Mark 12




The Parable of the Tenants (12:1-12)

(Matthew 21:33-46; Luke 20:9-19)

1 A man planted a vineyard. In this parable the man stands for God. The vineyard stands for the Jewish nation, Israel (Isaiah 5:1-7).

The man dug a pit for a winepress. In Jesus’ time, the commonest reason for planting a vineyard was to produce wine. The grapes were put in the press and then stepped upon. The juice ran down a trough and was collected.

2-6 These verses describe the history of Israel. God sent His servants, the Old Testament prophets, to Israel one by one to look for the fruits of repentance and righteousness. Last of all, He sent His own Son, Jesus. The tenants were the Jews, who repeatedly rejected and killed God’s prophets.

7  The tenants mistakenly supposed that the master was dead, and that the son had come to take his inheritance. If they killed the son, then, by Jewish law, the vineyard would be theirs.

8  Here the parable becomes a prophecy. When Jesus, God’s Son, came to the Jewish nation, the Jews rejected Him and caused Him to be killed.

9  This verse is also a prophecy which was fulfilled in 70 A.D., when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. After killing the tenants, the owner, God, will give the vineyard to others—that is, to the Gentiles. And indeed, this came to pass. When the Jews rejected Jesus and His apostles, the Gospel of salvation was given to the Gentiles.

10-11 Then Jesus quoted Psalm 118:2223 to show that even though the builders of the Jewish temple—that is, the leaders of the Jewish nation—rejected Him, He would become the capstone of a new “temple,” the church, the new Israel (see Acts 4:11; Ephesians 2:19-20; 1 Peter 2:4-7 and comments).

Then, according to Matthew 21:43-44, Jesus said to the Jewish leaders: “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” The kingdom of God has been taken from the unbelieving Jews and given to the believing Gentiles. The kingdom of God belongs not to the descendants of Abraham according to the flesh, but to the true spiritual descendants of Abraham by faith (see Galatians 3:6-9 and comment).

Then in Matthew 21:44, Jesus said, “He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed” (Luke 20:18). The Jews had cast the “stone” (Christ) aside. But then they stumbled upon it because of their unbelief (Isaiah 8:14-15; Romans 9:32-33; 1 Peter 2:8). Not only that, the “stone” also fell upon them and they were crushed. That is, this same Jesus whom they had rejected later “fell upon them” in judgment.

The Gentiles have now been given the vineyard, that is, the kingdom of God. The Gentiles have now received the blessing of salvation, which the Jews rejected. We are now the “tenants” of the vineyard. What kind of tenants are we? Do we reject God’s servants who come to us? Do we give to God what we owe Him? Do we give Him the fruits of righteousness He asks for?

12 The Jewish leaders understood that Jesus had spoken the parable against them. They were the tenants in the parable. Therefore, they were even more angry with Jesus, and continued to look for a secret way to arrest Him (see Mark 11:18 and comment).


Paying Taxes to Caesar (12:13-17)

(Matthew 22:15-22; Luke 20:20-26)

13 Later the Jewish leaders sent some Pharisees and Herodians79 to try and trap Jesus. Luke calls them spies (Luke 20:20). According to Luke 20:20, these spies wanted to trap Jesus into saying something against Caesar, the Roman Emperor, so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor—that is, the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.

In Jesus’ time, Israel was under the authority of the Roman Empire,80 and the chief ruler of Israel was the Roman governor. The Jewish leaders hoped to accuse Jesus of being a revolutionary, of trying to lead a revolt against Rome. If they could make this accusation against Him, then the Romans would have Him arrested and executed. This was the way the Jewish leaders hoped to get rid of Jesus.

14 Therefore, the Pharisees and Herodians, after flattering Jesus, asked Him, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar81 or not?” If Jesus answered that it was not right, then they could accuse Him before the governor of disobeying Roman law. However, if Jesus answered that it was right to pay taxes to Caesar, then the ordinary Jews would be angry with Him and turn against Him. The reason the common people would be angry with Him was that they hated the Romans, and they especially hated to pay taxes to the Roman emperor. Thus, no matter what answer Jesus gave, He would bring trouble upon Himself (see Mark 11:28 and comment).

15-17 Then Jesus asked to see a denarius, a Roman coin with Caesar’s image on it. Then He gave the perfect answer: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.

It is right for people to pay taxes. Although the Jews had lost their independence, Caesar had given them many other benefits, such as roads, peace, security. The Jews needed to pay for these benefits. There is usually no conflict in our duty to the government and our duty to God. Only when the government forces us to disobey God’s law must we oppose the government in that particular matter (see Acts 4:18-20; 5:29; Romans 13:1-7 and comments).

