vineyard02Mark 12

1.  Then He began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a place for the wine vat and built a tower.  And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country.

The Lord begins once again to teach in parables, this time speaking to these indignant chief priests, scribes, and elders who had come to him demanding to know the source of His authority.  Remember, parables were stories of things that could have been simple, everyday events.  Sometimes, however, they had an extreme twist that the Lord would use to teach the lesson He had in mind.

At first He begins to describe what must have been a very common event for a well-to-do landowner.  A certain man plants a vineyard, hedges it in for protection, digs a wine vat, and builds a tower to guard it from thieves.  Then, something apparently comes up that causes him to have to leave for a far country.  Not being willing to give up on his vineyard altogether, he hires vinedressers and leases the vineyard to them to work it while he is absent.  This would have been the sort of activity that would have been very common in that day, and so those listening could definitely identify with someone really doing this.

2.  “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.

Vineyards would not typically yield until the fourth year after planting, so some time has now passed.  Realizing that his vineyard must now be producing, however, this vineyard owner sends a servant to the vinedressers, to receive from them a portion of the fruit of the vineyard that he was due according to the terms of the lease.  Of course, he had a perfect right to do this, being the owner of the vineyard.

3.  “And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed.

The vinedressers to whom he had leased the vineyard fail to live up to their side of the bargain.  Instead, they beat the servant that the vineyard owner sent, and send him away empty-handed.  Apparently, they disdain the vineyard owner.  Perhaps he had been gone so long they did not think he would come back or demand from them his due.  It seems obvious that they plan on going back on the terms of the lease and appropriating the vineyard all for themselves.

4.  “Again he sent them another servant, and at him they threw stones, wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully treated.

The vineyard owner sends another servant, much like one might send bill collectors to collect on a debt.  This servant receives even worse treatment from the vinedressers, having stones cast at him, and being wounded and shamefully treated.  It is obvious that the vinedressers have no intention of letting the vineyard owner receive any of the fruits of his own vineyard.

5.  “And again he sent another, and him they killed; and many others, beating some and killing some.

The vineyard owner continues to send servants, and the vinedressers continue to treat them in the same way, even killing some of them.  Of course, a real vineyard owner would not have been this patient.  He would certainly not have sent this many servants to be abused and killed.  Part of parables is often exaggeration to make a point, and the point here was God’s long-lasting patience with the nation of Israel.  Though they had killed many of His prophets, yet He continued to send them in His longsuffering and His love.  For this is the meaning of this parable: the Lord is speaking of the nation of Israel as His vineyard, and those in charge of its government as the vinedressers.  The servants being sent are all the prophets up until John the Baptist, who had been mistreated at the least, and sometimes even killed by the people to whom God had sent them.

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

This vineyard owner finally decides to send someone with real authority, and so he sends his only, beloved son to deal with the vinedressers.  He imagines that, though they did not respect his servants, they would at least have to respect his son.  In this, of course, he was incorrect.  We can hardly imagine a real vineyard owner acting this foolishly, but, as I said above, this is the extreme twist that Christ gives to this story to bring across the point He was making.

7.  “But those vinedressers said among themselves, ‘This is the heir.  Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’

The vinedressers clearly wanted to steal the vineyard for themselves.  Now, in the son, they see the opportunity to destroy the heir of the vineyard.  They actually imagine that their theft of this land will be complete if they destroy the vineyard owner’s heir!  Of course, they had not reckoned with the wrath of the vineyard owner himself.

8.  “So they took him and killed him and cast him out of the vineyard.

The vinedressers carry through on their plan, killing the son and casting him out of the vineyard.  This is addressed directly to the ambitions of the religious leaders of whom He was speaking.  They knew He must be the Messiah from the miracles and works which He did, but they seemed to think that if they killed the One Whose right it was to rule then they could maintain their control over God’s nation.  This was a foolish idea, of course, and is made ridiculous by this parable of these rebellious servants.  The religious leaders did not learn from the parable, however, and ended up doing the same thing that these vinedressers did, thinking if they killed the Messiah God would actually let them keep control of Israel for themselves!

9.  “Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do?  He will come and destroy the vinedressers, and give the vineyard to others.

Even the vineyard owner could not maintain his patience any longer.  The death of his son is the last straw.  Thus, he returns from the far country with a large force, destroys the wicked vinedressers, and leases his vineyard to others whom he hopes will be more faithful.  We see in the Acts period the acting out of the conclusion of this parable, as God appointed His Own leaders of the ecclesia while the scribes, chief priests, and elders were left out.  This parable did not mean that Israel itself would be cast out.  Some would make it to mean this.  How foolish would it have been, however, for the vineyard owner to burn down his own vineyard in retaliation for what the wicked vinedressers had done?  No, it was the leaders of the vineyard who were acting this way, and they were the ones who deserved to be cast out and punished.  Israel itself was the vineyard, and destroying the vineyard for the sins of the vinedressers would be foolish.

