Parable of the Vineyard (Mark 12:1-12)
This parable portrayed in a very vivid and graphic manner God’s ways with Israel and their response and ingratitude throughout the past centuries. In the rejection and death of the heir we see the consummation of our Lord’s ministry, to be followed by His glorious resurrection.
“The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel” (Isaiah 5:7). Settled by God in the land of Canaan, the Israelites had been cared for in a marvelous way. God had placed them under the care of those who should have watched for their souls and sought to cultivate them spiritually so that there would be abundant fruit for Him. But the husbandmen, or vine-dressers, thought only of their own selfish interests. They failed to render to Jehovah that love and reverence which He had the right to expect. When He sent His prophets to them they either “sent [them] away empty” (treated them with utter indifference) or else persecuted them even unto death for daring to reprove them because of their wickedness. Throughout the centuries this had been the attitude of the husbandmen. Now God had sent His Son as the final test of the love and loyalty of Israel. When the leaders saw Him they spurned His claim and sought His destruction. They said, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours.”
Mark 12:8 is prophetic and was fulfilled just a few days later. “They took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard.” It was thus that Jesus told them of His own rejection and death even before it came to pass.
Then He put the question to them: “What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do?” The answer was plain: “He will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others.” Israel was to be set to one side while grace would flow out to the Gentiles.
This prophecy was in accord with what was written in Psalm 118:22: “The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.” So He spoke not only of death but of resurrection, because as the first begotten from the dead Jesus has been made the chief corner stone. “This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.”
The parable and its application stirred the leaders to additional resentfulness. They realized He had spoken of them, but for the time being they dared not proceed against Him openly because they feared the reaction of the people generally.
Lesson on Paying Taxes (Mark 12:13-17)
The question of the tribute money was a live one throughout Palestine. To pay this tax was a tacit acknowledgment of Rome’s authority, something that was thoroughly repugnant to Jews of strong nationalistic feeling. The Herodians and some others advocated this recognition of the imperial government because of special favor they hoped to get by their subservience.
It was not any desire to know the right or wrong of the matter that led the representatives of the two opposed schools of thought (the Pharisees and the Herodians) to put the question to Jesus, “Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” Despite their flattering way of addressing Him they were only setting a trap for Him. They hoped to ensnare Him into saying something that would give occasion either to accuse Him to their Roman overlords as an advocate of sedition, or to make it appear to the more intensely patriotic Jews that He had no sympathy with them in their yearning for deliverance from the Roman yoke.
“Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny [a denarius], that I may see it.” His reply revealed that He saw into their hearts and knew exactly why they had come to Him.
When they handed one of the coins to Him, He inquired, “Whose is this image and superscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” He said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Thus they fell into the pitfall they had digged for His feet. They were amazed at His answer and were silenced so far as that subject was concerned.
Lesson on the Resurrection (Mark 12:18-27)
A group of Sadducees sought to entangle Jesus this time. They represented a materialistic sect that denied the resurrection and the existence of angels and spirits. Whether the story they put before Him was true or not we cannot say. It seems most unlikely, and may only have been an imaginary tale designed to cast ridicule on the doctrine of the resurrection.
According to the levirate order, if a man died leaving no heir his brother was to take the widow to be his own wife. The first child born of the new union would inherit the estate of the former husband. In the story the Sadducees told Jesus, this law was carried to an extreme. They said a certain woman had been wife to seven brothers in succession and had outlived them all. Seven brothers died one after the other and all were childless.
These cunning quibblers then presented what they evidently considered an unanswerable refutation of the resurrection of the dead. They asked, as recorded in Mark 12:23, “In the resurrection therefore, when they shall rise, whose wife shall she be of them? for the seven had her to wife.”
Jesus was unperturbed, for He saw through their sophistry at once. He declared they were all in error for two reasons—their ignorance of the very Scripture which they professed to hold sacred, and their ignorance of the power of God. It was the Torah alone—that is, the books of Moses—that these Sadducees recognized as authoritative. So Jesus quoted from the book of Exodus in order to show the folly of their position.
