Mark 12:13-17 What Is Lawful?
Not liking the fact that Jesus likened them to wicked vinedressers, the apostate religious leadership sent some Pharisees and Herodians to test him (v. 13). These two groups were enemies in most things, except that they both accepted the Roman occupation. The enemy of their enemy became the Pharisees’ friends. As early as 3:6 these two parties had been plotting how they might destroy Jesus. Their words were nothing but empty flattery, and Jesus knowing their hypocrisy, asked them point blank why they were testing him (vv. 14-15). Paying taxes to Caesar came to the surface for anyone questioning the legitimacy of Roman rule. Jesus statement that one ought to render to Caesar what is his, and to God that which is his, apparently was not something they had expected, as they marveled at his answer (vv. 16-17). There were and are many who see a conflict between giving to Caesar and giving to God. However, Caesar stands for the political realm, and every society has its political masters, who themselves serve the Master whether they acknowledge this or not. Therefore, to render to them what is their due is something which God himself requires. However, this does not mean that the political leadership can extract that which is not theirs. They are due only that which God says they are due.
Mark 12:1-12 The Parable Of The Wicked Vinedressers.
It is no coincidence that immediately after the apostate religious leadership questioned Jesus’ authority, that “He began to speak to them in parables” (v. 1a). The parables were intended to reveal truth to some and hide it from others. The vineyard here was the LORD’s covenanted people, and the vinedressers were the religious leadership who were entrusted with guiding and protecting them. The goal was for the people to maintain their close covenantal relationship with their LORD, evidenced by bearing fruit. However, every time the owner of the vineyard sent a servant to reap a harvest, such as the LORD sending his prophets, the wicked vinedressers, the apostate religious leadership, would beat the servants and send them away empty handed. Finally, the owner, that is the Father, sent his only Son, but as in the parable, they would ultimately kill him.
Jesus asks and then answers what it is the owner, that is the Father, would ultimately do to these wicked vinedressers. The wicked vinedressers would be destroyed, but the vineyard would be preserved and entrusted to others. Jesus came not to establish a new religion, but to purge the LORD’s covenanted people of an apostate leadership, and fulfill what had been spoken and written in the law and the prophets (Mt. 5:17-20). Jesus was the stone which the builders of the physical temple had rejected, but he became the chief cornerstone of a temple made without hands, that is not the work of men. “This was the LORD’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes” (v. 11; Ps. 118:22-23). True to the parable, the apostate leadership sought to lay hands on Jesus but they did not because they feared the people, who regarded him as a prophet. They feared men instead of God.
Mark 11:27-33 Jesus Authority Is Questioned.
Jesus reentry into Jerusalem and the temple led the chief priest, the scribes, and the elders to question him on where he presumed he had the authority to be doing what he was doing. However, before he would answer their question, they would need to answer his question which regarded their whole relationship to the authority. Their answer showed that they really had no respect for the same authority by which John had acted. They really believed that John only acted on his own. However, where they should have opposed him for not acting on divine authority, instead they feared the people. It is also clear that they believed that Jesus was also just acting on his own. But they no doubt feared the people who believed he was a prophet at the very least, just like John. These religious leaders were apostates who had rejected the authority of God’s word, the word which testified to the coming and activity of both John and Jesus. As Jesus will point out in the next parable, they were really wicked vinedressers, occupying their positions only so they might pillage the people whom they kept in the dark (Mt. 21:23-27; Lk. 20:1-8).
Mark 11:25-26 Prayer And Forgiveness.
Forgiveness for others is an essential element of prayer, even as the Lord’s prayer states, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Mt. 6:12; Lk. 11:4). This shows how prayer always goes beyond a simple expression to God. How we thus relate to others affects how God relates to us (Mt. 6:14-15). The parable of the unforgiving servant illustrates this important point. Sometimes it is actual debts, but always it involves forgiveness for some fault (Mt. 18:21-35). However, it is also true that we are only able to truly forgive others because the Lord has forgiven us. Paul made the point that those in the church must “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32 Cf. Col. 3:13). Although verse 26 is lacking in certain ancient manuscripts, it does echo what we find at Matthew 6:14-15. The latter refers to those who already know God as their Father, so rather than referring to conversion, or that initial forgiveness, these verses likely refer to a backslidden condition of a believer who refuses to forgive another.
