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‘And he began to speak to them in parables, “A man planted a vineyard, and set a hedge about it, and dug a pit for the winepress, and built a tower and let it out to tenant farmers and went into another country.’
‘He began to speak to them.’ In context this clearly means to the deputation from the Sanhedrin (see Mark 12:12). But as the whole incident had taken place in front of crowds of people it also included the crowds all around (see also Mark 12:12; Luke 20:9).
‘In parables.’ That is ‘parabolically’, in a riddle, here a story with a hidden meaning.
The owner planted a vineyard, and then in anticipation of its fruitfulness gave it a protective hedge, dug a pit in the rock where the grapes could be trodden to produce the wine, the juice flowing into a specially prepared cavity, and built a tower as a store room and to be used as a useful watchtower so that the vineyard could be well protected against jackals and thieves. Then he let it out to tenants. This detail would remind His hearers of the similar detail in Isaiah 5:0, where Isaiah demonstrated that the vineyard was Israel, that the owner was God Himself and that its fruit would be ‘wild grapes’, although the grapes are not taken up in this story. By Jesus the responsibility is put on the vinedressers. His concern here was with the behaviour of those who oversaw the vineyard, and the crowd were actually on His side.
The initial detail of the parable was in order to stress that God had made full provision for His people. We can take the lesson for ourselves that when God begins a work He makes ample provision for it. Any failure can therefore only be blamed on those who misuse it.
In the Targum of Isaiah (the Aramaic paraphrase of the Hebrew Scriptures) the tower is interpreted as the Temple. Thus many of His listeners would recognise the association of what He was saying with the Temple, and that His words thus included those who ran the Temple.
Jesus Approaches Jerusalem and Enters It As A Proclamation Of Who He Is, Cleanses The Temple, Depicts Its Coming Demise By Means Of The Withering of The Fig Tree, Enters Into Dispute With His Opponents, And Reveals Them As Those Who Are Like Faithless Tenants Of A Vineyard Rejecting Even The Son (10:46-12:12).
Along with the festal crowds proceeding to the Passover in Jerusalem along the Jericho Road Jesus now passes through Jericho on the way to Jerusalem, which He intends to enter as the Prince of Peace, purifying the Temple from its extravagances which are wrecking true worship for the Gentiles, and facing down His opponents who challenge what He is doing, pointing out that they are like false tenants of a vineyard who even reject the owner’s son. But none need fear, for the stone that the builders are rejecting is to be made the Cornerstone of the whole building.
a As Jesus approaches Jerusalem along the Jericho Road He is acknowledged by a blind man as the Son of David, and He restores his physical sight (Mark 10:46-52).
b He enters Jerusalem on an ass, revealing His authority and proclaiming Himself to be the Prince of Peace of Zechariah 9:9, and is greeted by the crowds in the name of the son of David (Mark 11:1-10).
c Jesus looks round the Temple, and then examines a fig tree seeking for fruit and finds none. He declares that it will never bear again (Mark 11:11-14).
d Jesus cleanses the court of the Gentiles in the Temple because it is intended to be a House of Prayer for all nations, not a den of brigands (Mark 11:15-19).
c The fig tree is found to be withered, and Jesus uses it as symbolic of Jerusalem which is to come under the judgment of God because of its fruitlessness which is in contrast to the burgeoning faith of the disciples (Mark 11:20-26).
b Jesus is questioned as to His authority to do what He has done, and reveals the perfidy of His questioners because they will not speak out honestly (Mark 11:27-33).
a He tells a parable which reveals the unwillingness of the ‘tenants’ of Israel to acknowledge the Son. They are revealed as spiritually blind (Mark 12:1-12).
Note that in ‘a’ the blind man acknowledges the Son of David, while in the parallel those who should have acknowledged Him refuse to do so because of their spiritual blindness. In ‘b’ Jesus reveals His authority by His actions and is acknowledged by the crowds, and in the parallel He is challenged as to that authority and rejected by Jewish authorities. In ‘c’ He declares that the fig tree (and the Temple) will never bear fruit again, and in the parallel the fig tree is withered and the Temple’s judgment is announced. Centrally in ‘d’ God has suddenly come to His Temple and has revealed its true condition, and that it is not what it should be.
Jesus Begins His Final Journey to Jerusalem On The Road To The Cross and Spends Much Time in Teaching His Disciples And Disputing With His Enemies In Readiness For That Event, For He Is Giving His Life As A Ransom For Many (9:33-12:44).
Having returned to Capernaum Jesus now has His face set towards Jerusalem, and in Mark 9:33-50 He will lay the foundation by pointing out the fact that all must look to and respond to His Name, and the dangers inherent in not doing so. Then He will advance into Judaea, and by Mark 10:32 His journey to Jerusalem is clearly well under way. He will, of course, continue to prepare His disciples for what lies ahead, but it does not mean that He will neglect seekers. Crowds will still gather to hear Him and He will minister to them (Mark 10:1). And then once He reaches Jerusalem and enters in triumph (Mark 11:1-17) the opposition will become loud and clear as He refutes and puts to flight His opponents (Mark 11:27 to Mark 12:44). But He is well aware that their rejection of Him can only mean one thing. They will determine to put Him to death (Mark 11:18).
Analysis of 9:33-12:44. Jesus’ Ministry from Capernaum to Jerusalem.
a The disciples are caught out discussing which of them is the greatest, and learn that those who would be greatest must be the servant of all, being receptive even of little children in His Name (Mark 9:33-37).
b They must receive those whose successful activity in His Name proves their genuineness even though they do not directly follow them (Mark 9:38-40).
c One who gives a cup of cold water to a disciple because he bears the Name of the Messiah will not lose his reward (Mark 9:41).
d Jesus describes those who are especially displeasing to God. It is those who cause others who believe in Jesus to sin, and He emphasises the necessity of avoiding such behaviour at whatever cost, for such people are bound for Gehenna (Mark 9:42-50).
e Jesus speaks about marriage and divorce. Faithfulness in marriage is a creation ordinance binding in this world and must be restored (Mark 10:1-12).
f Those who do not receive the Kingly Rule of God like a little child will not enter it. The example is given of the rich young man, and the danger of riches, which must be put completely at God’s service, is emphasised (Mark 10:13-31).
g Jesus will be rejected, arrested, sentenced and executed, but will rise again (Mark 10:32-34).
h God’s servants prove to be self-seeking. First James and John, and then all the disciples, reveal that their motives concerning the Kingly Rule of God are wrong, and learn that they should be true servants like the Son of Man Who came to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 9:35-45).
i Jesus heals a blind man who recognises Him as the son of David and reveals His authority by entering Jerusalem on an asses’ colt, where the crowds also hail Him as the son of David, but Jerusalem is blind to His true worth (Mark 10:46 to Mark 11:10).
j Jesus looks round the Temple, and then looks at the fig tree (a symbol of the Temple) and declares it fruitless. No one will ever eat fruit of it again (Mark 11:11-14).
k Jesus cleanses the Temple because it is meant to be a House of Prayer for all nations, and arouses the hostility of the Chief Priests (Mark 11:15-19).
j The fig tree is found to be withered and Jesus speaks of casting a mountain into the sea, symbolic of judgment on Jerusalem which has ceased to fulfil its purpose (Mark 11:20-26).
i Jesus is asked concerning His authority and demonstrates the hypocrisy of the question by demonstrating the blindness of the Sanhedrin concerning John the Baptiser (Mark 11:27-33).
h The parable concerning the false servants who are blind to the truth and who fail to render their due and therefore kill the son because they do not want to submit to him (Mark 12:1-11).
g The stone which the builders rejected will be made the chief cornerstone. They try to arrest Jesus, but fail (Mark 12:12).
f The question of payment of tribute raises the question of the need to give to God what is His and of the right use of riches (Mark 12:13-17).
e Jesus is challenged on a matter concerning marriage. In the resurrection world there is no marriage (Mark 12:18-27).
d Jesus describes those who are totally pleasing to God because they love God and their neighbour. People who see and respond to this enter the Kingly Rule of God (Mark 12:28-34).
c Jesus cites a Psalm of David in order to demonstrate that the Messiah is David’s lord (Mark 12:35-37).
b They are to beware of those who make much of themselves and put on a pretence of piety (Mark 12:38-40).
a The widow who gives her all, even though it be a pittance, gives more than all who give bountifully from their riches (Mark 12:41-44).