The Sadduccees denied the possibility of resurrection because they taught that the soul of man died with the body. Jesus explained that those who are physically dead are alive unto God, and that when the dead rise they do not again take up the same conditions that they knew on earth. They do not resume the marital state, but are as the angels in Heaven—sexless beings who do not have the power of reproducing their kind. The distinctions between man and woman will be done away in the resurrection. In the eternal condition following the rising from the dead, marriage will have no place. Each person will be a distinct individual capable of endless bliss or woe, but human relationships as we know them here will be ended.
Our Lord appealed to two great reasons for accepting the fact that the dead will rise. It is revealed in the Bible, which is God’s inspired Word, and the resurrection rests on the power of the omnipotent God. When God has spoken, it is not for man to reason, but to accept His declaration with reverence. To ask how anything can be done because it is contrary to the ability of finite creatures is to forget that all power belongs to God, with whom nothing is impossible (Luke 18:27).
“God spake…saying, I am the God of Abraham, and…Isaac, and…Jacob.” He did not say, “I was their God,” but, “I am their God.” He spoke of them as definite personalities related to Him by grace though their bodies had died long ago. In His own time they would rise again and be acknowledged as His own.
“He is not the God of the dead.” If these patriarchs were reduced to unconsciousness or annihilated by death, He would not still be their God. But “all live unto him” (Luke 20:38). Though they are dead as to the body and hidden from the eyes of men, the God of the spirits of all flesh (Numbers 16:22) sees and knows everyone in his present state even when he is between death and resurrection. Jesus’ answer was a crushing blow to the crass materialism of the Sadducees, and they found no words with which to make a reply.
The Scriptures teach not merely the survival of the soul after the body dies (Matthew 10:28). They also teach the literal physical resurrection unto life, or else a resurrection unto judgment (John 5:28-29). Resurrection is not reincarnation in some other form, as held by certain oriental mystics and their misguided occidental followers, but an actual rising from the dead of the very same person who died. Our Lord Himself came out of the grave in the same body that had hung on the cross. His resurrected body still bore the marks of His crucifixion (John 20:20, 27). In like manner death will yield up the bodies of all men, even those that have long since been reduced to their chemical elements, for our God is the God of resurrection. He who created these bodies with all their marvelous powers can reassemble them when the time comes for the saved to be caught up to meet the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17). He can do the same later for the wicked when the time comes for them to rise and stand before the great white throne for judgment (Revelation 20:11-14). Surely nothing should have a more solemnizing effect on us as we remain in this world than the knowledge that this life is only a prelude for that which is to come. Life after death will last forever—either in the joy of Heaven or amid the sad and gloomy horrors of Hell. Faithfully Jesus Christ portrayed both aspects of the life beyond the grave, that none might presume or be deceived by the vain hope of a happy immortality if living and dying in sin. He would have all men remember that there are two resurrections, and following these, two destinies. Thus we learn the importance of receiving Christ now that we may be assured of joy hereafter.
Lesson on the Great Commandment (Mark 12:28-34)
The scribe who next came to question Jesus seems to have been an honest man of different character from the crafty hecklers who preceded him. He had been impressed by the sincerity of Jesus Christ and the clearness of His answers to the questions of others. He came inquiring, “Which is the first commandment of all?” He meant first in importance, not first in order.
“Jesus answered… The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” In these words from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 our Lord epitomized all the commandments that deal specifically with man’s duty toward God. He who loves God supremely will not willingly dishonor Him in anything. The second commandment—”Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”— was cited from Leviticus 19:18. It epitomizes all the precepts that have to do with man’s duty toward other men. He who loves his neighbor will not desire to wrong him.
“Master, thou hast said the truth.” The scribe was deeply impressed, and at once declared his sincere appreciation of the answer the Lord Jesus had given. He had affirmed the unity of the godhead. All Scripture-taught Jews held this as a cardinal truth. The scribe went on, “To love him…and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” The scribe showed real spiritual discernment. Nothing in the sacrificial ritual of the law was of any value in the sight of God if love were lacking. To love Him and to love one’s neighbor wholeheartedly pleases God above all else.
“Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” With all his appreciation of the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ, this scribe was not yet in the kingdom. He was, as it were, just outside the door. To step in he must receive Christ for himself—trust Him as Savior and own Him as Lord.
In the next instance it is Jesus Himself who asks the question and confounds His adversaries.
Lesson on Jesus’ Identity (Mark 12:35-40)
It was a matter of common knowledge in Israel that the Messiah would be a son of David. God’s promise to the psalmist-king was “There shall not fail thee (said he) a man on the throne of Israel” (1 Kings 2:4; Psalm 132:11). It is true that this promise depended on the seed of David walking in obedience to the Word of the Lord, but an unconditional promise had also been made, as set forth in Psalm 89:1-4, 34-37. The teachers in Israel were right therefore in declaring that Christ—that is, Messiah (the Anointed)—was to be the Son of David. But they were ignoring other Scriptures that indicated He would also be the Son of God. So Jesus challenged them by drawing their attention to Psalm 110 and asking for an explanation. “How say the scribes that Christ is the son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The Lord [Jehovah] said to my Lord [Adonai], Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool.”
Jesus proceeded to elucidate this passage by pointing out that it was the Messiah of whom David had spoken, and whom he acknowledged as his Lord. A divine person was to sit on the throne of the eternal—on the right hand of the Majesty on high. How then could such a one be David’s son? We know the answer. They did not, and were afraid to attempt an explanation. Jesus is both son of David in His humanity, and Son of God in His divine nature. He was begotten in the womb of the virgin, without a human father. The whole mystery of the incarnation is wrapped up in this quotation from Psalm 110.
The common people were delighted by Christ’s teaching and even seemed to enjoy the discomfiture of the scribes, whose manner of life was so contrary to their profession. Jesus warned the populace against the evil influence of these religious leaders. They loved to be conspicuous and to be lauded and admired for their apparent piety. Their garb marked them as a special class presumably worthy of recognition such as others did not merit. They appeared in long clothing and were pleased when they were the objects of the adulation of the common people. They loved the chief seats in the synagogues, and the best places at the feasts. The assumption was that these scribes were worthy of particular recognition because of their office, whatever their lives might be. Who can fail to see in all this the pretentiousness of clericalism?
The scribes were grasping and covetous, devouring widows’ houses—that is, lending money on mortgage to needy widows and confiscating their property when they were unable to meet their obligations promptly. Yet all was done legally, so that the scribes would be above the charge of fraud. They covered their extortionate behavior and maintained an appearance of great piety by making long prayers in public places.
But a reckoning day is coming when all the secret things of the heart will be brought to light. Hypocrites such as these will receive just retribution.
Lesson on Giving (Mark 12:41-44)
Following the denunciation of those who obtained riches unjustly, Jesus took occasion to commend the generosity of a poor widow, who may have been one of those despoiled by the scribes.
“Jesus sat over against the treasury.” He does this still. He takes note of all that is given for the maintenance of the testimony of God and the relief of human wretchedness. It is evident that a box for contributions was placed at or near one of the entrances to the temple courts. There the faithful might put their gifts for the upkeep of the worship and service of the Lord. The poor widow came and threw in “two mites, which make a farthing,” possibly all she had earned that day by hard work in the service of some rich family. Jesus looked on and observed “how the people cast money into the treasury.” He took note of the amounts put in and the manner in which this was done. Doubtless many gave very ostentatiously, anxious that others should give them credit for great generosity.
Heaven’s method of computing values is altogether different from earth’s method. We are accustomed to judge by the amount given. The Lord estimates the value of the gift by the amount one has left! So Jesus testified, “I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury.” He proceeded to show how He arrived at so amazing a conclusion. The rich had given out of their abundance. After making their contributions they had vast sums left to use as they chose. But the widow had held back nothing. She had cast in all her living—that is, all her earnings for the entire day. Such is Heaven’s way of recognizing gifts for the work of the Lord.