Summary: Jesus’ opponents try to trip him up, but his answers back reveal much about the human character and how many of us "play" church.
In a way this chapter is a direct attack against Jesus’ authority as the King and Messiah He has just claimed to be.
They were not engaging in a verbal dialogue to discern the truth, they were engaged in verbal warfare in a public relations game to discredit Jesus and eventually kill him.
Verses 1 - 8 Who is John Really?
The chief priests, scribes and elders made up the Sanhedrin, Israel’s ruling council. Apparently after the clearing of the Temple they met and tried to get a handle on Jesus. They were not interested in finding out His authority; they simply wanted to trip Him up into blaspheming so they could condemn Him. It wasn’t a fact finding mission, it was a lynching.
So was Jesus just dodging their question? Not really. John the Baptist was the Scriptural for-runner for Jesus. He was the hand-off from the prophets to the Messiah. Jesus was simply identifying the missing link in their chain. They didn’t believe that John was sent from God, but wouldn’t admit to their real feelings because they were more afraid of the crowds than of Jesus and of God.
It raises the question: how interested are you in letting the Scriptures teach you what to believe, instead of demanding that the Scriptures teach what you believe?
1 Timothy 1:3-5 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, 4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. ESV
Mark 7:9-10 "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! ESV
Do you believe the Scriptures and all the prophets said about the Messiah? Are you more concerned about public opinion and the latest PC version of spiritual truth, or the truth itself?
Who was John, really? He was the bridge between the Old and New Covenant.
John 1:29-32 "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ’After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel." ESV
So the Pharisees wouldn’t be honest with the truth about God, but God is about to be brutally honest with the truth about the Pharisees.
Verses 9 - 19 Who are the Pharisees Really?
This parable is so direct that Jesus had to no explaining to the Pharisees. The "servants" were the prophets that God sent to Israel to warn them and to prepare them. The son, of course, is Jesus Himself. I’m pretty sure the Pharisees said "surely not" to the characterization of them as the wicked tenants, not "surely the son won’t be killed." He knew their game and they knew that he knew their game.
And you know God knows our game too. He has sent his prophets and his Son to tell us pretty plainly that we must repent and give our allegiance to Jesus. You are responsible for the information God gives you about Himself.
Jesus quotes from Psalm 118. It’s an awesome Psalm. It’s the same one the people quoted from as Jesus approached Jerusalem: "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord."
Jesus’ words of verse 18 are pretty strong but important for us to consider. To fall on the stone means you are broken. It means you realize you are not right in and of yourself and lay your life down so that Jesus can lift it up again with His rightness. But if you don’t do that then the stone falls on you and you are crushed by the judgment of your own evil.
The Pharisees were incensed and lost control and all religious pretense and wanted to murder Jesus on the spot, but again they feared the people might stone them so they had to back to scheming ways to trip him up in the eyes of the people. One really great way to do that was to pit Rome and Israel.
Verses 20 - 26 Paying Taxes
The people hated Rome. If Jesus said you had to pay taxes then the people might have thought he was on Rome’s side and not on theirs. If he said you shouldn’t pay taxes then the Roman authorities could accuse him of insurrection. It was a no win situation for Jesus - what is He going to do?
It’s a beautiful example of how we as humans far underestimate God. Taxes by Rome basically took about a third of people’s income. There was a poll tax for everyone 14-65, which was one days wage; there was a produce tax, and a tax on all goods transported.