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Bible Commentaries
Mark 12

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This chapter presents the central one of three great parables Christ spoke against official Israel (Mark 12:1-12), the question of tribute to Caesar (Mark 12:13-17), the Sadducees’ question regarding the resurrection (Mark 12:18-27), another question regarding the great commandment (Mark 12:28-34), a final question by Jesus himself (Mark 12:35-37), another denunciation of the scribes (Mark 12:38-40), and the story of the widow’s two mites (Mark 12:41-44).

Verse 1

And he began to speak unto them in parables. A man planted a vineyard, and set a hedge about it, and digged a pit for the wine-press, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into another country.


This chapter, more than any other in Mark, is a total refutation of the Markan theory regarding the priority of this gospel. As repeatedly pointed out, the synoptics are not related to each other at all, in the sense of being dependent upon each other; but they are historical, independent accounts of the great truth revealed from God in the person and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.

There were three of these great denunciatory parables: (1) that of the two sons, (2) this one, and (3) that of the marriage of the king’s son; and Matthew has all three of them. Mark’s use of the plural "parables" in Mark 12:1 shows that he knew all three. Cranfield’s statement that the plural "does not necessarily imply that there were a number of parables"(F1) is wrong; because the plural here does not merely "imply" that there were more than one, it states that fact. The most logical inference, therefore, if one accepted the notion of one gospel’s being dependent upon another, would be to assume that Mark here abbreviated Matthew, a position held by many of the ancients. On the other hand, it is absolutely impossible to imagine that Matthew elaborated this one parable into three. The three parables are absolutely a unit, mutually entwined and balanced in such a manner as to deny even the possibility of their not being so. For a full discussion of the interrelation of the three and their progression in a number of particulars to the climax reached in the marriage of the king’s son, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 21:28 ff. The arrangement here in Mark is absolutely incompatible with the Markan theory.

In these words, as Turlington noted:

The allusions to Isaiah 5:1-7 are unmistakable. The vineyard so completely tended was the "house of Israel" and the "men of Judah." The Lord himself was owner and provider.(F2)

With all due deference to the "one parable, one idea" method of interpretation, wherein, as McMillan said, "Most scholars subscribe to the principle that Jesus told most of his parables to point up one basic lesson or concept,"(F3) the view accepted in these commentaries is that which takes account of many analogies in each parable. The very fact of our Lord’s pointing out eleven analogies in the parable of the sower and an equal number in the parable of the tares growing with the wheat (see my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 13:23 ff) refutes the notion of a parable’s being directed only to a basic concept.

The man who planted the vineyard stands for God; the vineyard is Israel; the hedge about it is God’s protection of Israel throughout the history of the chosen people; the wine-press, tower, and, in a sense, also the hedge, represent the Law of Moses and the Jewish ceremonial. The owner’s going into another country represents God’s leaving Israel free to work out his will during a long period prior to Christ. The husbandmen represent the Jewish religious establishment.

Verse 2

And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruits of the vineyard.

At the season … stands for those particular times when God expected of Israel the fruits of true religion, most of all desiring that they should manifest some consciousness of their need for redemption. God, of course, expected such at all times; but upon special occasions when God sent prophets to Israel, that expectation was more urgent.

A servant … Cranfield viewed it as inconceivable that Jesus could have taken up the Old Testament figure of God’s vineyard and "then speak of the owner sending his slaves one after another without thinking of the prophets."(F4)

The fruits of the vineyard… These were the manifestations of Israel’s love of God, and particularly their awareness of the need of salvation.

Verses 3-5

And they took him, and beat him, and sent him away empty. And again he sent unto them another servant; and him they wounded in the head, and handled shamefully. And he sent another; and him they killed: and many others; beating some, and killing some.

