The Interpretation (12:10–11)
What caused the leaders and the people to recoil in horror from their condemnation of the vine-growers was their realization of what the elements in Christ’s story represented. The man who planted and owned the vineyard represents God (cf. Isa. 5:1–2); the vineyard represents Israel (cf. Isa. 5:7). The vine-growers represent the Jewish leaders, who were responsible as stewards of God’s possession to care for Israel. The journey taken by the owner represents Old Testament history, beginning with Abraham. During that time, God gave His people the law and ordained priests and scribes to teach it to them, so they could obey Him and properly worship Him. The harvest represents the time when God expected to see the spiritual fruit that should have resulted from Israel’s understanding of and obedience to the law. Instead of the fruit of obedient worship and love for God, Israel produced only the worthless grapes (Isa. 5:4) of rebellion and unrighteousness.
The slaves dispatched by the owner represent the Old Testament prophets from Moses to John the Baptist. They were sent by God to denounce Israel’s sin and call the nation to repentance, and so produce a fruitful harvest for God’s honor and glory.
But Israel mistreated and rejected those God-sent preachers. Commentator Alfred Plummer wrote,
“The uniform hostility” of kings, priests, and people to the Prophets is one of the most remarkable features in history of the Jews. The amount of hostility varied, and it expressed itself in different ways, on the whole increasing in intensity; but it was always there. Deeply as the Jews lamented the cessation of Prophets after the death of Malachi, they generally opposed them, as long as they were granted to them. Till the gift was withdrawn, they seemed to have had little pride in this exceptional grace shown to the nation, and little appreciation of it or thankfulness for it. (An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to S. Matthew [New York: Scribner’s, 1910], 297)
The second-century Christian apologist Justin Martyr reports that Isaiah was sawn in half with a wooden saw (Dialogue of Justin with Trypho, a Jew, chap. 120; cf. Heb. 11:37). Jeremiah was constantly mistreated, falsely accused of treason (Jer. 37:13–16), thrown into a pit (Jer. 38:9), and, according to tradition, stoned to death by the Jews. Ezekiel faced similar hatred and hostility (cf. Ezek. 2:6); Amos was forced to flee for his life (Amos 7:10–13); Zechariah was rejected (Zech. 11:12), and Micaiah was struck in the face (1 Kings 22:24). Both the Old Testament (e.g., Jer. 7:23–26; 25:4–6) and the New Testament (e.g., Matt. 23:29–39; Luke 6:22–23; 11:49; 13:34; Acts 7:51–52) rebuked Israel for rejecting and persecuting the prophets.
By creating this riveting parable, Jesus made it clear to those who sought to murder Him that He knew exactly what they were planning to do to Him. He, God’s beloved Son and final messenger (Heb. 1:1–2), was represented by the owner’s son in the parable. Just as the owner’s son was not a slave but his son, so also Jesus was not merely another prophet but the Son of God. The leaders wanted control over the inheritance (Israel in the story). Therefore just as the tenants killed the owner’s son and threw him out of the vineyard, so also would the religious leaders reject and throw Jesus out of the nation, by turning Him over to the Romans, who would kill Him outside of Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders would prove themselves to be “sons of those who murdered the prophets” (Matt. 23:31). They would “fill up … the measure of the guilt of [their] fathers” (v. 32) by killing both the Son of God and the Christian preachers who would proclaim the truth about Him after His death. As a result, “upon [them would] fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom [they] murdered between the temple and the altar” (v. 35).
The vineyard owner’s destruction of the rebellious tenants depicts God’s judgment on Israel in a.d. 70. God was remarkably patient with His disobedient, rebellious people. The prior judgments on the nation had been centuries earlier, at the hands of the Assyrians on the northern kingdom (Israel) in 722 b.c., and the Babylonians on the southern kingdom (Judah) in 586 b.c. The coming destruction of Israel and especially Jerusalem was devastating. Tens of thousands of Jews were slaughtered, and thousands more sold into slavery. The temple was destroyed, bringing to an end the entire religious system of sacrifices, priests, rituals, and ceremonies that depended on it. The religious leaders of the nation had utterly failed in their stewardship, which was taken from them in a devastating judgment, as had happened centuries earlier when the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple.