Mark 11:12-24 A House Of Prayer For All Nations.
The initial response when reading of this story of the barren fig tree is no doubt to wonder why Jesus would curse it when, as Mark indicates, it was not the season for figs. However, the moral of the story is a spiritual one. When they return by the tree and find it withered, the lesson given is in having faith. Is it faith to go about unjustly cursing things? No. The lesson is that faith can achieve what is seemingly impossible. The natural trajectory of the fig tree was that after it sprouted leaves fruit would follow. Jesus reversed this natural trajectory through an act of faith. Sandwiched between this before and after was the act of Jesus cleansing the temple.
This was also an act of faith, reversing the natural trajectory of sinful rebellion that infected the covenant people. Faith would have made it a house of prayer for all nations – grace looking beyond the immediate covenantal borders was always the LORD’s great plan. Instead the people were dying within, religion was used as a means only for financial gain, while the people were held in the bondage of sin. Jesus did not proclaim a new thing when he said that his Father’s house was to be “a house of prayer for all nations” (v. 17; Is. 56:7; Jer. 7:11), he simply came to see it fulfill its true purpose, to which the two prophetic witnesses testify.
Mark 11:1-11 The Triumphal Entry.
As Jesus enters Jerusalem the predictions concerning his future begin to take shape (v. 1 Cf. Mt. 21:1-9; Lk. 19:28-40). It is clear from this entry that many believed that he was indeed the Son of David, come to restore the kingdom, but just how he would accomplish this was not clear to most (vv. 9-10; Pss. 118:25-26; 148:1). Jesus was regarded as the Blessed One, coming in the name of the LORD, and the Lord. However, he does not enter with an army with chariots and horses, but on a humble colt, even as Jesus had predicted and commanded (vv. 2-7). The disciples threw their clothes on the colt before Jesus mounted it, but others threw their clothes on the ground as he entered the city, while they cried out the words of scripture fulfilled. This entry would take him all the way to the temple that he entered, but due to the late hour, he and the twelve retired to Bethany. So begins the work he had predicted.
Mark 10:46-52 Blind Bartimaeus Sees The Messiah.
Jericho was 15 miles outside of Jerusalem, and as Jesus and his disciples, along with a “great multitude” were leaving the city, blind Bartimaeus cried out for mercy to Jesus, the Son of David (vv. 46-47 Cf. Mt. 20:29-34; Lk. 18:35-43). Even when he was warned to keep quiet, he only cried out all the loader (v. 48). As a result, Jesus stopped and asked that he be brought to him, to which Bartimaeus himself responded by laying aside his garment and approaching Jesus (vv. 49-50). For Bartimaeus Jesus was more than a teacher, for he addressed Jesus as the Son of David, that is, as the promised Messiah (11:10; 12:35 Cf. Is. 11:1-3; Jer. 23:5-6; Ezek. 34:23-24). Even his more heightened form of address of Jesus as Teacher or ‘Rabboni’, means master, one who he was committed to serve (v. 51). It was through this faith that he was made well, and rather than leave Jesus he chose to follow his master (v. 52). Some people’s interest in Jesus went as far as their immediate needs, but for Bartimaeus being healed of his blindness meant that for him he could fulfill his faith to the point of following Jesus and continuing to confess him as the promised Christ.
Mark 10:35-45 Servant Leadership And The Great Exchange.
Immediately upon his second prediction of his approaching death and resurrection, the disciples also disputed among themselves as to who would be the greatest among them. The horror of his death and the wonder of his resurrection three days later, seems to have completely escaped them. In this quest of theirs, James and John lend some insight to the matter of prayer. Still referring to Jesus as ‘Teacher’, they ask him to do for them whatever they ask (v. 35). Jesus does not immediately say ‘yes’ to them, as so many expect. It mattered as to what they were asking him to do (v. 36). They wanted the privilege of being the two to sit immediately at his sides (v. 37). In Matthew 20:20 it is their mother who makes the request, which they here seem to have clearly bought into.
