The Wicked Vinedressers
What is a “vinedresser?”
Vinedressers are farmers who take care of grapevines. Their job requires constant, daily attention to the vines. They must ensure that the grape plants receive enough water and are protected from pests, and do not develop disease. In Mark 12, Jesus speaks of vinedressers, and the profession continues to be practiced to this present day. Without careful, attentive vinedressers, the world would not enjoy a supply of grapes, grape juice, and, of course, wine.
One critical task of the vinedresser is pruning. Pruning is where the name “vinedresser” comes from. As the vinedresser cuts away dead or unnecessary branches, and excess, diseased or stunted fruit, he or she makes room for new growth and a healthier, more abundant harvest.
In Mark 12:1-12, Jesus tells a story about a man who planted a vineyard. The man put a lot of time and money into making the vineyard just right. He built a wall, a wine press, a lookout tower and then leased the vineyard to some tenant farmers.
Lease agreements for farmland and fields are common even today. I am not knowledgeable about various lease arrangements. Still, I know that one type of lease agreement is for the landowner to receive a percentage of the harvest. This is an oversimplification of leases. There are divisions of expenses, production costs, and many other details to be considered.
In Jesus’ story, the vinedressers are wicked and chase away, beat, and even kill those sent to collect the owner’s share. This owner sent many servants, and they were all treated the same way. Finally, the owner sent his son, and they killed him too.
Jesus was telling this story in the temple to the religious leaders who had just asked Him by what authority He had cleansed the temple. These leaders were tenants who were entrusted with tending God’s vineyard, the nation of Israel. The nation was God’s chosen people. Through the nation of Israel, God prepared for and sent His Son, the Savior of the world.
In our day, the Church is made up of God’s chosen people. As Jesus approached the final week of His tenure on earth, He was rejected and persecuted by the tenants whom God had chosen to care for His people, His vine. In our day, as we approach the final week, the seven-year tribulation promised in the book of Daniel, we also see rejection and opposition to the truth.
As we look at Mark chapter 12, we will see three types of error that tend to mislead the people of God. This is not a complete list of possibilities, but it is a list of what Jesus confronted. We must trust the Word of God and the Holy Spirit to guide us and to guard us.
First, let’s consider the three different groups of religious leaders present when Jesus was in the temple. These were: The Pharisees, The Sadducees, and The Scribes.
In His story about the vinedressers, Jesus foretells His death. And the religious leaders understand that they are the wicked vinedressers of the story. Mark 12:12 tells us:
Mark 12:12 (NKJV) And they sought to lay hands on Him, but feared the multitude, for they knew He had spoken the parable against them. So they left Him and went away.
Although this passage says they went away, the next verse says they sent some people to trap Jesus in His words. In other words, they went out to plot their answering strategy. By telling this story, Jesus is once again giving them a chance to repent as He tries to help them see their error. He reminds them that their position of power and authority was not of their own making but was an assignment from God.
However, instead of listening to what He says, they are angered by it and seek to trick Jesus into saying something for which they could arrest Him.
In verses 13 through 40 of Mark chapter 12, the three different groups of leaders (The Pharisees, The Sadducees, and The Scribes) each send delegations to try to trick Jesus. In verses 12 through 17, the Pharisees try; in verses 18 through 27, the Sadducees take a shot at Him, and finally, in verses 28 through 34, the Scribes have their go at it.
As we consider the confrontation between these groups and Jesus, we need to understand what each group represented.
First, the Pharisees were the religious conservatives of the day. They believed in the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, the resurrection of the dead, the spiritual world (including the devil), the afterlife, heaven, and hell.
Second, the Sadducees were the religious liberals of the day. They were Hellenists. In other words, they were Jews who had adopted Greek culture, philosophy, and beliefs. They did not believe the Scriptures were literal. Instead, they interpreted the Scriptures allegorically. They did not believe in a seven-day creation, the devil, hell, or the resurrection.
Third, the Scribes were experts in religious law. They were the lawyers of Mosaic law. They understood the commandments and principles of God’s word. Because of this understanding, they held places of honor among the nation.
These three groups, with all their teachings, beliefs, and practices, were the ones who Jesus represented as the wicked vinedressers. They had been entrusted with the safety and education of God’s people. Still, when God sent prophets such as John the Baptist, they would not listen but persecuted and opposed God’s messengers. Now they were challenging the Son of God and His right to the Kingdom.
The Pharisees were the first to bring their challenge. Naturally, when the Pharisees asked their question, they led with an unsolvable dilemma for the religious Jew. How could one devoted to the God of Israel give money to the evil Roman Empire? However, publicly teaching that one should not pay taxes would get one in trouble with the Roman government.
The text tells us:
Mark 12:14 (NKJV) When they had come, they said to Him, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?
Consider carefully what these men are saying because they condemn themselves with their words. They say, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth.”
If they knew that He was true, why didn’t they listen to Him? Again, their words hold the truth. While they recognized that Jesus did not regard the person of men, they themselves did. At a different time, Jesus told them:
John 5:44 (NKJV) How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?
