Mark 11:27-33… While Jesus was walking in the temple, the chief priests, scribes, and the elders approached him 28 and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you the authority to do these things?” 29 Jesus answered, “I will ask you one question. Tell me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things: 30 John’s baptism – was it from heaven or from men? Answer me.” 31 They discussed with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ 32 But shall we say ‘from men?’” (they feared the crowd, for they all considered John to be a true prophet). 33 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” So Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”
On Wednesday April 1, AD 33 Jesus came again into Jerusalem. This event occurred right after Jesus explained the withering of the fig tree to the disciples in Mark 11:20-25. The men proceeded into the city and into the temple where Jesus was confronted by the leaders of the Jewish court – the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of Jerusalem. They confronted him about his actions the previous day when he commanded the money-changers and merchants to leave the temple grounds. They wanted to know where he received his authority. After all, they had been authorized to teach and make decisions through their education and social standing in Israel, but Jesus was a simple carpenter from Galilee with no such authority. It’s clear that they weren’t questioning that Jesus had power and authority, for that was obvious to all. What they wanted to know was where he got it. Previously they had accused Jesus of acting with satanic authority and power (Mark 3:22), so their question here was more of a trap than anything.
Jesus’ power and authority to act the way he did came from God the Father who sent Jesus the Son to convict the world of sin and die on their behalf to save them. But if Jesus had admitted this to them they would have charged him with blasphemy because claiming such would equate one with God Himself. Therefore, Jesus answered their question with a question. The scribes were learned scholars who were trained to discount or explain away anything that was contrary to their own belief system, so Jesus’ technique in turning the question back to them was brilliant because he turned the tables on them. He asked them about John the Baptist and whether his ministry was the work of men or of God. Now this was a dilemma for them because if they claimed it was from God then they would have to admit that Jesus was the Christ, for John himself said Jesus was the Lamb of God (John 1:29-30). But if they said that John’s ministry was of men they would lose the respect of the crowd in Jerusalem who clearly held John in high esteem as a man sent by God. So Jesus’ one question here lays bare the evil intentions of the religious leaders. It revealed their motivation and exposed their hypocrisy. They indicted themselves by answering Jesus, “We don’t know.” Thus no matter what Jesus would have said to their question, they were going to trap him, so Jesus exposed them in front of everyone. They were politicians, and their pride wouldn’t allow them to admit the truth because it hurt them.
Food for Thought
What does God think about those who say, “We don’t know?” and who refuse to deal with the evidence right in front of them? Revelation 3:16 says that they make God want to vomit! Many folks continually hear the truth of Jesus Christ, but keep on rejecting him. In doing so they forfeit eternal life and are rejected by Christ whom they rejected (cf. Mark 3:28-29; Gen. 6:3; Hosea 4:17; Isa. 63:10; Jer. 11:14; 14:11-12). Jesus’ authority was God the Father, and he backed up his actions with Scripture. The people he spoke to, however, were religious liberals who denied the authority of Scripture and straddled the fence. God hates that!
Mark 12:1-8… Then Jesus spoke a parable: “A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for its winepress, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenant farmers and went on a journey. 2 At harvest time he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his part of the crop. 3 But the tenants seized him, beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. 4 So he sent another slave to them. This one they struck on the head and treated shamefully. 5 He sent another, and they killed him. This happened to many others, some they beat, others they killed. 6 He had one left, his only 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’s kill him and the inheritance will be ours!’ 8 So they seized him, killed him, and threw his body out of the vineyard.”
The background to this parable is Isaiah 5:1-7 where God reveals that the vineyard He planted is Israel, and the men of Judah are His delightful plant. Jesus spoke this parable as an answer to the question of his authority. The religious leaders knew that Jesus had authority, for his miracles attested to that. But they refused to acknowledge that this power came from God.
Farming was the backbone of the Jewish economy, so Jesus’ parable was one everyone could relate to. He spoke of a carefully planted vineyard by a landowner who planted a fence around it, dug a pit for the winepress where the grape juice would flow, and who then built a watchtower to be used for shelter and security. In Leviticus 19:23-25 grapes were forbidden to be eaten for three years, and in the fourth year they were to be offered as an offering to the Lord. Only in the fifth year could they be eaten. Verses 2-5 likely cover the first three years, then it was in the fourth year that the son came to receive what belonged to him. In order to retain ownership of the property, the owner had to receive produce from the tenants. Now if the tenants killed the heir, they would have a clear claim to the property – which is why they did so, for they wanted the vineyard for themselves. Interestingly, Jesus offered his life in the fourth year of his ministry – the same year that the fruit of the vine was to be dedicated to the Lord.
In this parable God is the landowner, the vineyard is His kingdom, the servants are His prophets, and the His son represents Jesus Christ. In the beginning God handed His creation over to mankind whom He created in His image. He later selected Israel as His chosen people to care for this “vineyard.” They went astray, however, and when God sent prophets to call them to repentance they killed them, for in the OT the prophets are frequently designated as God’s “servants” (Jer. 7:25; 25:4; Amos 3:7; Zech. 1:6). Once the prophets were killed, God the Father sent His Son – in the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4), but he, like the prophets before him, was killed then thrown out of the city (the vineyard). How appropriate that Christ would tell such a parable. Here he was entering Jerusalem in the fourth year of his ministry – prophesying his own death!
