Commenting on the parable of the tenants in Mark 12:1–12, one author notes how the sovereign providential rule of God is evident throughout the story. We see it operative at the parable’s beginning, when Jesus refers to the owner, who represents the Lord, building the vineyard, setting up a protective wall, and appointing tenant farmers. Similarly, God’s providential rule includes His establishing this reign in the creation of the universe and His calling of Israel in the exodus from Egypt to be His people.
Of course, the mismanagement of the vineyard on the part of the tenant farmers (the Jewish leaders) and their mistreatment of the owner’s emissaries (the prophets) and murder of the owner’s son (Christ) might raise questions about the extent of the Lord’s mastery. With such willful violation of His rule by the leaders of the old covenant community, could we really say that He was fully in control? The answer, provided in today’s passage, is a resounding yes.
Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22–23 in Mark 12:10–12 to show that despite appearances to the contrary, God was in control even of those who rejected His prophets and is in control of those who will kill His only begotten Son. It is the Lord’s plan that the stone be rejected so that He can make it the “cornerstone.” The term translated “cornerstone” refers to a capstone placed at the top of a corner where two walls come together. It is a piece of the building essential to its integrity that holds the entire structure together. Jesus is saying that though the Jewish leaders reject Him, that does not mean the end of the vineyard; instead, it is the occasion for faithful tenants to take the place of the faithless tenant farmers. A new structure is coming into place that has continuity with the old one—the vineyard remains, and it still has tenants and is protected by walls—but is also different in important ways—its leaders will include Gentiles (see v. 9), and Christ Himself will be known by all as its guardian and sustainer.
The parable of the tenants, then, points to the glory and power of God in orchestrating the rejection and exaltation of His Son and the continuation of His kingdom (“this was the Lord’s doing”). In this, it greatly encourages us when we see the church under attack from professed leaders who are really wolves in sheep’s clothing. John Calvin comments, “Whatever may be the contrivances of men, God has at the same time declared, that in setting up the kingdom of Christ, His power will be victorious.”