STUDY SIXTEEN: MARK 12:1-44
© Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2013
In Mark 11 the leaders of the Jews questioned Jesus’ authority, and Jesus pointed out their failure.
In Mark 12 the tension continues. Jesus again speaks against them, this time in spoken, rather than enacted, parable; and they, through their various emissaries, question him.
A. THE PARABLE OF THE TENANTS – Mark 12:1-12
In the enacted, real-life parable in Mark 11 Jesus used the age-old symbol of the fig tree to represent Israel. In the parable in Mark 12 he uses the parallel image of the vine.
It is an easy parable to understand. The leaders of the Jews saw its point immediately.
Task #1: In the parable, what do the following represent?
The planting and care:
The tenant farmers:
The tenants’ mistreatment of the servants:
The man’s son:
The murder of the son:
The owner’s judgement on the tenants:
A.1 Jesus, the most important of all – Mark 12:10-11
Jesus quoted from Psalm 118:22,23. In doing so he takes up the thoughts that were in the minds of the crowd that hailed his entry into Jerusalem. There the crowd had quoted from Psalm 118:25,26, and by their waving branches, fulfilled the prediction of Psalm 118:27 [see also Isaiah 28:16].
By this quote Jesus refers to himself as the ‘cornerstone’ or ‘capstone’. This is the stone upon which the entire structure depends.
Task #2: Scripture research
 Check out Matthew 21:42-44. What additional information does Matthew give about the cornerstone/capstone?
 Check out Luke 20:17,18. What additional information does Luke give about the cornerstone/capstone?
 Study these scriptures. What insights do they give about Jesus as the cornerstone/capstone and the terrible results that follow for those who reject him?
 Read Romans 9:30-10:4. How does this relate to Mark 12:10,11, and the scriptures listed above?
A.2 ‘the Lord has done this’
Here we see the sovereign God bringing about his eternal saving purpose planned before the beginning of time. In his sovereign power he weaves even that which is opposed to him into his purpose. No act of men can undermine or undo his purpose. Rather he uses it to achieve his purpose. What men intend for evil, he uses for good. What men plot against him he turns to his glory.
Task #3: Scripture research.
 What do the following verses teach about the power of God by which he achieves his good purpose?
 When you consider the sovereign hand of God over-ruling the actions of men and bringing about his planned salvation, what assurance does this give you that God is well able to over-rule in your own life and to use the mistakes, foolishness and sins of yourself and the other people in your life for his good purpose?
 Does this sovereign work of God ever justify our sin and foolishness? Does it justify the Jews’ rejection of Jesus and their plots and plans that ended in his execution? Explain your answer.
The leaders of the Jews have rejected Jesus. They are about to manipulate events, and even the truth, to bring about his execution. Evil appears to triumph. But God is greater than human manipulations. God is greater than evil. His use of evil does not make evil right. It does not reduce the wrongness of it. But it does assure us that God’s purpose will prevail.
B. FOUR QUESTIONS – Mark 12:13-44
B.1 A question about taxes – Mark 12:13-17
The question about taxes was asked by ‘some of the Pharisees and Herodians’. These men were sent by those who were offended by the parable of the tenants – that is, the ‘chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders’ who had come to Jesus asking by what authority he did what he did, including the cleansing of the temple [11:27,28]. They were sent with the deliberate purpose of catching Jesus in his words [12:13].
[Notes: (1) the ‘Herodians’ were a political group, not a religious group. They supported the ‘kings’ of the Herodian dynasty, and by doing so also supported Rome. They were thus also against any political uprising that sought to re-establish Israel as an independent nation. (2) The combination of Herodians and Pharisees demonstrates how desperate the Pharisees were to destroy Jesus; the Herodian kings were not known for their godliness, rather the reverse; in addition the Herodian kings were of Edomite ancestry.]
Task #4: List the three things these men said to Jesus
That these men lacked integrity is obvious in what they said to Jesus:
They said ‘we know you are a man of integrity’. Yet they, or those they represent, have repeatedly questioned and criticized Jesus, giving every indication that they suspected he was a charlatan, deceiving the people [John 7:12].
They said ‘you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth’. Yet they, or those they represented, repeatedly refused to accept his teaching. If this is what they believe about his teaching, why did they not follow him? Why did they not believe in him?
They are clearly, as verse 13 indicates, preparing to trap him. They are pretending to offer him respect and to acknowledge him, while their real intention is to destroy him.
The question is a loaded question, with a no-win outcome for Jesus, or so they thought. If he says that taxes should be paid to Caesar he will appear to support the Roman government and Roman domination of Israel, which would not go down well with the people. If he says that taxes should not be paid, he will appear to be anti-Rome, anti-Caesar, and therefore guilty of treason.
Jesus recognized their hypocrisy. He recognized their intention to trap him. And he, much to their amazement, succeeded in answering the unanswerable question. They had failed in their attempt to trap him.