The many servants which the owner sent stand for the prophets of God, sent repeatedly to Israel, shamefully treated, and in some instances murdered. The Bible has many examples of this very type of treatment of the prophets. Isaiah and John the Baptist were both murdered; and practically all the prophets were rejected. In the sending of so many, and all of them receiving such treatment, this parable takes on the form of an allegory; because it would have been very unlikely that any earthly owner would so long have endured such rejection of his just claims, or that he would have sent a beloved son upon a mission so likely to be dangerous. However unlikely it may have been that any earthly owner would have thus persisted, this is, nevertheless, exactly the way God dealt with Israel and they with God. As Turlington said:

A parable is not bound absolutely by historical realism; it is bound by its purpose, however unusual its details. It is of course true that no father would be likely to send his son on so dangerous an errand.(F5)

Verse 6

He had yet one, a beloved son: he sent him last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son.

Sent him last … The finality of God’s solicitation Israel is in this. Christ, the beloved Son, is the final revelation of God to humanity. Rejection of the Son is the rejection of God himself and the bringing down of the wrath of heaven against the rejecter. The loving forbearance of God in his offering of Jesus Christ for the redemption of men prompted this final mission of love.

They will reverence my son … The wicked husbandmen, representing the Jewish religious establishment, did not reverence the Son; they killed him; but the Father’s statement nevertheless indicated that the Son would indeed be reverenced; which, of course, he was. Many of Israel received him, as also the Christians of all ages.

Verse 7

But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours.

This is the heir … These words make it mandatory to believe that the Jewish hierarchy recognized Christ as the true Messiah, the lawful head of the theocracy, and the promised holy one who would deliver them. This does not contradict Paul’s statement that "if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Corinthians 2:8). Paul was speaking of the fact that they did not know that Christ was "God come in the flesh." Thus, the error of these men was twofold: (1) Although they recognized Christ as the heaven-sent deliverer who would deliver them from sin, they preferred rather to be delivered from the Romans, supposing of course that they already had a hope of heaven through the Law of Moses. (2) Although they recognized Christ as holy, sinless, and undefiled, the true Messiah promised by the word of God, "the heir" as stated in this allegory — despite all this, they did not know that Christ was God, the very judge who would sentence them eternally.

The inheritance shall be ours … Some have thought it difficult to understand their viewpoint; but Jeremias pointed out that:

There was a law in which the property of a proselyte who died without a will (was thereby made) ownerless; and whoever was in possession of such property at that time had a prior claim. The tenants here assumed that the absentee landlord, so long in a foreign country, had already died.(F6)

Here the parable fits the reality perfectly; for the tenant husbandmen were no more wrong about the owner of the vineyard than were the Jewish hierarchy concerning their purpose of taking God’s true religion away from him and running it according to their own preferences.

Verse 8

And they took him, and killed him, and cast him forth out of the vineyard.

Took him … They seized him and bound him.

And killed him … They crucified the Lord.

Out of the vineyard … The crucifixion took place beyond the city walls, "without the camp" (Hebrews 13:13).

Verse 9

What therefore will the lord of the vineyard do? he will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others.

In Mark’s abbreviation of this, the important fact of the Lord’s extracting the prophecy of the removal and destruction of the husbandmen and the letting of the vineyard out to others from the lips of the priests themselves is not mentioned. The fact that "others" would "render him the fruits in their seasons" was also omitted by Mark. (See Matthew 21:40-41).

This verse is a clear prophecy that God would destroy Israel and extend salvation to the Gentiles, a prophecy fulfilled by the fact of God’s sending the message of redemption to all the world (also including Israel), and by the further fact that the mainstream of true faith in God would, for nearly two millenniums, take on a Gentile identification.

Verses 10-11

Have ye not read even this scripture: The stone which the builders rejected, The same was made the head of the corner; This was from the Lord, And it is marvelous in our eyes?

Jesus here quoted Psalms 118:22-23, thus claiming for himself that he was "the head of the corner," despite the fact of his being rejected by the "builders," that is, the religious leaders. Also, by the prominence of the word "stone" in this passage, Christ called attention to the great prophecies which foretold their fall upon this "stone of stumbling and rock of offence" (Isaiah 8:14; Isaiah 28:16) There is also here an implied promise of the resurrection; because Christ identified himself not only with the son killed and cast out of the vineyard, but also with the rejected stone that became the head of the corner. This is dramatically clear in Matthew where it is related that Jesus turned upon his questioners and delivered this imperial pronouncement:

Therefore I say unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken away from you, and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And he that falleth on this stone shall be broken to pieces: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will scatter him as dust (Matt. 2:43,44).

