Mark 12 Bible Commentary

Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown

(Read all of Mark 12)

Mr 12:1-12. PARABLE OF THE WICKED HUSBANDMEN. ( = Mt 21:33-46; Lu 20:9-18).

See on Mt 21:33-46.


The time of this section appears to be still the third day (Tuesday) of Christ's last week. Matthew introduces the subject by saying (Mt 22:15), "Then went the Pharisees and took counsel how they might entangle Him in His talk."

13. And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees--"their disciples," says Matthew (Mt 22:16); probably young and zealous scholars in that hardening school.
and of the Herodians--(See on Mt 12:14). In Lu 20:20 these willing tools are called "spies, which should feign themselves just [righteous] men, that they might take hold of His words, that so they might deliver Him unto the power and authority of the governor." Their plan, then, was to entrap Him into some expression which might be construed into disaffection to the Roman government; the Pharisees themselves being notoriously discontented with the Roman yoke.

Tribute to Cæsar (Mr 12:14-17).

14. And when they were come, they say unto him, Master--Teacher.
we know that thou art true, and carest for no man; for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth--By such flattery--though they said only the truth--they hoped to throw Him off His guard.
Is it lawful to give tribute to Cæsar, or not?--It was the civil poll tax paid by all enrolled in the "census." See on Mt 17:25.

15. Shall we give, or shall we not give? But he, knowing their hypocrisy--"their wickedness" (Mt 22:18); "their craftiness" (Lu 20:23). The malignity of their hearts took the form of craft, pretending what they did not feel--an anxious desire to be guided aright in a matter which to a scrupulous few might seem a question of some difficulty. Seeing perfectly through this,
He said unto them, Why tempt ye me?--"hypocrites!"
bring me a penny that I may see it--"the tribute money" (Mt 22:19).

16. And they brought it. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image--stamped upon the coin.
and superscription?--the words encircling it on the obverse side.
And they said unto him, Cæsar's.

17. And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's--Putting it in this general form, it was impossible for sedition itself to dispute it, and yet it dissolved the snare.
and to God the things that are God's--How much is there in this profound but to them startling addition to the maxim, and how incomparable is the whole for fulness, brevity, clearness, weight!
and they marvelled at him--"at His answer, and held their peace" (Lu 20:26), "and left Him, and went their way" (Mt 22:22).

The Resurrection (Mr 12:18-27).

18. Then come unto him the Sadducees, which say there is no resurrection--"neither angel nor spirit" (Ac 23:7). They were the materialists of the day. See on Ac 23:6.
and they asked him, saying--as follows:

19-22. Master, Moses wrote unto us-- (De 25:5).
If a man's brother die, and leave his wife behind him . . . And the seven had her, and left no seed: last of all the woman died also.

23. In the resurrection therefore when they shall rise, &c.

24. Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures--regarding the future state.
neither the power of God?--before which a thousand such difficulties vanish.

25. For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage--"neither can they die any more" (Lu 20:36). Marriage is ordained to perpetuate the human family; but as there will be no breaches by death in the future state, this ordinance will cease.
but are as the angels which are in heaven--In Luke (Lu 20:36) it is "equal unto the angels." But as the subject is death and resurrection, we are not warranted to extend the equality here taught beyond the one point--the immortality of their nature. A beautiful clause is added in Luke (Lu 20:36) --"and are the children of God"--not in respect of character, which is not here spoken of, but of nature--"being the children of the resurrection," as rising to an undecaying existence (Ro 8:21, 23), and so being the children of their Father's immortality (1Ti 6:16).

26. And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses--"even Moses" (Lu 20:37), whom they had just quoted for the purpose of entangling Him.
how in the bush God spake unto him--either "at the bush," as the same expression is rendered in Lu 20:37, that is, when he was there; or "in the [section of his history regarding the] bush." The structure of our verse suggests the latter sense, which is not unusual.
saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?-- (Ex 3:6).

27. He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living--not "the God of dead but [the God] of living persons." The word in brackets is almost certainly an addition to the genuine text, and critical editors exclude it. "For all live unto Him" (Lu 20:38) --"in His view," or "in His estimation." This last statement--found only in Luke--though adding nothing to the argument, is an important additional illustration. It is true, indeed, that to God no human being is dead or ever will be, but all mankind sustain an abiding conscious relation to Him; but the "all" here means "those who shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world." These sustain a gracious covenant relation to God which cannot be dissolved. (Compare Ro 6:10, 11). In this sense our Lord affirms that for Moses to call the Lord the "GOD" of His patriarchal servants, if at that moment they had no existence, would be unworthy of Him. He "would be ashamed to be called their God, if He had not prepared for them a city" (Heb 11:16). It was concluded by some of the early Fathers, from our Lord's resting His proof of the Resurrection on such a passage as this, instead of quoting some much clearer testimonies of the Old Testament, that the Sadducees, to whom this was addressed, acknowledged the authority of no part of the Old Testament but the Pentateuch; and this opinion has held its ground even till now. But as there is no ground for it in the New Testament, so JOSEPHUS is silent upon it; merely saying that they rejected the Pharisaic traditions. It was because the Pentateuch was regarded by all classes as the fundamental source of the Hebrew religion, and all the succeeding books of the Old Testament but as developments of it, that our Lord would show that even there the doctrine of the Resurrection was taught. And all the rather does He select this passage, as being not a bare annunciation of the doctrine in question, but as expressive of that glorious truth out of which the Resurrection springs. "And when the multitude heard this" (says Mt 22:23), "they were astonished at His doctrine." "Then," adds Lu 20:39, 40, "certain of the scribes answering said, Master, thou hast well said"--enjoying His victory over the Sadducees. "And after that they durst not ask Him any [question at all]"--neither party could; both being for the time utterly foiled.

