The problem with being a Bible school student is that God (and your professors) won’t let you get away with just the surface interpretation of Scripture… You can’t just surmise, “Oh, Jesus was definitely talking about the Pharisees here,” and walk away. If your paper isn’t personal yet, it probably isn’t done!
As John-Mark’s Gospel careens towards a climax in the cross, the tension with the religious leaders escalates rapidly. Both Chapters 11 and 12 deal primarily with Jesus debating with the religious leaders and commenting on—or even outright disrupting—ritual in the Temple as He ruthlessly attacks the corruption at the heart of the system that’s obscuring the Kingdom He is trying to bring forth. All of this is consolidated neatly into the parable featured at the start of Chapter 12: The parable of the vineyard and the wicked tenants (vs. 1-12).
The surface interpretation of this parable is clear and is even explained nearly point-blank within the passage itself: God has sent prophets and now His son to redeem Israel to Himself, but the wicked people and their wicked religious system have rejected the shepherds. However, if we couple this parable with a proper understanding of the Kingdom of God, we will quickly realize that this parable applies just as appropriately to us as it did to the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.
Although a full explanation of the theology of the Kingdom of God is beyond the scope of this paper, we can simply say, by way of summary, that the “vineyard” in this parable could equally refer to Creation as a whole and not just the people of Israel. God created Earth and filled it with good things. He then created humans and put the Earth under their authority through the Dominion Mandate. All of this paints a very similar picture to a wealthy king planting a vineyard, sowing good seed, building a hedge, and then entrusting the care to tenants.
As tenants, we humans have repeatedly failed our Dominion Mandate, but God has continually reiterated it to a new generation by passing the calling on through Noah, Abraham, Jacob, David, and others. This same Mandate was then reissued through Jesus’ Great Commission, which extends our responsibility to creating disciples in other people and not just through our own children.
With this in mind, then, we can see how this mandate applies to anyone who is a citizen of the Kingdom. As was strongly implied by Jesus’ ominous ending to His story, Israel—specifically the Temple system—lost exclusive stewardship of the mysteries of God, and the tenancy would be given to the Church. But now that the torch has been passed, we stand in great danger of repeating the parable and becoming wicked tenants who are not interested in allowing God to rule His own vineyard.
How often has God sent teachers—including His own Spirit—to instruct us, and we have refused? How often have we wanted to reap the benefits of living in God’s vineyard without giving Him the fruit of our tithes, time, and worship? And how many Churches today want to deny the right of God’s Kingdom and abandon the vineyard to Satan?
It is painfully ironic that, even though the Pharisees were aware that the parable was directed at them, they missed the lethal warning. The wicked tenants foolishly assumed that killing the heir would mean the vineyard would go unclaimed, but killing the heir did nothing to alter the King’s ownership of the land. In the same way, killing Jesus did not guarantee that religious power would be left in the hands of the Pharisees; it only brought the wrath of the kingdom’s true ruler. Let us not follow in their footsteps and make the arrogant assumption that our inattentiveness to the vineyard will go unpunished.