Mark 12 Study Notes


12:1 The phrase a man planted a vineyard points to the song of Is 5:1-7 in which Israel is symbolized by a vineyard. Tenant farmers and absentee landlords stand for Israel’s leaders.

12:2-5 Harvest time for a vineyard might be as late as the fifth year after the vines were planted (Lv 19:23-25). The mistreated servants stand for the prophets.

12:6 The beloved son in this parable is Jesus. The adjective “beloved” is used two other times in Mark—both spoken by the Father in reference to Jesus (1:11; 9:7).

12:7 Come, let’s kill him were the words spoken by Joseph’s brothers (Gn 37:20).

12:8 Matthew (Mt 21:39) and Luke (Lk 20:15) report that the son was cast out before being killed. Mark’s order (seized him, killed him, and threw him out) indicates they did not give the son a proper burial.

12:9 The man who planted the vineyard (v. 1) and sent his servants and son is identified as the owner. Give the vineyard to others alludes to the upcoming gospel mission to the Gentiles.

12:10-11 Jesus concluded by quoting Ps 118:22-23, the first verse of which is also quoted elsewhere (Lk 20:17; Ac 4:11; Rm 9:33; 1Pt 2:6-8). Only Mark and Matthew (Mt 21:42) include Ps 118:23, which adds a strong providential element. Cornerstone may refer to a foundation cornerstone, the capstone on a column, or the keystone in an arch.

12:12 Fear of the crowd is also mentioned in 11:32; 14:1-2.

12:13 The fact that the Pharisees (see note at 2:15-17) and the Herodians (see note at 3:6) were sent indicates an approved delegation. The same groups are united in 3:6 in the plot against Jesus in Galilee. They hoped to trap Jesus with a trick question.

12:14 The specific tax the Pharisees and Herodians had in mind was the Roman poll tax imposed when Judea became a Roman province in AD 6. This tax was particularly offensive to Jews as it represented their subjugation to Rome.

12:15 If Jesus answered “yes,” he would be seen as pro-Roman and would alienate the crowds. If he said “no,” the Pharisees and Herodians would denounce him as a revolutionary (Lk 20:20). Jesus was not fooled. He saw their hypocrisy and realized they were testing him. A denarius was the equivalent of a day’s wages (Mt 20:9-10).

12:16-17 The denarius bore an image of Tiberius Caesar (reigned AD 14-37) with an inscription professing his divinity. Since Jesus was asked about giving (vv. 14-15), he replied with a lesson about ownership. The coin had Caesar’s image, so it belonged to Caesar. Jesus supported the legitimacy of human government, but he raised the issue to a higher level. He did not identify the things that are God’s, but since humans bear God’s image (Gn 1:27), we have an obligation to give to God that which bears his image—ourselves.

12:18 The Sadducees arose in the second century BC during the Maccabean revolt. They were closely associated with aristocratic and priestly classes; accepted only the books of Moses (the Pentateuch) as Scripture; denied bodily resurrection, future judgment, the existence of angels, demons, and spirits; and affirmed human free will (v. 18; Ac 23:6-8; Josephus, Ant., 18.1.4).

12:19-23 The Sadducees approached Jesus with a situation based on the books of Moses. Specifically, the case involved the levirate (or brother-in-law) marriage law (Dt 25:5-6). This law obligated a male sibling to marry his deceased brother’s widow in order to preserve the family name and inheritance. Based on this, the Sadducees presented a scenario designed to make the doctrine of resurrection look absurd. Their question assumed that the future life will be like the temporal life.

12:24-27 Jesus declared that the afterlife will be different from life on earth. In heaven people will not marry or be given in marriage. By going to the book of Moses, specifically Ex 3 and the passage about the burning bush, Jesus used the part of the OT that the Sadducees recognized as Scripture. The point of the OT quotation is that Abraham . . . Isaac, and Jacob were long dead by the time God spoke to Moses, but God declared he was their God. Since God is not the God of the dead but of the living, they must still be alive.