Note that in ‘a’ it is those who are humble in His Name who are the greatest, and in the parallel the widow who gives two small coins is the greatest giver. In ‘b’ they must receive all who genuinely operate in His Name and in the parallel they are to beware of those who instead make much of themselves. In ‘c’ even to give a cup of cold water in the Name of the Messiah will be rewarded, and in the parallel the Messiah is seen to be David’s Lord. In ‘d’ those who cause little ones who believe in Him to sin will receive the greatest condemnation and enter Gehenna, while in the parallel those who truly love God and their neighbour will enter the Kingly Rule of Heaven. In ‘e’ marriage is reinstated on earth, and in the parallel it does not take place in Heaven. In ‘f’ response to God must come before wealth, and in the parallel men must give what is due to God. In ‘g’ Jesus declares that He will be rejected, arrested, sentenced and executed, but will rise again, and in the parallel the stone which the builders rejected is to be made the chief cornerstone and an attempt is made to arrest Him which fails. But their intent is clear. In ‘h’ the eyes of the disciples need to be opened to what their true responsibilities are and to Who He is, and in the parable the wicked tenants also fail to recognise their responsibilities and are blind to Who He is. In ‘i’ Jesus reveals His authority by riding into Jerusalem on an asses’ colt, and in the parallel He is questioned concerning that authority and rebuts His questioners. In ‘j’ Jesus looks round the Temple, and then at the fig tree, and recognises that both are fruitless, and in the parallel the fruitless fig tree has withered and the mountain will be cast into the sea. Centrally in ‘k’ the Lord suddenly comes to His Temple. He cleanses the Temple in order that it might be a house of prayer.
“And at the season he sent a servant to the tenant farmers so that he might receive from the tenant farmers some of the fruit of the vineyard. And they took him and beat him, and sent him away with nothing. And again he sent to them another servant, and they wounded him in the head and handled him shamefully. And he sent another, and him they killed. And he sent many others, and some they beat and some they killed.”
Jesus now built up a picture of the growing animosity and sinfulness of the tenant farmers as servants were sent to collect the owner’s share of the produce, his ‘rent’, and their treatment of them grew worse and worse - ‘beat -- wounded in the head -- handled shamefully -- killed’ - until it became a habit and was carried on almost randomly. No one listening would doubt that the prophets and other such men of God were in mind, including John the Baptiser whose fairly recent death would be still well remembered. They too had come to call men to account for what they owed to God, and had been shamefully treated.
‘Sent a servant.’ See Jeremiah 7:25-26 - ‘I have sent unto you all my servants the prophets -- but they made their neck stiff and did worse than their fathers’, and 2 Chronicles 24:19 - ‘yet He sent prophets to them to bring them again to the Lord’. (See also Matthew 23:30-36). For the maltreatment of successive men of God see also 1 Kings 18:13; 1 Kings 22:27; 2Ch 24:20-21 ; 2 Chronicles 36:15-16; Nehemiah 9:26. The consequences that followed are also clearly described.
There is here then the basic lesson of God’s patience. He did not just send one or two He sent many. He gave the leaders of Israel every opportunity to rethink their position, but all they did as a consequence was to add to their crimes.
“And he had yet one, a beloved son. He sent him last to them saying, ‘They will treat my son with due honour’. But those tenant farmers said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ ”
Here Jesus made His most clear public statement yet that He was the Messiah, and more than the Messiah, and yet He did it in a way that could not be used against Him. He was confirming that He was ‘God’s beloved Son’ (compare Mark 1:11; Mark 9:7). For the owner ‘sent his own beloved son’. Now Jesus was making clear that a greater than the prophets was here (Matthew 12:41; Luke 11:32), one who was totally unique and was related to God as no other. He was their last opportunity. The change to ‘son’ would certainly be noted by the members of the Sanhedrin, eager as they were to pin any charge they could on Jesus.
‘They will treat my son with due honour.’ This emphasises the distinction between the slave-servants and the son. It is inconceivable that they could be so degraded as not to pay due honour to the son, for he is both distinct from the servants and has an authority which is singularly his own. Here is one who is like no other, having a unique relationship with the owner and a right to the vineyard which belongs to him by right of inheritance.
But the tenant farmers, instead of treating the son with honour, plotted his death, just as these members of the Sanhedrin present knew in their own hearts that they were doing as they sought to find a way to bring about the death of Jesus.
‘ Those tenant farmers.’ The ‘those’ points back to what we know of the tenant farmers, and is filled with contempt. It indicates ‘The ones I have described’. It is strongly disparaging.
‘Come let us kill him.’ The words are those used by Joseph’s brothers in Genesis 37:20 (see LXX). Jesus was likening these men to Joseph’s brothers, full of hate and jealousy as they attacked the one whom God had chosen to honour.
‘And the inheritance will be ours.’ Not by right of inheritance but by possession. There would be no one left to challenge them. They would be able to go on illegally holding it in spite of their rejection of the owner. (They did not think he would trouble to come himself, and there were certain land laws that enabled the takeover of land held by tenants undisturbed for a number of years). So in the same way the leaders of the Jews had convinced themselves that once they had got rid of Jesus they would be able to carry on in their position as religious leaders of the people without interference.
“And they took him and killed him and threw his body out of the vineyard.”
Ominously Jesus now declared the certainty of His forthcoming death and the ignominious treatment they would plan for Him. He would be killed and His body tossed out of the vineyard. He would be treated like those criminals whose bodies were tossed out of Jerusalem onto the fires of the Valley of Hinnom. This was the bitter fruit that the owner received from his vineyard.
It is a sign of the authenticity of the parable that this did not actually happen as a direct result of the subdued fury of Pilate and the intervention of Joseph of Arimathea. It was certainly their intention for Him. It described what was intended. And it parallel, ‘and will deliver Him to the Gentiles’ (Mark 10:33), that is, those who are outside the vineyard.
“What therefore will the lord of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenant farmers and will give the vineyard to others.”
‘The lord of the vineyard’ here is the owner and the outcome is exactly what anyone would expect. He would come and destroy them. What else could the owner do? (The tenants had clearly hoped he would not think it worth the trouble).
Strictly the meaning here is simply that those responsible for God’s people will be judged and replaced. It is not the vineyard that is to be destroyed but the tenant farmers. Jesus’ point was that it was necessary that these be replaced. God would not leave them still in control.
This was a stark warning to the Jewish authorities. Did they really think that God would stand by and do nothing when they continually rejected His prophets and finally His Son?
