How Not to Read a Parable

In the parable of the tenants, the owner of the vineyard finally sends his son to collect the fruit that the tenants refused to give to his servants. The tenants had beaten and killed the servants. But the owner says, “They will respect my son” (Mark 12:6).

This sounds like God, who is represented by the owner, thinks his Son will not be killed but will be well received. This would contradict the truth that God sent the Son precisely to die (John 10:18; Isaiah 53:10).

So someone might try to argue that Mark 12:6 supports the view that God did not know what would happen to the Son of God when he came.

The usual way of defending the foreknowledge of God and the predestination of the death of Christ by God (Acts 4:27-28) is to say that parables are not allegories.

That is, every detail of a parable should not be pressed to have a counterpart in the general point the parable is making. True. But in this case we can go farther.

The parable ends, “Have you not read this Scripture: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” (Mark 12:10-11).

In other words, Jesus points out that already in Psalm 118 written hundreds of years before the sending of the Son, the plan was laid out: The Messiah will be rejected, killed, and raised from the dead. And this is all “the Lord’s doing.”

The death of the Son was not a surprise. It was a plan.

So in the parable itself we are told not to construe the owner’s words, “They will respect my son,” as part of the way God is being represented. That is what a human owner might say. It is incidental to the point of the parable.

What God said, in fact, was: “The builders will reject my Son and I will make him Lord and Christ.”

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.