Academic Paper: Exegetical Paper, Mark 12:1-12



MARK 12:1-12






RELI 4305 N2




8 JANUARY 2017

Main Idea and Outline

Passage: Mark 12:1-12

Main Idea: The parable is told as a follow up to the efforts made by the chief priests, scribes, and elders while Jesus was teaching at the Temple in Jerusalem to question his authority. The parable provides justification for the replacement of the Jewish people with the Church as God’s favored people due to the poor treatment of the prophets by the Jewish people, the wicked ways of their leadership, and the foreshadowing of their rejection and persecution of Jesus. The parable tells those of the Sanhedrin who were listening the nature of their wrongdoing and the consequences of their choices, resulting in their public defeat at that time.


  1. Setting up the story (12:1).

The first verse is an introduction to the parable that sets the scene and introduces the characters. This sets the allegorical context of the parable, identifying the vineyard with Israel, implying the tenants as the Jewish leadership, and suggesting the owner represents God. The reference to Isaiah 5:1-7 implies these roles to be identified as such.

  1. Sending of the Slaves (12:2-5).

This section of verses tells of the owner sending slaves repeatedly to acquire some of the produce in harvest time. This section implies that the slaves are the prophets that were sent to the Israelites, but whom they rejected, beat, and even killed.

  • Sending of the Son (12:6-8).

This section of the parable tells of the owner sending his beloved son, implying that all his slaves had been beaten or killed, hoping that the vine-growers would respect him and give what they owe. The vine-growers kill the son hoping to inherit the vineyard by his death. This section implies that the beloved son is Jesus, and appears to foreshadow the events of his death by the work of the Jews.

  1. Consequence of Tenants’ Actions (12:9-11).

This section points out what the owner of the vineyard will obviously do given what all the tenants have done, that is, he will destroy them and give the vineyard to others. This implies the coming destruction and dispersion of the Jews and the appointment of the Church in their place.

  1. Closing (12:12).

The final verse provides the effect of the parable on the chief priests, scribes, and elders who heard Jesus speak and perceived the parable’s application to them, resulting in their departure in failure of their goal to arrest him.


This passage from the book of Mark is a parable told by Jesus while teaching in the Temple in Jerusalem. It is titled The Parable of the Tenants in most translations as it tells a story of the behavior of the tenants of a vineyard that is owned by a man who built it with all that is needed. Jesus tells this parable following the questioning of Jesus’ authority by the chief priests, teachers of the law (scribes), and elders (all together representatives of the Sanhedrin) in Mark 8:27-33. The parable tells of the abuse and murder of the slaves sent by the vineyard owner to gather some of the fruit of the vineyard as payment for their stay. It mentions that after all these slaves had been mistreated, the owner sent his beloved son, hoping they would respect him and give what they owed to him. But the tenants beat and murdered even his son. It ends with Jesus telling that the owner will come to destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. The result of the telling of this parable is that the chief priests, scribes, and elders left in fear of the people, perceiving the parable was told against them and its message a clear rebuke of their ways made known to all the people.

The closing verse aids in understanding this parable, as it suggests the chief priests, scribes, and elders “perceived” that it was about them. This allows the reader to accept what may be easily gleaned from reviewing this passage in context of what is known from the books of the prophets. The vineyard represents Israel, the tenants as the leaders of Israel, the slaves as the prophets, the beloved son as Jesus, and the owner as God. The story tells of the abuse and murder of the prophets sent by God, committed by the leaders of Israel in the past, and foretells the rejection and persecution of Jesus to come. It explains what will be the destruction and dispersion of the Jewish people out of Israel and their replacement by the Church as God’s favored people.

The Historical Context

Most scholars still debate the dating of Mark, though many have come to accept the book of Mark to have been written between 63 and 64 A.D.[1] Most external evidence suggests that the book was written by Mark, an interpreter and disciple of the disciple of Jesus, Peter. This book is considered to be a “memoir” of sorts of Peter that was written by Mark, likely after Peter’s death.[2] This passage is almost certainly an account of the apostle Peter telling of the words of Jesus to Mark. Most scholars agree that Mark was writing for a Roman audience [3], however this parable contains elements that would be understood by both Jews and Gentiles of the period.

The parable is centered around the understanding of how owners of property during the time of Jesus would lease their property to tenants whose payment for living on the property would come in the form of a portion of the harvest from the property. This was a common practice during the times of Jesus in Palestine and would be clearly understood by a Roman audience.[4] Vineyards were quite abundant in the agricultural society of Jesus’ day, and there are certain structures that are identified by Jesus in the telling of this parable that make it very relatable to his audience. The way the vineyard is described provides the sense of a fully functional, turn-key style vineyard, where all the tenants would have to do is reap the harvest and make the wine. The tenants’ treatment of the slaves when the owner sends them shows more than just their wickedness in their abuse of the slaves, but also their complete lack of appreciation for their provision by the owner.