The Great Commandment (Mr 12:28-34).

"But when the Pharisees had heard that He had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together" (Mt 22:34).

28. And one of the scribes--"a lawyer," says Matthew (Mt 22:35); that is, teacher of the law.
came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him--manifestly in no bad spirit. When Matthew (Mt 22:35) therefore says he came "tempting," or "trying him," as one of the Pharisaic party who seemed to enjoy the defeat He had given to the Sadducees, we may suppose that though somewhat priding himself upon his insight into the law, and not indisposed to measure his knowledge with One in whom he had not yet learned to believe, he was nevertheless an honest-hearted, fair disputant.
Which is the first commandment of all?--first in importance; the primary, leading commandment, the most fundamental one. This was a question which, with some others, divided the Jewish teachers into rival schools. Our Lord's answer is in a strain of respect very different from what He showed to cavillers--ever observing His own direction, "Give not that which is holy to the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine; lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you" (Mt 7:6).

29. And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is--The readings here vary considerably. TISCHENDORF and TREGELLES read simply, "the first is"; and they are followed by MEYER and ALFORD. But though the authority for the precise form of the received text is slender, a form almost identical with it seems to have most weight of authority. Our Lord here gives His explicit sanction to the distinction between commandments of a more fundamental and primary character, and commandments of a more dependent and subordinate nature; a distinction of which it is confidently asserted by a certain class of critics that the Jews knew nothing, that our Lord and His apostles nowhere lay down, and which has been invented by Christian divines. (Compare Mt 23:23).
Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord--This every devout Jew recited twice every day, and the Jews do it to this day; thus keeping up the great ancient national protest against the polytheisms and pantheisms of the heathen world: it is the great utterance of the national faith in One Living and Personal God--"ONE JEHOVAH!"

30. And thou shalt--We have here the language of law, expressive of God's claims. What then are we here bound down to do? One word is made to express it. And what a word! Had the essence of the divine law consisted in deeds, it could not possibly have been expressed in a single word; for no one deed is comprehensive of all others embraced in the law. But as it consists in an affection of the soul, one word suffices to express it--but only one. Fear, though due to God and enjoined by Him, is limited in its sphere and distant in character. Trust, hope, and the like, though essential features of a right state of heart towards God, are called into action only by personal necessity, and so are--in a good sense, it is true, but still are properly--selfish affections; that is to say, they have respect to our own well-being. But LOVE is an all-inclusive affection, embracing not only every other affection proper to its object, but all that is proper to be done to its object; for as love spontaneously seeks to please its object, so, in the case of men to God, it is the native well spring of a voluntary obedience. It is, besides, the most personal of all affections. One may fear an event, one may hope for an event, one may rejoice in an event; but one can love only a Person. It is the tenderest, the most unselfish, the most divine of all affections. Such, then, is the affection in which the essence of the divine law is declared to consist.
Thou shalt love--We now come to the glorious Object of that demanded affection.
Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God--that is, Jehovah, the Self-Existent One, who has revealed Himself as the "I AM," and there is none else; who, though by His name JEHOVAH apparently at an unapproachable distance from His finite creatures, yet bears to thee a real and definite relationship, out of which arises His claim and thy duty--of LOVE. But with what are we to love Him? Four things are here specified. First, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God"
with thy heart--This sometimes means "the whole inner man" (as Pr 4:23); but that cannot be meant here; for then the other three particulars would be superfluous. Very often it means "our emotional nature"--the seat of feeling as distinguished from our intellectual nature or the seat of thought, commonly called the "mind" (as in Php 4:7). But neither can this be the sense of it here; for here the heart is distinguished both from the "mind" and the "soul." The "heart," then, must here mean the sincerity of both the thoughts and the feelings; in other words, uprightness or true-heartedness, as opposed to a hypocritical or divided affection. But next, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God" with thy soul. This is designed to command our emotional nature: Thou shalt put feeling or warmth into thine affection. Further, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God"
with thy mind--This commands our intellectual nature: Thou shalt put intelligence into thine affection--in opposition to a blind devotion, or mere devoteeism. Lastly, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God"
with thy strength--This commands our energies: Thou shalt put intensity into thine affection--"Do it with thy might" (Ec 9:10). Taking these four things together, the command of the Law is, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy powers--with a sincere, a fervid, an intelligent, an energetic love." But this is not all that the Law demands. God will have all these qualities in their most perfect exercise. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God," says the Law, "with all thy heart," or, with perfect sincerity; "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy soul," or, with the utmost fervor; "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy mind," or, in the fullest exercise of an enlightened reason; and "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy strength," or, with the whole energy of our being! So much for the First Commandment.

