Mark 12 Commentary

vv.1-12 “This parable of judgment is addressed primarily to the religious leaders of Israel (vv. 1, 12). The story draws on everyday life. Disputes between absentee landlords, their representatives (in this case, a servant), and tenants were common (vv. 3–5). The attempt to seize the land by killing the rightful heir is bold but plausible (vv. 6–8). The key to understanding the story lies in v. 12 (see also vv. 1, 5); the opponents of Jesus understand his story to be an accusation against them, yet they do not take Jesus’ words to heart. The vineyard is a well-known metaphor for Israel (cf. Neh. 9:16–37; Isa. 5:1–5; John 15:1–27). The son of the landlord (beloved son) is rejected as the “messianic stone” (Ps. 118:22; Mark 12:10). The builders (v. 10; a metaphor for “leaders of Israel”) kill the “messianic stone” (vv. 7, 10). This interpretation corresponds to the current tension between Jesus and his opponents and the overall saving work of God despite the rebellion of his people (Neh. 9:6, 26, 28–31, 33–35; Acts 7:2–53). Jesus’ parabolic teaching either instructs (Mark 4:1–20) or hardens (4:10–12; 12:1–12) its hearers.”[1]

“The allegory reveals God’s continuous pursuit of humans, no matter how often the overtures meet with rejection. The landlord’s optimism in sending his son represents God’s endless hopefulness and constant effort to bring sinful people to their senses. God fully expects the people to produce fruit and exercises forbearance when they renege on their obligations (Rom. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9), and what seems to be utter foolishness in sending prophet after prophet and finally a beloved Son to a pack of murderers. What may look like foolishness to worldly wisdom, however (1 Cor. 1:18 – 25; 3:18 – 20), reflects the love and wisdom of God.”[2]

“The tenants may stupidly believe that when they kill the heir the vineyard will become ownerless property that they can then commandeer. Like the rich fool, they do not take any account of God.  This aspect of the parable bridges easily into our contemporary setting. It says something about the foolish hubris of those in every age and in every walk of life who think that they can seize control of everything in their lives and push God out of the picture. Did these tenants really believe that by killing the son they could become the owners of the vineyard? Apparently so. Do humans think that by erasing God from their lives they can take control of their earthly and eternal destinies? Apparently so. The allegory reveals the utter foolishness of sinful rebellion against God. It also reminds us that we are only the servants in the vineyard, not its lords or its owners.”[3]

“At the time of Jesus, Ps. 118:22–23 was already known as a messianic psalm (cf. Acts 4:11). The opponents of Jesus can thus understand what he means: the “stone” refers to the Messiah. Builders refers to the leaders of Israel. Rejected echoes the theme of the persecution of the prophets of God (Neh. 9:9–35; Acts 7:1–53). The new Israel (or faithful Israel) will accept the Son as the rightful messenger, heir, and cornerstone of the messianic kingdom (Jer. 31:26; Zech. 4:7). Both Mark 12:9 and 12:10 speak of reversal: in v. 9 God transfers responsibility for his people to “others,” and in v. 10 the rejected messianic “stone” is divinely vindicated and established as the cornerstone of a new building (see notes on 1 Pet. 2:4–8).”[4]

v.18 “This is the only time in Mark’s gospel that the Sadducees appear, and their appearance is entirely characteristic of them. The Sadducees were not a large Jewish party. They were aristocratic and wealthy. They included most of the priests; the office of high priest was regularly held by a Sadducee. Being the wealthy and aristocratic party, they were not unnaturally collaborationist, for they wished to retain their comforts and their privileges. It was from them came those who were prepared to collaborate with the Romans in the government of the country. They differed very widely from the Pharisees in certain matters. First, they accepted only the written scriptures and attached more importance to the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, than to all the rest. They did not accept the mass of oral law and tradition, the rules and regulations which were so dear to the Pharisees. It was on the written Mosaic Law that they took their stand. Second, they did not believe in immortality, nor in spirits and angels. They said that in the early books of the Bible there was no evidence for immortality, and they did not accept it.”[5]

vv.28-31 “This teacher is not asking which laws need to be obeyed and which can safely be ignored. He is asking, “What is the fundamental premise of the law on which all the individual commands depend?” Jesus gives an orthodox reply from the daily confession of Israel known as the Shema. The confession proclaims that God is the only God, and one is to love him with one’s whole being: heart, soul, mind, and strength. But one cannot love God in isolation from one’s other relationships in life. For this reason, Jesus couples the command to love God with the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself (Lev. 19:18; cf. Rom. 13:10; 15:1 – 2; Gal. 5:14; James 2:8).  Love is our inner commitment to God that is expressed in all our conduct and relationships. Those who do not show love to others can hardly claim to love God (see 1 John 3:14 – 18; 4:8, 10 – 12, 20 – 22).”[6]

vv.35-37 “What Jesus is doing is this—he is not denying that the Messiah is the Son of David, nor is he saying that he himself is not the Son of David. What he is saying is that he is the Son of David—and far more, not only David’s son but David’s Lord.  The trouble was that the title Son of David had got itself inextricably entangled with the idea of a conquering Messiah. It had got involved in political and nationalistic hopes and dreams, aims and ambitions. Jesus was saying that the title Son of David, as it was popularly used, is a quite inadequate description of himself. He was Lord. This word Lord (the Greek kurios) is the regular translation of Jahweh (Jehovah) in the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures. Always its use would turn men’s thoughts to God. What Jesus was saying was that he came not to found any earthly kingdom but to bring men and women to God.”[7]


[1] ESV Study Bible, Notes for Mark (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008) 1919.

[2] David E. Garland, Mark, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996) 455.

[3] David E. Garland, Mark, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996) 456.

[4] ESV Study Bible, Notes for Mark (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008) 1920.

[5] William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, Daily Study Bible Series, Rev. ed. (Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1975) 336.

[6] David E. Garland, Mark, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996) 476.

[7] William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, Daily Study Bible Series, Rev. ed. (Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1975) 347-48.

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