What selfish people those farmers were! They were simply tenants in a vineyard not their own. So they decided they would take it by force. This was Satan’s desire in the beginning. He wanted God’s place (Isa. 14:13-14) of authority so to rule, and his children today desire the same thing. They give no glory to God, scorn Him, and desire to rule that which is not theirs.
Food for Thought
Notice the patience of the landowner who represents God. Now notice the viciousness of the tenants who represent all those who reject God’s offer of salvation. If this parable teaches us anything it’s that God is patient, even toward those who despise Him. He lovingly sends us His servants to draw us to Him so that we can enjoy the fruits of His vineyard. He even sent His Son. Those who reject Him and His servants are no different than those evil vineyard tenants.
Mark 12:9-12… What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Have you not read this Scripture: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. 11 This is from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” 12 Now they wanted to arrest him (but they feared the crowd), because they realized that he told this parable against them. So they left him and went away.
After God has sent His servants in vain to bring His people to repentance verse 9 asks, “What will He do?” The answer: “He will come and destroy” those who rejected Him. Take note of this stern rebuke by Christ in this parable. There is a time when God’s angry judgment will fall. That may offend some, but those who preach this aren’t grinding their own axe, as it were. They are simply prophets, like those of the OT, preaching God’s truth to stubborn people.
Once again, Jesus makes his point by quoting from the OT. He exposes the hypocrisy of the religious leaders by asking them, “Have you not read the Scriptures?” These men were experts in the Scriptures! So Jesus’ question in front of the crowd must have humiliated them.
Jesus quoted Psalm 118:22-23 which says, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” Now in the context of the parable the “cornerstone” would be the son of the landowner which equates to Jesus Christ. He is the “cornerstone.” This stone was the most basic and essential part of a building. Its placement and alignment within the foundation determined the quality of the entire structure. An imprecise cut of the stone would compromise the building’s stability. Israel (Judaism) was chosen by God to be the foundation of His kingdom. Christianity is built upon it. Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of that foundation (Eph. 2:20), for he came out of than nation from the tribe of Judah. Christianity is built upon the seed of Abraham (Israel) who is Christ (Gal. 3:16). The testimony of Christ was given by the OT prophets and the NT apostles and prophets, and they comprise the foundation of God’s kingdom built around the cornerstone – Jesus Christ. He is the message the prophets/apostles preached. Jesus quoted this passage to the religious leaders to rebuke them for rejecting their Messiah – a clear claim by Jesus to his deity. They were intent on building their own kingdom, and the irony (and praise! in v. 11) was that the stone they rejected was in fact God’s chief cornerstone on which His kingdom is built. They rejected it.
The religious leaders understood what Jesus was saying – very clearly! Verse 12 says that they left and conspired for a way to arrest Jesus. He had humiliated them in front of the crowds, but because the crowds loved Jesus (they believed him to be the Messiah) they would not arrest him in their presence. Judas would provide a way to have Jesus privately arrested one day later.
Food for Thought
God’s kingdom is comprised of people who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (known as the church). The Apostle Peter called them “little stones” that comprise a spiritual house built upon Jesus Christ – the cornerstone (1 Pet. 2:4-8). The Apostle Paul said that the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets and that this foundation is built around the cornerstone which is Christ (Eph. 2:20). The church which these “little stones” comprise is a house, as it were, built on a foundation, and every true Christian is part of this house – also called the “body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12-13). Paul said that this church is the “pillar and support of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). So, Christ’s church embodies all truth as long as it adheres to the testimony of the apostles and prophets (i.e. the Scriptures). Those who reject that testimony reject Christ, the cornerstone, and those who do that forfeit eternity with him.
U Three things the passage teaches:
1) God’s gracious provision and long-suffering patience.
2) Jesus’ deity and obedience to the Father’s will as well as his coming back to mete out judgment and justice on those who reject him.
3) The sinfulness of mankind and God’s blessings to them in spite of themselves.
U They couldn’t be convinced, so they couldn’t be convicted.
U God wants what is rightfully His, namely, worship. Ultimately, the tenants denied Him this.
U Hypocrisy of knowing the Scripture yet not implementing it (like a fig tree)
U Why take them all the way back to John the Baptist? God does not teach us new truth if we have rejected the truth He has already revealed.
U Why do people reject God? Not due to lack of evidence but b/c they want to do things their own way and shun Christ’s authority. He’s a threat to their “independence.”
U Jesus’ parable was much like the rebuke Nathan gave to King David… “You are that man!”
U Psalm 118:22-23; 1 Peter 2:6-8; Eph. 2:19-22; Acts 4:10-11; cf. Daniel 2:32-35; “The Stone” was a well-known symbol for the Messiah (Ex. 17:6; Zech. 4:7; Rom. 9:32–33; 1 Cor. 10:4).