In Mark 11:27-33, Jesus has entered the Temple and the Temple leaders confront him. They ask him where he derives the authority that allows him to say and do the things he has been saying and doing. Had they understood the significance of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, they wouldn’t have had to question him about his authority for doing what he did in the Temple. As it was, either they denied that he was presenting himself as King, or they simply didn’t understand it. Jesus sees that they are trying to catch him in a trap, so he responds with a question about John the Baptist that’s a trap for them. If John’s baptism was a godly thing, they should have followed him, like the masses of people in Israel did. If John’s baptism wasn’t from God, then the people would take issue with the leaders because they followed John. It’s a trap, so the leaders respond by saying they don’t know. So, Jesus won’t tell them his authority is from God either.
Here again Jesus links his ministry with that of John the Baptist. John was the prophet that came before him to call Israel back to God in repentance. Jesus continues that ministry, but he also heads toward the same end as John. The leaders are going to have him killed. Because of their response and because of their desire to kill Jesus rather than believe and follow him, he tells a parable to them in Mark 12:1-12.
This parable is an example of why for centuries Jesus has been considered one of the greatest storytellers and teachers to ever live. It is told with incredible skill and drama. Even though it is great literature, its content is even more incredible. This parable is an allegory against Israel’s leaders which teaches that those who have rejected God and his messengers will themselves be rejected so that others will inherit their promises.
It’s likely that Jesus borrows some symbolism from Isaiah 5 here. Isaiah 5 is about Israel being God’s vineyard that didn’t produce fruit and Jesus’ audience would have certainly been reminded of it when he told this parable. This passage plays on certain elements of Isaiah 5, but it is also different. The heir is not mentioned in Isaiah 5 and that is a main part of Jesus’ story. Jesus is the heir sent to bring order and justice to the vineyard. God has sent dozens and dozens of prophets and men and women of God to call his people back to him for centuries. Finally Jesus has come on the scene. His message is that the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom has come. All the things the prophets spoke about are coming true in him. And in this parable, what does Jesus say will happen?
The heir will be killed.
He knew the leaders were plotting to kill him, but he comes to them anyway. He speaks this parable against them. Just as there has always been a remnant of believing Israel, there has also always been a group of those who reject God. Jesus is accusing the leaders of the Temple of being the one’s entrusted with the vineyard, but have rejected the landowner’s authority to the point of killing his messengers and even the heir. In the last passage in chapter 11, Jesus quoted Isaiah 56 and Jeremiah 7 when he taught the crowds after cleansing the temple. He quotes from two passages that talk about God including foreigners in his plan for his people. His intent was always to include Non-Jewish people in the plan he had for Israel. Yet, in Isaiah and Jeremiah’s time, the Jewish people did not follow his plan. Then, in the NT we read how the Jews of that time didn’t follow God’s plan either.
In verse 9 Jesus says in this parable that the vineyard will be given to others. This is another hint that the Gentiles are going to be included in God’s plan. He hinted at this when he fed the 4000 in non-Jewish territory as well as when he healed the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter. Now he is speaking about it again. Jesus will be killed by these leaders in Jerusalem, but he will die for the world. This is why Jesus can be Israel’s Messiah yet speaking of him, John says for God so loved the World that he gave his son. His death is the sacrifice for sin for anyone who comes to him believing and following him; anyone, regardless of race or nationality.
In Verse 10 he ends the Parable and begins to teach, just in case it wasn’t obvious to the religious leaders that he was speaking this parable against them. He quotes a passage from Psalm 118:22-23. He speaks this against them saying that in their rejection of him, God will establish something new upon him. Out of the broader context of Jesus cleansing the Temple in the previous passage, teaching that the vineyard will be handed over to new tenants points to the fact that true worship is now centered on the Heir, it is centered on Jesus, not on the Temple in Jerusalem. Israel’s leaders reject their King, yet Jesus rises from the dead to be the beginning, the foundation, the cornerstone of a new people of God, those who follow him. Christianity is born out of Judaism, but very quickly it begins to differ with Judaism. Many of the NT books talk about this transitional period where Jews who believe in Jesus are seeing this new way of living as increasingly different from their Jewish religion. The reason for this divergence is Jesus fulfilling what God had promised and bringing the Kingdom in his sacrificial death and his resurrection. No longer is a Temple necessary for prayer, sacrifice, or worship, we can now approach God anywhere through the work of Jesus on the cross. For Jews who followed Jesus, Judaism faded away into following Jesus, or what would later come to be known as Christianity. So, when Jesus quotes this verse from Psalm 118, he is speaking again about what Israel’s religion had become and how in its rejection of him, something new was coming. We will see this illustrated again when he talks about the temple being destroyed and rebuilt it in 3 days. The old is fading away and something new is coming. Another important part about Jesus quoting Psalm 118, is we just heard it in chapter 11 when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt. The people were shouting from Psalm 118:25-26. The crowd who came to Jerusalem with Jesus was quoting this verse in their acknowledgement of Jesus as Israel’s true and rightful King. This is what terrified the religious leaders. Now Jesus is quoting from this same passage a couple of days later.
But what does verse 12 say? They wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid. The crowd loved Jesus. The leaders didn’t want to have to answer to them so they leave him. After they leave, on another occasion, whether the same day, or another day, we can’t tell, but on another occasion something similar happens. Some different leaders are sent to try to trap Jesus.