The Literary Context

The Gospel of Mark can be divided in different ways. This section falls into a collection of seven accounts of Jesus’ engagements with the religious authorities at the Temple. After Jesus entered Jerusalem (Mark 11:1-11), and after his expulsion of the merchants from the Temple (Mark 11:15-19), Jesus had been walking through the Temple courts after returning to the city. A group comprised of the chief priests, Scribes (or ‘teachers of the law’), and elders confronted Jesus, asking him on what authority he was doing all the things he had done (Mark 11:27-33). This group represents members of the Sanhedrin, who were the leadership of the Jewish people during the first century. After Jesus challenged them to first answer his question, and their refusal to do so, Mark transitions into Jesus’ telling of this parable after Jesus says he will not answer their questions because they would not answer his. It is important to note that Jesus had asked the group about whether John the Baptist and his actions were from heaven or not. While the leadership represented here had rejected John the Baptist, the people viewed him as a prophet.[5] This provides appropriate context for understanding the parable of the tenant farmers and to whom the negatives implied in the parable are applied, as well as understanding the final words of Jesus in the parable.

Prior to the telling of this parable, it is important to note the Jesus had already made three passion and resurrection predictions prior to this event (Mark 8:31-33; 9:30-32; 10:32-34). This parable implies that Jesus foresaw the rejection and persecution that would come at the hands of those to whom he was addressing prior to the telling of this parable. For the reader, the sending of the son and the tenants killing him can be easily seen as a foreshadowing of events that are to come, namely the persecution and death of Christ on the cross. As Jesus tells the parable, it is also important to note that he had been walking in the temple courts (Mark 11:27) when approached by these representatives of the Sanhedrin. While addressing their questions and putting them in their place, it is likely that a crowd began to gather to hear what he would say in response to their demands for proof of authority. It is clear that these men thought they would be able to trap Jesus and arrest him, but after telling this parable, Jesus had placed them in the limelight and any action by them against Jesus would not have been appreciated by the crowd that was likely gathering around them.

Mark 12:1-12

Setting up the Story (12:1)

It is a quick transition that is made from the questioning of Jesus’ authority by the chief priests, teachers of the law, and elders to the telling of this parable. Jesus had just responded to the inability of these men to answer his question by telling them he would not answer theirs. However, the general understanding one gets from the previous passage is the Jesus clearly implied his authority is from God. With that thought fresh in the reader’s mind, Jesus begins to speak to them using a parable that is about them, and in many ways calls their own authority into question.

This verse makes reference to a passage from Isaiah 5:1-7 where there, Isaiah utilizes a vineyard as a representation of Israel. Here, it may be possible that Jesus is introducing the vineyard in its description in a manner that refers to the whole passage from Isaiah, as it was a common practice to use a single verse out of a passage of scripture to relate to the whole passage.[6] This would suggest that Jesus is making it clear to the representatives of the Sanhedrin here that what they should know about this passage, and what the vineyard represented in it, also applies in his own use of the allegory.[7] Whereas in other uses of parables throughout Mark Jesus had used parables to teach to his disciples but to mask his teachings from those like the men of the Sanhedrin here, now Jesus is speaking in a parable that they should clearly understand.

This introductory verse then sets both the story being told and, with its apparent implied reference to Isaiah 5:1-7, who all the characters and items represent. The vineyard itself represents Israel, the owner being God, and the “vine-growers” or tenants are the leaders of Israel. This verse can also be further expanded in meaning, where each of the components of the vineyard can also represent more specific aspects of what Jesus was implying by these details. The plants are considered to be the men of Israel, the pit for the wine vat possibly representing the altar, the watchtower being the Temple or perhaps Jerusalem as a whole, and the hedge representing the moral law or God’s divine protection.[8] When we take a look at each of these possible analogies, there is not much value to be attained from applying such items to the different components mentioned in light of the context of the parable. Going so far in applying allegorical interpretations is not necessary and does not aid in understanding the underlying truth or lesson in the parable.[9] However, it is important to note the understanding of the vines representing the people of Israel, and the vine-growers or tenants as their leadership, as this makes clear their responsibility for caring for the people of Israel so that they would bear fruit. Their failure to do so certainly lays the implied responsibility upon the heads of the leaders of the people, not so much the people themselves.

Sending of the Slaves (12:2-5)

The land owner is now ready to send for the fruit of his vineyards now that the season has come. Upon sending his slave to retrieve what is his rightful portion, the tenants beat him and sent him away with nothing. The owner, showing such patience and mercy, sent more slaves, hoping each time the tenants would not continue with such wickedness. Yet, they increased the brutal treatment of the owner’s slaves, even to the point of murder. These verses are told in such a manner as to show progressive increase in the wickedness of the tenants. In hearing the tale, one could be drawn to wonder what on earth the owner could be thinking in sending so many only to have the same thing occur again and again. But the clear point being made is that with each slave sent, the tenants were provided with an opportunity to turn from their wicked ways, repent, and seek forgiveness for their conduct by giving what was due. The loving patience of the owner is made clear through this account and some emotion can be drawn from the reader/hearer of compassion for the slaves who were sent.[10]

These slaves represent the Prophets who were sent by God on numerous occasions to call Israel to return to God. The purpose of sending them was to warn Israel of what God would do if they did not turn from their wicked ways and seek after God.[11] The manner by which Jesus explains this process is unnecessarily lengthy, as he could have simplified it to “At harvest time the owner sent many slaves whom the tenants beat, treated shamefully, and even killed.” So it is clear that Jesus is intending to point out the number of times the tenants were given to repent and turn away from their wicked ways. Perhaps the point being put forward is that all of their chances for repentance have come to an end, and it is in Jesus that their final opportunity is being presented to them.

Sending of the Son (12:6-8)

After numerous attempts are made to retrieve that which is rightfully the owner’s only to have his slaves beaten and killed, the owner now attempts one last effort to allow the tenants to do the right thing. This time, the owner sends his only son. In verse six, the Greek word agaptos is used to title this only son as his beloved, esteemed, or favorite son.[12] By sending his only beloved son, the owner hopes that they will respect him unlike the slaves. But the tenants, seeing that this was the only son of the owner, thought they could kill this implied heir to the vineyard and inherit it as their own. So they murdered him and threw him out of the vineyard.

The beloved son clearly represents Jesus. That the tenants recognized the son to be the heir to the vineyard suggests that quite possibly the leaders might have known Jesus to be the son of God and the rightful heir to the thrown of Israel. It was clear that the chief priests, scribes, and elders saw Jesus’ popularity was growing, overshadowing their prestige and position of authority over the people. In order to protect their positions of power, they plotted to kill him so they could maintain the order they so carefully crafted during the Roman rule. This verse demonstrates the foreknowledge Jesus had of his impending death at the hands of these leaders. The leaders, so diluted in their hearts and minds by the power they wielded over the people, had no idea what would befall them for the wickedness of their hearts.

Consequence of the Tenants’ Actions (12:9-11)

In verse nine, Jesus asks what the owner of the vineyard would do given what all has happened. Given the manner with which Jesus tells the story, the readers/hearers would naturally be drawn to answer just as Jesus does. The owner will destroy the vine-growers, and give the vineyard to others. It had become clear that the time for certain leaders to be a priesthood exercising exclusive authority over the doctrine of God’s people was over.[13] Jesus now shifts the metaphor in closing from that of a vineyard to that of a building, referencing Psalm 118:22-23. Here he speaks of the stone rejected by the builders that is now the chief corner stone, upon which the building is built. Then as a closing to the original question of authority from Mark 11:27-33, Jesus ends the parable with, “This came about from the LORD, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” (v. 11).

This portion of the parable suggests an end to the time of the chief priests, scribes, and elders, the Sanhedrin. The rule over the vineyard, over Israel, will now be given over to others. The others to whom it is given becomes clear to the reader/hearer as the church, with Jesus on the throne over his kingdom.[14] But it is made clear that the son must be killed in order for this to come about. This is the will of God made clear by Jesus, whereas the corner stone in the Psalm was known by the Jews to represent Israel, now Jesus demonstrates that it is he upon which the Father will build His church.[15]

Closing (12:12)

The final verse shows the desire in the hearts of the chief priests, teachers of the law, and the elders. They had come seeking to seize him through their attempt to corner him with their questioning. It appears that the people in the Temple that day must have gathered around, as Mark points out the leaders’ fear of the people. Jesus’ message was made clear enough, as even they came to perceive that the parable was about them (this being unusual in light of Jesus’ use of parables previously). Having been defeated by the words of Jesus, they left him in failure and what was surely embarrassment.


