1 And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. 2 When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. 5 And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. 6 He had still one other, a beloved 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 us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. 9 What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Have you not read this Scripture:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
11 this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”
12 And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away. – Mark 12:1-12 ESV
The chief priests, scribes, and elders of Israel had just confronted Jesus in the temple courtyard, demanding to know by what authority He had ransacked the place the day before. In an explosion of righteous indignation, Jesus had singlehandedly destroyed their little money-making venture of selling sacrificial animals and currency exchange. The greed and graft of these religious leaders and their total disregard for the holiness of His Father’s house had been more than Jesus could stand. And the fact that they had set up the entire operation in the Courtyard of the Gentiles had infuriated Jesus further.
The actions of Jesus had proved costly for these men – in more ways than one. The temporary shutdown of their sales operations had hit their bottom line. But it was their egos that had suffered the greater loss. Jesus had directly challenged their authority and, in doing so, He had diminished their standing among the people. That’s what prompted them to confront Jesus about His arrogant display the day before. But Jesus had refused to answer their question, choosing instead to remind them that they had refused to accept John the Baptist’s authority as well. These self-righteous and self-appointed leaders of Israel had a habit of rejecting anyone who spoke on behalf of God. In their minds, Jesus had no authority to do what He did. He was nothing more than a rural Rabbi from the backwater town of Nazareth. He had no education or credentials. He was not from a wealthy family and had no standing in their community.
But while Jesus refused to answer their question, He did take time to tell them a parable. In fact, according to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus told them a couple of different parables, each meant to address their question about authority. But more importantly, these two parables were designed to expose the religious leaders as rebels against God. Their refusal to accept Jesus was nothing less than a rejection of God Himself. It’s important to note that Jesus told this parable in the middle of the crowded temple courtyard, surrounded by foreign pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. But His primary audience was the religious leaders who had arrogantly questioned His authority.
Jesus begins His parable by describing a man who planted a vineyard, complete with winepress, protective fence, and watchtower. Once the vineyard was complete, the man rented it out to tenant farmers who were expected to cultivate and care for it. Since the landowner had incurred the cost of constructing the vineyard, he expected to receive a share of the production and profits. But when he sent his servant to collect his portion of the first year’s harvest, the tenants beat the servant and sent him away empty-handed. So, the landowner sent a second servant, who was treated just a violently and shamefully. And the rebellious tenants, unwilling to turn over any of the fruit of their labor, murdered the third servant whom the landowner had sent. And Jesus indicates that this scene went on for some time.
“Others he sent were either beaten or killed, until there was only one left—his son whom he loved dearly.” – Mark 12:5 NLT
By this time, Jesus had the crowd hooked. They were totally enthralled with His story and anxious to know what the outcome would be. In their minds, they would have been debating what the landowner should do to the murderous tenants. And the thought of the man risking the life of his son would have been appalling to them. But, according to Jesus’ story, that’s exactly what the landowner did.
“The owner finally sent him, thinking, ‘Surely they will respect my son.’” – Mark 12:6 NLT
And it’s likely that the people in the crowd gasped at the father’s blatant display of naivete. After all these evil tenants had done to his servants, how could this man be so blind as to think they would show his son any respect? They knew exactly what was going to happen and probably wanted to scream at the landowner, “Don’t do it!” But as Jesus completes the story, their worst fears are realized.
“But the tenant farmers said to one another, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’ So they grabbed him and murdered him and threw his body out of the vineyard.” – Mark 12:7-8 NLT
And knowing that His audience has been blown away by the dark ending to His story, Jesus asks them, “What do you suppose the owner of the vineyard will do?” (Mark 12:9 NLT). Their minds had already gone there. They had already been to think about what they would do if they were the landowner. And their thoughts included nothing about forgiveness or clemency. They were focused on revenge and retribution, hoping that these wicked tenants were going to get exactly what they deserved. And much to their relief, Jesus finishes the story with the ending they were hoping for.
“I’ll tell you—he will come and kill those farmers and lease the vineyard to others.” – Mark 12:9 NLT
The bad guys lost, and justice prevailed. The story, while sad, had a happy ending. Everything turned out okay. But what the crowd failed to realize was that the story had a far deeper meaning. And Jesus revealed the more spiritual dimension of its message by quoting Psalm 118:22-23.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This is the Lord‘s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This rather abrupt shift in topic was intentional. Jesus was quoting from the very same Psalm that the crowds had quoted from during His triumphal entry.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! – Psalm 118:26 ESV
That Psalm declares that the Messiah will come in the name of the Lord, but it also states that He will be rejected. Yet, it is all “the Lord’s doing.” It is all part of God’s plan. This rejected stone will become the cornerstone of a great house that will bring glory and honor to God. And not long after Jesus would be rejected and crucified, Peter and John would stand before the high priests, scribes, and elders of Israel, declaring:
“This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.” – Acts 4:11 ESV
The very same men who stood in front of Jesus in the Courtyard of the Gentiles would later hear a message from two of His disciples, telling them, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 ESV). And Peter would pick up this theme of the cornerstone in one of his later letters.
For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”
“A stone of stumbling,
and a rock of offense.” – 1 Peter 2:6-8 ESV
Jesus would be rejected by the religious leaders of Israel. Just like the rebellious tenants in Jesus’ story, they would refuse to accept the Son sent by the Father. They would treat the Son with disrespect, rejecting His authority and claiming His inheritance as their own. In the parable, the vineyard was meant to represent Israel and the tenant farmers were the leaders to whom God had assigned the care of possession. Israel, as represented by the land, was always intended to be the inheritance of the Son. It did not belong to the leaders. They were merely its caretakers. But in their greed, they had treated Israel as their own, growing powerful and wealthy at the expense of God’s people. The servants in the story represent the prophets that God had sent throughout the centuries, calling His people to repentance. But the leaders of Israel had killed the prophets, refusing to relinquish their authority over the inheritance. And finally, God had sent His Son. But they would end up rejecting Him as well, putting Him to death in an effort to steal His rightful inheritance.
But their efforts would fail. They could kill the Son, but they would not end up taking what belonged to Him. The rejected stone would become the most valued cornerstone of a grand temple made up of those who placed their faith in Him. The apostle Paul reminds us that the rejection of Jesus has resulted in an incredible building made up of people from all walks of life and from every tribe, nation, and tongue.
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. – 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 ESV
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. – Ephesians 2:19-22 ESV
The high priests, scribes, and elders could reject the authority of Jesus, but they could not put a stop to the redemptive plan of God. As the psalmist stated, “This is the Lord‘s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.”
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.