And although they did not yet realise it He was already making provision for their replacement with the training of His disciples. He knew that they would shortly take over the responsibilities of the Jewish religious leadership, for that was why He had trained them. Then, for those who responded to Jesus, the authority of those Jewish leaders would be destroyed. It was they who would be ‘cast out’.
But this would also later be seen as fulfilled in a much more powerful way in the cessation of the priesthood because of the destruction of the Temple (although that had not happened when Mark was writing). The main idea, however, was of the passing over of the authority to the Apostles. That was the whole purpose of training them (see also John 13-16).
“Have you 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 marvellous in our eyes.’ ”
This method of finishing off a parable with a Scripture quotation is regularly found among the Rabbis.
The quotation is taken from Psalms 118:22-23 LXX, which was the same Psalm shouted out by the crowds when Jesus entered Jerusalem. Even at that time these words must have come into His mind as He contemplated what lay ahead for they were so apt. ‘The stone which the builders rejected’. The same verb is found in Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22; Luke 17:25. Originally the verses probably referred either to Israel, rejected by the nations as insignificant, but to be restored in God’s purposes to the place of supremacy, or to their ruler whose restoration would bring about the same, or to both seen in combination. The Targum (Aramaic translation and interpretation) cites these words in terms of ‘the sons of Jesse’.
But as Isaiah had pointed out, Israel and her rulers had failed in this purpose, so that while originally the Servant of Isaiah was meant to be Israel, and then the true Israel (Isaiah 49:3), he was consolidated into one man, the Suffering Servant who would die for the sins of the people (Isaiah 50, 53). Thus the promises made to Israel were the promises to be fulfilled in the Suffering Servant, who had king-like qualities (Isaiah 52:13). So Jesus stood there as the representative of Israel (compare Matthew 2:15; John 15:1-6). See also the Son of Man in Daniel 7:0 who also represented both Israel and Israel’s ruler, and there too the emphasis was on Him as the One Who represented them.
Now Jesus applied the Psalm specifically to Himself. The stone was probably to be seen as rejected because it did not seem to fit anywhere. But when the time came it was found that it made an ideal cornerstone, or more probably the keystone which completed and held together the building. Thus the stone that was rejected turned out to be the most one important of all. It is clear that Jesus was here referring to Himself, and the implication was Messianic, as the whole previous parable was. For He was pointing out that He was the beloved son (Aramaic ‘ben’) and the supreme keystone (Aramaic ‘eben’) around which all else was built. The word play was probably intended and the Targum actually translates the word for ‘stone’ as ‘son’.
This was all a warning to the Jewish leaders to consider well what they were rejecting. It was unwise for them to reject Him just because they could not see how He fitted in to God’s plan as they saw it. Bit if they did reject Him, let them not doubt that He would yet prove to be the keystone of God’s plan of deliverance. The Son may be killed and cast out, but He would finally become God’s keystone (compare the similar basic idea in Isaiah 53:11-12 a). In the light of His coming death this was a veiled promise of resurrection, the two parables together thus illustrating His previous warnings to His disciples.
For further application of this verse to Jesus see Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:4; 1 Peter 2:7; and compare Romans 9:32-33; Ephesians 2:20. Its early use in Acts by Peter confirms that we would expect to find that the application was based on the teaching of Jesus.
‘This was from the Lord and it is marvellous in our eyes.’ It will all be God’s doing, a marvellous revelation of how He goes about His purposes, and something to be wondered at. The cognate verb of ‘marvellous’ occurs regularly in Mark as referring to Jesus (see Mark 5:20; Mark 6:51; Mark 12:17; Mark 15:5; Mark 15:44). The whole work of Jesus was seen as marvellous from start to finish.
‘And they sought to lay hold on him, and they feared the crowds, for they perceived that he spoke the parable against them. And they left him and went away.’
‘And they sought to lay hold on him.’ This was precisely what had happened in the parable. There they had laid hold of God’s servants. Here the listening authorities were in two minds. They wanted to arrest Him. Possibly ‘sought’ indicates that they discussed the matter with the leaders of the Temple police and were advised against it at this stage. Possibly the police even came out with this intention, and heard mutterings in the crowds and backed down. So ‘they feared the crowds’. Their fear of the crowds held them back. They would do it at some stage, but not yet.
‘They perceived that He spoke the parable against them.’ They knew exactly what He meant. Thus they had no excuse for their actions. Had their hearts been right they would have responded to Him. But their minds were closed. They did not want Him. His demands were too great, for He actually expected them to do what God wanted. He was an outcast. The problem was that they feared that the crowds also knew what He meant.
‘And they left Him and went away.’ In a sense they were like Satan himself (see Luke 4:13; Matthew 4:11). Defeated they were prepared to leave Him for a while. But they would be back, just as Satan would be. They were just beginning their campaign.
‘And they send to him certain of the Pharisees and courtiers of Herod that they might catch him in his talk.’
The courtiers of Herod would be in Jerusalem for the feast and would be disturbed that a Galilean was causing trouble in Jerusalem. We know that they and the Pharisees had previously banded together to try to destroy Him (Mark 3:6). Now they had banded together again for the same purpose. But they recognised that they had first to discredit Him before the people prior to acting against Him, for His influence was huge and the crowds in Jerusalem were in a fervent state. It may well have been felt that the presence of Herodians in connection with such a question would cause Jesus to either over-react or be careless, for their careless attitude towards coins with Caesar’s head on them would be well known.
‘They send to Him.’ ‘They’ may be indefinite, or it may refer to the previously mentioned members of the Sanhedrin.
The courtiers of Herod would not be too worried about coinage with images on them, while the Pharisees would have been more wary. The Pharisees did not like them but they had to tolerate them, at least for paying the tribute, and teach the people to do the same. So they paid their poll tax to Caesar without open demur, otherwise they would have been discredited in the eyes of Rome, but they did not like it and resented it. Thus their approach in this way was hypocritical.
The Pharisees and Herodians Are Sent to Entrap Him (12:13-17).
In order to fully understand this incident we need to have some background to it. Many years before, Herod the Great had ruled Palestine as its tributary king, paying homage to the Emperor of Rome. But when he died (between about 5 and 0 BC) Palestine was split up. Archelaus received Samaria, Judea, and Idumaea, Herod Antipas received Galilee and Peraea and Herod Philip received the wild country in the North East around Ituraea, Trachonitis, Gaulanitis, Batanaea and Auranitis (including Caesaria Philippi).
But Archelaus was a failure, and as a result Rome took over direct rule. His lands became an annexe of the province of Syria. Most of such provinces were ruled by proconsuls responsible to the Senate, but troublesome parts, which required the permanent presence of cohorts of the legions, were ruled by a prefect or procurator, who was directly responsible for their peace to the Emperor. Judaea was one of these troublesome areas, and was ruled henceforth by a prefect/procurator of equestrian rank, a military man who cared little for Jewish sensibilities. Tribute was therefore gathered by him and paid directly to the Emperor.
All rulers were, of course, expected to gather tribute for the Emperor, but the exaction of the poll tax on Judaea when it became a Roman province resulted in a rebellion by Judas the Galilean (c. 6 AD) whose dictate was ‘external taxation is no better than an introduction to slavery’, and whose watchword was ‘no tribute to Caesar’. He was, of course, defeated and killed but his watchword became a permanent rallying cry. Thus paying tribute, especially the ‘poll tax’ (tax per head), was seen by the Jews as something to be done grudgingly, and by some extremists even as treason. The majority, however, paid it but hated it.
