In our last article we saw that Wednesday of “Passion Week” commenced with instruction about the secret of God’s power in service. The remainder of Wednesday (11:27-13:37) included the Lord’s Arguments with opponents and His Answers to disciples.
His Arguments (11:27-12:44)
Upon returning to the Temple grounds the Lord was confronted by a variety of opponents. Their challenges were spiritual (11:28), political (12:14-15), doctrinal (v23) and moral (v28). The Lord then issued a final challenge of His own (v35). His opponents were chief priests, scribes, elders, Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees (11:27; 12:13,18,28). Tuesday’s actions had brought everything to a head.
A Spiritual Challenge: the Question about Authority (11:27-12:12)
First, the three groups who composed the Sanhedrin, “the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders,” approached the Lord with a challenge about His authority (11:27). To them the Lord responded with a Proposal (11:27-33) and a Parable (12:1-12).
The Lord’s Proposal (11:27-33)
“By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority to do these things?” (v28). What was the nature and source of the Lord’s authority to cast out the sellers and money-changers? In one sense, this was a legitimate challenge posed by those responsible for the nation’s religious life. However, their motivation was not legitimate; they were seeking an occasion to destroy the Lord (v18).
Jesus responded, “I will also ask of you one question, and answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things” (v29). The Lord made His answer dependent upon theirs. If they would answer His question, He would also answer theirs. Why did He do this? He intended to expose their insincerity. The Lord’s challenge was not a trick – it could easily be answered – but, if they did answer sincerely, then their own challenge against Him would also have been answered.
“The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? answer me” (v30). This was a straightforward question for a sincere person; a simple answer would have sufficed. However, those who challenged the Lord were not sincere; they were not concerned with truth. So, “they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then did ye not believe him? But if we shall say, Of men; they feared the people: for all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed” (vv31-32).
The religious leaders found themselves on the horns of a dilemma. They tried to calculate the pros and cons of their options. Whether or not John’s authority was divinely granted did not feature in their deliberations; they were only concerned with winning the argument. If they acknowledged John as a God-sent prophet, they must accept John’s condemnation of them, and his witness to the Lord Jesus! This was to admit that Jesus’ authority was also from heaven. But to reject John’s authority, which they undoubtedly wanted to do, would set them at odds with the people, “for all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed” (v32).
They took the coward’s way out: “We cannot tell.” This exposed them as insincere judges and meant that the Lord was under no obligation to answer their challenge: “Jesus answering saith unto them, Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things” (v33). By questioning the questioners, the Lord had uncovered to all their dishonesty.
The Lord’s Parable (12:1-12)
Having shown themselves to be insincere, the religious leaders are now instructed in parables (comp. 4:11-12). Parables rely on the hearer to apply the story to themselves. The Lord would not directly tell the religious leaders what they were unwilling to receive.
The parable of the vineyard would have reminded the hearers of Isaiah’s prophecy, “For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry” (Isa 5:7).
A man established a vineyard, entrusted it to tenants, and went into a far country. He expected to receive of the fruit of the vineyard, but when he sent his servants to obtain it, none was forthcoming. Rather, his servants were mistreated and some were killed. The patient and gracious character of the owner is shown by his desire to think well of the tenants. Was it possible that the tenants were mistaken in their treatment of his servants? Well, then, he would send his well-beloved son to them. Surely they would respect him! But what the servants didn’t receive (fruit), the son didn’t receive either. And what the servants did receive (abuse), the son also received. The tenants said, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours. And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard” (vv7-8).
The tenants were not sincerely mistaken concerning the son; they recognised him as the heir and rejected him. They knew they were doing wrong and did it anyway.
The punchline was a question: “What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do?” The listeners were in no doubt as to the answer: judgment would be swift and severe. He would “come and destroy the husbandmen, and … give the vineyard unto others” (v9). The logical and moral force of the Lord’s story could not be denied.
The Lord then asked another question, “And have ye not read this scripture; The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner: This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?” (vv10-11). Psalm 118 tells of a building block at first rejected by builders but later found to be the most important stone in the structure.
The relevance and application of the parable and the quotation from Psalm 118 were clear to all. The religious leaders “knew that he had spoken the parable against them.” They were not sincerely mistaken in their treatment of the Son. They were deliberately rejecting Him and were being disingenuous in their challenge to His authority. In fact, the only reason they did not now fulfil the parable by seeking to kill Him was because they “feared the people” (v12). Jesus anticipated a day when the rejected One would be, by “the Lord’s doing,” exalted and honoured. This is truly “marvellous in our eyes.”
 Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV.