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Bible Commentaries
Mark 12

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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In this chapter, Jesus teaches the parable of the wicked husbandmen (1-12), deals with the question of tribute to Caesar (13-17), answers the Sadducees’ question about the resurrection (18-27), answers a question about the great commandment (28-34), poses a question concerning His Lordship (35-37), denounces the scribes (38-40), and makes an observation of a widow’s temple treasury contribution (41-44).

Verse 1

And he began to speak unto them by parables. A certain man planted a vineyard, and set an hedge about it, and digged a place for the winefat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country.

This parable is the central one of three in which Jesus speaks against the Jewish hierarchy. Mark mentions only one of the parables, but Matthew records all three. Matthew joins this parable with the parables of the two sons, which deals with work in the vineyard, and the marriage of the king’s son (Matthew 21:28-46). Although Mark records only one of this group of three, he mentions "parables" in the plural, indicating he knows there is more than one.

And he began to speak unto them by parables: During the last few months as Jesus has intensified His training of the Twelve, He has taught very little, if any, by way of parables. But, in these last days of public teaching, He begins to use parables again. The volatile circumstances call for this method of teaching, a method that half conceals and half reveals the thoughts of the teacher (see comments on 4:11-12). He directs the parable to the delegation from the Sanhedrin, who are still present, with the intention of showing the true nature of their hostility.

A certain man planted a vineyard: Swete says:

He was not simply the owner of a vineyard, but a master who had slaves at his command (v.2ff.; cf. Matthew 13:27; Luke 14:21). The land of Israel was a land of the vine (Genesis 49:11; Deuteronomy 8:8), and the planting of vineyards was one of the cares of the prudent householder (Deuteronomy 28:30; Deuteronomy 28:39). The vineyard had become the recognised symbol of Israel itself, as the covenant people (Psalms 80:8 f., Isaiah 5:2 ff., Jeremiah 2:21), and it was impossible for the members of the Sanhedrin or for the better-taught among the crowd to mistake the drift of the parable (see verse 12) (265).

The planting of this spiritual vineyard takes place under Moses and Joshua who establish Jewish society in Canaan (Deuteronomy 32:12-14; Ezekiel 16:9-14; Nehemiah 9:23-25).

and set an hedge about it: A hedge encloses the vineyard and serves to protect it against animals and thieves. Sometimes a vineyard is protected by both a hedge-fence and a wall (Isaiah 5:5). The meaning is that the Jews have hedged themselves off from the idolatrous nations, and it is that very line of separation between themselves and the other nations that guarantees they would enjoy the protection of God (Zechariah 2:5; Isaiah 27).

and digged a place for the winefat: The word "winefat" is from the word upolenion and is "a vat, placed under the press to receive the juice" (Analytical Greek Lexicon 418).

and built a tower: "The tower was the place from which the watchman overlooked the vineyard. It was also used as a lodge for the keeper of the vineyard" (Gould 220).

and let it out to husbandmen: "Husbandmen" is translated from georgois and means "the tillers and keepers of a vineyard;" "vine dressers" (Thayer 114). When the owner has fully prepared his vineyard, he leases it to tenants or "sharecroppers," who have to give the owner a definite amount of the vintage. The "husbandmen" represent the spiritual leaders of Israel, the priests and Levites. Their commission is recorded in such places as Malachi 2:7 and Ezekiel 34:2. The husbandmen have entered into a covenant with the owner, even as the Jewish people made a covenant with God at Horeb.

and went into a far country: Having made this arrangement, the owner goes abroad or "moves away." Luke adds "for a long time." The expression "far country" may be misleading and inconsistent with the message of the parable: the parable implies the owner is not far off nor does he forget about the tenants. God frequently reminds His children of their duty to Him. It is like the father who gives his children the opportunity to prove they are trustworthy, by not constantly supervising them. Trench says:

At Sinai, and in the miracles which accompanied the deliverance from Egypt, the Lord may be said to have openly manifested Himself to Israel, and then to have withdrawn Himself for a while, not speaking to the people again face to face (Deuteronomy 34:10-12), but waiting in patience to see what manner of works the people under the teaching of their spiritual guides would bring forth (Notes on the Parables of Our Lord 70).

Verse 2

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

And at the season: This phrase refers to the proper time for the harvest.

he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard: This "servant" must be distinguished from the "tenants" or "sharecroppers." The latter are the vinegrowers with whom the owner has made a contract, amounting to this: "I will let you manage this vineyard and harvest its crop for yourselves provided that at the time of the vintage you give me this or that definite portion of the grapes." The servant, on the other hand, is commissioned by the owner to collect and carry to the master’s home the portion of the fruit that belongs to him. Having been delegated by him, it follows that the servant is invested with the master’s authority. He makes his demand or request in the owner’s name. The request is altogether proper, for a definite agreement has been made, and the "proper time," that is, the time of the vintage has arrived (Hendriksen 473).

During the Jewish dispensation, God sends His prophets to warn His people of their departure from His law and to demand of them the worship and faithful obedience that are His due.

Verse 3

And they caught him, and beat him, and sent him away empty.

The husbandmen are dishonest and cruel men. They not only refuse the servant’s request but also beat him and send him home empty-handed. The word "beat" is from dero and originally meant "to flay," but in the New Testament it means "to beat severely, to scourge" (Wuest 228).

According to Jewish tradition, Jeremiah is stoned by the exiles in Egypt. Isaiah and John the Baptist are both murdered, and virtually all the prophets are rejected.