Not only was the apostate leaders’ stewardship over God’s people taken away from them, it was also granted to the unlikeliest group imaginable—the apostles. Those twelve ordinary despised Galileans, not trained in the rabbinic schools and outside the religious establishment, would become the recipients and stewards of the divine revelation, which they would be enabled to disseminate to the world. Jesus had already given them authority over demons and disease, and to proclaim the gospel (Mark 6:7, 12–13). The next night, in the upper room, He would promise them the divine revelation through the Holy Spirit that would inspire them and their close associates to write the New Testament (John 14:26; 15:26–27; 16:13–14). For that reason, when the early church met, they studied the doctrine taught by the apostles (Acts 2:42; cf. 1 Cor. 4:1; Eph. 2:19–20; 3:1–5; 2 Peter 3:2). All who would subsequently hold to and proclaim the apostles’ doctrine follow in their line.
Although the parable had ended, the death of the Son could not be the end of the story. For the conclusion, Jesus transitioned from the metaphor of a vineyard to that of a building. His question, “Have you not even read this Scripture?” indicted the Jewish leaders for their ignorance of Scripture, for failing to understand the teaching of Psalm 118:22 that the stone which the builders rejected, this became the chief corner stone; this came about from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes. The one whom they rejected would become the chief corner stone, a reference to the most important part of a stone building that set the foundation and the correct angles for all aspects of its construction. Jesus, the chief cornerstone in the eternal kingdom of God, supports the entire structure and symmetry of God’s glorious kingdom of salvation. As Peter boldly declared to the Sanhedrin, “He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone” (Acts 4:11; cf. Eph. 2:20; 1 Peter 2:6–7).
To Israel’s leaders in their ignorance, the stone did not measure up. It was a rejected stone, inadequate, imperfect, unacceptable, not to be the head of the corner, unable to support the whole structure and symmetry of God’s glorious kingdom. But they were dead wrong. Jesus is God’s cornerstone, the very one of whom was said two days earlier during the triumphal entry, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (Mark 11:9). Matthew adds to the account a final word from the Lord: “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust” (Matt. 21:43–44). This was a terrible reiteration of crushing judgment. It was also a prophecy of the church, God’s new people composed of Jews and Gentiles born at Pentecost. Did not the psalmist have this in mind when he wrote, “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it”? (Ps. 118:23–24).
10–11 The quotation is from Psalm 118:22–23, the same psalm the joyful cry “Hosanna” came from (11:9). The OT image of a rejected “stone” may have been drawn from the construction of Solomon’s temple (Lane, 420): one of the stones was rejected but became the kephalēn gōnias (lit., “head of the corner,” KJV, RSV; “capstone,” NIV; “cornerstone,” TNIV, NRSV, NLT, ESV; “chief cornerstone,” NASB). Plummer, 275, believes the reference is to “a cornerstone uniting two walls; but whether at the base or at the top is not certain.” Some think it refers to a keystone that completes the building and holds it together (TDNT 1:792–93). Whether a cornerstone, a capstone, or a keystone, the metaphor clearly refers to the most important stone in the building. The symbolism intended in the original psalm is uncertain. It may have referred to Israel as a nation, despised by the pagan nations but after her return from exile exalted to the status of nationhood. J. D. M. Derrett (“The Stone That the Builders Rejected,” SE 4 : 180–86) sees an originally messianic reference, with David as the rejected stone. The Targum on v. 22 reads, “The boy which the builders abandoned was among the sons of Jesse and he is worthy to be appointed king” (cf. France, 462 n. 19).