Meanwhile Roman silver coins were issued for the area with Caesar’s head on them. Coinage was seen as demonstrating who ruled an area. Any new king would issue his own coinage, often with his head on it, for it was evidence of his rule. And in a sense the coinage was looked on as his. But within the Roman Empire such kings could only issue bronze coinage which in Palestine at this time had no image on it. All silver coinage, however, was issued by Rome, bearing Caesar’s image and titles. It was because such coins had Caesar’s image on them that they could not be used to pay the Temple tax which had to be paid with a coin bearing no image. As a result of all this coins with Caesar’s head on them circulated widely in Judaea. Such was the denarius. Smaller coins could be issued by the procurators and bore in mind Jewish sensibilities (e.g. the widow’s mite), but the poll tax had to be paid with a Roman denarius. It was not only a means of revenue, but a declaration of loyalty to the Emperor.
· And they send to Him certain of the Pharisees and courtiers of Herod that they might catch Him in his talk (Mark 12:13).
· And when they were come they say to Him, “Teacher. We know that you are true and show deference to no one. For you do not regard the person of men, but of a truth teach the way of God (Mark 12:14 a).
· Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not? Shall we give, or shall we not give?” (Mark 12:14 b).
· But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why do you put Me to the test? Bring Me a denarius that I may see it” (Mark 12:15).
· And they brought it. And He says to them, “Whose is this image and superscription?”. And they said to Him, “Caesar’s”.
'b7 And Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and render to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:16-17 a)
· And they marvelled greatly at Him (Mark 12:17 b).
Note that in ‘a’ they sought to catch Him in His talk, and in the parallel they marvelled greatly at Him because they had not succeeded. In ‘b’ they flattered Him by suggesting that He only taught the way of God, and in the parallel He tells them to make sure that they therefore give to God what is God’s. In ‘c’ they ask whether they should give tribute to Caesar, and in the parallel He asks whose the image is that is on the coin and is informed that it is Caesar’s, demonstrating that it is his. Centrally we learn that He knows that they are putting Him to the test.
Jesus Deals With The Final Challenges With Which The Jews Seek To Entrap Him (12:13-44).
In this last part of Section 4 Jesus is faced with attempts to entrap and discredit Him. They come from various sources, the Pharisees and Herodians, the Sadducees, and a Scribe. In each case He emerges having confounded His adversaries. The picture is of Jesus against the establishment, because the establishment have all gone astray.
a The question of payment of tribute, and the need to give to God what is His due (Mark 12:13-17).
b Jesus is challenged on a matter concerning the resurrection. He points out that in the resurrection world there is no marriage, and cites Exodus in order to demonstrate that GOD is Abraham’s God (Mark 12:18-27).
c Jesus describes those who are totally pleasing to God because they love God and their neighbour. People who see and respond to this enter the Kingly Rule of God (Mark 12:28-34).
b Jesus challenges the Scribes on the question of the Messiah and cites a Psalm of David in order to demonstrate that the Messiah is David’s Lord (Mark 12:35-37).
a People are to beware of those who make much of themselves and put on a pretence of piety, while the widow who gives her all, even though it be a pittance, gives more than all who give bountifully from their riches. She gives more than her due (Mark 12:38-44).
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus calls for the people to give God what is due to Him, and in the parallel points out the woman who gives more than her due. In ‘b’ Jesus declares that God is Abraham’s God, and in the parallel that the Messiah is David’s Lord, and brings out the distinctiveness of both. Central in ‘c’ are the two great commandments which sum up all the commandments and are at the heart of Jesus’ teaching concerning the Kingly Rule of God.
‘And when they were come they say to him, “Teacher. We know that you are true and show deference to no one. For you do not regard the person of men, but of a truth teach the way of God. Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not? Shall we give, or shall we not give?”.’
The nerve of these men was outrageous. The last thing that they believed was that He taught the way of God in truth. But, aware that the crowds were listening, they were seeking to flatter Him and push Him into a corner. They were making it impossible for Him to refuse to speak without losing His prophetic authority with the people. On the other hand this is precisely how Mark saw Jesus, and wanted his readers to see Him.
‘We know that you are true and show deference to no one.’ They were pretending that they looked on Him as totally honest and therefore as one who would answer regardless of the consequences. They were saying that they believed that His answer would therefore necessarily be His direct view on the question in the sight of God without being swayed by what men would think. They were setting Him up to give a straight answer to a trick question, the answer that would condemn Him. It would be the answer that they wanted. They did not want Him to be able to evade their question this time.
‘For you do not regard the person of men.’ Again they stressed that they knew that He would not let the fear of man influence His answer. They wanted to guard against Him giving His answer having regard to the viewpoint of men such as the Pharisees, who did pay the poll tax because of their regard for men. (The Rabbis would have answered by quoting the traditions of the elders in their support. The past could take the blame). They are emphasising that if His answer suggests that He is fearful of what men will think or do, all will despise Him. Let Him therefore speak without fear or favour, (and thus they hoped condemn Himself in the sight of the Romans).
‘But of a truth teach the way of God.’ If they believed that they would not have been questioning Him. But all these words were meant for the crowds. They were putting Him in the position whereby He must answer or lose face, and whereby His answer will be seen to indicate what He believed to be the exact mind of God on the matter. They were doing to Him what He had done to the members of the Sanhedrin, asking a question He dared not answer unless He was prepared to face the consequences. And they were egging Him on to face the consequences by making it impossible for Him to hold back.
‘The way of God.’ That way in which God teaches men to live (Deuteronomy 8:6; Deuteronomy 10:12-13; Psalms 27:11).
‘Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not? Shall we give, or shall we not give?” This was the crunch question. Was it right in God’s eyes to give tribute to Caesar or not? The question had been carefully thought out by some of the keenest brains in Jerusalem. If He replied ‘no’, they could immediately go to the authorities and charge Him with treason and with trying to persuade people not to pay their taxes. If He said ‘yes’ they knew that He would be discredited in the eyes of the people both as a prophet and as a potential Messiah, for while most of them paid their poll tax they did it grudgingly believing it to be wrong, and they would never believe that a true prophet of God would tell them that it was right to pay it. And certainly if He was the Messiah He would be here to release them from obligation to Rome, not to enforce it.
‘Is it lawful?’ That is, is it in accordance with the Law of God?
‘But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why do you put me to the test? Bring me a denarius that I may see it.” ’
Not surprisingly Jesus could see right through them, and hypocrisy was the only word to describe their behaviour. They had said things about Him that must have made them cringe inside, for they believed none of it. So He first let them, and the crowds, know that He recognised that they were trying to test Him, and then He called for a denarius to be brought to Him. It is significant that neither He nor His disciples had one (compare Matthew 17:24-27 which shows this to have been the normal situation). But one was soon produced from these men, probably from an Herodian, who were pretending that they wanted to know whether it was right in God’s eyes to pay the poll tax.
‘And they brought it. And he says to them, “Whose is this image and superscription?”. And they said to him, “Caesar’s”. And Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and render to God what is God’s.”
As we have noted earlier, a sovereign’s issued currency was seen as belonging to that sovereign. And to possess such currency was to admit obligation to the monarch. Thus, He said, those who possessed such currency should give it back to Caesar, for it belonged to him and by their possession of it they were showing that they were his subjects. And that it did belong to him was shown by the fact that his head was stamped on it, and the writing on it was with his authorisation and further evidenced it as his. So let them give it back to him.
