In our study of Mark chapter twelve, we get to sit in on a question and answer session between Jesus and the religious leaders. As the different groups of religious leaders came to question and even try to trap Him with His words, he gently shared the kingdom perspective of various topics.
"Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: '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 moved to another place.'" NIV translation
In chapter 11, the religious leaders had come to Him questioning His authority concerning the operation of the temple. The religious leaders had not been able to safely answer His questions and be politically correct. Now, Jesus begins to use parables to tell them things concerning His kingdom. In Galilee at this time, there were large estates that were owned by rather wealthy men and were rented out to tenant farmers. Jesus begins to explain kingdom matters using this example of everyday life in the area.
"'At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 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.'" NIV translation
Throughout the Old Testament, God sent prophets to Israel and they were rejected and often killed. This is what Jesus is describing as He speaks of the owner sending servants to collect the rent for the vineyard. This man had built the vineyard just like God created the world.
This established his right to collect the rent which is a picture of our worship of God. Instead of keeping their part of the rental agreement, the tenants (which represent us) decided that they could get away with keeping everything for themselves. This is a picture of the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the garden. The owner (a picture of God) kept sending servants (prophets) to get them to keep their part of the deal and to restore the tenant/owner relationship. Each time, they rejected the servants and went so far as to kill some of them. This is a picture of what happened throughout the history in the land of Israel.