Mark 12:1-12 Jesus the Judge


I wonder what your image of a judge is? There’s Judge Judy Sheindlin (57), queen of the courtroom. She's witty, feisty and basically tells off (and sometimes fines) the lowlifes and cheaters who you want to throttle through the TV screen. Woe betide the juvenile delinquents and neglectful parents who stand before her. She puts them in their place quickly. Just about all her decisions are fair even though there are some cases where you know the people did it, but because there's not enough proof, the cases have to be dismissed.
Judge Judy is also extremely funny, not only when she's temperamental but also when she's baffled by popular culture items. Beanie babies and pokemon (which she pronounced poke man) have confused the usually unflappable judge. Although she has a sidekick, the bailiff Byrd, who keeps her updated, a lot of times she's like an overbearing mother who tells people to be still, stand up straight, and even comments on their clothing. She often refers to her own children and grandchildren that must either delight or horrify them as in the one time she said, "my children don't know the meaning of the word loan". One thing she must be credited for is that she always calls the plaintiffs and defendants' madam or sir even though the next minute she may be telling them to shut up. But with Judy at the bench, what you see is what you get.

Then there is the more serious
Judge John Deed on the BBC played by Martin Shaw. Judge Deed isn't your average High Court judge either. Deed built his reputation by asking difficult questions and refusing to compromise the truth in the pursuit of justice. An idealist at heart, Judge Deed’s more traditional colleagues regard him as something of a renegade to the old school tie. He’s made it to the top of his profession on his own terms, armed with a sharp intellect, a rakish charm, keen wit and passionate belief in justice. Fearless and independent, he's sworn to serve state and sovereign, not the government hacks that constantly try to influence his decisions.  If you haven’t been in a court room recently and want to know how typical Judge Sheindlin or  Judge Deed are, you’ll have to ask our very own Judge Jonathan Perkins.

But when you think of
Jesus what comes to mind? In our journey through Mark we’ve considered Jesus the Son of God; Jesus the Holy One; the Doctor; Farmer; Master; Exorcist; Prophet; Messiah; Teacher; Servant and now today - Jesus the Judge. When you imagine Jesus as our judge, what comes to mind? This is how the apostle John describes what he saw in his revelation.

“I turned round to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw… someone "like a son of man", dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash round his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire.  His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.  In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (Revelation 1)


Jesus our Judge. The judge we will one day meet. Should we like John be terrified? How can we not to be afraid, as Jesus tells John? Lets turn to Mark 12 and find out what Jesus would have us learn. First the context. A text without a context is a… pretext. In the preceding verses we find the context. 

In Mark 11:27-33 we see the authority of Jesus questioned. Jesus has cleared the Temple of its money changers and traders. ‘“By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked, “And who gave you authority to do this?”’ (Mark 11:28). They were in effect asking “By what authority do you judge us?” Jesus asks them a question. “Answer mine and I’ll answer yours” says Jesus. “Was John’s baptism from heaven or from men? Tell me!” Read Mark 11:31-33.


“They discussed it among themselves and said, "If we say, 'From heaven', he will ask, 'Then why didn't you believe him?' But if we say, 'From men' . . . ." (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.) So they answered Jesus, "We don't know.” Jesus said, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things." (Mark 11:31-33)


Stalemate? No. Mark 12:1 says “Jesus then began to speak to them in parables.” (Mark 12:1). Jesus takes the initiative because he did not come to debate but to rescue.  He tells them a parable.  On this occasion a very special parable. Strictly speaking an allegory. There is a difference. Most of Jesus parables have one point and we must be careful not to read too much into the detail. Parables have one main point. But an allegory is much closer to reality. Every element of the story related to the events unfolding just days before the Passover.

The owner of the Vineyard = God

The Vineyard = People of Israel

Tenants of the Vineyard = Religious leaders

Servants of the Owner = The Prophets of God including John the Baptist

Son and Heir of the Owner = the Lord Jesus Christ.

No wonder it says in verse
12:12 “they knew he had spoken the parable against them”. So lets ask the same question of Jesus as the religious leaders - “By what authority do you judge us? Notice first:

1. An Authoritative Judge : The Owner (
Mark 12:1-2)

"A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard.” (Mark 12:1-2)


The vineyard was a familiar image of Israel (Ps. 80:8-16; Isa. 5:1-7). In order to retain his legal rights to the property, the owner had to receive produce from the tenants, even if it was only some of the vegetables that grew between the rows of trees or vines. This explains why the tenants refused to give him anything: they wanted to claim the vineyard for themselves. It also explains why the owner continued to send agents to them; it was purely a question of authority and ownership.


He has every right to judge us because God is the Owner. He created the world - This is his vineyard. This is His world. We are accountable. He is an authoritative judge.


2. A Patient Judge : The Servants (Mark 12:3-5)

“But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.” (
Mark 12:3-5)


People who think God is fickle or precricous do not know their Bible. It is one long story of God’s patience. As Peter writes,

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)


God is an authoritative judge : the owner. He is a patient judge : the servants.


3. A Saving Judge : The Son (Mark 12:6-8) 

"He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying,
'They will respect my son.' "But the tenants said to one another, 'This is the heir. Come, let's kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. (Mark 12:6-8).


If the tenants could do away with the heir, they would have a clear claim to the property; so they cast him out and killed him. They wanted to preserve their own position and were willing even to kill to accomplish their evil purpose.


This weekend as we grieve for those killed, bereaved and injured in Madrid, we are reminded that the world of the wicked tenants is a world very much like ours. It is filled with violence. People try to live as Lord’s of their world and come into conflict with others who think the same. God may seem like an absentee landlord - easily betrayed and cheated.

The owner in the parable loses his servants, his son and seemingly his vineyard also. People in this world do get away with injustice, oppression and murder. God’s messengers continue to be rejected, mocked, beaten and killed. There seems to be no accountability for sin.

All is not as it seems however.   It is so short-sighted. Rejecting the reality that we are tenants living in God’s vineyard is utter foolishness. It is blind folly. God sends his servants and his Son in the hope of bringing people to repentance.  And to lead people to repentance
Jesus asks the rhetorical question, “What then will the owner of the vineyard do? Jesus answers with a solemn verdict from the Judge. Jesus quotes what they knew was a messianic prophecy, Psalm 118:22-23.

't you read this scripture: "'The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes'?" (Mark 12:10-11)


“The Stone” was a well-known symbol for the Messiah. The Servant-Judge announced a double verdict: In rejecting Jesus the Son they had refused David’s Stone! There could be only one consequence—judgment.

Jesus knew who he was. He knew why he had come. And he knew what they would do to him. And yet he came all the same to become one of us, to rescue us, to be our Saviour, to die in our place, to bring us back to our Owner, our Creator, our Loving Father. Paul explains it this way:

“This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 2:3-5)


This is how John explains it:

“The Father judges no-one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him. "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. (
John 5:22-27)


This is why Jesus can now be our Judge. An authoritative judge; a patient judge; our saving judge. He declares us guilty from the bench and then comes down to the dock and pays the penalty for us, in our place. If we will accept him.

The only unforgivable sin is to reject him; reject his  forgiveness. As Hebrews 10 says:

“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” (Hebrews 10:26-27)


But if we receive Jesus as our Lord and Saviour then like John in his vision, we can hear Jesus say “Do not be afraid” on the Day of His coming to judge the earth.  “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” (Ephesians 3:12).


Let us pray.