The Lord provides for us all. Just as the vineyard owner had provided all that was necessary to have a productive and fruitful vineyard, so too does God provide for us all that we need to be fruitful and to provide not only for ourselves, but for others as well. This parable reminds us that all that we have is not our own, but it belongs to God, and we are but the tenants in his vineyard, expected to make proper use of what he has provided. The tenants in this parable represent the leadership of Israel, and the vines as the people. While it is one thing for the vines to grow and bear fruit, it is the responsibility of the tenants to care for the plants in order to ensure that the best fruit possible is being produced by the vine. As leaders of the church, pastors and ministers must care for their congregations and provide for them the spiritual resources they need so that they can be fruitful in their daily work. With that fruit, the congregation must give back to God a portion of what they produce, though all of it belongs to him regardless. The leaders of the church must be able to remind the people to give of the best of what they produce, the first fruits of their labor, back to God for His right and proper use. The church, being given this vineyard after the failure of the leaders of Israel, must do what God desired of the original tenants, and bear fruit to be given to the glory of God.

Throughout the history of the church, there have been many failures. Those leaders of the church during those failures found themselves deposed and replaced with leadership that rightly led the people of God. Just as the owner sent his slaves to receive the owner’s rightful portion of the harvest, so God does to this very day. We must be vigilant at all times, looking for the messengers of God, ready to listen and heed what they have to say. This is not just for the church as a whole, but for each of us individually. The tenants of the vineyard were selfish, and wanted to keep the fruits of the vineyard for themselves. So they rejected, beat, and even killed the slaves of the owner when they were sent reminding them of their obligation to the owner. We must be careful to listen to what those who God sends before us have to say. Even though we might not like what they have to say, as the truth that they declare may be hard to hear, we must listen to them. God often sends people into our lives to remind us of the wrongs we are committing. When they come, we want to reject them and scold them for trying to correct us, so high and mighty in our thinking we may become. However, as the new tenants of the vineyard God has given to us, we must not reject the messengers as those who came before us have done. We must heed their word, trust in God, repent, and give to the Lord that which belongs to him to begin with. If not, then he will come to destroy us, and cast us out of his vineyard as he has done before.

We know that the Lord our God has sent us his one and only son to die on the cross for our sins. We know that we have been given the vineyard of God’s provision. We also know that Jesus is the cornerstone upon which the church has been built. This parable comes as a reminder to us that we must always remember what we have been given. Generations of the people of Israel have suffered because of the failures of their leadership, and they have lost their place in the vineyard. We know that this was God’s will so that we may live with him throughout all eternity. However, we must not allow ourselves to become arrogant or complacent in the new life that he has given us. The church must remember her place and her obligation to the Father. The beloved son will return, and the harvest he will be seeking when he comes again will be our very souls. We must be ready to receive every messenger and give to them the fruit of the spirit that the Lord has provided for us to care for and produce. For one day, that messenger will be that beloved son, and he will carry us home to the father.

The parable of the tenants was told in response to the questioning of Jesus’ authority by which he performed all of the amazing acts that had done. It was told not only to convey to the hearers at the time what was soon to come, but also to convey the powerful realities that underlie the events that were to soon unfold. A great shift of rite and responsibility was to take place. A once great and mighty people had found themselves under the foot of their enemies because of the wicked ways of a select few. But now, that greatness and majesty would be bestowed upon an elected multitude with the one and only true king ruling over it. The cornerstone would be set in place, rejected by the chief builders, but now itself the chief of all the stones that upon which would be built the very kingdom of God. While the chief priests, teachers of the law, and elders turned away in defeat and shame, Jesus stood in victory at that moment and every moment since. As we read this parable today, the very word of our Lord and Savior, we must remember that which befell our forbearers. We must remember the great obligation and responsibility that the Lord has now bestowed upon us. Let us be fruitful and productive with the vineyard the Lord has now passed on to us. May we do only that which is right in God’s eyes, and prepare for the day we will welcome the beloved son of the great vineyard’s owner.




[1] James A. Brooks, The New American Commentary, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 1991), 28-30.

[2] Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1989), Retrieved from: Jan. 8, 2016. Section V. Authorship.

[3] James A. Brooks, 27-28.

[4] James A. Brooks, 188-189.

[5] Ibid.

[6] James A. Brooks, 261.

[7] Walter W. Wessell, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 8, (Grand Rapids, MI: The Zondervan Corporation, 1984), Retrieved from: January 8, 2017. Para. 2.

[8] John Gill. John Gill’s Exposition on the Entire Bible- Book of Mark, (Dallas, TX: Graceworks publishing, 2012), Retrieved from: January 8, 2017. Mark 12:1.

[9] James A. Brooks, 190.

[10] Joseph S. Excell, The Biblical Illustrator: St. Mark, (London: James Nisbet and Co., 1905), retrieved from:, January 8, 2016. Section titled The son rejected.

[11] Walter W. Wessell, Para. 3

[12] James Strong, The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (Cincinnati, OH: Jennings & Graham, 1890), Retrieved from:, January 8, 2017. Agapetos.

[13] Walter W. Wessell, para. 8.

[14] James A. Brooks, 191.

[15] John Gill, Mark 12:10.

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