought judgment on them.
As in any parable, not every detail has an exact meaning and corresponding interpretation. The main characters in this parable, however, are easily identifiable.
The owner is God. The vineyard is the nation of Israel. Isaiah 5:7 states, “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting.” The grapevine became the national symbol of Israel and was found in architecture and on their coins.
The tenants are the Jewish religious leaders. Based on their response (12), the leaders knew Jesus aimed the parable squarely at them.
The servants are the Old Testament prophets from Moses to John the Baptist (Jeremiah 7:25-26). The writer to the Hebrews records how these people were treated—“Some were tortured …Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword” (Hebrews 11:35b-37a). Though summed up in a few brief words, the servants represent 1500 years of God’s grace as he continually and persistently spoke to the nation and tried to draw them back to him.
The son is Jesus. Once again, Jesus is giving hints about his soon death. Rather than an unwitting victim, Jesus’ death was part of God’s sovereign plan to bring salvation to the world.
The consequences of the sin are judgment. In a few short days, Jesus will transfer the leadership of his kingdom from the Jewish religious leaders to the apostles. They will become the foundation of the church. Jesus’ statement also looks forward to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
The application (10-11)
Though rejected by the Jewish leaders, Jesus is the cornerstone on whom we base our lives.
The outcome (12)
The Jewish leaders understand exactly what Jesus is saying and want to kill him.
The only question that remains is … Is Jesus the cornerstone of your life?
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on November 1, 2015. It is part of a series in the Gospel of Mark. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.