Thus, Jesus made it clear to those hypocrites that their killing him would by no means be the end of the matter. All of this is implied in Mark’s brief summary. (For essay on "Christ the Living Stone," see my Commentary on Romans, Romans 9).

Verse 12

And they sought to lay hold on him; and they feared the multitude: for they perceived that he spake the parable against them: and they left him and went away.

Sought to lay hold … Having long ago determined to kill Christ, their concern at the time indicated here was to bring him into custody without creating an uproar among the people.

They perceived that he spake the parable against them … This means that they clearly understood Jesus’ claims, there being no way for them to escape the messianic implications of all that he had said. How strange it is that some moderns are even more blind than the Jewish hierarchy, professing to find no messianic import in such words as these!

This parable is exceedingly comprehensive in meaning. Ryle said:

The history of the Jewish nation, from the day that Israel left Egypt to the destruction of Jerusalem, is set forth here as in a glass. Under the figure of the vineyard and the husbandmen, the Lord tells the story of God’s dealings with his people for fifteen hundred years.(F7)

Moreover, it was skillfully and incisively related. As Erdman noted:

He exposed their treachery and virtually compelled them to renounce their boasted authority as religious leaders. He does more. By a simple parable, he fully answered their question, claimed divine authority, charged the rulers with unfaithfulness to God, and with plotting to murder God’s Son; yet his statements are in such a form that the rulers are disarmed, unable to arrest him, attack him, or even accuse him of fault. He only tells them a little story; and who can object to a little anecdote?(F8)

Truly, "never man so spake"!

Verse 13

And they sent unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, that they might catch him in talk.


They sent… The Sanhedrin seems to have been the authority which here delegated some of their cleverest members to engage in a forensic contest with Jesus.

Pharisees and … Herodians … Old enemies became friends in their common opposition to the Light of all ages, even the Sadducees coming in a little later.

That they might catch him in talk … A likely possibility this was, if they had been dealing with a mere man, most men being capable of entrapment by such agile debaters as those confronting Jesus.

Verse 14

And when they were come, they say unto him, Teacher, we know that thou art true, and carest not for any one; for thou regardest not the person of men, but of a truth teachest the way of God. Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?

These compliments paid to Jesus were the simple truth regarding the Christ, but in the mouths of his enemies they took on the character of insincere and obsequious flattery. They must have been confident indeed of their own ability to entrap Jesus, because such admissions on their part provided a dramatic witness on behalf of Jesus.

Carest not for any one … This means that Jesus would not withhold vital truth through inordinate regard of human prejudices and does not contradict the truth that Jesus does indeed "care" for all men.

The poll tax paid by the Jews to the Romans was a symbol of their subjection and thoroughly hated by all the people. If Jesus said, "Yes," his influence among the people would have been destroyed; if he said, "No," they would have preferred charges against him before Caesar’s procurator, with a view to getting him executed for sedition. It was the type of dilemma which would have frustrated any man, but Jesus’ handling of it has been the marvel of the ages.

Verse 15

Shall we give, or shall we not give? But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why make ye trial of me? bring me a denarius, that I may see it.

Shall we give, or shall we not give … has the effect of "Give us a plain, Yes or No." Jesus asked them to bring him a denarius, the type of coin used in paying the poll tax, the same having an image of Caesar upon one side and of Caesar’s mother on the other side, the images being particularly obnoxious to the Jews. There was also an inscription which tacitly acknowledged the divinity of Caesar, also an abomination to Israel. The Lord did not ask for the coin for the purpose of finding out what was upon it, but for the purpose of exposing the fact that they had it in their possession and were using it as coin of the realm.

Verse 16

And they brought it. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? And they said unto him, Caesar’s.

