In our study of Mark chapter twelve, we get to sit in on a question and answer session between Jesus and the religious leaders. As the different groups of religious leaders came to question and even try to trap Him with His words, he gently shared the kingdom perspective of various topics.
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Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: 'A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place.'
In chapter 11, the religious leaders had come to Him questioning His authority concerning the operation of the temple. The religious leaders had not been able to safely answer His questions and be politically correct. Now, Jesus begins to use parables to tell them things concerning His kingdom. In Galilee at this time, there were large estates that were owned by rather wealthy men and were rented out to tenant farmers. Jesus begins to explain kingdom matters using this example of everyday life in the area.
'At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Then he sent another servant to them, they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.'
Throughout the Old Testament, God sent prophets to Israel and they were rejected and often killed. This is what Jesus is describing as He speaks of the owner sending servants to collect the rent for the vineyard. This man had built the vineyard just like God created the world. This established his right to collect the rent which is a picture of our worship of God. Instead of keeping their part of the rental agreement, the tenants (which represent us) decided that they could get away with keeping everything for themselves. This is a picture of the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the garden. The owner (a picture of God) kept sending servants (prophets) to get them to keep their part of the deal and to restore the tenant/owner relationship. Each time, they rejected the servants and went so far as to kill some of them. This is a picture of what happened throughout the history in the land of Israel.
'He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, "They will respect my son." But the tenants said to one another, "This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours." So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.'
Jesus continues to speak to the religious leaders and told the story of how the owner of the vineyard sent his son to collect what was due. Instead of respecting the owner's authority, as exercised by his son, they killed the son and rejected the owner's rights. According to Jewish law, a piece of land that was not claimed by an heir was sorta up for grabs. They had concluded that the owner was dead and that, by killing the heir, they could claim ownership of the vineyard.
'What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. Haven't you read this passage of Scripture: "The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes"?'
Jesus concluded the parable by explaining that the landowner would execute judgment on those that rejected His authority. He quoted from Psalm 118 which would have drove the point home that this had to do with the religious leaders.
Then the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away.
The religious leaders got the point and did not deny His authority but looked for a way to eliminate Him. They were afraid of the crowd of disciples who were with Him and so they left Him alone. So, why did the religious leaders not come to their senses and accept the authority of Jesus? Like the tenants in the parable, they thought that, if they eliminated Him, they could keep their religious authority. I have been told that this is still true today among many of the Jewish religious leaders. They know that Jesus is the Messiah but are unwilling to surrender their authority to Him.
Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words.
The Herodians were Jews that sympathized with the Roman government. The Pharisees had not succeeded in their efforts to deny the authority of Jesus so they enlisted the help of the Roman government to eliminate Him.
They came to him and said, 'Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren't swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn't we?'
They tried to trap Jesus again by setting Him up to oppose the authority of the Roman government. We notice that they tried to throw Him off with flattery as they talked of His unswerving teaching of the Word of God. At this time, there were other Jews who refused to pay the tax and would have been considered criminals. They were hoping that Jesus would speak of rebelling against the Romans so that they could have Him arrested. They wanted Him to die but they didn't want the blood on their hands.
But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. 'Why are you trying to trap me?' he asked. 'Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.' They brought the coin, and he asked them, 'Whose image is this? And whose inscription?' 'Caesar's,' they replied. 'Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's.' And they were amazed at him.
Jesus amazed them as He avoided their trap. He let them know that He would not be a part of a political system and that He was focused on the things of God. This is also a reminder to us that, in the last days, the religious and political authorities will join hands against Christians as well. How should we react to all of the political and religious nonsense? The best thing to do is to stay focused on God and stay above the political and religious fighting. We are members of His kingdom and so are subject to Him.
Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 'Teacher, ' they said, 'Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?'
The Sadducees were the liberals of the day and believed that this life was all there was. They came trying to trap Jesus and cause a big controversy. It was really odd for them to come and ask about something that they did not even believe happened.