We would expect the owner of the vineyard to respond angrily to the cruel treatment of his servant and the refusal of the husbandmen to keep their end of the bargain. But, instead, he gives them other opportunities to do their duty.

Verse 4

And again he sent unto them another servant; and at him they cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully handled.

The second servant whom the owner sends is treated even worse than the first. He suffers severe head injuries and is sent away insulted.

Verse 5

And again he sent another; and him they killed, and many others; beating some, and killing some.

And again he sent another; and him they killed: The cruelty of the husbandmen accelerates in the face of the patience of the owner. The first servant is beaten; the second is stoned, suffering severe head injuries; and now the third servant is killed. "Evil men and seducers wax worse and worse" (2 Timothy 3:13).

And many others; beating some, and killing some: This matter continues on for a long time with every servant who is sent to the husbandmen either being beaten violently or killed. Jesus adds:

Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation (Matthew 23:34-36).

Verse 6

Having yet therefore one son, his wellbeloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son.

The Greek text reads, "Still he had one," that is, one person to send after all his servants are either mistreated or killed. He will send his own son; and he reasons, "Surely the vineyard men will not harm my own son." Keep in mind this is a parable and not history, and the owner of the vineyard is a man. It is not intended to teach that God is ignorant of the effect that sending His Son would have. "The owner acts, not as God acts, but as He appears to act" (Plummer 274).

Verse 7

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

When the wicked husbandmen see the son coming, they immediately consult with each other as to what they are going to do. Their behavior is not going to be impulsive but very much premeditated. The result of their plot is to kill the son, which is nothing short of premeditated murder. Their reasoning is, "He is the heir of the vineyard. If we kill him, there is no one else to inherit the vineyard; so it will be ours."

Jesus knows the leaders of the Jews are conspiring to kill Him, and He will submit to being killed. The final messenger to the husbandmen tells them he is the son of the owner. Jesus does the same. First, He tells them by the miracles He performs and by obscure parables, then finally in plain words (14:62).

The Jewish leaders desire the inheritance. God intended the Jewish system to be temporary until the coming of Christ, but the Jewish leaders want to keep it permanently because it affords them privilege and prestige.

Verse 8

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

They kill the son and throw his body outside the vineyard for the birds and animals to devour. This is the ultimate act of defiance and insult. Matthew and Luke indicate that the casting out precedes the slaying, probably because Christ is to be taken outside Jerusalem to be crucified.

Verse 9

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

Jesus concludes the parable at this point, but He has yet to explain its meaning. Upon concluding the story, He asks the audience, "What do you suppose the owner of the vineyard is going to do?" Then the answer comes, "He will come and destroy the men who are working in his vineyard and will hand it over to others." Matthew 21:41 seems to attribute this answer to the people in the audience, but Luke 20:16 shows the answer to be given by Jesus. It could be that the leaders answer the question first and thereby condemn themselves, and then Jesus repeats their answer as a solemn verdict from the Judge.

The meaning is that God will destroy the leaders of the Jewish people who disobey Him and lead people into sin and will deliver His vineyard to other husbandmen who will faithfully serve Him.

Verse 10

And have ye not read this scripture; The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner:

Here Jesus quotes from Psalms 118:22-23, a scripture these religious leaders know to be a prophecy of the Messiah. This quotation is remarkable because it is the same Psalm that fur­nishes the "Hosanna" shouts of the multitudes when Jesus makes His triumphal entry into Jerusalem earlier.

The Psalm refers to one of the stones, quarried, hewn, and marked, away from the temple site, which is intended by the head architect to be the chief cornerstone. This is the stone upon which two walls would meet and be bonded together; hence it is a stone absolutely necessary for the completion of the building. But the builders, either ignorant of the head architect’s plans or finding on it no mark, cast the stone aside as being unfit to use in the construction of the temple. Ellicott points out that recent explorations in Jerusalem have shown that marks were placed on temple stones when they were quarried, "to indicate their position in the future structure of the fabric" (183).

It is probable that this parable is first spoken regarding the choice of David to be king over Israel. It probably also includes the choice of Israel itself out of the nations of the world. Prominent men of other nations have scoffingly denigrated Israel. Nevertheless, Israel has become in a very true sense the cornerstone, the head of the nations (Psalms 147:20), not because of Israel’s own power and moral and spiritual excellence but, rather, because of God’s own gracious providential dealings with them. This fact is clearly stated in the next verse.

Verse 11

This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?

This is a continuation of the quote from Psalms 118. The wonderful emergence of Israel has been accomplished by the Lord.

Jesus now shows that the words of Psalms 118 reach their ultimate fulfillment in "the owner’s son," that is, in Himself, the true Israel. He is the stone that is being rejected by the chief priests, scribes, elders, and their followers, and at Calvary by the nation as a whole (John 1:11). Just as the husbandmen reject the servant-messengers, the builders reject the stone. But something marvelous is going to happen: the rejected stone is going to become the cornerstone.

The change of symbols from the vineyard to the builders makes it easy to apply the teaching to the resurrection and ascension. The vineyard owner’s dead son cannot be revived in the first story, but the rejected stone can be retrieved and properly installed. The meaning is clear: Though Christ will be crucified, He will rise triumphantly from the grave. The malicious Pharisees will not defeat the purpose of God--that the Son will be the Heir. Trench corroborates this point when he adds:

This is distinctly declared by the respected stone becoming the head of the corner, on which the builders stumbled and fell, and were broken, and which, if they set themselves against it to the end, would fall upon them, and crush and destroy them utterly. They fall on the stone, who are offended at Christ in His low estate (Isaiah 8:14; Luke 2:34); of this sin His hearers were already guilty. He warns them against a worse sin which they were on the point of committing, and which would be followed by a heavier punishment; they on whom the stone falls, are they who deliberately set themselves in opposition against the Lord--knowing who He is. They shall not merely fall and be broken, for one might, although suffering some harm, recover himself,--but on them the stone shall fall and grind them to powder (Notes on the Parables of Our Lord 73-74).