Cranfield wrote that:

The legend (on the coin), which is abbreviated, reads (in full) "Tiberius Caesar Divi Augusti Filius Augustus Pontilex Maximum." Both legend and images set forth the mythology of the Imperial cult and so troubled the consciences of religious Jews.(F9)

Jesus at once took up their admission of carrying and using the coins bearing Caesar’s image and superscription; and the coinage of ancient rulers was held to be theirs, even though in the possession of the people. The astounding implication of this is that since the money was already Caesar’s, there could certainly be no harm in giving it back to him! Such an answer had to be inspired. The mechanics of Christ’s answer regards the difference in the word "give," as used by the Pharisees in "Shall we give?" and the word "render" as used by Christ in "Render unto Caesar." The latter word means "to give back" (to Caesar the property that was already his); and all of the Pharisees on earth could not have found anything wrong with a reply like that.

As usual, however, the Lord did not stop with merely confounding his enemies; he went much further and showed that Caesar’s dues, legal as they were, must be viewed as limited, and subordinate to the higher obligation owed to God himself. See next verse.

Verse 17

And Jesus said unto them, Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s. And they marveled greatly at him.

Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s … is the basis of the Christian’s concept of the state and his obligations to the secular government. The principle uttered here by the Lord was elaborated by the apostles in Romans 13:1-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-6; and 1 Peter 2:13-17. For an essay on "The Christian’s Relation to the State," see my Commentary on Romans, Romans 13.

And unto God the things that are God’s … This is a higher theater of obligation; and the Christian may not violate the commandment of God, regardless of any edict published by the state; and in the most extreme conflict between God and Caesar, the Christian must not hesitate to die rather than violate the law of God. The death of all the martyrs is a testimony to the validity of this principle.

And they marveled greatly at him … No wonder. Men of all ages have marveled at what the Son of God taught in this passage. He brushed aside their silly little dilemma, as a man might brush off a mosquito, and proceeded to lay down laws which have governed and enlightened men of all succeeding ages.

Verse 18

And there come unto him Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection; and they asked him, saying.


The Sadducees were the materialists of that day, denying not only any such thing as the resurrection, but the existence of angels as well. For more on the sects of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 3:7. Significantly, these ancient enemies were here making common cause against the Lord.

Verse 19

Teacher, Moses wrote unto us, If a man’s brother die, and leave a wife behind him, and leave no child, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.

This, of course, was a reference to the ancient law of Levirite marriage, as set forth in Deuteronomy 25:5. It was a rather fair and factual statement of that Mosaic injunction, but they were about to make it the basis of ridiculing the idea of a resurrection.

Verses 20-23

There were seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and dying left no seed; and the second took her, and died, leaving no seed behind him; and the third like wise: and the seven left no seed. Last of all the woman also died. In the resurrection whose wife shalt she be of them? for the seven had her to wife.

Just why the Sadducees thought this was any greater problem than would have resulted from only two brothers having had the same wife is not clear. The whole allegation of such a situation bears a mark of contrivance and unreality upon it. It was only the Sadducees’ manner of making fun of the idea of resurrection. That it was technically possible for such a thing to have happened was true; and Jesus proceeded to answer it without regard to the unlikelihood of any such thing ever having happened. (See exegesis on parallel account in Matthew in my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 22:24-28).

Verse 24

Jesus said unto them, Is it not for this cause that ye err, that ye know not the scriptures, nor the power of God?

People who understand the Scriptures and who recognize the power of Almighty God do not reject the promise of a resurrection merely because they cannot understand exactly "how" such a thing may be. The infinite power of the Eternal would be no more extended in giving a person ANOTHER life than in the matter of giving him the PRESENT life.

Ye know not the scriptures … If they had truly understood the Scriptures, they would have known that a resurrection is truly taught in the word of God.

Verse 25

For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as angels in heaven.

Significantly, Jesus here affirmed that there will be a resurrection of the dead, that "they shall rise from the dead." Also, the new life will not be encumbered by any such thing as marriage, or any of the physical relationships so important in the present life.

As angels in heaven … This is a categorical statement on the reality of the angelic creation, making them to be examples of the kind of life the redeemed shall have after the resurrection. For article, "Concerning Angels," see my Commentary on Hebrews, Hebrews 1:14.

