The Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers

Mark 12:1-12

In Mark 11:12-14 and 11:20-24, Jesus pronounced God’s just judgment on Israel for not bearing fruit (see Figs, Faith and Judgment). In Mark 12:1-12, Jesus used a parable to further emphasize this declaration. In this regard, it seems likely that Jesus’ parable is based on the following text (Isaiah 5:1-7):

“Now let me sing to my Well-beloved
A song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard:

My Well-beloved has a vineyard
On a very fruitful hill.
He dug it up and cleared out its stones,
And planted it with the choicest vine.
He built a tower in its midst,
And also made a winepress in it;
So He expected it to bring forth good grapes,
But it brought forth wild grapes.

‘And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah,
Judge, please, between Me and My vineyard.
What more could have been done to My vineyard
That I have not done in it?
Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes,
Did it bring forth wild grapes?
And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard:
I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned;
And break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
I will lay it waste;
It shall not be pruned or dug,
But there shall come up briers and thorns.
I will also command the clouds
That they rain no rain on it.’

For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel,
And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant.
He looked for justice, but behold, oppression;
For righteousness, but behold, a cry for help.”

The passage begins with the prophet Isaiah singing a song to his Beloved (also called Well-beloved), that is, God, the LORD of hosts. But the central section of the passage is written from God’s perspective, in which He is directly communicating to the people of Israel, His chosen vineyard. The bottom line is this: although God chose the people of Israel and cared for them deeply, they persistently rebelled again Him, and didn’t bear forth much fruit; consequently, Israel would experience God’s just judgment.

“Then He began to speak to them in parables (Mark 12:1a).”

He, Jesus, spoke this parable to them, “the chief priests, scribes, and the elders” (Mark 11:27) of Israel. For Jesus Taught in Parables.

“A man planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a place for the wine vat and built a tower (Mark 12:1b).”

Comparison with Isaiah 5:1-7 indicates that the man in this parable is the LORD of hosts, and the vineyard is the house of Israel.

“And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country (Mark 12:1c).”

God created and owns Israel (not only the land but the people of Israel). As it is written:

“The earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein (Psalm 24:1).”

“But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine (Isaiah 43:1).’”

And though there was a time in which His presence was visibly present with Israel, for example, as either a cloud or pillar of fire (Exodus 13:21-22), the Lord eventually stopped manifesting Himself in this way. In a figurative sense, though He was present in Israel (for God is omnipresent), He appeared to have “went (away) into a far country (Mark 12:1c).” And although God is absolutely sovereign over creation, and led Israel for 400 years through Moses and certain judges such as Samuel, Israel eventually openly rejected God’s sovereign rule in favor of human rule (see Some Children Reject the King). Thereafter, Israel was ruled by a series of kings, and eventually, by the time of Jesus, ruled in the theological realm by the chief priests, i.e., the Pharisees and the Sadducees. So, in a figurative sense, God had leased the vineyard of Israel to the kings and chief priests of Israel (i.e., the vinedressers of Mark 12:1).

“Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that he might receive some of the fruit of the vineyard from the vinedressers. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed (Mark 12:2-3).”

At vintage-time, i.e., harvest time, he (God) sent a servant (one of His prophets) to Israel. But they (the rulers of Israel) rejected the servant and physically abused him. This scenario was commonplace throughout the history of Israel. For example, in the early sixth-century B.C., “all the leaders of the priests and the people transgressed more and more, according to all the abominations of the nations, and defiled the house of the LORD which He had consecrated in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 36:14).” Therefore “the LORD God of their fathers sent warnings to them by His messengers, rising up early and sending them, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets (2 Chronicles 36:15-16a).”

“Again he sent them another servant, and at him they threw stones, wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully treated. And again he sent another, and him they killed; and many others, beating some and killing some (Mark 12:4-5).”

This was an ongoing pattern. Israel would become mired in transgression and merit judgment. And God, being both just and merciful — for mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13b) — would send prophets to warn the leaders and people of Israel, that they would repent of their sins. For in this context (Amos 3:7):

“Surely the Lord GOD does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.”

But the Israelite leaders often persecuted God’s prophets. For both Jesus and Stephen once declared to the Pharisees and Sadducees:

“Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and your fathers killed them (Luke 11:47).”

“Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? (Acts 7:52a).”

“Therefore still having one son, his beloved, he also sent him to them last, saying, ‘They will respect my son (Mark 12:6).’”

Of course, Jesus is the Son of God. And the Israelite leaders should have recognized and worshiped Him. For God, once speaking through David of His beloved, begotten Son, wrote (Psalm 2:12):

“Kiss the Son, lest He be angry,
And you perish in the way,
When His wrath is kindled but a little.
Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.”

Alas, this was not the case. Although the vinedressers apparently recognized the beloved Son, they didn’t worship Him, they conspired against Him: “But those vinedressers said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ (Mark 12:7).” Of course, this is exactly what the leaders of Israel were doing to Jesus (Mark 14:1b):

“And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take Him by trickery and put Him to death.”

The disciple whom Jesus loved revealed their motives for conspiring against Jesus (John 11:47-48):

“Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, ‘What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.’”

They were primarily concerned with losing their power and authority.

“So they took him and killed him and cast him out of the vineyard (Mark 12:8).”

And this is of course exactly what happened. Jesus was arrested (Mark 14:43-49), subjected to an illegal trial before the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:53-65), brought before the local Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, as if He were a criminal (Mark 15:1-14), scourged and beaten (Mark 15:15-20), and crucified outside of Jerusalem (Mark 15:21-32), soon after which He died (Mark 15:33-37).

As a consequence of such blatant treachery, “therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do (Mark 12:9a)?”

God revealed His plan centuries earlier (Isaiah 5:5-6):

“And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard:
I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned;
And break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
I will lay it waste;
It shall not be pruned or dug,
But there shall come up briers and thorns.
I will also command the clouds
That they rain no rain on it.”

That is to say, “He will come and destroy the vinedressers, and give the vineyard to others (Mark 12:9b).”

God indeed eventually allowed for Jerusalem to be destroyed at the hands of the Roman army in 70 A.D. Prior to, He gave the vineyard to those who had faith in His Beloved Son. As Jesus once said to His disciples (John 15:1-6):

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.”

Immediately upon completion of this parable, Jesus then asked the chief priests, scribes, and elders, a poignant question (Mark 12:10-11):

“Have you not even read this Scripture:

‘ The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the LORD’s doing,
And it is marvelous in our eyes’ ?”

Jesus was declaring that He Himself was and is the chief cornerstone (Acts 4:11), anointed by God as His Beloved Son and Messiah, and that His rejection by the Jewish leaders was part of God’s plan.

Now at this point, the chief priests, scribes, and elders had an opportunity to exhibit some penitent repentance, for they hadn’t yet done these things spoken of by Jesus through the parable. But they didn’t. They demonstrated indignation (Mark 12:12):

“And they sought to lay hands on Him, but feared the multitude, for they knew He had spoken the parable against them. So they left Him and went away.”

Dear reader, have you embraced Jesus as God’s Beloved Son, Messiah, Savior and Lord? Or are you mired in rebellious indignation? If the former, then praise be to God! If the latter, then repent, “for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12)!”

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Published in: on October 15, 2011 at 6:43 am  Leave a Comment  

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