The reply was brilliant. The crowds would recognise that as a prophet of God He did not carry such currency, but that these His opponents did. And they would wholeheartedly agree with Him that such currency should be despised and rejected, and not carried. Indeed God did not want it, and men who did carry it merely demonstrated that they were Caesar’s men, not God’s. Thus the Pharisees and courtiers of Herod stood condemned by their own question, while Jesus was exonerated and vindicated in front of the crowd.
Meanwhile Jesus had in their view correctly stated that all things apart from what was stamped as Caesar’s, and was thus idolatrous, was God’s. There was here a quite clear declaration of God’s superiority to Caesar. In all things that mattered men must look directly to God. Caesar’s rule was limited. He had rightly judged.
Yet the crowds would have had to acknowledge, if they were honest, that sometimes they did have to handle the hated coinage, when they paid their poll tax. Thus by their very act of doing so they were acknowledging Caesar’s right to it. They would also have to acknowledge, when they thought about it, that even much of the other coinage they used was issued in Caesar’s name, so that when it came to money they held it under Caesar’s authority, and while they did so they therefore owed a duty to him. The alternative was to have nothing to do with anything Roman and face the consequences. His answer allowed them to do compromise.
There is, of course, the seed here of the later view that the powers that be are ordained of God and should be respected accordingly. But that was not really what Jesus was saying here. Nor was He splitting the world into two, part of which belonged to the state and part to God. He was rather emphasising that all things are God’s, except things of which He disapproves, and must therefore be used accordingly
This would certainly include paying one’s dues. And for those who used Caesar’s coinage that would include paying their taxes. They could not take the benefits and reject the responsibilities. So He did countenance obedient response to the state where it was not against God.
‘And they marvelled greatly at him.’
They were baffled. He had brilliantly avoided their trap and they could only be amazed. They had thought that they had got Him this time. But they had been wrong. And they looked at Him with grudging admiration. His ways were marvellous in their eyes.
‘And there come to him Sadducees who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote to us that 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 to his brother.” ’
This provision of the Law is found in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. The purpose of it was to ensure that land remained within a family, and to ensure continuity of the line. Men lived on in their children. Thus it was looked on as a brotherly duty to ensure that a man who died without children had children provided by the seed of his brother being planted in his surviving wife. The child was then looked on as being the child of the dead man and inherited accordingly.
A Second Direct Attempt to Discredit Jesus (12:18-27).
It was now the turn of the Sadducees to approach Him. They knew that the crowds as a whole believed in the resurrection of the dead, following the teaching of the Pharisees. But the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead (Mark 12:18). Their main emphasis was on the five books of Moses, the first five books of the Bible, and they claimed that there was no mention of the resurrection in them. While they did also almost certainly acknowledge the writings of the prophets to some degree, their ideas were mainly centred on the cult and its importance for prosperity in this world. The Sadducees came mainly from the leading lay members of the aristocracy, and the Chief Priests may well mainly have been Sadducees although we know so little about the sect that we cannot be certain. They tended to be proud, harsh, worldly and wealthy, attitudes which went with their belief. For their view was that they prospered because God was pleased with them, and that others did not because they were unworthy. Most would be involved in ensuring the maintenance of the activities of the sanctuary in one way or another, making them feel very superior.
So they sought to demonstrate in front of the crowds that Jesus taught the resurrection from the dead, but could not evidence it from (Old Testament) Scripture. Thus He should not be listened to.
“There were seven brothers. 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 did the same. And the seven left no seed. Last of all the woman died as well. In the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven, for the seven had her to wife?”
The Sadducees had a very materialistic view of the resurrection as taught by others. They saw it as being intended to suggest the introduction of a new life which was simply an idealistic improvement on the present life. In that they were like the crowd, for popular views of the afterlife tended to make it an extension of this life, with whatever men long for in this life being provided more abundantly. Scripture, however, reveals things differently. It says, ‘eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has entered into man’s heart, the things which God has prepared for those who love Him’ (1 Corinthians 2:9), and reveals that God’s Heaven is thus not just a continuation of earth with the bad things removed, but something new altogether.
‘Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason that you err, that you know not the Scriptures, nor the power of God?”
Jesus’ attack was twofold. Firstly that they failed to understand the true meaning of the Scriptures. Secondly that they failed to appreciate the power of God. They thought that the resurrection was impossible. But they needed to recognise that God could do the impossible.
“For when they shall rise from the dead they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as angels in heaven.”
Their ‘problem’ arose from their misunderstanding which resulted in the idea that heaven was like earth. But Jesus declares that it is not so. In heaven men become spiritual beings like the angels and are not affected by physical desires and requirements. Nor would there be any need for reproduction for none would die. All would live for ever. Note that He was not saying that resurrected men become angels, only that they would share the same essential heavenly nature because, like them, they were made ‘in His image’.
“But as touching the dead that they are raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the place headed The Bush, how God spoke to 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. You do greatly err.”
Having dealt briefly with the nature of the resurrection life Jesus then dealt with the matter at the heart of the controversy, the resurrection as indicated in the book of Moses.
The essence of His argument was that God, as ‘the living God’, is such that He could not be described as someone’s God in the present if they were not still in some way still alive. He was known in Moses’ day as ‘the God of Abraham’. But unless Abraham still existed at that time such a title would be meaningless. He would be being presented as a God of the dead, a God of nothingness. What kind of encouragement would it be to say, ‘I am the God of a shade’. So the very use of the title indicated that Abraham was still in some way active and alive. The same applied to Isaac and Jacob. It probably, however, goes further than this. It was not only a rational argument but an argument directed at the heart. They knew that God is the living God. They boasted in the fact. Then let them ask themselves how such a God could describe Himself in terms of death and nothingness. It would be impossible. As the living God He could only describe Himself in terms of what lived.
Nor could a God of the dead have meant much to Moses. He very much needed a God of the living, a God of the present not of the past, the One Who could say ‘I am what I am’, the eternally present, not ‘I was what I was’. So as His being the ‘I am’ is paralleled with the fact of His being the ‘God of Abraham’ in the present, He is suggesting that Abraham (and Isaac and Jacob) must still exist in some way. Thus they would enjoy the resurrection (for there was no other form of afterlife acceptable to the Jews).
There may also have been the further thought that God is the God of covenant. He was ‘the God of Abraham’ precisely because He had entered into a living covenant with him. Abraham had loved and served Him, and had enjoyed His favour. He had shown His love to Abraham time and again. That was what His being ‘the God of Abraham’ indicated. Did the Sadducees then think that the living God would forget that covenant and that relationship when Abraham died? That He would just ‘drop him’ and overlook him and let him sink into nothingness, while still claiming to be his God? Never! For then He would cease to be the God of Abraham. He would simply be the God of the present generation. He would cease to be the faithful God towards those with whom He was in covenant. And that could not be. So Abraham must still exist in some way.
Jesus’ argument was thus twofold, based on the nature of God. Firstly that He is the living God, bringing and maintaining life where He is, with all with whom He is genuinely in covenant, and secondly that He is the faithful God Who will ever be faithful to those with whom He has entered into relationship. And this to be seen as demonstrated from Scripture by His name, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob (with all of whom He made covenants). This was similar to the experience of the psalmist, who had the same instinct. ‘Nevertheless I am continually with You, You have held my right hand, You will guide me with your counsel, and afterwards receive me to glory” (Psalms 73:23-24). He too knew that the God Who had been so close to him within the covenant could not desert him in the end.