Here Jesus applies the psalm to himself. The “stoneship” of Jesus, based on this passage (Ps 118:22–23) together with Isaiah 8:14 and 28:16, was a familiar theme in early Christianity. The psalm is cited by Jesus in Luke 20:17 and again by Peter in Acts 4:11 as he confronts the Sanhedrin with the rejection and vindication of the Messiah: “the stone you builders rejected … has become the cornerstone.” In Romans 9:33, Paul combines the image of a foundation stone from Isaiah 28:16 with the stone of stumbling in Isaiah 8:14: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame” (cf. Lk 2:34). First Peter 2:7–8 combines all three “stone” passages in a catena describing Jesus as the chosen and precious cornerstone (Isa 28:16) rejected by the builders but then vindicated (Ps 118:22), and now a cause of stumbling for some in Israel (Isa 8:14). The stone metaphor thus became a powerful apologetic tool for the early church in defending Jesus’ crucifixion and vindication, and the subsequent failure of many in Israel to respond. Although there is no specific reference to the resurrection in Psalm 118, Jeremias (TDNT 1:793) remarks, “The early community found in Ps. 118:22 scriptural evidence for the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Crucified is the rejected stone which in the resurrection is made by God the chief corner-stone in the heavenly sanctuary (Ac. 4:11), to be manifested as such in the parousia.” While the parable therefore itself speaks only of the judgment against the tenants, not the vindication of the son, Jesus’ citation of the psalm confirms that following rejection there will be vindication. By continuing the psalm’s citation to v. 23 (“the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes”), Jesus sets the rejection of the son in the context of God’s sovereign purpose and plan. Though evil human actions will result in the death of the son, God will use this “rejected stone” to accomplish his marvelous plan of salvation (cf. Ac 2:23; 3:18; 4:28).
10–12 The quotation of Ps. 118:22 f. agrees exactly with the LXX form of the text.15 The passage refers to one of the building blocks gathered at the site of Solomon’s Temple which was rejected in the construction of the Sanctuary but which proved to be the keystone to the porch. Introduced with the language of debate, the citation is intended to sharpen the application of the parable to Jesus and his immediate listeners. It confirms the identification of Jesus as the son in the parable and contrasts his despised and rejected status with the glorious exaltation to which God has appointed him. The note of rejection followed by vindication sounded in the first prophecy of the passion (see on Ch. 8:31) is here expressed with the covert, but clear terms of the biblical text. In rabbinic literature the rejected stone of Ps. 118:22 was understood with reference to Abraham, David or the Messiah, while the expression “the builders” was sometimes used of the doctors of the Law. Here the text serves as a warning that God will reverse the judgment of men with regard to his final messenger in a startling display of his power, turning apparent defeat into triumph (cf. Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:7).
The representatives of the Sanhedrin who heard Jesus speak would naturally find the clue to his meaning in the explicit allusion to Isa. 5:1–7 and in their own experience of hostility toward him. The parable, with its reflection on the history of Israel as marked by rebellion and unfaithfulness in spite of divine grace, amounted to a biting condemnation of their failure as leaders of the people. They understood its tenor only too well. The emphasis on understanding in verse 12 is new (contrast Ch. 4:11 f., 33 f.) and suggests that the secret of the Kingdom is on the point of being publicly revealed. What is significant is that Jesus himself took the initiative to disclose increasingly the secret of his own person, although the men to whom he directed his words were blinded by rage to the truth. Only the presence of crowds of people prevented them from laying violent hands on Jesus there in the Temple. The conclusion of the account echoes Ch. 11:18 f. and suggests that verse 12 may mark the close of the third day in Jerusalem.
The question of Jesus’ authority introduces a sequence of five conflict situations in Jerusalem (Ch. 11:27–12:37) corresponding to the similar sequence of conflict in Galilee in Ch. 2:1–3:6. D. Daube, however, has suggested that the four accounts which follow show an awareness of the traditional structure of the early Passover liturgy. The sequence of questions proposed corresponds to four types of questions recognized by the rabbis: questions of wisdom, which concern a point of law (cf. Ch. 12:13–17); of mockery, which frequently bear on the resurrection (cf. Ch. 12:18–27); of conduct, which center in relationship to God and men (cf. Ch. 12:28–34); and of biblical exegesis, which often concern the resolving of an apparent contradiction between two passages of Scripture (cf. Ch. 12:35–37). It is only in the Passover eve liturgy that the four types of questions appear in this particular order, and there the first three questions are posed by a wise son, a wicked son and a son of simple piety. The fourth is posed by the head of the family himself. This arrangement sheds light on the sequence of questions in Ch. 12:13–37. Daube’s suggestion is attractive that in this section of the Gospel we are in touch with elements of the tradition which were already associated with the Passover eve celebrations among the Christians in the first decades after the resurrection and may account for the grouping and order of the sequence in Mark’s Gospel.