The apostles are undoubtedly impressed by Jesus’ application of this metaphor "the Stone" to Himself, and they repeat it several times after Pentecost (Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:4; 1 Peter 2:7; Romans 9:32; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:6).

Verse 12

And they sought to lay hold on him, but feared the people: for they knew that he had spoken the parable against them: and they left him, and went their way.

And they sought to lay hold on him: "They" refers to the chief priests, scribes, and elders mentioned in chapter eleven, verse 27, the delegation from the Sanhedrin. Officers from the court continually try to arrest Jesus (John 7:44-46; Mark 11:18), but they are particularly determined now because they realize it is against them that Jesus has spoken this parable.

but feared the people: Jesus is very popular at this time. He is surrounded by His apostles and an admiring crowd. These people believe Jesus to be a prophet (Matthew 21:46), they sang Hosannas in His honor just a short time ago, they earlier tried to make Him their king (John 6:15), and they are still marveling over Lazarus’ being raised from the dead. All of these events, coupled with the political enthusiasm and hero worship that accompany such occasions as the Passover, will make the crowd difficult to control. If they attempt to arrest or do violence to Jesus publicly, there can very well be a dangerous response from the crowd.

for they knew that he had spoken the parable against them: and they left him, and went their way: Even though they emphatically know that He speaks the parable with reference to or against them, they do just the opposite of what they want. They dare not take public action against Jesus; therefore, they leave Him and wait to "fall back upon the more crooked paths of stratagem and treachery" (Ellicott 183).

Verse 13

And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch him in his words.

And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians: Mark does not tell us who it is that sends this delegation of Pharisees and Herodians, but Matthew tells us it is the Pharisees (22:15-16). Matthew adds that the Pharisees "took council"; in other words, they consult and plot together how they might ensnare Jesus in His talk. Then they send their disciples, along with representatives of the Herodians, to Jesus. This committee is not made up of the veteran leaders but of the younger disciples of both groups. Swete says these are "certain of their disciples who knew how to combine the vigilance of practiced dissemblers (hypocrites), with the apparent innocence of young inquirers" (273). This is not the first time these two groups form an alliance (see 3:6). The Pharisees despise the Herodians on political grounds. The Herodians support the house of Herod and are in favor of paying tribute to the Roman Caesar. The Pharisees are diametrically opposed to both. The Pharisees also have contempt for the Sadducees on religious grounds, but they are willing to work with both of these parties in order to destroy Jesus.

to catch him in his words: The word "catch" is agreuo and means "’To catch’ (properly, wild animals, fishes): in order to entrap him by some inconsiderate remark elicited from him in conversation" (Thayer 9). The word Matthew (22:15) uses is agreuo, which means "to snare or trap" birds. The purpose of this committee is to hunt and catch Jesus like some wild animal, and then ensnare or entangle Him in His talk.

Verse 14

And when they were come, they say unto him, Master, we know that thou art true, and carest for no man: for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?

And when they were come, they say unto him, Master: The title "Master" is Didaskale and means "Teacher" (Marshall 193); and, regardless of the evil motives in the minds of the committee, the title is appropriate. The writers of the gospels constantly describe Jesus as such, as do many others.

we know that thou art true: These men tell Jesus He is truthful and sincere. They do not really believe He is, but they know that Jesus claims it (John 8:14; John 8:16; John 8:18; John 8:40).

and carest for no man: This expression means Jesus has no personal bias for anyone. This statement is true, and they probably believe this part of their statement.

for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: They are saying, "You are a teacher on whom people can depend; you faithfully teach the will of God and are not swayed by the opinions of influential men." Swete offers this comment:

The preamble is skillfully arranged with the view of disarming suspicion, and at the same time preventing escape. So independent and fearless a teacher of truth could not from fear of consequences either refuse an answer to honest and perplexed inquiries, or conceal His real opinion...There is veiled irony in the words "For thou regardest not the person of men." He had shown little consideration for men of learning and hierarchical rank; doubtless He would be equally indifferent to the views of the Procurator and the Emperor himself; when the truth was concerned, His independence would assert itself with fearless impartiality (274).

Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar: The word "tribute" is kenson and means a "census, or poll tax" (Analytical Greek Lexicon 230). A poll tax is a tax that is levied on individuals rather than on property. The poll tax consists of a denarius per head and is assessed on every adult male in Judea. The money is collected by publicans and transmitted directly to the Roman treasury.

As being a direct personal tax, it was looked on by the more zealous Jews as carrying with it a greater humiliation than export or import duties, and was consequently resisted by many who gave in more or less readily in the payment of the customs (Ellicott 184).

The question about the lawfulness of paying this poll tax is raised by Judas of Galilee (Acts 5:37). He leads a rebellion against the tax in about A.D. 7 when he angrily denounces it as being no less than high treason against God (Josephus 418, 476).

or not: This phrase is not superfluous. The delegation of Pharisees and Herodians are trying to tie Jesus down to a plain "Yes" or "No" answer, which, in their estimation, would place Jesus on the horns of a dilemma. If He answers "Yes, it is lawful to pay tribute to Caesar," He will alienate many devout, patriotic Jews. The Pharisees would be able to denounce Him as a traitor to His country, one soliciting the favor of their oppressors. If He answers "No," Jesus would possibly alienate the Herodians and run the risk of being accused (as He later is) of "perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar" (Luke 23:2). The question is very carefully and cleverly constructed.