Verses 26-27

But as touching the dead, that they are raised; have ye not read in the book of Moses, in the place concerning the Bush, how God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living: ye do greatly err.

The utmost significance of this passage derives from: (1) the fact that Jesus here stated that "God spake … in the book of Moses," thus equating the Pentateuch with the word of God, (2) that he made an argument for the certainty of a resurrection to rest upon a single Old Testament verb, and the tense of a verb at that! and (3) that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in some meaningful sense, are not "dead" but "living." As Grant said, "This is probably the strongest of all arguments for immortality: not the nature of man but the character of God."(F10)

Ye do greatly err … Some things must be denounced as error. As Luccock said:

These words of Jesus remind us that there is a legitimate place in life for forthright, dogmatic declaration. We live so much in a world of relativism, of a "tolerance" which is really indifference — not breadth of spirit at all! — that we become tentative and apologetic rather than affirmative, even about things which are the very axis of faith.(F11)

Verse 28

And one of the scribes came, and heard them questioning together, and knowing that he had answered them well, asked him, What commandment is first of all?


From Matthew, it is clear that the Pharisees were the instigators in the question of this scribe; but, if the Pharisees had chosen him to "carry the ball," as it were, in this contest with Jesus, they had inadvertently selected a questioner who was almost persuaded to follow the Lord. Nevertheless, he asked the question, as he had been directed, "trying him" (Matthew 22:35), the purpose of trying Jesus being not that of the actual questioner but that of the class he represented. Jesus quickly discerned this and recognized it.

Verses 29-30

Jesus answered, The first is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our Lord, the Lord is one: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.

The Lord is one … This is a quotation from Deuteronomy 6:4; and the oneness of God, as set forth in the Old Testament, is a compound unity, like the oneness of the people, or the oneness in a marriage. The Hebrew word that denotes this is [~’echad], and must be distinguished from [~’achid], meaning an absolute unity. There is no argument here against the concept of a Trinity.

The great commandment is the one from which all others are derived, the one that polarizes the soul with reference to the Creator, and is therefore the root of all true worship and obedience of God. "The measure of our love to God is to love him without measure; for the immense goodness of God deserves all the love that we can give him."(F12) See an entire chapter on this commandment in "The Ten Commandments," pp. 19-29.

Monotheism is dogmatically affirmed in this commandment; and the need for man to love God with his entire being is firmly declared.

… mind … soul … strength … "It is impossible to exactly define each of these faculties, though it seems clear that some differentiation is intended. The command is for the complete response of the whole person."(F13)


Jesus’ designation of the first commandment means that the human obligation to believe in God, be baptized, worship God, accept a place in the corporate fellowship of God’s people, take the Lord’s Supper faithfully, and engage continually in public assemblies of the church that all such things are a higher obligation than the moral prohibitions against such things as murder, adultery, theft and falsehood.

That this is not the way people think is obvious. Almost any group of people requested to rank God’s commandments would place first the very ones which are actually secondary. Jesus had in view, in this passage, the two tables of the Decalogue, the first pertaining to God-related duties, the second to man-related duties; he emphasized the first table as the greatest.

The reason for the priority of the first set of duties is inherent in the fact of their relation to man’s egocentric pride, whereas, in the second class of obligations, the relationship is to human weakness, lust, and emotions. Rebellion in the first tier of duties derives from pride, rebellion in the other from weakness. Also, the second tier of obligations have no meaning apart from their being grounded in the first. Even the strict observance of morality is only self-will and self-interest unless related to the prior duty of loving God.

The most serious of all violations is therefore in the sector of one’s attitude toward God, there being, in the last analysis, no extenuation of guilt such as the extenuation pertaining to moral lapses due to the temptation which induces them. Guilt is present in both types of violation, but the guilt is greater where no temptation supports it. Violation of the first commandment derives from pride and hatred of God; violation of the other class of duties comes from weakness and strong temptation.