12:10 / The stone the builders rejected: 12:10–11 contains a quotation of Ps. 118:22–23, which has to do with a stone regarded as worthless by builders but then made the capstone of the building. The original reference was probably to the king of Israel and/or to the nation itself. In rabbinic discussion, the passage was understood variously with reference to Abraham, David, or the Messiah; but here the stone is unquestionably Jesus, who, though not recognized by the builders (the Jewish leaders), will become the King-Messiah over all.
12:10 The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22–23 LXX, part of the “stone testimonia,” passages drawn also from Isaiah 8:14; 28:16 (cf. Acts 4:11; Rom. 9:33; 1 Pet. 2:4, 6–7) with a wordplay of Hebrew ’eben (“stone”) with ben (“son”), “the son is the stone.” Psalm 118 is a thanksgiving hymn celebrating victory over Israel’s enemies, with David as the cornerstone rejected by the establishment. This is similar, with Jesus the Davidic Messiah as the cornerstone. It is debated whether the imagery refers to the foundation stone at the corner of the building (my preference) or either the keystone at the top of the arch or the capstone at the top of the building.7 Most see it as an unimportant point, for the emphasis is on the importance and majesty of Jesus as the “cornerstone” of God’s new temple, the church. Moreover, it is God who has brought this about (the second half of the quotation), and it is “wondrous, amazing” to all who are part of the kingdom community.
10, 11. Have you never read this passage of Scripture:
The stone which the builders rejected
This became the cornerstone;
By the Lord was this done;
And it is wonderful in our eyes?
Jesus surprises his audience, particularly his bitter opponents—the chief priests and the scribes and the elders (11:27, 28)—by reminding them of this passage from Ps. 118 (LXX 117):22, 23. There a similar transaction had been described. Builders had rejected a stone; meaning: leaders, prominent men of other nations, had scoffingly denigrated Israel. Nevertheless, Israel had become in a very true sense the cornerstone, the head of the nations (Ps. 147:20). This, moreover, had not happened because of Israel’s own intrinsic moral and spiritual excellence or because of its own power. On the contrary, by the Lord this wonderful thing had been accomplished. Jesus now shows that the words of Ps. 118 reach their ultimate fulfilment in “the owner’s son,” that is, in himself, the true Israel. He is that stone that was being rejected by the chief priests, scribes, elders, and their followers; at Calvary, by the nation as a whole (“Crucify, crucify!”). See John 1:11. But something marvelous was going to happen: the rejected stone would become the cornerstone: Christ crucified would rise again triumphantly. And what about the nation, namely, the old unconverted Israel, the rejectors of the Messiah? “From you,” says Jesus, the “kingdom of God,” that is, the special kingdom privileges—the special standing in the eyes of God which this people had enjoyed during the old dispensation, to which had now been added the blessed words and works of Jesus—“will be taken away.” Why? Because they had not lived up to their obligations. They had been like the sharecroppers who at the time of the vintage had refused to render to the owner that portion of the vintage that was his due. So, in the place of the old covenant people there would arise—was it not already beginning to happen?—“a nation producing its fruit,” a church international, gathered from both Jews and Gentiles.
Briefly, therefore, the thrust—the one main lesson—of the parable can be expressed in the words of Ps. 2:12: “Kiss [or: pay homage to] the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way; for soon shall his wrath be kindled. Blessed are all those who take refuge in him.”
As to the subsidiary meaning of the separate items of this parable, to the extent in which a figurative meaning can be attached to them, see N.T.C. on Matthew, bottom of p. 786. In addition to what is said there, note the following:
Among the fruit-producing growths that are frequently mentioned in Scripture three are outstanding: the olive tree, the fig tree, and the grapevine. Sometimes they are mentioned in close succession (Judg. 9:8–13; and, in a different order, Hab. 3:17). Also in connection with the events of Passion Week we are reminded of all three: the olive tree (Mount of Olives, Mark 11:1; 13:3; 14:26), the fig tree (11:12–14, 20, 21; 13:28), and the vine (vineyard, 12:1 ff.).
Their purpose was, of course, to bear fruit. In this respect they symbolize God’s precept for human life: “Herein is my Father glorified that you bear much fruit” (John 15:8). When plants or trees do not enrich their owner with a bounteous harvest, they have failed to reach their goal. Whether they yield worthless fruit (Isa. 5:2), fruit that is unjustly withheld from the owner (the present parable), or no fruit at all (Mark 11:13, 14; Luke 13:6, 7) makes no basic difference. In all these cases God, who distributes his gifts lavishly, fails to receive his due from the hearts and lives thus symbolized. The circle is broken. The blessings poured down by him are not returned to him in the form of happy thanksgivings, surrendered hearts, rescued lives. The precept stands: Bear much fruit. Cf. Gal. 5:22.