Verse 15

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

Shall we give, or shall we not give: This statement is superfluous but completes the question. The committee is confident they have posed the perfect question to ensnare Jesus. His answer will either expose Him as a rebel to Caesar or a traitor to His own people and to God.

But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them Why tempt ye me: Jesus knows why they are tempting Him, but His question shows them He is aware of their intent.

bring me a penny: The word "penny" is denarius, a small silver coin that is equivalent to a day’s wages for the average working man. It is also the amount assessed by Rome for the poll tax. None of this coinage is on hand at this time because only Jewish coins are accepted in the temple, and Jesus has banished the moneychangers. There must have been a long, dramatic pause while someone retrieves a denarius from outside the temple. This pause fuels the excitement and anticipation of the bystanders as they speculate as to why Jesus wants the denarius.

that I may see it: This does not mean that Jesus is ignorant of what is on the coin and needs to see one for information, but rather that He is going to direct His attention and the attention of the audience to what is written and pictured on the coin. He is going to teach an object lesson.

Verse 16

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

And they brought it. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription: Tiberius is the ruling Caesar at this time, so the coin brought to Jesus has the image of Tiberius on it. On one side, his head is pictured; and on the reverse side, he is pictured sitting on a throne, wearing a diadem and clothed as a high priest. Around the head, the inscription reads, "TICAESARDIVI AVGFAVGVSTVS," which means, "TIBERIUS CAESAR AUGUSTUS SON OF THE DIVINE AUGUSTUS." On the reverse side the inscription is "PONTIF MAXIM," which translates to "HIGHEST PRIEST."

And they said unto him, Caesar’s: There is no way they can avoid answering Jesus, even if they suspect their answer will place them in a difficult position. They cannot profess ignorance because the coin answers the question. They give the correct answer which immediately shows they are submitting to Caesar’s government and enjoying his protection.

Verse 17

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

And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s: When the committee poses their question to Jesus, they ask, "Is it lawful to give (dounai)...?" When Jesus answers, He says, "Render (apodote)..." which means, "To pay something as a debt" (Analytical Greek Lexicon 41). Jesus shows it is not a question of giving what might lawfully be refused but of paying what is lawfully owed. The tribute is not a gift but a debt. At this time, Caesar has given Palestine the benefit of stable government, with peace and tranquility, police protection, good roads, courts, etc. Such benefits necessarily imply responsibility. Are they now going to refuse their responsibility of contributing toward the maintenance of these benefits? The fact that they possess and use these coins with Caesar’s image indicates they are already accepting Caesar’s authority. Jesus points out that paying the coins to Caesar in no way hinders their giving of themselves to God. On the contrary, the one duty is included in the other (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-6; 1 Peter 2:13-17).

and to God the things that are God’s: Jesus is saying, "Pay your taxes to Caesar with the coins that bear his image but don’t forget that you are created in the image of God, and therefore you must live under His authority as well." We must give God what He claims, and He must come first. By drawing a distinction between "what is due to Caesar" and "what is due to God," Jesus is rejecting the claim of the Caesars that they are Divine rulers. This claim is implied on the very coin Jesus is holding, that Caesar is the "Highest Priest." Of course, God is sovereign over all (Daniel 4:34-35), even over the emperor. The ruler should be respected and obeyed as long as his will does not conflict with God’s will. In the event of a conflict, the rule laid down in Acts 5:29 must be followed: "Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men."

And they marvelled at him: Jesus’ enemies stand there amazed at Him. His answer completely thwarts and frustrates them. His answer is complete. Luke says there is nothing they can take hold of to ensnare Jesus (20:26). It is impossible to find fault with His answer.

Verse 18

Then come unto him the Sadducees, which say there is no resurrection; and they asked him, saying,

This is the only place in Mark where the Sadducees are mentioned. While the Pharisees represent pompous ceremonialism and loveless legalism and the Herodians are the political party among the Jews allied with the ruling Roman class, the Sadducees are characterized by their love of materialism. Most of them are wealthy priests. They consider themselves the "religious aristocrats" of Judaism and tend to look down on everybody else (see comments on 8:11). They consider the temple their special domain and are greatly offended when Jesus cleanses it. Their denial of the resurrection grows out of their attitude toward the oral tradition of the elders. The Pharisees hold that the oral tradition is binding, but the Sadducees accept only the written law of Moses as their religious authority. If a doctrine cannot be defended from the first five books of the Old Testament, they will not accept it. They argue the resurrection cannot be proved from the books of Moses; hence, it is an open question, and they will not believe it.

It is entirely possible that the Sadducees have a twofold purpose in posing this question to Jesus. Obviously, they want to take their turn at attempting to silence and discredit Him with the multitude; it is possible they could triumph over the Pharisees, who also believe in the resurrection, at the same time. No doubt, the Sadducees know that Jesus has already prevailed over the Pharisees. They can possibly "kill two birds with one stone"; they can make Jesus and the Pharisees look bad at the same time.