In Jesus’ time, anything that had a man’s stamp or inscription on it belonged to that man. A Roman coin had Caesar’s inscription on it—Caesar’s image—and therefore, it belonged to Caesar.

In the same way, it can be said that man has God’s stamp on him. Man is made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Therefore, man belongs to God. Our taxes belong to Caesar, but we ourselves belong to God. Therefore, we must give taxes to “Caesar,” and ourselves to God.


Marriage at the Resurrection (12:18-27)

(Matthew 22:23-33; Luke 20:27-40)

18-23 Then the SADDUCEES came to Jesus and asked Him a long question. The Sadducees were a party of the Jews who did not believe in life after death or in the RESURRECTION of the body (see Acts 23:6-8 and comment). The Sadducees knew that Jesus taught that there was a resurrection, so they asked a question in order to embarrass Him. They made up a story of one woman who married seven brothers one after another.82 Then they asked, “At the resurrection whose wife will she be?” (verse 23). The meaning of their question was this: If the seven brothers were all resurrected in heaven, then she would be married to all seven. But according to the Jewish law, a woman could have only one husband. Thus, Jesus’ teaching about the resurrection contradicted the Jewish Scriptures. Therefore, in the Sadducees’ opinion, the resurrection of the body was impossible.

24 But Jesus showed that the Sadducees were wrong on two counts. First, by denying the resurrection they were denying the power of God. The resurrection of the body is a proof of the power of God. Second, they didn’t know the Scriptures. There is no need for marriage in heaven. Marriage is necessary in this world to produce children, so that the human race doesn’t die out. But in heaven there is no death (Revelation 21:4); therefore, there is no need for births, and hence no need for marriage.

25 In heaven men will be like ANGELS, that is, they will live forever. According to Luke 20:35-36, Jesus said at this point: “… those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age (the next life) and in the resurrection from the dead … are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.” All who believe in Christ become God’s children, and partake in the resurrection from the dead83 (see Romans 8:16,23; 1 Corinthians 15:2022,42-49; Galatians 3:26; 4:7 and comments).

26-27 The Sadducees believed mainly in the first five books of the Old Testament, which were written by Moses. In Exodus 3:6, Moses quotes God as saying: “I am … the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” Abraham, the father of the Jews, and Isaac his son and Jacob his grandson had all died when Moses wrote this. Yet God says that He continues to be their God; “I am their God,” He says. Therefore, they all must still be alive, because God is a God of the living, not of the dead. Thus even the first five books of the Old Testament teach that there is life after death, which the Sadducees denied.


The Greatest Commandment (12:28-34)

(Matthew 22:34-40)

28-30 The Jews considered themselves righteous. They were careful to obey the commandments written in the Jewish law. The Jews considered the ten commandments very important (Exodus 20:1-17), and also the laws concerning sacrifices and offerings. If a Jew obeyed the ten commandments and performed all the proper sacrifices and offerings, he could be called “righteous.”

But here in verse 30, one of the most important verses in the entire Bible, Jesus teaches that there is a higher law, a greater law: to love God. More than sacrifices and offerings, God wants our love.

In fact, the Jews knew about this law. It is written in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, and devout Jews repeated it out loud twice a day. But they didn’t consider it the highest law, a law from which all other laws were derived (Matthew 22:40).

Love the Lord your God. How much of our love does God want? All of it. Four times the word “all” is repeated here. We are to give God all our love; that means we are not to keep back any love for ourselves.

We are to love God with our whole life—heart, soul, mind, strength. We are to give our lives in love to God. God doesn’t want animal sacrifices; He wants human sacrifices! He wants us to give ourselves as living sacrifices to Him (see Romans 12:1 and comment).

If we say we have given our life to God, how can we then keep back other things for ourselves? How can we say, “This is my house, my radio, my job, my honor, my future? If we belong to God, then all these things belong to Him too.”

A question arises here: How can we show our love for God? It is easy to say, “I love God,” but what does that really mean? To love God means to obey God. If we do not obey God, we do not love Him. Obedience is the proof and demonstration of our love (John 14:15,21,23-24). However, our obedience must not be like that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. They obeyed God not because they loved God, but to show other men how religious they were (see Matthew 5:20).

31 Then Jesus gave a second command: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Our love for God must be demonstrated in our love for other people. The last six of the ten commandments are concerned with loving our neighbor (Exodus 20:12-17). The first four are concerned with loving God (Exodus 20:3-4,7-8). Therefore, Jesus said in Matthew 22:40, “All the Law and the Prophets84 hang on these two commandments” (see Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14 and comments).

How must we love our neighbor? As we love ourselves. What we would want for ourselves, we must want for our neighbor. Jesus did not say: “Love yourself and your neighbor equally.” He said: “Love your neighbor as if he were yourself.” The natural worldly man loves himself first of all. That is how we should love our neighbor—first of all, after God.