A third factor which might have appealed to the Sadducees (and the Pharisees) was the use of the tense (assumed), ‘I (am) the God of Abraham ---’, thus bringing the relationship into the present and signifying that Abraham existed now. But we must not see Jesus as using semantics to prove His point. Rather He was using the argument of God’s ultimate faithfulness and love towards His own.
‘In the place headed The Bush.’ For convenience in the Synagogue the Law was divided into sections, each of which was given a heading. The heading of this section was The Bush (compare ‘the section headed Abiathar the High Priest’ in Mark 2:26; compare also Romans 11:2 RV margin).
“You do greatly err.’ Jesus considered their rejection of the resurrection to be a great error.
‘And one of the scribes came and heard them questioning together, and knowing that he had answered them well, asked him, “What commandment is the first of all?”
‘Knowing that He had answered them well.’ The scribe had heard the dispute and was greatly impressed. Matthew says that in his question he was testing Jesus (Matthew 22:35) but that need not necessarily be taken in a bad sense (compare Luke 10:25). It may have been in order to bring out that Jesus stood up well to testing. Many a student who respects his teacher also seeks to test him. He may have genuinely wanted to know how reliable Jesus was.
“What commandment is the first of all?” The Rabbis attempted to differentiate the importance of different commandments, separating them into ‘great’ or ‘heavy’ and ‘little’ or ‘light’, and would often seek to trace them back to a general principle. Thus Hillel is said to have summed up the Law as ‘what you hate for yourself do not do to your neighbour. This is the whole Law. The remainder is commentary. Go and learn.’ This did not, of course, signify that he did not see the remainder of the Law as important, for he saw it as God’s revelation to man.
But others frowned at seeking to select out one Law and considered all were important. There was none that could be omitted. So important was this principle considered to be that the Laws from the book of Moses were listed and they produced 365 prohibitions and 248 positive commands. They believed that every one of these had to be treasured and obeyed. But that this could lead to a cold, stern obedience lacking in love is obvious. And it took the eyes off God. In the light of all this Jesus was thus being called on to supply an answer which might solve the problem.
The Approving Pharisee and The Law of Love (12:28-34).
The idea that God is the living God now leads on to an incident which demonstrates that at least one Rabbi was prepared to give genuine credit to Jesus and even to learn from Him. It showed that not all Rabbis were necessarily in the same mould (compare Acts 5:34 on). Matthew suggests that he was sent by a group of Pharisees who had come together to see if they could do better than the Sadducees (Matthew 22:34). He would not be the first to be sent for the wrong reasons and finish up convinced. There are often genuine men among questioners, and he would be chosen because he was of high repute.
a And one of the Scribes came and heard them questioning together, and knowing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the first of all?” (Mark 12:28).
b Jesus answered, “The first is, Hear Oh Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31).
c And the scribe said to him, “Teacher, you have well said that He is one, and there is none other but He (Mark 12:32).
b “And to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love His neighbour as himself is much more than whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mark 12:33).
a And when Jesus saw that he answered thoughtfully, He said to him, “You are not far from the Kingly Rule of God.” And no man after that dared ask Him any question (Mark 12:34).
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus is questioned having answered questions well, and in the parallel none dared question Him again. In ‘b’ Jesus declares the two great commandments, and in the parallel the Scribe expounds on them. Central in ‘c’ is the fact that God is One, and that there is none other but He.
‘Jesus answered, “The first is, hear Oh Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” ’
Jesus answered willingly by turning men’s eyes back on God, and to the Scriptures. While He saw the whole Law of God as the word of God (Mark 7:13) He was not hidebound about the equal importance of each detail. He recognised that what was of most importance was the attitude of heart required by Scripture. Significantly Jesus puts God first. To Him relationship to God was of prime importance. He would have had no truck with those who said that our attitude towards our fellow man was all important. (That is our fellow man’s view). On the other hand the immediate inclusion of the other commandment demonstrates that He nevertheless did consider that it too was of great importance. He did therefore also consider that man’s relationship with man was important. For as John would later say, ‘he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God Whom he has not seen’ (1 John 4:20). The two commandments thus went together in Jesus’ eyes as one, but with love for God primary.
The first commandment as here stated by Jesus, is taken from Deuteronomy 6:5 (where ‘with all your mind’ is excluded) and was repeated by strict Jews daily. It was carried around in the phylacteries worn by Pharisees, especially at the time of prayer, and also fixed to their doors in small tubes (see Deuteronomy 6:8-9, which they interpreted literally). They would not have doubted its great importance. The second is taken from Leviticus 19:18. As its context reveals it especially had in mind complete honesty, fair judgment, non-talebearing, and avoiding hatred, vengeance, and the bearing of grudges, but allowed for rebuking a neighbour, although without permanent rancour (Leviticus 19:13-18). In sum the two commandments cover both tables of commandments as given to Moses, attitude and behaviour towards God and attitude and behaviour towards men.
Matthew 22:37 excludes the opening words, in his much abbreviated summary, but it is doubtful if a Jew would orally have repeated the command without them.
We note in passing that Jesus splits man’s make-up into four, heart, soul, mind and strength, a warning against taking such divisions too strictly. Paul divided man’s make up into three (spirit, soul and body - 1 Thessalonians 5:23). The purpose in both cases was not in order to analyse and define man but in order to cover every aspect of a man’s being. It was not an attempt to strictly define his make up and divide it up, for man is a unity.
It is true that the general idea of what Jesus said is found in the Testament of the Twelve patriarchs (1st century BC). ‘Love the Lord and love your neighbour, have compassion on the poor and weak’ (Issachar Mark 5:2). ‘I loved the Lord, in the same way also every man with my whole heart’ (Issachar Mark 7:6). ‘Love the Lord through all your life, and one another with a true heart’ (Daniel 5:3). But the ideas were not new there either. They were found in the Law of Moses. They simply summarised the ten commandments.
Yet as far as we are aware Jesus was the first to bring these two commands together as one. The incident in Luke 10:25-37, where the Pharisee cites them, may indicate that the combination was well known, but it may equally be that he had heard Jesus citing them. The question is not of great importance. What is important is that Jesus declared that they summed up the Law, and that that meant that attitude of heart was more important than detail.
The commands begin with a declaration that there is only One God, and that is the Lord God of Israel. It then declares the requirement for totality of love for Him with the whole being. God is to be all important and all absorbing. Man’s first consideration and desire should be to know Him, to love Him and to be pleasing to Him as a loving son is to his father (Malachi 1:6). And this immediately challenges us. We have only to consider our own response to this to recognise our own sinfulness. We know we should be like this always but so often we are not. It was an impossible demand. That is why Paul could say, ‘All have sinned and come short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). It was a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, and to continually make us depend on Christ.
Then follows the command to love our neighbour as ourselves. This is a lower love to that which we have for God. We are not to be totally absorbed in either our neighbour or ourselves. But we are to love them with a true heart, and as Jesus made clear in Luke 10:25-37 our neighbour is anyone whose heart is right toward us, whatever their religion, race or colour. It is a practical love, a love which acts. We may not feel gushing towards them, but we are to behave towards them as God would, and in a way that pleases Him. (That Luke 10:25-37 is a separate incident from this comes out in an examination of the detail).