Verse 19

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

The Sadducees refer to Deuteronomy 25:5-6, the law of the "Levirite marriage." According to this law, if a wife’s husband dies before any male child has been born, then the brother of the husband--or else the nearest kin--must marry the widow and produce a male child to carry on his deceased brother’s lineage. Disobedience, or half-hearted obedience (marrying the widow, but refusing to raise offspring that could not be counted as his own), of this law is a serious matter (Deuteronomy 25:7-10; Genesis 38:8-10).

Verse 20

Now there were seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and dying left no seed.

The Sadducees, by referring to the Levirite law, are implying that Moses does not believe in the resurrection. They construct their hypothetical question so as to make the resurrection sound ridiculous. "Left no seed" simply means "childless."

Verses 21-23

And the second took her, and died, neither left he any seed: and the third likewise. And the seven had her, and left no seed: last of all the woman died also. In the resurrection therefore, when they shall rise, whose wife shall she be of them? for the seven had her to wife.

If their premise that the marriage relationship continues after the resurrection is correct, two husbands would have been sufficient to prove their argument. But the number seven is symbolic of perfection in Jewish culture, and perhaps the use of this number would make the idea of the resurrection perfectly absurd. The Sadducees’ argument is, "If there is such a thing as a future resurrection, then she must spend eternity with seven husbands!" It seems like a perfect argument, but Jesus shows them that their logic is based on faulty assumptions.

Verse 24

And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God?

Jesus makes it clear to the Sadducees that their argument is faulty because of their ignorance. First, they are ignorant of the true meaning of the scriptures. They think they have scripture on their side, but Jesus points out there is nothing in Deuteronomy 25:5-6 that applies to life after the resurrection and that they should have been aware there are several places in the Old Testament that teach the resurrection of the body. Secondly, He points out they are ignorant of the power of God (Romans 4:17; Hebrews 11:19). They should have understood that God is able to resurrect the dead in a condition that does not require marriage. Jesus now goes on to prove His assertion, dealing first with the latter proposition.

Verse 25

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

For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage: The expression "they neither marry" refers to the man while the phrase "nor are given in marriage" refers to the woman who is given in marriage by her father (1 Corinthians 7:38). The Sadducees cannot conceive of a power that can produce a future life that is different from anything they have experienced. They assume that either God could not raise the dead or that He could raise them only to a life similar to their physical existence with possibly more material pleasures.

but are as the angels which are in heaven: In the resurrection, we shall be as the angels of heaven, and there will be no need for the matrimonial relationship. Angels do not marry because they are immortal. In Enoch 15:6-7, the Lord allegedly says to the angels:

You were spiritual, in the enjoyment of eternal immortal life, for all generations of the world. Therefore I have not appointed wives for you; for the spiritual have their dwelling in heaven.

Marriage is necessary now to preserve the race; but where all are immortal, there will be no death; and the race will not have to be reproduced. In this one sense, we shall be as the angels in heaven. The Sadducees also deny the existence of angels (Acts 23:8), even though the first book of Moses (Genesis 19:1; Genesis 19:15; Genesis 28:12; Genesis 32:1), which they claim to accept, teaches of their existence. Obviously, these men are ignorant of the scriptures and the power of God.

Verse 26

And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?

And as touching the dead, that they rise: Having dealt with the previous issue, Jesus now deals with the question of the resurrection. He is saying, "Now, concerning the matter of the dead being raised."

have ye not read in the book of Moses: The Sadducees ostensibly base their argument on the scriptures; however, it becomes obvious they are ignorant of the scriptures. Anyone who argues on the basis of scripture should know the scriptures, not just an isolated passage here and there, which they then misapply. The Sadducees claim to accept the authority of Moses but fail to notice that Moses teaches the continuation of life after death.

how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob: Jesus refers to a passage in Exodus 3. There, Moses is tending a flock of sheep when he notices a burning bush. A peculiar thing about the bush is that it is not being consumed, even though it is on fire. As Moses draws near the bush, the voice of God says, "Take off your shoes because you are on holy ground." Then God says, "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." At the time God makes this statement, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have been dead for many years; yet God affirms being their God. God does not speak in the past tense, "I was the God...," but He speaks in the present tense, "I am the God...." The implication is that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are still living. Jesus points out that Moses clearly teaches there is life after death.

Verse 27

He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err.

He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: Swete offers this comment:

In quoting this passage the Lord argues thus: "In this place God reveals Himself as standing in a real relation to men who were long dead. But the living God cannot be in relation with any who have ceased to exist; therefore the patriarchs were still living in His sight at the time of the Exodus; dead to the visible world, they were alive unto God" (282).

ye therefore do greatly err: The Sadducees are not just mistaken, but they are badly mistaken, which is the natural result of being ignorant of the scriptures.

Verse 28

And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?

And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well: Matthew 22:35 says the Pharisees select this scribe, a law expert, to put Jesus to the test. The Pharisees have heard Jesus discomfit the Sadducees concerning the resurrection and are undoubtedly filled with mixed emotions. They are pleased that Jesus has successfully defended the doctrine of the resurrection, a doctrine they firmly believe themselves, but they are not pleased that Jesus continues to impress the general public with His wisdom and teaching. The Pharisees still want to kill Jesus, so again they put Him to the test.

In view of the fact that most scribes and Pharisees are very hostile toward Jesus, it is surprising they select this scribe, who has a favorable attitude toward Jesus, to test Him. Jesus later commends the man as being "not far from the kingdom." Nevertheless, the man questions the Lord, as he has been directed.

asked him, Which is the first commandment of all: The scribes have determined the Jews are obligated to obey 613 precepts in the Law, 365 negative ones and 248 positive. The rabbis, who have an obsession with detail, a characteristic that manifests itself in hairsplitting legalism, constantly argue about which of these divine commandments is the greatest.

