Mark 11:27-12:12

Living Under the Authority of Jesus

 

Jesus is back in Jerusalem and goes once more directly to the temple where he is met by the chief priests and the scribes and the elders (v.27). These are the 3 groups that made up the Sanhedrin, the 71-member Jewish ruling body and the very ones who would eventually turn Jesus over to the civil authorities to be executed (c.f. Mark 15:1). These religious leaders have long opposed Jesus and now they directly challenge the authority Jesus has to do things he has been doing. While any one of Jesus’ activities could be in view, it seems most likely they are concerned with his recent clearing of the temple courts.

#1 The religious leaders ask Jesus a legitimate question.

The question the religious authorities bring to Jesus, on the surface anyway, is a legitimate question: by what authority are you doing these things? (v.28). Notice they do not question what Jesus has done but rather the authority by which he has done it.

Jesus has presented himself through out Mark’s Gospel as one who has authority and this has not gone by unnoticed. The people are astonished at the authority with which he teaches (c.f. Mark 1:22).   They are equally amazed at the authority he exercises over the evil spirits (c.f. Mark 1:27). He healed a paralytic and even forgave his sin explaining that “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (c.f. Mark 2:10). His own disciples were full of wonder and even fear when he exercised authority over the weather (c.f. Mark 4:35-41). One of his disciples, Peter, not only knew he had authority but was beginning to discover the true source of that authority when he exclaimed “You are the Christ!” (c.f. Mark 8:29).

One thing we have in common with Jesus is a desire to see things happen. When we are caught in a storm, we want it calmed. When we are sick, we want to be healed. The difference between Jesus and us is that his desire is matched by his ability. He is able to bring about all that he desires. This is the authority that Jesus has. We do not have that authority. Neither did the religious “authorities” of Jesus’ day. They clearly saw the authority he had and yet they were unwilling to submit to it. Because they were unwilling to crown him, they knew they had to destroy him.

#2 Jesus sees the true condition of their hearts.

Jesus sees right through their tough exterior into their heart. He knows their question of him does not come from a pure heart seeking answers and so he puts them to the test. Jesus asks them if the baptism of John (v.30) is from God or from man.   He is not evading their question but neither will he cast his pearls before swine. Remember that John was the forerunner to Jesus announcing his arrival and ultimately baptizing him in the Jordan River where the heavens were torn apart and the Father declared the authority that Jesus had: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (c.f. Mark 1:10-11). If these religious authorities can’t accept John as a prophet from God, how will they accept Jesus? Jesus won’t play their game. See the cowardice of these men. They are unwilling to acknowledge that John was sent from God (i.e. heaven) but neither will they reject him out right out because they were afraid of the people (v.32). These are equivocating cowards who refuse to accept what is clearly before their eyes but won’t honestly reject him either. And so they lie to Jesus saying, “We do not know (v.33).”

Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you (c.f. Matthew 7:7).” It’s important that we see that these religious authorities are not knocking at the door.  Augustine was right on when he observed that these religious leaders “not only had not knocked that it might be opened, but by their denial they barricaded the door itself against themselves (Ancient Christian Commentary on Mark, p.156).”

 

#3 The owner loves his vineyard and wants it to be fruitful.

While Jesus will not answer their question, he is not content to stop there. He tells a parable, which this bright group of men realize is told against them (v.12). Jesus’ parable would have sounded familiar to this audience as a very similar parable is recorded in Isaiah 5:1-7.   The summary of Jesus’ parable is that a certain vineyard is mismanaged by a group of wicked tenants who kill or mistreat the servants the owner sends to them to gather a harvest. As a last resort the owner sends his beloved son who they ultimately kill.   The owner in turn destroys the tenants and gives the vineyard to others.

One thing we should see here is the love the owner has for his vineyard. He puts a fence around it and a tower in midst of it for its protection (v.1). He provides a winepress that it might be productive (v.1). He sends multiple servants to his vineyard. The owner loves his vineyard. He wants it to be fruitful which is why he sends the servants in the first place that they might get some of the fruit from the vineyard (v.2). Just like Jesus who earlier dug around in the fig tree looking for fruit, so the owner of this vineyard is looking for fruit.

 

 #4 The tenants do not act out of ignorance.

Notice that in this parable the tenants do not act out of ignorance when they mistreat or kill the ones sent to them. The servants sent by the owner in the parable represent the prophets that God has sent to his people. This is the love the Father has for his people. And yet Israel over and over again rejected the prophets (c.f. Matthew 23:37).  In the parable Jesus is showing us that this rejection of the work of God does not come about because of ignorance. It’s not because the prophets weren’t recognized as prophets. We see this clearly when the vineyard owner decides to send his beloved son.

And by the way, who is this beloved son? It is Jesus. Remember at Jesus’ baptism, the Father says “you are my beloved son” (c.f. Mark 1:11) and later at Jesus’ transfiguration the Father says, “this is by beloved son” (c.f. Mark 9:7).

The tenants kill the beloved son not because they did not recognize him, but precisely because they do recognize him. “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours (v. 7). Jesus is saying to those religious authorities who have rejected him, You know who I am! They said to Jesus concerning John the Baptist: “we do not know.” But the truth is they do know. They know who John is and they know who Jesus is.

No one will be able to stand before God at the end of time and say, “I did not know.” Paul makes this case in Romans 1 when he says that sinful people “suppress the truth” but “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them” (c.f. Romans 1:18-19).

 

#5 The tenants are unable to frustrate the plans of the owner.

 As I said earlier, this parable of Jesus is very similar to one found in Isaiah 5. But there is one notable exception. In Isaiah’s parable the vineyard is destroyed but here it is not the vineyard that is destroyed but the wicked tenants who are destroyed. Can you imagine the surprise on the faces of the religious authorities, who being familiar with the Old Testament, perhaps thought they knew where Jesus was going with the parable? But then Jesus says it’s not the vineyard that will be destroyed – it’s the wicked tenants! It’s you!

The evil plans of the tenants are unable to frustrate the plans of the vineyard owner. He will get a harvest from his vineyard. What tremendous comfort! This parable, then, is about the sovereignty of God in a messed up world.   He is faithful to his promises. He will get glory from the people to whom he has called to himself. The gates of hell may rage, but Jesus will succeed in building his church. God will have a fruitful vineyard! Perhaps all you see right now is the wicked tenants who are bent on fulfilling their own evil desires. We should take heart because in the end God will have the victory!

 

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do you think the religious authorities challenged Jesus’ authority to do “these things”?
  2. In what ways has Jesus demonstrated his authority in Mark’s Gospel? Name as many as you can.
  3. Why do you think Jesus doesn’t answer their question directly? What does John the Baptist have to do with the authority of Jesus?
  4. Do you think the religious authorities were truthful when they said to Jesus “we do not know” (v.33)?
  5. Summarize the parable that Jesus told against them. Who do the characters represent?
  6. What attitude do the tenants have about the vineyard?
  7. Why do they kill the beloved son (v.7)?
  8. What do you think Jesus is saying to the religious authorities about themselves?
  9. How does this parable demonstrate the extreme lengths that God goes to for his people?   How does this encourage you?
  10. Are there are areas in your life where you might be resisting the work of God? How does this parable encourage you in this area?
  11. What is one thing you will do as a result of studying this passage?
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