What does Mark 12:5 mean?The treatment of the servants is a direct reference to how the Israelites reacted to God's prophets. Since the escape from Egypt, God sent many specially-called prophets to convict the Israelites of their rebellion against God (Jeremiah 7:25). The people rarely listened (Jeremiah 7:26; 25:4).
Looking at the Old Testament prophets from a distance, God's actions almost seem cruel, at least towards the prophets themselves. Why did He send so many messengers to ungrateful people, knowing they would be dishonored, beaten, and killed? In part, because some people did listen (2 Samuel 12:1–15; Ezra 10). In part, because it is God's nature to continue to reach out to us (Hosea 2:14–20; Jeremiah 3:12–14). Peter says, "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). God's constant stream of messengers is His call for us to return to Him.
It would have been easy for the disciples to look smugly at the chief priests, scribes, and elders while Jesus takes them down a notch. Some of the disciples followed John the Baptist before they followed Jesus (John 1:35–45). But the disciples don't yet realize that they are the heirs of the prophets' legacy: suffering messengers of God At another point, Jesus tells them, "The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me" (Luke 10:16). That rejection manifests in violence. The Bible records the beatings the disciples would endure (Acts 5:40; 16:22; 21:32) as well as the deaths of Stephen and James (Acts 7:54–60; 12:1–2).
We, too, are called to follow in those footsteps. Jesus calls all believers to pick up their cross and follow Him (Mark 8:34). The alternative is to follow the hypocritical religious leaders; they are so afraid of losing their position over the people that they compromise Scripture and reject God's truth.