Verse 29

And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:

Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:4-5, the great confession of faith that even today pious Jews recite each morning and evening. The first word "Hear" is translated from the Hebrew word "Shema," and the entire quotation is generally called the "Shema." "To say the Shema was a passport into Paradise for any child of Abraham" (Ellicott 189).

The Lord our God is one Lord:

The oneness of God, as set forth in the OT, 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 (Coffman 257).

Verse 30

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: this is the first commandment.

And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart: Jesus points out that the whole duty of man can be summarized in one word: "love" (Romans 13:9-10; 1 Corinthians 13). This love must be directed toward God first of all, and all of our faculties must cooperate in loving God. The "heart" is the main source of all of man’s thoughts, words, and deeds (Proverbs 4:23).

with all thy soul: The word translated "soul" has a variety of meanings but probably refers to the source of man’s emotional activity.

and with all they mind: "Mind" is not only the seat of the intellectual life but also the seat of our disposition and attitudes.

and with all thy strength: "Strength" refers to spiritual strength. The original reading in Deuteronomy 6:5 is "heart, soul, and might (or power)." Mark has "heart, soul, mind, and strength."

No essential difference is intended. We must not begin to over-analyze. What is meant in all these passages is that man should love God with all the "faculties" with which God has endowed him (Hendriksen 493).

this is the first commandment: Jesus states unequivocally that love of God is the primary duty in one’s religious life. But, without hesitating, He goes on in verse 31 to add another duty, quoting Leviticus 19:18.

Verse 31

And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: Man has been created with love for himself. That love for self should be the measure by which he decides how to love his neighbor. This is a very practical precept, a rule of thumb. And that "neighbor," moreover, is anyone who has been providentially placed in his path for sympathy and help. Jesus quotes from Leviticus 19:18, and originally the verse encourages the Jews to put a very restricted meaning on the word "neighbor." Until the time of Christ, the term refers only to fellow Jews, and it is perfectly permissible to hate Gentiles. Jesus removes this restriction on the word "neighbor" with His startling teaching about the "Good Samaritan" (Luke 10:25-37). If the term "neighbor" includes the hated Samaritans, it must include all men.

As mentioned earlier, the scribes multiply the law into 613 precepts and are constantly arguing about which is greater. But another practice of the scribes is that of trying to gather up the law into one sentence, one general statement that would be a compendium of the whole message. A well-known example is given by the great Jewish teacher, Hillel the Elder (ca. 40 B.C.-A.D. 10). When challenged by a Gentile to summarize the whole law into one sentence, he replies: "’What you yourself hate, do not do to your neighbor: this is the whole Law, the rest is commentary. Go and learn it’" (Lane 432). Apparently no rabbi has ever put these two commandments together into one commandment. Religion to Jesus is loving God and loving His fellow man. McMillan says:

On reflection, one observes that the first commandment in fact includes the second. One could not love God without loving his fellow man (1 Jno. 4:20), although some have tried it. On the other hand, it may well be that Jesus adds the second here because human experience so often finds its way to the first by means of the second. That is, by loving man one comes to love God (150).

These two passages that Jesus quotes are actually the essence of the two tables of the Decalogue. The first four of the Ten Commandments regulate man’s relationship to God. They are a practical summary of what it means to love God. The last six of the Ten Commandments regulate man’s relationship to his fellow man. They summarize in a practical way what it means to love your neighbor.

The definition Jesus gives this scribe concerning the greatest commandment is corroborated by the inspired apostles in their subsequent teaching (Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8).

There is none other commandment greater than these: Here Jesus implies the two commandments are essentially one.

Verse 32

And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he:

And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: The word "Well" is kalos and is an exclamatory particle, used on hearing something that one approves, as one says "good" (Wuest 238). The Amplified Version has it, "Excellently and fitly and admirably answered, Teacher!" The scribe delightfully accepts Jesus’ answer with unqualified approval. Jesus’ words make a deep impression on the man; and with great enthusiasm, he virtually repeats what Jesus has just said.

for there is one God; and there is none other but he: None of the Jews could deny this proposition without destroying the whole system of the law and revelation. The acknowledgment of the one true God must accompany all right views of His law.

Verse 33

And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.

The word "sacrifices" refers to sacrifices in general while the words "burnt offerings" (olokautomaton) refer to a higher species of sacrifice, a "eucharistic offering" to heaven. The surprising thing about the scribe’s response is his statement about the law of love being superior to sacrifice. That is not the common scribal position. Obviously, he is well versed in the scriptures, and it is possible that he is thinking of such passages as 1 Samuel 15:22:

And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.

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.

And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly: The word "discreetly" is nounechos and means "sensibly, intelligently" (Marshall 195; Wuest 239). The scribe shows spiritual insight and intelligence by seeing that moral responsibilities are far more important than ceremonial observances.

he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God: Swete says:

Under the old theocracy those far off are either exiled Jews (Isaiah 57:19), or Gentiles (Ephesians 2:13); distance from the new Kingdom is measured neither by miles, nor by ceremonial standards, but by spiritual conditions. The man was to some extent intellectually qualified for admission to the Kingdom; certainly he grasped one of its fundamental principles (287).