In the present parable, when the first servant returns to the owner empty-handed, what does the latter do? At this point the parable becomes very touching, and this not because it is so true to life, but because it is not! In fact, it far surpasses what the average person’s reaction would have been. Unless a person is so very familiar with the parable that for him its keen edge has worn off, he is surprised, perhaps even somewhat shocked, to read that when this servant returns from his errand, he not only carries with him no grapes but in addition shows the evidences of the physical abuse he has received. Nevertheless, the owner does not immediately fly into a rage and punish the offenders. No, he simply sends another servant. And when that one is killed, the owner sends others. Finally, he even sends his own son, whom he dearly loves. And the owner symbolizes God!
This is the God who manifested his longsuffering at the time of the deluge (1 Peter 3:20). He is the God whose throne-chariot, with its accompanying cherubs, “stood still at the door of the east gate of the house of the Lord,” so reluctant was he to leave his chosen Zion (Ezek. 10:18, 19). His marvelous restraint in inflicting punishment is symbolized, in another parable, by the vinedresser’s plea, “Leave that tree alone this year also until I dig around it and fertilize it” (Luke 13:7). He even gives notoriously corrupt “Jezebel” time to repent (Rev. 2:21). Touchingly Peter writes (2 Peter 3:9), “He is longsuffering toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should make room for repentance.” See also Gen. 18:22–33; Isa. 1:18; 55:6, 7; Hos. 11:8; Mic. 7:18, 19; Matt. 23:37.
The present parable also shows that it is entirely wrong to emphasize God’s love at the expense of his holiness, righteousness, and avenging wrath. Note: “He will come and kill those sharecroppers” (12:9). See also Prov. 29:1; Isa. 5:5–7; 6:1–5; Nah. 1:1–6; Zeph. 1 (the entire chapter); Matt. 23:1–36; John 15:6 Heb. 12:29; Rev. 6:12–17; 14:17–20; 18:1–19:21.
But this outpouring of wrath and punishment does not in any way imply the frustration of God’s plan of salvation. Note that in the parable the owner’s action—or reaction—does not cease when he has killed the wicked sharecroppers. No, he adds … “and give the vineyard to others.” The vineyard must be given away. The house must be filled (Luke 14:23). And see also Esther 4:14; Acts 13:46.
It must not be supposed that what, in its main features, is symbolically described in this parable never actually happened. On the contrary, God did indeed send his “servants”—often called by this very name—to his people Israel. In various ways these prophets were indeed scorned, wounded, and rejected (Matt. 23:29–37; Luke 6:23; 11:49–51; 13:31–35; Acts 7:52). See also N.T.C. on Matt. 5:12. But even then God did actually send his only-begotten, beloved Son (Luke 19:10; Rom. 8:32; etc.). He sent him first of all to Israel (Matt. 10:5, 6; 15:24). He, too, was rejected by the Jews (Mark 15:12, 13; John 1:11; 12:37–41; Acts 2:23; 4:10); exception: the believing remnant destined for everlasting glory (John 1:12; Rom. 11:5). The privileges once granted to Israel were subsequently transferred to the church universal (Matt. 21:41; 28:19; Acts 13:46), a truth whose realization was already foreshadowed when Jesus walked on earth (Matt. 8:11, 12; 15:28; John 3:16; 4:41, 42; 10:16; 17:20, 21). The parable, accordingly, is not an abstraction. It pictures reality.
 MacArthur, J. (2015). Mark 9–16 (pp. 167–170). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
 Wessel, W. W., & Strauss, M. L. (2010). Mark. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, pp. 898–899). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Lane, W. L. (1974). The Gospel of Mark (pp. 420–421). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 Hurtado, L. W. (2011). Mark (p. 197). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Osborne, G. R. (2014). Mark. (M. L. Strauss & J. H. Walton, Eds.) (pp. 209–210). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark (Vol. 10, pp. 474–477). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.