That God honored this distinction in the Old Testament is evident in his forgiveness of David’s sin with Bathsheba, Moses’ committing murder, and Abraham’s lying with regard to Sara; but he struck dead the presumptuous violators such as Nadab, Abihu, and Uzzah, also removing the kingdom from Saul as a penalty for the presumption of offering a sacrifice which should have been offered by the prophet. Sin due to weakness God can and does forgive; but presumption and pride to the extent of violating covenant obligations are much more serious. The first commandment is really first in every sense of the word.


This is actually the goal of all God’s dealings with the human family, namely, that they should love God. This purpose of the Almighty explains everything in the Bible. When Adam and Eve were placed in the paradise of Eden, God could have created them so that it would have been impossible for them to have violated his will, just as animals cannot sin. God, however, desired that his human creation should love him; and, because love that is coerced or forced is not actually love, God made the principle of freedom of the will operative in humanity; but with that freedom of choice, the consequences of the wrong choice became inherent in human life. From the Adamic fall there came the need for redemption, and the whole drama of human salvation was set in motion.

God’s purpose, however, has never wavered, the great intention continuing to be that men shall love their Creator. Love of God is a far greater thing even than faith; for if men love God, they will also invariably obey him (John 14:15), something that is not true of faith at all. It is in this supreme truth that the justification is found for Paul’s declaration that "the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13); and it is the undergirding of Jesus’ declaration that the first and greatest commandment is to love God.

Here also is the explanation of why there was a forbidden tree in Eden, why Satan had access to the human creation, the environment having been specifically ordered by an all-wise God for the purpose of giving Adam and Eve freedom of choice. Had they not sinned, there is no reason to believe that the testing inherent in such a situation would have been discontinued. It is God’s will that every man shall have a right of choice, a choice that derives finally from the man’s moral nature. This accounts also for the truth that God’s revelation to man has never been so overwhelmingly objective as to take away from men the right of denying it IF THEY SO DESIRE. Therefore the love of God cannot be induced by purely intellectual proof, or demonstration, faith having ever been not altogether an intellectual decision but a moral one (John 3:19).

Verse 31

The second is this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

As noted in the discussion under the preceding verse, Christ here gave a summary of the Decalogue, equating the first four commandments with the love of God and the last six with the love of neighbor. Jesus’ answer, however, is far more than a mere summary of ancient law. Without love, first of God, and then of other human beings, there can be no unity with God who IS love. Moreover, Jesus’ mention of a second commandment is more than a mere gratuitous extension of his answer to the scribe’s question; for the first and second commandments are a compound unity. Can a man love God and hate his neighbor? "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, cannot love God whom he hath not seen" (1 John 4:20).

Verses 32-33

And the scribe saith unto him, Of a truth, Teacher, thou hast well said that he is one; and there is none other but he: and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbor as himself, is much more than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.

The inherent truth of Jesus’ words fully convinced the scribe of all the Lord had said; and his repetition of Jesus’ teachings indicated the profound impression the Lord had made upon his heart.

Verse 34

And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.

Not far from the kingdom … Alas, this is the epitaph for many. Men behold, in some glorious burst of apprehension, the majesty and truth of the Son of God; but the road of acceptance is rugged, being blocked at every milestone with difficulties and opposition. If this scribe had confessed the Lord, he would have been thrown out of the synagogue, possibly even stoned to death; and the silence of the record leads one to suppose that this is as near as he ever came to the kingdom of God.

And no man durst ask … No wonder. The combined cleverness of Herodians, Sadducees, and Pharisees, despite their flattering admissions so damaging to their cause, had produced nothing that could aid their campaign against the Lord; but on the other hand, their questions had resulted in greater glory for Jesus.

Verses 35-37

And Jesus answered and said, as he taught in the chapel. How say the scribes that the Christ is the son of David? David himself said in the Holy Spirit, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Till I make thine enemies the footstool of thy feet. David himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he his son? And the common people heard him gladly.