‘There is no other commandment greater than these.’ While Jesus in the end required total perfection, He recognised men’s weakness (how gentle He was with His failing disciples) and therefore the importance of the need for them to understand what their aim should be. As the Pharisees had proved for themselves, the task of keeping every smallest Law, with its ramifications in the tradition of the elders, was beyond them even from a memory point of view. It was much better therefore to concentrate on prime laws, laws of relationship, while using the others as a guide. Let any man be like this then and it would reveal that he was truly one who had been blessed by God, for he could not do it otherwise.
‘And the scribe said to him, “Teacher, you have 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 neighbour as himself is much more than whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” ’
The scribe was thoughtful and even more impressed. In his response his attitude reflected that of Isaiah 1:10-20; Hosea 6:6; compare also 1 Samuel 15:22. Sacrifices and whole offerings were required, and when offered from a true heart were good, but without rightness of heart and behaviour they were nullified. Obedience truly was better than sacrifice for it indicated a genuine response towards the One Who was worshipped, which, if missing, made the ritual empty and meaningless.
‘You have well said that He is One, and there is none other but He.’ This idea combines Deuteronomy 6:5 with Deuteronomy 4:35. The lack of actually mentioning ‘God’ is typically Jewish and a sign of authenticity. The oneness of God was a basic tenet of the Jewish faith and all important to them. The scribe liked Jesus’ emphasis on it. But he also demonstrated that his own heart was genuine by his recognition of the need for love towards God and neighbour, and of its primary importance, a love without which religious ritual and ‘law-keeping’ was meaningless.
‘Whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ This covered the whole of the sacrificial system, the sacrifices wholly offered to God and not partaken of, and those of which men were allowed to partake.
‘And no man after that dared ask him any question,’
The challenges to Jesus now ceased. His replies had floored His enemies. They recognised that all that they would do by asking questions was discomfort themselves even more, vindicate Jesus’ teaching and set the crowds more against them. Now it will be Jesus’ turn to ask the awkward questions.
‘And Jesus answered and said as he taught in the Temple, “How do the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself said in the Holy Spirit, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, you sit on my right hand until I make your enemies the footstool of your feet.’ David himself calls him Lord. In what sense then is he his son?” And the common people heard him gladly.’
‘As He taught in the Temple.’ Jesus’ ministry to the people continued unabated.
“How do the Scribes say that the Christ is the son of David?” The term Son of David was used in a Pharisaic writing called the Psalms of Solomon which was written prior to the time of Jesus in the 1st century BC, so that while it was not a commonly used description of the coming Messiah it was certainly in use as such by some. And it is in fact possible that some Rabbis, especially perhaps with Jesus in mind, were downgrading ‘the Messiah to come’ into a kind of lesser David, a mere ‘son of David’, in contrast with the glorious figure often presented in apocalyptic literature (for all would have agreed that the Coming One would be the son of David in some way as the Old Testament makes clear - e.g. 2 Samuel 7:13; 2 Samuel 7:16; Isaiah 9:2-7; Isaiah 11:1-4; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23-24; Ezekiel 37:24; Hosea 3:5). We have no record of the Pharisees actually seeing Jesus as the son of David, indeed there is evidence that they refused to do so (Matthew 21:15-16), presumably because they could not accept that He was the Messiah, about whom there were, in fact, many differing views, as is especially witnessed by the Dead Sea Scrolls where the Messiah of David appears in some ways to be inferior to a Messiah of Aaron. Others thought in terms of the coming of a teaching Messiah.
Jesus was neither directly denying that He was the son of David, nor was He directly here referring to Himself as such. But both Matthew and Luke have already made clear in their genealogies that He was the Son of David, while Mark has brought it out by its use elsewhere (Mark 10:47-48). What He was arguing against was that that was all that the Messiah was. As we have seen earlier (on Mark 10:47) ‘Son of David’ was not a prominent Messianic title at this time, although undoubtedly used by some as is evidenced by its use in the Psalms of Solomon.
‘David himself said in the Holy Spirit.’ It is clear from this that Jesus accepted the divine inspiration of the Psalms as ‘prophetic’ books. He is referring here to Psalms 110:0 which is headed ‘a psalm of David’. Reference to the institution of ‘the order of Melchizedek’ (Mark 12:4), referring to the old King of Salem in Genesis 14:0, suggests that it was written not long after the capture of Jerusalem by David, when it would have been suitable for pacifying the Jebusites and incorporating them into the covenant, and yet before a time when it would be looked on as heresy. David and his heirs were to be seen as priest-kings in Jerusalem, acknowledged by the Jebusites there, even if nowhere else. This would have aided their assimilation into the faith of Israel.
There are good grounds for stating that this Psalm was interpreted Messianically in the pre-Christian period. This is confirmed by the Midrash on Psalms 18:36 where Psalms 110:1 is quoted by way of illustration in a Messianic sense. Later the interpretation was dropped by the Rabbis because the Christians had taken it over. Now, said Jesus, if David wrote this Psalm with a future king in mind, now interpreted as the Messiah, he was addressing the Messiah as ‘Lord’. And he was not only addressing Him as Lord but was portraying Him as God’s right hand man. That being so he must have recognised the Messiah to be far superior to himself.
Psalms 110:0 is constantly quoted Messianically in the New Testament. See Acts 2:34, of His ascending the throne of God as both Lord and Messiah; Hebrews 10:12 where, after offering one sacrifice for sins for ever, He ‘sat down at the right hand of God’; and with regard to the Melchizedek priesthood in Hebrews 6:20; Hebrews 7:17; Hebrews 7:21.
So Jesus was here concerned to bring home to His listeners in His usual veiled way that His status far exceeded that of David and that He was destined to sit at God’s right hand with His enemies subdued before Him (compare Mark 14:62). This idea also contained the idea of Sonship, for in Judah it had regularly been the son who acted alongside his father in ruling Judah, but also of essential unity. He spoke as representative of the throne.
‘And the common people heard Him gladly.’ His popularity with ordinary people continued unabated, no doubt to the chagrin of the authorities. All their efforts to diminish Him seemed to be in vain.
‘And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes who desire to walk in long robes, and to be saluted in the marketplaces, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and chief places at feasts, they who devour widow’s houses and for a pretence make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.”
He continued His ministry to the common people by warning them against certain types of Scribe. A number were godly and wise men but many had become spiritually proud and self-seeking.
‘Long robes.’ This refers to the festal gowns of the day which were particularly ostentatious and possibly had longer tassels (long robes). At times like the Passover they walked around in them seeking the admiration of the people because of their obvious piety and importance.
‘To be saluted --.’ The people would hail them as ‘Rabbi’ (‘my great one’) with great respect, and they loved it and sought it, compare Matthew 23:7-12.
‘The chief seats.’ They sat in the special seats which were placed for them at the front of the synagogues facing the people where all could see them and admire them.
‘Chief places at feasts.’ They would sit there at the highest level so that even their compatriots would think that they were important, and sometimes had to face the humiliation of being ‘demoted’ (Luke 14:9). Like many they had come to think of themselves more highly that they ought to think. This is a common danger for men in any group where some are seen as more important than others (compare Romans 12:3), something which Jesus constantly warned against (Mark 10:42-44). So those who are called to serve in the church need to ask themselves whether their real aim is humble service, or whether it is to have a prominent place. If the latter they take up their position only in order to receive condemnation.