The Christian must love his neighbor more than himself. In fact, the Christian should no longer love himself at all.85 The Christian is called to deny himself (Mark 8:34), and to give all his love to God and his neighbor. We must love each other as Jesus loved us (see John 13:34; 15:12-13). Jesus loved us so much that He gave His life for us (1 John 3:16).

Love your neighbor as yourself. Who is our neighbor? The Jews considered only other Jews to be their neighbors. But Jesus taught that all men are our neighbors, especially those in any kind of need (see Luke 10:25-37).

These two great commandments to love God and to love our neighbor are, in essence, one command. To love God and to love other men must always go together. We do not truly love God if we do not love our neighbor. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar (see 1 John 4:20-21 and comment).

Then again, many people make the opposite error: they try to show love to others without loving God. This is a humanitarian “love,” and it does not last. All true love flows out of our love for God and our faith in Him. John wrote that love comes from God (1 John 4:7). Paul wrote: God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us (Romans 5:5). When we truly love our neighbor, it is not with our own selfish human love that we love him, but with God’s love given to us through the Holy Spirit which dwells within us. We are like pipes or channels through which God’s love can flow to other people. May our constant prayer be that we might remain open channels and that nothing might block the flow of God’s love through us. Water cannot flow into a pipe that is blocked at one end. In the same way, if love does not flow out from us, God’s love cannot flow in.

32-34 The teacher of the law who had asked Jesus, “Which is the greatest commandment?” understood Jesus’ answer. He spoke correctly when he said that to love God was more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. God Himself spoke through the prophet Hosea saying: “I desire mercy,86 not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). And in the book of 1 Samuel, Samuel says: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22).

Then Jesus, seeing that the teacher of the law had answered wisely, said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.


Whose Son Is the Christ? (12:35-40)

(Matthew 22:41-46; Luke 20:41-47)

35 The Jews believed that the Christ, the Messiah, would be descended from King David. Therefore, they called the Messiah the son of David (Mark 10:47-48). In the Jews’ mind, the Messiah would be another earthly king like David and would establish an earthly kingdom like the old Israel of David’s time.

36  But Jesus wanted to show that the Messiah was more than just David’s son. He was also David’s Lord at the same time. To show this, Jesus quoted Psalm 110:1, which David himself wrote: The Lord (God) said to my Lord (the Messiah): “Sit at my right hand. …” From this we can understand that David was calling the Messiah “Lord.”

37  Jesus asked, “If David called the Messiah ‘Lord,’ how can the Messiah also be David’s son?” The truth is that the Messiah, Christ, was both David’s son and also David’s Lord. Christ the “Son of Man” was David’s son; Christ the “Son of God” was David’s Lord. As Lord, Christ came to establish not an earthly kingdom but a spiritual kingdom that would never end (Daniel 7:13-14).

38-39 Then Jesus gave a warning concerning the teachers of the law. They held high positions and were respected by the people. But because of that, they had become proud. Religious leaders are supposed to seek God’s glory, but often they seek mainly their own glory. The greatest temptation of any leader is pride, whether he be a Christian or not (see Matthew 23:5-7).

40 They devour widows’ houses. Teachers of the law were not supposed to demand payment for their religious services. If people wanted to give them something, it was to be given freely.

However, the teachers of the law expected to be paid. They made people feel they ought to give them something. They lived off the poor people, such as widows. The poor respected and trusted them, and therefore felt obliged to give to them.

These teachers of the law made lengthy prayers, so that people would think they were religious and thus praise and respect them all the more (see Matthew 6:5-6 and comment). By such a show of piety they gained the confidence of people and thus could “devour” their houses more easily. “Men who pray so long surely will not cheat us,” people supposed. Yet the teachers of the law were really wolves in sheep’s clothing (see Matthew 7:15 and comment). Such men will receive their “reward” only in this life; in the next life they shall receive severe punishment for their greed and hypocrisy.87


The Widow’s Offering (12:41-44)

(Luke 21:1-4)

41-44 When we give a gift to God, we think about how much we give. But God thinks about how much we don’t give! That is, He thinks about how much we have remaining. A rich man may give thousands of dollars, but that is nothing to God. God doesn’t need our money. In God’s eyes, the poor widow had given more than all the rich people put together. After she gave, she had nothing left. She gave all to God. Even though it was only a fraction of a penny, it was worth more to God than all the money given by the rich (see 2 Corinthians 8:12).

The essence of giving is sacrifice. When we give to God, we should go without something we want or need. We should not be content to give only what we can afford. We need to give more than we can afford (2 Corinthians 8:1-3). If we do this, God will reward us. As much as we give sacrificially to others, God will give to us (see 2 Corinthians 9:6-9 and comment). One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed (Proverbs 11:24-25).