All critical objections to this paragraph, based largely upon the variations between Mark and Matthew, come to naught in the light of the obvious unity of the whole chapter. How natural it was that Jesus should conclude a series of questions asked in turn by Herodians, Sadducees, and Pharisees, with a question of his own. To suppose Mark’s account to have been original and Matthew’s an extension of it is as illogical and unreasonable as making Mark’s one parable (1-12) the original of the three (!) recorded by Matthew. The essential agreement of both accounts, not only with regard to the placement in this context, but also in every other important detail, places the ineffaceable stamp of independence and originality upon both. Each account is probably the abbreviation of a conversation that lasted half an hour (certainly, far longer than the twenty-one seconds required for reading either of the gospel accounts); and if we knew all that was said in that interview, the absolute accuracy of every word and every detail could be proved. Any believer of the inspired gospels is untroubled by the omission from both records of most of the details and circumstances leading up to the profound truth Jesus here uttered, a truth so important that an understanding of it underlies all adequate understanding of the Old Testament and of the person of Jesus Christ. McMillan was correct when he wrote: "It is difficult to imagine what particular set of circumstances preceded and developed into the incident described here … However, because of the arresting content of the question, the Gospels show no extensive interest in the circumstances."(F14)

David himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he his son? … How could Jesus Christ have been both the Son of David and the Lord of David? This fingers the dual character of our Lord Jesus Christ as both God and man. As a man, he was the son of David; as God come in human form, he was the Lord of David. In the great prophecies of the Old Testament foretelling the coming of the holy Messiah into this world, it was absolutely necessary for God to present through the prophets this dual nature of the Holy One. This accounts for the APPARENT contradictions in the prophecies concerning Christ, some prophecies hailing him as "Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6), and other prophecies making him to be "despised and rejected … man of sorrows … esteemed not … numbered with transgressors … acquainted with grief … bruised … wounded … and afflicted" (Isaiah 53).

Such diverse prophecies foretelling the coming of the God-man could not be understood by the religious leaders; they even premised the coming of two Messiahs; and it was their conceit that led them to reject the less glamorous prophecies and focus upon those more glorious, those being the qualities they wanted in a Messiah. Their rejection of Christ was grounded totally upon their error of misunderstanding in this very sector. This was precisely the point WHERE THEY NEEDED HELP. Lovingly, Jesus raised the issue by this quotation from Psalms 110:1, no doubt hoping that they would ask him to explain it; but the pride of those evil men would not permit them either to ask or to learn anything from their Saviour. Their scornful turning away from the Lord is suggested by Mark’s record of the antithesis of it, namely, that "the common people heard him gladly."

This paragraph bears witness to the Davidic authorship of Psalms 110, a fact accepted by Jesus’ contemporaries, and incapable of any rational denial by men living nineteen centuries later. It also witnesses to the inspiration of the Psalms, for it was here stated that David "said in the Holy Spirit."

Thus, in this incident, the Lord made one last, bold effort to break through the barrier of blind unbelief in the Jewish leaders.

Verses 38-40

And in his teaching he said, Beware of the scribes, who desire to walk in long robes, and to have salutations in the marketplaces, and chief seats in the synagogues, and chief places at feasts: they that devour widow’s houses, and for a pretence make long prayers; these shall receive greater condemnation.

The sentiments of these verses are found in Matthew’s extensive account of the seven woes pronounced upon the Pharisees, most of the scribes belonging to that party (Matthew 23). In the same context as "the woes," Mark here abbreviated a long sermon, reducing it to this single small paragraph; and yet it quite accurately catches the sentiment of the longer passage in Matthew. On the other hand, it is sheer nonsense to suppose that Matthew expanded these few lines into the dramatic, well organized sermon he quoted Jesus as delivering in this same context.

Who desire … This means that they "loved" such things, thus exposing their sin as resident in the things they loved, as so strongly stated in John 5:44 and John 12:43.

Long robes … were worn by scholars and greatly coveted as marks of distinction.

Salutations in the marketplaces … Such greetings had become with them the food of vanity and conceit (Matthew 23:7-8).

Chief seats in the synagogues … were occupied by the scribes while the congregation stood!

Chief places at feasts … Such dignitaries as the scribes were held to be, always occupied the dais or sat at the speaker’s table.

Thus, as Sanner said, "There were four things these men liked, all of which indicated their hunger for recognition and preference."(F15)

They that devour widow’s houses … This was accomplished by charging excessive fees and through the abuse of hospitality and generosity.

