In our last study at RML Mark evening before the Easter break, we began a new section in Mark's Gospel, running from chapter 11 to chapter 13. Back in chapter 3, after some initial conflict with the leaders of Israel, we saw Jesus calling a new Israel (3:13–19). Up until this point, Mark has been focused pretty much on Jesus' actions with them.
But now in this section Mark comes back to focus again on Israel and in particular three questions about them: what will happen to them, why will it happen, and when will it happen. The chapters roughly break down like this:
Chapter 11: what?
Chapter 12: why?
Chapter 13: when?
We saw last time the answer to the question of what will happen to Israel—the cursing and withering of the fig tree either side of Jesus' ceasing of all the temple activity was a pronouncement of judgment.
This week we began the first of two studies in chapter 12 thinking about why Jesus was right to judge Israel.
There were some great moments on TV game show 'The Weakest Link' when people had the guts to stand up to the perennially mean host Anne Robinson. We all love seeing someone who is being unfairly criticised coming up with a comeback that silences their accusers. Often though people struggle to do so on the spot.
Three times the religious leaders come to him in Mark 11:27–12:27 with an unfair but seemingly inescapable trap. Each time they go away silenced, having had the tables turned squarely back on themselves. No wonder people marvelled at Jesus (12:17).
Of course, we already know why they're doing this - we were told in 11:18 that they wanted to destroy Jesus because he threatened their authority over the people, who were entranced by his astonishing teaching.
Which is why the parable that Jesus tells against them (12:12) at the start of chapter 12 is so apt. We get more and more outraged at the callous, ungrateful, selfish actions of tenants in the story, to the point that when verse 9 comes, and the owner destroys the tenants, we're thinking 'yes, bring on the judgement—in fact, the owner should have done it sooner!'.
So then, when we understand that this is exactly what the leaders of Israel, whom the tenants represent, had done with God's vineyard Israel (see Isaiah 5:1–7), killing the prophets God had sent to warn them and now trying to (and eventually succeeding in) destroy his Son Jesus, we begin to see the justice of the judgment Jesus pronounced in the previous study.
Why was Jesus right to judge Israel? The answer from the first half of chapter 12 is simple: they rejected the Son, Jesus.
Questions for application
- What do you think the parable of the tenants teaches us about God's judgment?
- How do these passages further build up our picture of Jesus?