The Vineyard and the Husbandmen - Mark 12.1-12
In Mark 11 we find a time check showing that Jesus is nearing the end of His earthly ministry. The chapter opens on what we recognise as Palm Sunday, when the Lord rides into Jerusalem to present Himself to the people as their Messiah - the King of Israel "that cometh in the name of the Lord" (vv.9-10). In v.12 the expression "on the morrow" refers to the Monday; and in v.20 the phrase "in the morning" represents the Tuesday of Easter Week. At the end of the chapter the Lord Jesus is confronted by the opposition of chief priests, scribes and elders, as they gather with other Jewish leaders to show their fierce hatred of Christ. The timetable shows that Jesus is within a very few days of His trial and crucifixion! Of course His enemies were unable to gain a foothold over Him for He knew exactly what was in their hearts. It is against this background that the Parable of the Vineyard with the interpretation is set.
Earlier in ch.11, Jesus is coming from Bethany, and, being hungry, He sees a fig tree, which in Scripture is a type of Israel nationally. Alas, there was nothing but leaves thereon, and because of its fruitless condition Jesus cursed the tree. It was His only miracle of judgment, during His ministry (vv.12-22). In this parable, our attention is now drawn to a vine which is another type of Israel. In neither case did the Lord find the fruit that He had every right to expect. Although as a nation Israel had been so richly blessed and so miraculously preserved, at this time it was just a formal empty religious shell! From the very lips of these religious men we are given the interpretation of the parable. "They knew that he had spoken the parable against them" (12.12)! As we look a little closer at the details we shall see the significance of what Jesus is bringing before these people!
The planted vineyard (v.1)
In addition to planting the vine, there was the protection of a surrounding hedge, the preparation for a winefat (the vessel into which the juice of the grapes ran when they were pressed). There was also the provision of a watchtower for detecting encroaching predators! When all had been completed with meticulous care, the vineyard was let out to husbandmen to manage as trustees in the absence of the Master!
There is a reference to the historic significance of this parable in Psalm 80.8. "Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it. Thou preparest room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land". These words record how God brought His people from the bondage of Egypt into that good land that flowed with milk and honey; and how He drove out the inhabitants of Canaan, to give His people a heritage in the Promised Land!
Isaiah also makes reference to this in ch.5. "My wellbeloved had a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: and he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof [casting out the nations]". But in spite of all the care he lavished upon it, it brought forth only wild grapes! Well may the Lord ask the question there: "What more could have been done that I have not done?" (v.4).
This all provides such an accurate description of Gods dealing with Israel throughout the Old Testament period, and how, in the face of divine love and patience, they so miserably failed to produce anything that was fruitful to God! We cannot fail to be reminded of the contrast seen in the Lord Jesus who speaks of Himself as the true vine, and who yielded His Father unceasing pleasure and delight (Jn 15.1).
The prophetic messengers (vv.2-5)
At the season of fruit gathering, the man sent a servant that he might receive fruit. The suggestion has been made that this is how the rent was paid by the tenants not in hard currency but by a return in kind. However, contrary to what might have been expected, the servant was beaten and sent away empty! So, another servant was sent who was treated even more cruelly and shamefully than the first; and then a third servant who was killed. After that, many more were sent! Some were beaten and others killed, but no fruit was rendered to the lord of the vineyard!
These servants were the divinely sent messengers commissioned by God to go with His word; sometimes the messages were of promised blessing, at other times of threatened judgment. But, alas, Israels leaders were generally deaf to the pleading voice of Gods Spirit, and sought to stifle the message, and to persecute those who brought it!
It was with deep sorrow of heart that Jesus referred to this when lamenting over Jerusalem! "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together and ye would not!" (Mt 23.37; Lk 13.34).
The final appeal in grace (vv.6-8)
Then, at the last, his one son, his well beloved, would be sent. The messenger now is not merely a servant but a son! The prophets were but human messengers, but here Jesus speaks of Himself on a different and higher level! The very One who uttered the parable was himself the Son of the Fathers love an only Son! He came in human form made in the likeness of men, and as a bondservant (Phil 2.7)! These amazing words fill our hearts with feeling and emotion as we think that the Father sent the Son! John in the opening of his Gospel writes, "He came unto his own, and his own received him not" (1.11). These Jewish leaders regarded His claims as blasphemous, and sought to kill Him because He said "that God was his Father, making himself equal with God" (Jn 5.18). We wonder at the cruelty and brutality of these men! They knew that the son was the heir and therefore said, "Come, let us kill him". Again and again, they consulted together how they might put him to death!
They took him and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard (v.8). This casting out refers to His being delivered into the hands of Gentiles under Pontius Pilate. We read in Hebrews 13 that "Jesus suffered without the gate", outside Jerusalems walls at Calvary. He was numbered with the transgressors! Peter later reminds them that the Man approved of God had been taken by them, delivered into lawless hands (that of the Romans) and crucified and slain. How good it is for us to be assured that "He was delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2.23).
The impending judgment and future plan (v.9)
"He will come and destroy the husbandmen". This was predicted by the Lord Jesus in His Olivet discourse, and fulfilled in AD 70 when Jerusalem and its temple were utterly destroyed by the Roman general Titus. As the Lord Jesus said, not one stone was left upon another (Mt 24.2)!
As to the future, "He will give the vineyard unto others". To whom will the vineyard be given? We know that Israel is presently set aside by God (Romans 9-11 confirms this). In this interval of grace the church has been brought into being as Gods vessel of testimony in the world. However, consistency of interpretation makes it difficult to accept that the church is involved in this vineyard which we have already seen so clearly from Psalm 80 and Isaiah 5 represents Israel!
We should perhaps look forward beyond the church age, and understand that God yet has a great future plan for the nation that once rejected and crucified His Son! He will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and Judah. Their sins and iniquities He will remember no more (Jer 31.31-34; Heb 10.16-17). We believe that the reference to giving the vineyard to others, points to the privilege of a restored nation. The day is coming when to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem a fountain will be opened for sin and uncleanness (Zech 13.1). The eyes of this people now blind in unbelief will be opened when the Lord Jesus appears in power and great glory, and they look on Him whom they once pierced. In Isaiahs words they will say, "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities", and, having experienced their "great day of atonement", they will enter into the blessings of the millennial Kingdom, and, under the influence of their once rejected Messiah, they will dwell in peace and safety, and render to Him all the homage that was refused him when He came the first time! Then both Lord and servants will enjoy to the full the fruit of that vineyard that for so long had been withheld.
To be continued.