And for a pretence make long prayers … Nothing is quite as showy as a long prayer, and few things any more disgusting. When a popular faith-healer led prayer at the Democratic convention which first nominated Franklin D. Roosevelt for president, it (the prayer) last 31 minutes and 15 seconds; and the Cardinal who led the inaugural prayer at the installation of President John F. Kennedy droned on for 14 minutes, telling the Lord the date of the occasion four different times! See 1 Thessalonians 2:5 RSV).

Shall receive greater condemnation … As throughout the holy Scriptures, the severest judgments are pronounced against pride, vainglory, and pretense.

Verse 41

And he sat down over against the treasury, and beheld how the multitude cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.


The treasury … This was located in the court of women, in which collection boxes had been installed to receive offerings. The Sanhedrin met within earshot of the place; and it was here that they brought the woman taken in adultery. It was the scene of some of Jesus’ most remarkable teachings (John 8:1-20).

And he beheld how the multitude cast money … Significantly, Jesus made his evaluation of giving through regard to what men possessed, and not merely in respect of the amount given. In a spiritual sense, Jesus always sits over against the treasury, knows not merely the amount given, but the amount retained, and makes his evaluation accordingly.

Verse 42

And there came a poor widow, and she cast in two mites, which make a farthing.

Barnes commented on the value of this gift thus:

Mite denotes a small coin made of brass, the smallest in use among the Jews, and the value of which cannot be exactly known. Their farthing was of less value than the English farthing. It was worth about three mills and a half, or about one-third of a copper cent.(F16)

Cranfield pointed out that the word that Mark used for MITE is related to quadrans, a term prevalent in Rome but not in Jerusalem; and from this he concluded that Mark was writing "in the west."(F17)

Verse 43

And he called unto him his disciples, and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, This poor widow cast in more than all they are casting into the treasury.

More than all they … Cranfield said this probably means "more than all of those put together."(F18)

(1) This teaches that a gift to be valuable in the sight of God is not solely determined by the face amount of it. The motive, attitude, and financial condition of the giver are taken into consideration.

(2) Christ did not condemn the widow for giving. His commendation of her gift dramatically underlines the Scriptural teaching that the poor should give, and that the exercise of this grace is not to be omitted by any person on the grounds of poverty.

(3) How is it that her gift was so great? The example she set in the faithful discharge of a religious duty incumbent upon all has inspired giving in all ages.

Illustration: The City of New York was participating in a campaign among the immigrant poor of the great city to raise funds for the construction of the pedestal and supporting tower upon which Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty would be erected. The campaign was lagging until a poor woman sold her bed for $13.00 and contributed the money. Inspired by that, the people quickly responded and gave more than was needed. In a similar manner, the poor widow of this text has constructed many a church house and subscribed many a budget all over the world.

(4) This encourages the poor not to withhold their gifts to the Lord, because of thoughts that they would not do much good; here is an example of a very great accomplishment having been achieved by a gift of very small actual value. As Calvin said of the poor, "If they consecrate themselves, their offering, which appears to men to be worthless, will not be less valuable than if they had presented all the treasures of Croesus."(F19)

(5) This convinces the rich that merely giving an amount of money is not enough. The element of sacrifice should be present in every true gift; and that which can be easily "spared" by the wealthy is not enough to fulfill God’s requirement.

Verse 44

For they all did cast in of their superfluity; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.

Christ thus explained why the widow’s gift was "more" and all of the others "less." Theirs were easy gifts; hers was a hard one. It may be doubted if any passage in the whole New Testament has been any more widely misused than has this one. One often hears people speak of giving "the widow’s mite"; but what is evidently meant is that they are giving the amount of the widow’s mite, and not that they are giving all of their living, as did she.

All her living … Whether this means merely all of her income, or the totality of her possessions, the example she set is immortal. She trusted God, relying upon him utterly to supply her need. She brought to the treasury a heart at one with the Eternal, submissively accepting a status of penury and want, and yet not making her poverty an excuse for denying the gift that the Father requires of all.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Mark 12". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/mark-12.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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