31. And the second is like--"unto it" (Mt 22:39); as demanding the same affection, and only the extension of it, in its proper measure, to the creatures of Him whom we thus love--our brethren in the participation of the same nature, and neighbors, as connected with us by ties that render each dependent upon and necessary to the other.
Thou shall love thy neighbour as thyself--Now, as we are not to love ourselves supremely, this is virtually a command, in the first place, not to love our neighbor with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. And thus it is a condemnation of the idolatry of the creature. Our supreme and uttermost affection is to be reserved for God. But as sincerely as ourselves we are to love all mankind, and with the same readiness to do and suffer for them as we should reasonably desire them to show to us. The golden rule (Mt 7:12) is here our best interpreter of the nature and extent of these claims.
There is none other commandment greater than these--or, as in Mt 22:40, "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (see on Mt 5:17). It is as if He had said, "This is all Scripture in a nutshell; the whole law of human duty in a portable, pocket form." Indeed, it is so simple that a child may understand it, so brief that all may remember it, so comprehensive as to embrace all possible cases. And from its very nature it is unchangeable. It is inconceivable that God should require from his rational creatures anything less, or in substance anything else, under any dispensation, in any world, at any period throughout eternal duration. He cannot but claim this--all this--alike in heaven, in earth, and in hell! And this incomparable summary of the divine law belonged to the Jewish religion! As it shines in its own self-evidencing splendor, so it reveals its own true source. The religion from which the world has received it could be none other than a God-given religion!

32. And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master--Teacher.
thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he--The genuine text here seems clearly to have been, "There is one," without the word "God"; and so nearly all critical editors and expositors read.

33. And to love him with all the heart . . . and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices--more, that is, than all positive institutions; thereby showing insight into the essential difference between what is moral and in its own nature unchangeable, and what is obligatory only because enjoined, and only so long as enjoined.

34. And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly--rather, "intelligently," or "sensibly"; not only in a good spirit, but with a promising measure of insight into spiritual things.
he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God--for he had but to follow out a little further what he seemed sincerely to own, to find his way into the kingdom. He needed only the experience of another eminent scribe who at a later period said, "We know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin": who exclaimed, "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me?" but who added, "I thank God through Jesus Christ!" (Ro 7:14, 24, 25). Perhaps among the "great company of the priests" and other Jewish ecclesiastics who "were obedient to the faith," almost immediately after the day of Pentecost (Ac 6:7), this upright lawyer was one. But for all his nearness to the Kingdom of God, it may be he never entered it.
And no man after that durst ask any question--all feeling that they were no match for Him, and that it was vain to enter the lists with Him.

Christ Baffles the Pharisees Regarding David (Mr 12:35-37).

35. And Jesus answered and said, while he taught in the temple--and "while the Pharisees were gathered together" (Mt 22:41).
How say the scribes that Christ is the son of David?--How come they to give it out that Messiah is to be the son of David? In Matthew (Mt 22:42), Jesus asks them, "What think ye of Christ?" or of the promised and expected Messiah? "Whose son is He [to be]? They say unto Him, The son of David." The sense is the same. "He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call Him Lord?" (Mt 22:42, 43).

36. For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool-- (Ps 110:1).

37. David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son?--There is but one solution of this difficulty. Messiah is at once inferior to David as his son according to the flesh, and superior to him as the Lord of a kingdom of which David is himself a subject, not the sovereign. The human and divine natures of Christ, and the spirituality of His kingdom--of which the highest earthly sovereigns are honored if they be counted worthy to be its subjects--furnish the only key to this puzzle.
And the common people--the immense crowd.
heard him gladly--"And no man was able to answer Him a word; neither durst any man from that day forth ask Him any more questions" (Mt 22:46).

The Scribes Denounced (Mr 12:38-40).

38. And he said unto them in his doctrine--rather, "in His teaching"; implying that this was but a specimen of an extended discourse, which Matthew gives in full (Mt 23:1-39). Luke says (Lu 20:45) this was "in the audience of all the people said unto His disciples."
Beware of the scribes, which love--or like.
to go in long clothing--(see on Mt 23:5).
and love salutations in the market-places,

39. And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms--or positions.
at feasts--On this love of distinction, see on Lu 14:7; Mt 6:5.

40. Which devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation--They took advantage of their helpless condition and confiding character to obtain possession of their property, while by their "long prayers" they made them believe they were raised far above "filthy lucre." So much the "greater damnation" awaited them. (Compare Mt 23:33). A lifelike description this of the Romish clergy, the true successors of "the scribes."

Mr 12:41-44. THE WIDOW'S TWO MITES. ( = Lu 21:1-4).

See on Lu 21:1-4.