And no man after that durst ask him any question: Even though the question of the scribe is friendly, the whole series of questions of which it is a part are far from friendly. They are captious and hostile, intended to ensnare Jesus and destroy His credibility with the multitudes. But these questions backfire when Jesus masterfully answers each one. Each group, the Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees, is, in turn, silenced by Jesus so effectively they lack the courage to ask any more questions.

Verse 35

And Jesus answered and said, while he taught in the temple, How say the scribes that Christ is the son of David?

And Jesus answered and said, while he taught in the temple: Jesus continues to teach in the temple. The efforts of His enemies to entrap Him with hostile questions do not hinder Him in the least. But now it is His turn to ask the questions, and He focuses on the most critical issue of all, "Who is the Messiah?"

How say the scribes that Christ is the son of David: Matthew’s account says, "While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The son of David" (22:41-42). Their reply is correct, but now Jesus uses it to illustrate the ignorance of the scribes and Pharisees concerning the Messiah.

Verse 36

For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The LORD said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool.

For David himself said by the Holy Ghost: David is under the influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Luke 20:42 says, "For David himself saith in the book of Psalms." This response is proof that David’s Psalms are written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and that Jesus recognizes it.

The LORD said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool: Jesus quotes from Psalms 110:1. The words represent The LORD (Jehovah) as speaking to David’s Lord (Adonai) as the true king, the anointed of Jehovah, calling Him to share His throne and promising that He should be victorious over all His foes.

Verse 37

David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son? And the common people heard him gladly.

David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son: Jesus asks how David’s son could also be David’s Lord. This question is not intended to suggest the Messiah cannot be David’s son but that the Messiah is not merely David’s son through natural descent. The Jews believe the Messiah would be David’s son (John 7:41-42), and Jesus satisfies this qualification (Matthew 1; Luke 1:32; Luke 3:23-38; Acts 2:29-30; Romans 1:3; 2 Timothy 2:8; Revelation 5:5). They fail, however, to understand the divine nature of the Messiah. Their reasoning is "The Messiah would come from the royal line of David. David was human, so the Messiah will be human. Thus, He will be David’s son." Jesus reminds His hearers that David calls the Messiah "his Lord" (Psalms 110:1), that is, David recognizes the Messiah as deity. The difficulty Jesus puts before His listeners, and at the same time places into the lap of the Pharisees, is how the Messiah can be divine and human at the same time. The only way David’s son could also be David’s Lord would be if the Messiah were God come in human flesh. The answer, of course, is our Lord’s miraculous conception and virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38).

And the common people heard him gladly: The expression "common people" is from polus ochlos and is translated "huge crowd; great multitude" (Marshall 196; Wuest 241). "Stress is laid on the multitude, not on the social condition, of those who thus heard gladly" (Ellicott 192). Now, near the end of His ministry, Jesus’ teaching attracts large crowds, just as it has done at the beginning. As Plummer says:

They liked the freshness of the method and the skill with which He answered questions; they perhaps enjoyed hearing the professional teachers routed; and some may have appreciated the spiritual strength of His instruction (287).

Verse 38

And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces,

And he said unto them in his doctrine: The word "doctrine" is didache and is better translated as "teaching." This phrase can be translated, "In the course of His teaching, He said...."

Beware of the scribes: Jesus warns the people against the scribes. He points out that ostensibly, they are very important because of the office they hold as authorized teachers of the people. But, in reality, if a person is "important" only because of the uniform he wears, the title he bears, or the office he holds, then his "importance" is artificial. It is character that makes a person valuable, and generally speaking, the scribes are greatly lacking in that department. They are described as being arrogant, selfish, insincere, and dishonest. Jesus lists six items to reveal the evil tendencies in these men.

which love to go in long clothing: "Long clothing" is from stolais and specifically means "robes" (Wuest 241). These robes reach to the feet and are the dress of dignitaries, such as kings and priests. Rather than the simple "tunic" (chiton) and "cloak" (imation) of Jesus and His disciples, these men love to "put on airs" and walk around the streets of Jerusalem attired like kings and priests about to perform official functions.

and love salutations in the marketplaces: The word "salutations" refers to long-winded or wordy compliments and to titles such as Rabbi, Rabboni, Abba, etc. Jesus is not rebuking the scribes because they covet a friendly greeting in the marketplace but rather because they covet ostentatious displays of respect and recognition.

Verse 39

And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts:

And the chief seats in the synagogues: The chief seats in the synagogue are located at the Jerusalem end of the building, with their backs to the raised platform on which the prayer leader and scripture reader stands, facing the congregation. These seats are reserved for the most esteemed and venerable of attendants.

and the uppermost rooms at feasts: This phrase refers to places of honor at banquets and is better translated "chief couches," instead of "rooms." Edersheim says, "According to the Talmud the chief guest lay in the middle, if there were three on a couch; if there were two, he lay on the right side of the couch" (Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, II 207). James condemns the sin of assigning the best seat to the rich while telling the poor to stand or sit on the floor (2:2-3).

Verse 40

Which devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation.

Which devour widows’ houses: Just as there are some women who are attracted to the teaching of Jesus and minister to Him (14:3; Luke 8:2-3), the scribes have their women followers, whose generosity they grossly exploit. Widows are especially targeted by the scribes. Jesus does not explain specifically how this exploitation is done; but in some way, the scribes take advantage of these poor women and rob them of their means of support.

and for a pretence make long prayers: For a show, they offer lengthy prayers. "They pretended to pray for a long time in order to gain influence over religious people. There was a Rabbinical saying that long prayers make a long life" (Plummer 289). Some authorities believe the juxtaposition of the two phrases "devour widows’ houses" and "make long prayers" indicates a very close connection between these two activities. The Amplified Version renders the phrase, "Who devour widows’ houses and to cover it up make long prayers."

these shall receive greater damnation: The scribes are using the mask of religion to serve the devil. They have used the most sacred religious actions, such as prayer, in order to rob widows and orphans. Consequently, they are to receive a sentence of much greater severity.