12:28-40 This section describes three encounters with the scribes. The scribes were allies of the chief priests and elders (see note at 11:27).

12:28 The phrase one of the scribes may indicate that others were standing by ready to challenge Jesus (cp. Mt 22:34-35). This is the first time in the temple that an individual approached Jesus rather than a group. He wanted to know which command was most important. The rabbis had counted 613 commandments in the books of Moses. They classified 365 as prohibitions and 248 as commands. They further divided the commandments into weightier and lesser (“least” in Mt 5:19).

12:29-30 Jesus quoted the Shema (Dt 6:4-5), a Scripture passage that pious Jews recited every morning and evening. The words affirmed monotheistic orthodoxy (the Lord is one), identified the primary affection with which people were to relate to God (love), and emphasized the necessity to do so with one’s total being: heart (affections); soul (spirit); mind (intelligence); and strength (the will).

12:31 The scribe asked Jesus for one commandment, but Jesus gave him two. Love for neighbors is rooted in love for God, the first commandment. No one before Jesus had combined these commandments (Lv 19:18; Dt 6:5), but it became standard for his followers (Rm 13:8-10; Gl 5:14; Jms 2:8-11; 1Jn 4:11,19-20).

12:32-33 Only Mark records the scribe’s response and Jesus’s praise. The scribe saw that the love Jesus spoke of was far more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.

12:34 Jesus told the scribe that he had answered wisely. Ironically the scene ended with Jesus judging the scribe rather than vice versa. Having foiled all questioners, Jesus now posed his own question (v. 35).

12:35 Jesus’s question related to the scribes and their understanding of Messiah (1:1; 8:29) as son of David (see note at 10:47-48). This identification, based on God’s promise in 2Sm 7:12-16, was commonplace in Jesus’s time.

12:36-37 Jesus quoted Ps 110:1, the OT text quoted and alluded to most frequently in the NT (thirty-three times). Jesus affirmed the psalm’s Davidic authorship and inspiration by the Holy Spirit (cp. 2Sm 23:2; Ac 1:16). The scribes identified Messiah as David’s son (vv. 35-36), but David identified Messiah as his Lord. Therefore, Messiah was not just a descendant of David. He was David’s Lord.

12:38-39 The phrase he also said indicates that Mark’s summary in vv. 38-40 is only a brief part of the extensive condemnations of the scribes and Pharisees (cp. Mt 23; Lk 11:37-54). Naming four examples of what the scribes took pleasure in, Jesus first condemned them for showmanship. Their long robes were festive garments that were unreasonable for everyday wear. Greetings in the marketplaces refers to the fact that people were expected to rise in the presence of scribes. The best seats faced the congregation, identifying those seated as teachers and distinguished persons. On places of honor at banquets, see Jesus’s comments in Lk 14:7-11.

12:40 Jesus condemned the scribes for dishonesty and hypocrisy. Widows were among the most vulnerable people. To defraud them was despicable (Is 1:17,23; 10:2; Jr 7:6; Ezk 22:7; Zch 7:10), whether by embezzlement or other fraudulent means, Jesus identified these greedy scribes as thieves. The phrase these will receive harsher judgment refers to God’s eschatological judgment (cp. 9:42-48).

12:41 Previously Jesus was in the Court of the Gentiles. The temple treasury was in the Court of the Women, so named not because only women were allowed there but because that was as close as women could come to the sanctuary. The treasury consisted of thirteen trumpet-shaped chests into which worshipers deposited their freewill offerings. Apparently the trumpet shape of the collection boxes amplified the sound of coins when they were dropped in, making it obvious when rich people deposited large sums.

12:42-44 The two tiny coins are identified as lepta—copper coins of little value. The widow’s gift meant more than the larger gifts of rich people because she gave in spite of her poverty. The phrase all she had to live on meant she would not have enough for her next meal.