‘They who devour widow’s houses.’ Probably by abusing their generosity, although it may have included failure in trusteeship. Rabbis would be looked on as trustworthy executors, even though they were often poor. Widow’s could be especially vulnerable in the face of their religious grandeur and seeming piety, and easily persuaded to give hospitality (being ‘eaten out of house and home?’) or donations beyond their means, even possibly to the extent of giving their houses to subsidise the Temple worship. All who seek donations to a religious cause should heed this warning. It is true that the Rabbis were not allowed to receive money for teaching, but there were always ways round it for those who were unscrupulous. (This is in deliberate contrast with the widow who freely gave more than she could afford. But that was of her own free will, not because she had been manipulated).
‘And for a pretence make long prayers.’ Ever a danger in spiritual circles. They thought that the length of their prayers denoted the level of their spirituality. Instead it often demonstrated their arrogance and hypocrisy. Perhaps the long prayers were in order to impress the widows and play on their generosity.
‘These will receive greater condemnation.” They claimed to be teachers and therefore they have no excuse for their failure (compare James 3:1). Note the assumption of s degree of punishment greater than for ‘common people’, because they are using a pretence of piety in order to achieve unworthy ends.
Jesus’ Criticism of Certain Rabbis and The Contrast Made By Him of A Widow’s Generosity (12:38-44).
Having been challenged by the different leading parties in Judaism, and having given them a final weighing up, Jesus now feels a responsibility to warn the people against the Scribes, whose influence over the people was so great. The ideas here are expanded on in Matthew 23:0. Mark’s rendering gives us very much a summary. There is a threefold contrast in what follows. Firstly, the Rabbis are described as those who devour widows’ houses, that is, as those who persuade them to give them gifts far beyond their means. They are depicted as greedy to receive such gifts. Secondly in what follows the widow is described as giving all that she had to God. Her unacclaimed generosity is seen as in strong contrast with the greed of the Scribes. Thirdly the disciples are meanwhile seen as admiring the Temple, and its adornments when they should have been admiring the widow’s two mites. Only Jesus sees through to what is essential.
· And in His teaching He said, “Beware of the Scribes” (Mark 12:38 a).
· “Who desire to walk in long robes” (Mark 12:38 b).
· “And to be saluted in the marketplaces” (Mark 12:38 c).
· “And the chief seats in the synagogues, and chief places at feasts” (Mark 12:39).
· “They who devour widow’s houses” (Mark 12:40 a).
· “And for a pretence make long prayers” (Mark 12:40 b).
· “These will receive greater condemnation” (Mark 12:40).
Note how in ‘a’ they are to beware of the Scribes, because is the parallel they deserve condemnation. In ‘b’ they desire to walk in long robes to be seen of men, and in the parallel they pray extended prayers for a similar reason. In ‘c’ they like being saluted in places of business and activity and the places where people go, and in the parallel demonstrate their own unseemly ‘business’ activity by taking undue advantage of helpless women in the places where they live, while centrally in ‘d’ they love to be honoured in their religious activities.
There is an interesting contrast here between the requirement made to the Scribe earlier to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength, in every aspect of life, and the picture of these men who love themselves with all their heart, soul, mind and strength, in every aspect of life.
‘And he say down opposite the Treasury and watched how the crowd dropped money into the Treasury, and many who were rich dropped in large amounts.’
‘The Treasury.’ This probably referred to the thirteen trumpet shaped receptacles which were placed against the wall of the Court of the Women, the actual closed box being presumably behind the wall. Each had a separate purpose. One was for the purchase of materials for sacrifices, one was for the upkeep of the Temple, and so on. Alternately it may have been an opening on the outside of the Treasury making possible gifts to the Treasury.
‘He sat down opposite -.’ He wanted to watch men as they gave so that He could bring home a lesson to His disciples from it. No doubt some of the richer walked up ostentatiously with large sums of money and publicly dropped them in. They were no better than the Rabbis previously described. They were buying publicity and respect, not giving to God. And then there were others, humbler and truly expressing gratitude to God.
The Poor Widow Who Gave More Than Everyone Else (12:41-44).
In contrast with the greed of some of the Scribes (Mark 12:40), and the love of money of the rich young man (Mark 10:22), we now have drawn to our attention the generosity and self-sacrifice of a humble poor widow. Here was ‘true discipleship’ from one who was not yet a disciple. And the main point that comes out from it is that God sees her as having given more than everyone else because He measured all their giving by what they had left.
a And He say down opposite the Treasury and watched how the crowd dropped money into the Treasury (Mark 12:41 a).
b And many who were rich dropped in large amounts (Mark 12:41 b).
c And there came a poor widow, and she dropped in two mites which make a penny (a few cents) (Mark 12:42).
d And He called to Him His disciples, and said to them (Mark 12:43 a).
c “Truly I say to you, this poor widow dropped in more than all those who are dropping money into the Treasury” (Mark 12:43 b).
b “For they all dropped in out of what they had to spare” (Mark 12:44 a).
a “But she of her want did drop in all that she had, even all that she had to live on” (Mark 12:44 b).
Note that in ‘a’ many threw gifts into the Treasury, but in the parallel only one threw in all that she had. In ‘b’ the rich dropped in large amounts, and in the parallel they did so out of what they had to spare. In ‘c’ the widow dropped in a tiny amount, and in the parallel she was seen as having dropped in more than all of them. Centrally in ‘d’ His message was directed at the disciples.
‘And there came a poor widow, and she dropped in two mites which make a fraction of a penny (a cent or two).’
And lastly there was a poor widow. No one apart from Jesus noticed the poor woman who crept unobtrusively up to the trumpets and dropped in her two mites, with no display at all (Mark uses a Roman term for the coins (‘quadrans’) which was commonly in use in Palestine). The ‘two should be noted. She could so easily have kept one. But she did not feel that she could withhold it from God. She knew, of course, that her gift was hardly worth noticing and would buy little, especially as compared with the magnificence of the Temple. Did I say no one would notice? Jesus noticed, and God noticed as well. Only two among so many. But what a two! And the trumpets of heaven blared, and the angels stopped what they were doing and looked at each other (even though the woman never knew). For here was a gift that was almost worthy of God. And no one else on earth ever knew, but she had laid up a rich treasure in Heaven. It is probable that there would be no food on the table for her next meal, but she would one day feed sumptuously at Messiah’s table (Mark 10:41). Note that in the section chiasmus this parallels the self-seeking of the disciples (Mark 10:33-35). No wonder Jesus now draws attention to it.
‘And he called to him his disciples, and said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow dropped in more than all those who are dropping money into the Treasury, for they all dropped in of what they had to spare, but she of her want did drop in all that she had, even all that she had to live on.” ’
There is a deliberate contrast here between the Rabbis who ‘devoured widows’ houses’ (Mark 12:40), and the widow who unselfishly gave all that she had to God. There is also a contrast with the rich and wealthy ostentatiously giving their gifts (how else did Jesus know?) while she gave unobtrusively. And there is the verdict. That she was the one who gave the most. For God judges our giving, not by how much we give, but by how much we have left. She alone received the Messiah’s commendation. And although she did not realise it she was being watched by the One Who would Himself, by the offering of Himself, give more than any other ever could.
There is a further contrast. As they leave the spot the disciples will point out the splendours of the Temple. They had not been too impressed by the widow’s gift, but the Temple was something else. It had so taken up their attention that Jesus’ words had almost passed them by. However, God did not see things as they saw them. He was not concerned about the Temple. His gaze was still focused on the woman’s gift. For the fact was that while what the woman had given would last for ever in men’s memories and in the record of heaven, God would arrange for that splendid Temple shortly to be razed to the ground and become almost forgotten because it had rejected His Son.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Mark 12". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14