10.  “Have you not even read this Scripture: ‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone.
11.  “‘This was the LORD’S doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

The Lord finishes His parable by quoting a passage from Psalm 118:22.  Christ quotes this passage as applying to Himself.  These men were the builders, and had rejected Him, the chief cornerstone.  Anyone who has built a building knows that there has to be some part of the foundation laid that the rest of the building will be built around.  Measurements are made off this one place, and the whole building takes shape around it.  In their day, measurements would be made around a single stone, called the cornerstone.  It was the most important stone in the building, as everything else about the building was built around and patterned after it.  And this cornerstone for Israel was the Lord.  Yet those who built His building had rejected that true Cornerstone, seeking instead to build according to their own plan.  God, however, had not rejected Him, and would soon reject the work they had done and use the Lord to build His new nation.  Remember, this parable was told to those who had indignantly come to Him demanding to know what gave Him the right to stop the ungodly practices they had authorized in the temple.  They were indeed rejecting the One upon Whom God’s true worship was built, and now God was rejecting them as the leaders of His people.

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.

The meaning of this parable is fairly clear, and was clear to the chief priests, scribes, and elders to whom it was spoken.  Thus they reacted by trying to arrest Jesus.  Once again they could not, however, because of His popularity among the people.  So we read that they left Him, giving up their attempts to stop Him from curtailing their dishonest practices.

13.  Then they sent to Him some of the Pharisees and the Herodians, to catch Him in His words.

Now that the chief priests, elders, and scribes have failed to stop the Lord from what He was doing, they send in the next team, composed of Pharisees and Herodians (or followers of King Herod.)  What the Lord was doing in the temple was a direct challenge to their authority, and they believed they had to respond.  His wisdom had rendered them powerless, however, so it seems they hope this new crowd will have more luck.  The plan now, however, is not just to question His authority, but rather to catch Him in His words so that they will have something with which to accuse Him.

14.  When they had come, they said to Him, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth.  Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?

These men first butter the Lord up (or set Him up) with complimentary words, and then seek to trap Him with this question about taxes.  Taxes paid to the Romans were thought to be an affront.  Since the Romans were polytheists and idolators, the Israelites hated being subject to them.  The Roman method of keeping the people in their various tributary countries happy was to adopt their gods into their own canon of gods, officially recognizing them.  This kept the people in most countries happy.  Israel was always a sore thumb for them in this regard, however.  You cannot just take the true and living God and add Him to a list of idolatrous deities!  The Jews could not be pacified in this way, and thus being under the polytheistic Romans constantly grated on them.  For this reason, anyone who supported the taxes that was to be paid to Rome was thought a traitor by his fellow Israelites.  However, anyone who spoke openly against them would be considered a traitor by the Romans occupying the city.  So by this question, these Pharisees and Herodians thought they had the Lord Jesus in a trap from which He could not escape no matter what He said.  If He supported the taxes, the Pharisees could condemn Him as a traitor to His country.  If, however, He spoke against the Roman taxes, the Herodians, who supported Herod’s rule under Rome, could accuse Him of being a rebel against Rome and bring the Roman government to bear against Him.  This was their neat little trap, but they had no concept of the wisdom of the One they were attempting to ensnare!

15.  “Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?”  But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why do you test Me?  Bring Me a denarius that I may see it.”

They reiterate their question, feeling that their trap is set and their victim taken.  The Lord, however, knows their hypocrisy, and that they plan on accusing Him no matter what answer He gives.  Thus, as He so often did in such situations, He started questioning His questioners.  He asks them first of all why they are testing Him in this way?  Of course, He knew why, and the ones seeking to trap Him knew why, but this would make the bystanders who heard this exchange start thinking and realize that this was indeed what these men were doing.  Then, He demands that a denarius, such as might be used to pay the Roman taxes, be brought to Him.  A denarius was about one day’s wages.

16.  So they brought it.  And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?”  They said to Him, “Caesar’s.”

They bring Him the coin.  He then shows them the coin and asks whose image and inscription were on it?  Of course, this was a Roman coin, so the image and inscription were Caesar’s.

17.  And Jesus answered and said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  And they marveled at Him.

Now the Lord springs the trap back on His enemies.  The coin itself was Caesar’s, as could be clearly seen by looking at it.  And so he could ask for whatever money he wanted from those subject to using his currency.  To God, however, must be rendered the things of God, not merely money but rather all things due unto Him.  The Pharisees and Herodians are put to silence, as they find themselves marveling at His words and unable to overcome the logic behind them.  They had seen no possible way out of the trap they had set, but the Lord had avoided their trap easily.  They had no idea Who it was with Whom they were really dealing!