Their unbelief and was because they sought honor and recognition from men rather than God. They abused their position and did not properly care for the vine as vinedressers because they sought recognition from men rather than God. We should take warning and always seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness. This problem of seeking honor from men rather than God is in the Church today. Whenever we find ourselves doing this, we must repent and pray for God to deliver us from this terrible trap.
The Pharisees failed to trick Jesus as Jesus easily escaped. So, the Sadducees tried. We find their attempt in Mark 12:18-27.
The Sadducees claimed to be religious, but they believed according to the Greek way of thinking. They took the writings of Moses to be symbolic and allegorical and not literal. They taught that hell and the devil were stories for teaching and not real. Mark 12:18 tells us that they said there is no resurrection.
Their kind is alive and well in the Church today. Some pastors and denominations do not believe the Bible to be the literal Word of God. They deny foundational truths of our faith, saying things like, “There are other ways to heaven than Jesus Christ.”
Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees should be a warning to us all. He says:
Mark 12:24 (NKJV) Jesus answered and said to them, “Are you not therefore mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God?
The Sadducees were mistaken because they did not know the Scriptures or the power of God. The problem with their knowledge of Scripture was that their reading of Scripture was not united with faith. We must heed the warning of Hebrews 4.
Hebrews 4:1–2 (NKJV) 1Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. 2For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.
The Bible can be tested. Historically it is accurate. Its prophecies have been and are being fulfilled. It has proven reliable in every way. When we come upon things that we find hard to understand, do we trust the philosophies of men, or do we trust the Word of God? The world takes offense at claims that Jesus is the ONLY way to God. So, do we change that truth to satisfy the world? That is what the Sadducees did, and it is what some do today.
Jesus summed up His words to the Sadducees by saying:
Mark 12:27 (NKJV) You are therefore greatly mistaken.
The Sadducees had no answer to this. Jesus exposed their foolishness in His response. (Although we have not recited the whole thing here, read His answer carefully.) Seeing that the Pharisees and Sadducees failed, one of the Scribes had his go.
Being the lawyer, the Scribe asked a question about the law. “Which commandment is the greatest?” (Mark 12:28) Surprisingly, after a brief interaction with the Scribe, Jesus said:
Mark 12:34 (NKJV) You are not far from the kingdom of God.
The Scribe answered Jesus wisely. Jesus and the Scribe agreed on the interpretation of the Scriptures. However, Jesus did not say, “You got it! You will be saved.” “Not far from” also means “not.” The Scribe was not in the kingdom of God. He was close, but not quite. Just a note here: When I hunt, I find that if I miss by a little or miss by a lot, the result is the same.
Mark 12:34 says that after the Scribe, no one dared to question Jesus further. However, Jesus was not through with the Scribes. While they were close, they still missed the mark. Jesus points to two ways in which they erred.
The first error that kept the Scribes from recognizing Jesus as Messiah was their limited understanding of Scripture. Jesus asks a question. How is it that the Christ is both the Son of David and David’s Lord? The Scribes said the Christ was to be the Son of David, which is revealed in the Old Testament. However, they did not grasp the truth that David recognized the Christ as being his Lord.
Thinking they understood the Scripture, the Scribes made the mistake of not continuing to seek the Scriptures for answers. Two people stand out as having recognized Jesus as the Christ from the day He went into the temple as a baby. The Bible tells us that both Simeon and Anna were devout, devoted to fasting and prayer, and waiting for the revelation of the Christ. The difference was in their heart attitude. They practiced loving God with all their heart. The difference in the Scribes that caused their limited understanding of Scripture was their heart. This is what Jesus pointed out as the second error of the Scribes.
In Mark 12:38-40, Jesus tells the people to watch out for the Scribes. The problem was that they loved recognition. They wore long robes and enjoyed special recognition wherever they went. They did not recognize Christ because they did not love His appearing, but instead, they loved their appearance. They understood the law, so they were not far from the kingdom, but they did not obey the law, so they missed it.
We are all vinedressers in the field that God has entrusted to us. In the workplace, home and market, we interact with people every day.
We can divide the world by three types of people. Some people live their lives primarily motivated by their reactions. The Pharisees represent these people. They seek justice, action and righteousness. Other people are ruled more by emotions. They seek harmony, peace and acceptance. The Sadducees represent this group. Still others are ruled by their intellect. They are governed by cognitive processes. These are the Scribes.
Every person is unique, and such generalizations that I have just made might tempt us to put everyone in a box. However, apply it to yourself. Taken in a broad manner, which group would you say you are most like? Don’t weasel out of it and say you are not like any of them. Each of us at different times can be more like one or the other of these groups.
We can be like the Pharisees and be very religious, or we can be like the Sadducees and try to fit in with the world. We can be intellectual about life like the Scribes. The problem is not in your tribe. There were Pharisees who were great men of faith. The Apostle Paul was a Pharisee. No matter which group we might be in, the question each of us must answer is, “Am I building my own kingdom or am I building God’s kingdom? Whose vineyard is my life? We must never forget that we are but tenants. God created us, gave us life and has leased His vineyard to us. When we meet Him, He will ask us for His share of the harvest. Will we be prepared? We are also nearing the final week. Are we pruning away the bad, keeping the good, and being good vinedressers?