Jesus replied, 'Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?'
Jesus used a nice way of telling the Sadducees that they did not know what they were talking about. He also pointed out that they did not even know the power of God because they did not believe that He could raise men from the dead.
'When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Now about the dead rising - have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob"? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!'
Jesus answered their question by explaining that, in heaven, there are no more people being born. Our physical bodies are no more and we have a new and improved physical body. He also went on to explain that, when God spoke to Moses, He confirmed the fact that there will be a resurrection. This is a fundamental principle of the gospel as the resurrection of Jesus is the basis for our resurrection to eternal life.
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, 'Of all the commandments, which is the most important?'
They were in the temple courtyard and a teacher of the law heard the debate between Jesus and the Sadducees about the resurrection. Based on that, this teacher of the law decided to ask Jesus about the commandments.
'The most important one,' answered Jesus, 'is this: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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 this: "Love your neighbor as yourself." There is no commandment greater than these.'
The understanding of Jesus' answer is vital to our walk with Him. The Hebrew word that is used and is translated as "love" is hesed. It is tough to put the meaning in English but it basically means a "loyal love". This is more of an action word than a feeling and it is not based on our surroundings or events going on in our lives. In the first case, we are called to worship God no matter how we feel or what is going on in our lives not just when things are going great. In the second case, we are to actively serve those around us even if they treat us badly. It is all based on the fact that God does not abandon us when we mess up or fall short of what we can be. Instead, He demonstrates a loyal love that is firm no matter how badly we act towards Him.
'Well said, teacher,' the man replied. 'You are right in saying that god is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.' When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, 'You are not far from the kingdom of God.' And from them on no one dared ask him any more questions.
This teacher accepted and agreed with the words of Jesus. This prompted Jesus to say that he was close to understanding and entering the kingdom of heaven. Hesed is one of the greatest things about God that we can share with people that have not accepted Jesus Christ. When they understand that He will show the loyal love to them, it can really help them. Many come to faith with a fear that they are going to stumble and say or do something that causes God to reject them. The understanding of God's hesed can wipe those fears away.
While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, 'Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared: "The Lord said to my Lord: 'Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.'" David himself calls him "Lord". How then can he be his son?' The large crowd listened to him with delight.
All of the questions of the religious leaders were meant to be a trap for Jesus. He did not fall for them but, instead, confronts them with the issue of the identity of the Messiah. The leaders taught that the Messiah would be a son of King David. Jesus quoted David's own words from Psalm 110 where David was relating the fact that the Messiah would be greater than himself. In the divine order of the family, the father was superior to the son so it would not have made sense for David to call his son "Lord". We have this concept turned upside down in our world today thanks to the theory of evolution. We think that, as people, the next generation is superior to the last because of this theory that life is always improving itself. The crowd liked what Jesus said but this brought Him into direct conflict with the religious leaders.
As he taught, Jesus said, 'Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.'
Jesus warns that the religious leaders would be punished for their false piety and their false teaching. Jesus demonstrates that he knows what is in their hearts and that their motives are not good. The same type of thing continues today as many so-called religious leaders will make a big show of being holy but in reality are doing the opposite when nobody is looking. We must remember that God knows our hearts and motives as well.
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
The temple treasury was located in the court of the women where both men and women were allowed to enter. They would place their monetary offerings in one of the thirteen trumpet-shaped containers. Jesus sat down and watched the worshipers present their offerings. There were some that gave a lot of money but He noticed a poor woman who gave just a little. We are reminded that God sees our actions and He also knows what is in our hearts. Some gave out of obligation while others gave out of love.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, 'Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything - all she had to live on.'
Jesus explained to His disciples that the poor woman gave more than all the others but what did He mean? She gave in faith because, after her gift, she did not have any way to provide for herself and she was trusting in God. The others had gave a portion of what they had and probably had calculated what they could afford to give.