Of all the roles assigned to Jesus, judge is rarely the first one that people choose to talk about. Judgement is an unpopular topic—unsettling even. But that’s exactly why Mark needs to engage with it at this point in the gospel. Earlier in Mark, we saw Jesus appointing 12 disciples as heads of a new Israel (see Mark 3:13-19), and throughout his account we’ve seen descriptions of the religious leaders locked in opposition to Jesus, even wanting to kill him (3:6). What will become of them? And if they are judged, what does that mean for God’s people and their relationship with him?

In the midst of a frictional passage in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 11:27-12:44), we find a parable that lies behind the entire section: the “Parable of the Tenants”. The parable gives a picture of Israel’s progressive failure to honour God, refusing to give him what he deserves and rejecting the prophets. In spite of God’s patience toward them, Jesus knows how this will turn out—they will ultimately reject and kill the son.

We see this manifest in the confrontations that surround the parable—Mark has deliberately placed these conversations to highlight the Pharisees’ failure to render to God ‘the things that are God’s’ (12:17), the chief priests rejection of the prophets and the Son (11:27-33), and the Sadducees denial of a future resurrection (12:24-27). Yet it is in this resurrection that we see Jesus triumphantly taking his position as the ‘cornerstone’ (12:10).

Jesus isn’t just another prophet, but the Son, and the centre of God’s rescue plan. Their rejection of him betrays their true allegiance, and they face just condemnation (12:9). Indeed, in the second half of chapter 12, Mark reminds us that Jesus will take this role as a judge (12:35-37). He demonstrates how profoundly many had failed, showing what God has always really called for (12:30-31), and promising judgement on those who have rejected him (eg 12:40).

Religious leaders such as the scribes were rightly judged for their concern with outward appearances, for what other people think of them, instead of giving God what he deserves and responding to his prophets and his Son in the way they should. God has always been interested in a relationship with his people and shows us in this passage what that really means: focused on Jesus and giving our all to him.

Questions to ponder

  • In the first century, a relationship with God was seen to be only through the temple. How has Mark responded to this view?
  • How do you feel about Jesus’ role as a judge? In what ways does Mark 12 show it to be a good thing?
  • This passage seems to be more about the justice of Jesus’ judgement, but we can learn some things from their mistakes?
  • How can you be in danger of failing to make Jesus central in your relationship with God?
  • What does true religion look like? In what ways is the widow an example? What does Mark 12:30-31 look like for you?