Hearkening back to the prediction he just gave, he asks them if they were able to drink the cup that he would drink, or to be baptized with the baptism he was baptized with (v. 38). Here we also have a clue to the significance of Jesus being baptized – it being referred to in the past. His baptism was for the work he had just predicted for the third time. They claimed to be able to suffer a similar end, to which Jesus confirms that they would (v. 39). However, to sit at his right or left was something that had already been prepared. Some prayer does not get answered because it might be contrary to God’s sovereign predestinating will (v. 40). At this point the other ten, having heard this conversation, “began to be greatly displeased with James and John” (v. 41).
Jesus was putting forward to the twelve a much different model of leadership than that which was then exercised by the Gentiles, which was one where they lorded it over their subjects (v. 42). Jesus model was that of a servant, someone who was a slave to all (vv. 43-44). “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (v. 45). A ransom is what was paid for those who were held as slaves. Jesus came to take the place of those held as slaves to sin, becoming as a slave for this great exchange. However, he would not be a ransom for all, but only for many. His is a limited atonement, not limited in power, but limited again by the sovereign will of the Father, to as many as the Father had given to him (Cf. Jn. 10:25-30).
Mark 10:32-34 The Road That Lie Ahead.
The disciples were amazed when they learned what would await them in their futures – persecution, but also blessings beyond what they had imagined (vv. 23-31). This was the third time where Jesus bore witness to his approaching death and resurrection at Jerusalem. Of all that follows, perhaps the worst thing for him to experience would be betrayal, which would come from one of the twelve – Judas. However, it would be the chief priests and scribes, the apostate Jewish leadership, who would lead the assault on Jesus, with their false charges by which they would have him condemned and delivered over to the Gentiles, who would then mock, scourge, spit upon, and kill him. The mocking and scourging was the common practice of the Romans, and so was fulfilled what was written with Psalm 22. Nevertheless, on the third day he would rise from the dead, and there yet awaited a true understanding of this truth among even his closest disciples (Cf. Mt. 20:17-19; Lk. 18:31-33).
Mark 10:23-31 God Makes Salvation Possible.
The previous man was an example of “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God” (v. 23 vv. 17-22 Cf. 4:19; Mt. 19:23-30; Lk. 18:24-30). Jesus also said that those who put their trust in riches could be likened unto a camel going through the eye of a needle (vv. 24-25 Cf. Job 31:24-28; Pss. 52:7; 62:10; Pr. 11:28; Mt. 13:22; I Tim. 6:17). Some have speculated that this is a reference to a gate entrance to a city, where the camel would have to bow down to get through, but it is more likely that Jesus sought to depict how impossible it is for anyone to do this for themselves. This is why the disciples wondered among themselves as to who then could be saved, and Jesus’ response (v. 26). “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible” (v. 27 Cf. Job 42:2). Salvation is impossible for any human being, it is only possible as a sovereign act of God (Cf. Lk. 1:37; Eph. 2:8-9). It would seem that Peter may have thought that he and his fellow disciples had chosen to follow Jesus on their own. They had left all to follow Jesus (v. 28).
However, Jesus makes clear that all who follow him will have a hundredfold more in following him than they would without doing so – albeit with persecutions, but also eternal life (vv. 29-30 Cf. II Chr. 25:9; I Th. 3:3; II Tim. 3:12; I Pet. 4:12-13). Perhaps the disciples still had the lingering pride that was present when they discussed who among themselves would be the greatest (9:33-37), and they were given the example of infants. In that instance Jesus said, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all” (9:35). It may also be the case that what Jesus is referring to in verse 31 is the reality that many among the nation of Israel, who first received the oracles of God, and the blessings of the covenant, would in fact not ultimately receive the substance. Matthew appears to have expanded on the same words he records at 19:30, with what he follows with at 20:16. “So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few are chosen.” So also Luke makes the same reference to the final judgment (13:30). Humble faith and service are the marks of those chosen.