Verse 41

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

This brief account is closely connected to the preceding paragraph. It makes clear the distinction between the religious hypocrisy and greed of the scribes and the true, wholehearted devotion to God characterized by this unnamed, poor widow. Jesus also shows, by example, how poor widows should be treated. They should be helped and praised, when praise is in order, rather than exploited and abused.

And Jesus sat over against the treasury: Jesus finishes teaching in the Court of the Gentiles and now passes inside the low marble wall that partitions the inner precinct from the Gentiles. He enters the Court of the Women and sits down on a bench facing the temple treasury. The word "treasury" is the compound word gazophulakeiou (Analytical Greek Lexicon 74). The first part gaza is Persian for treasure, and phulake means "guard, or safeguard." The word refers to a receptacle into which treasures or gifts could be dropped and safely kept. According to the Mishnah, there are thirteen trumpet-shaped containers placed around the wall of the Court of the Women. Each receptacle has a specific purpose and is marked accordingly with a letter from the Hebrew alphabet. For example, one may have been for the purpose of buying corn, wine, or oil for the sacrifices or incense, wood, etc. They are for contributions for the daily sacrifices and expenses of the temple.

and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: Between the Court of the Gentiles and the Court of the Women is the Gate Beautiful. It is possible that Jesus is seated near the Gate where some of these trumpet-shaped, treasury receptacles are in easy view. Jesus watches, or carefully observes how the people drop their money into the treasury containers. Hendriksen observes, "In a sense, He has been doing this ever since, is still doing it. See Acts 5:1-11; 2 Corinthians 9:6-7; Hebrews 4:13" (506).

The word "money" is chalkon and literally means "copper or brass" (Marshall 196) and becomes a general word for all money. Here it may be used literally because very few of these would have given silver.

and many that were rich cast in much: As Jesus watches, He notices a large number of rich men who contribute large sums. The Passover is at hand; and among the thousands of pilgrims who have come to the temple to worship, there are many wealthy men who make liberal contributions.

Verse 42

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

And there came a certain poor widow: Mark’s narrative gives a sharp contrast between the rich, possibly some of whom are among the scribes who have "devoured widows’ houses," and the poor widow whose house has been devoured, if not by the scribes then, by the circumstances of life. She is alone, a vivid contrast with the "many rich men"; and she captures the Lord’s eye in the midst of the surrounding crowd.

and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing: "Mites" is from the word lepta, a Greek coin, the smallest copper coin in use. For those familiar with Roman coinage, Mark explains that two mites are equal to a farthing (quadrans), which means a quarter or a fourth part of a Roman as. Hendriksen offers further information:

According to the original, this widow dropped in two lepta, which means a quarter. A quarter of what? Of a dollar? No, of an as or assarius. And an assarius was worth only one sixteenth of a denarius! The denarius was a laborer’s average daily wage (Matthew 18:28; Matthew 20:2; Matthew 20:9; Matthew 20:13; Matthew 22:19). Due to constantly varying monetary values it is impossible to indicate with any degree of accuracy what such coins would be worth today in American or in English money. If the denarius be viewed as the equivalent of 16-18 American cents, then the assarius would be worth about a cent, the "quarter" or "quadrant" only about 1/4 cent, and the "lepton" merely 1/8 cent (506).

Verse 43

And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:

And he called unto him his disciples: The Twelve, who are not sitting with Jesus, are beckoned to come near. What has happened is significant, and it offers a valuable lesson the disciples desperately need to learn. Jesus rivets their attention on this wonderful example of generous and self-sacrificing love.

and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you: The expression "Verily I say unto you" means "I solemnly declare unto you" and indicates that what He is about to say is of great importance and that they should listen carefully and take it to heart.

That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: Gould says the meaning is that the woman cast into the treasury more than all of the others together (239).

Verse 44

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

What makes this widow’s gift so precious in Jesus eyes? The rich have given "of their abundance," but she has given out of her poverty; in fact, she sacrifices everything. Jesus illustrates here the standard by which all men should measure their gifts to the Lord. It is not, primarily, the amount of the gift that earns our Lord’s approval but the spirit of the giver and the sacrifice involved.

It is more difficult for a rich man to enter heaven simply because of the virtual impossibility of his making any real sacrifice and thereby coming to know the devotion of that kind of discipleship. Large gifts out of abundance simply cannot be compared with the total gift of one’s poverty (McMillan 155).

Cranfield adds:

The gifts of the rich, though large, were easy gifts; the widow’s gift, though tiny, meant a real surrender of herself to God and trust in Him, and therefore an honouring of God as God, as the one to whom we belong wholly and who is able to care for us (387).

At this point Jesus comes to the end of a long and very busy day. All day long He has jousted with His enemies and has had only two bright spots to relieve the tension of the conflicts--one, an honest scribe who questions Jesus about the great commandment, and the other, a trustful, generous giver. As the day ends, Jesus leaves the scene of the temple with the Twelve and ends His last public ministry in Jerusalem. He would return next to the upper room for the Last Supper with His disciples, followed by Gethsemane and a night of trials and then on to the crucifixion.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Mark 12". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/mark-12.html. 1993-2022.
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