B.2 A question about marriage – Mark 12:18-27
Next the Sadducees came with another supposedly unanswerable question. Sadducees, a religious group within Judaism that not believe in life after death, asked a question that, in their eyes, made mockery of the Pharisees’ belief that there was life after death. The Pharisees have failed to silence Jesus; the Pharisees have failed to make him look silly; now the Sadducees try where others have failed.
Their rather drawn out question is based on Deuteronomy 24:5,6. This law requires that if a woman is left widowed before she has a child, a brother of the deceased husband must marry her, and the first son she bears will carry on the name of the deceased husband.
Task #5: Answer these questions [Mark 12:24,25]
 List Jesus’ three accusations against the Sadducees [verse 24].
 What two truths did Jesus give about what happens when ‘the dead rise’? [verse 25].
The question, looked at from an earthly perspective seems impossible to answer. But Jesus pointed out that this appearance of impossibility is based on ignorance of the Scriptures, ignorance of the power of God and misunderstanding of how things are ‘in heaven’.
But Jesus did not simply answer their question. After he’d answered the specific question he deliberately addressed the belief of all Sadducees that there is no life after death, no resurrection of the dead. Mark reports this in verses 26-27.
Task #6: Make a dot-point list of Jesus’ teaching about the dead rising in verses 26 and 27.
Jesus’ teaching points out that ‘the dead’ are actually still ‘the living’. God is still their God; they are still his people. The Sadducees belief that there is no life after death parallels the ‘naturalism’ or ‘materialism’ or ‘anti-supernaturalism’ of our current generation. The contemporary worldview of secular humanism has ruled out all belief in anything spiritual or supernatural. What you see is all there is. Life ends at death. There is nothing more. Nothing beyond death. This is the mindset of our society today. It is in this context that we have to live out and proclaim the truth.
To those who hold this pessimistic worldview Jesus said, and continues to say: ‘You are badly mistaken!’
B.3 A genuine question – Mark 12:28-34
In the midst of all the opposition and loaded questions, a teacher of the law now asked a genuine question, not aimed at tricking Jesus or destroying his credibility. This teacher had listened to the previous debate and he saw how well Jesus had answered the Sadducees. This moved him to ask Jesus which is the most important commandment of all.
Task #7: List the four points in Jesus’ answer
Jesus’ reply takes this man back to Deuteronomy 6:4,5 and Leviticus 19:18.
Notice how Jesus’ reply does more than answer the question:
He quotes Deuteronomy 6:4, which defines who God is, not just verse 5, which states how much we should love God. It is only because God is who he is that the love commanded in verse 5 is required of us. There is no other God to love. This God, the one who alone is God, is to be the sole focus of our worship, the one God we love. And that love is to be all-encompassing, not confined to one aspect of our being, not ‘spiritual’ to the exclusion of the physical, the emotional, and the mental.
He adds the second most important commandment.
He states that ‘there is no commandment greater than these’. This exposes the error of those who meticulously keep ritual laws but fail to show love to others. [He had rebuked this kind of failure on a number of occasions.]
The man who questioned Jesus affirms Jesus’ answer, including his exposure of the error of giving priority to ritual observances [12:32,33]. In this he stands apart from many of his fellow teachers of the law, who had repeatedly confronted Jesus for showing kindness to the suffering at the expense of ritual observance.
Task #8: Scripture research
Check these scriptures for instances where ritual observance displaced love for God or love for others.
Historically Israel had camouflaged their rejection of God and of godliness by a continuing adherence to ritual observances. This rejection of God again came to light in their rejection of Jesus at the same time as their strict adherence to ritual requirements. But this man, this teacher of the law, stood apart. So much so that Jesus said to him ‘you are not far from the kingdom of God’ [Mark 12:34].
B.4 Jesus’ question – Mark 12:35-40
Having silenced his questioners [12:34], Jesus himself poses an unanswerable question, to which he did not even expect an answer.
He was teaching in the temple courts [verse 35] where large crowds [verse 37] were listening. His question was based on two facts:
The Messiah is the Son of David.
David, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared that the Messiah was ‘Lord’.
How, if the Messiah is David’s Lord, can he be his son?
David was looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. We, looking back, understand that the two statements are about the incarnation: that Jesus is both human, the Son of David, and divine, the Lord. This is, as Paul wrote to Timothy, the great ‘mystery of godliness’ – that God ‘appeared in a body …’ [1Timothy 3:16].
Hidden within this teaching of Jesus is the truth of his own identity, an identity repeatedly rejected by the teachers of the law and the Pharisees.
Mark tells us that the crowds were delighted with Jesus’ teaching. But lest they continue to view the teachers of the law with unquestioned respect, Jesus warned them against these teachers’ hypocrisy.
Task #9: List Jesus’ four descriptions of the teachers’ of the law.
B.5 An example of true religion – Mark 12:41-44
In contrast to the religion of the teachers of the law, and the offerings of the rich, Jesus draws the attention of his disciples to the tiny, but sacrificial, offering given by a poor widow.
There is no hypocrisy here.
There is no love of public opinion here.
There is no token love for God here.
Rather, here is faith with integrity. Here is love for God that surpasses and takes priority over all other considerations.