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Mark 12

Scripture: Mark 12:1-44

Overview:

  • In the Temple, Jesus tells everyone a story about a vineyard.
  • The story goes like this: An owner of the vineyard sets it up to be a successful vineyard, then leaves it in the hands of his tenants to run
  • At harvest times the owner sends his servants to collect the fruit of the vineyard, and the tenants give them nothing and beat them all up
  • The owner finally sends his son to collect, and the tenants kill him
  • Jesus says, the owner is going to be mad. He’s going to throw all the tenants out and let someone else run the vineyard
  • Jesus reminds his audience that the one they’re about to reject (i.e. himself) is the one around whom everything is supposed to be built
  • The chief priests are miffed
  • Later some Pharisees and Herodians come and ask Jesus if they should pay taxes to Caesar
  • Jesus sees that they’re trying to trap him, so he asks for a coin and points out that things stamped with Caesar’s image belong to Caesar, and that things stamped with God’s image belong to God. (#dropthemike)
  • The Sadducees ask Jesus about a ridiculous scenario in which a woman’s husbands keep dying and she keeps having to marry her brothers-in-law to have a child, then ask, “Hey, wise guy, in heaven, whose wife will she be?”
  • Jesus says the Sadducees don’t know diddley. Jesus tells them that A) in the afterlife, marriage ain’t no thang (just like it ain’t for the angels), and B) that they should know there really is an afterlife as proven by the fact that God references their “dead” forefathers by using the present tense–and God is intentional in his verb tenses.
  • Then someone asks Jesus about Moses’ commandments and which one is number one (there are 613 after all).
  • Jesus replies that “God is one, and we should love him with all our being,” then he adds that “We should also love each other.”
  • The guy who asked says, “I see how these commandments are way more important to God than offering sacrifices al the time.”
  • Jesus said, “You’re almost there. You’ll be a citizen of the kingdom of God before you know it. Keep thinking like that.”
  • Jesus then says to the crowd, “Hey, remember that Psalm where David says he’s talking to the Messiah and refers to him as his Lord? Well, how can the Messiah be both be David’s son and his Lord? How can he be from him and over him?” (Hint, hint: he’s both man and God)
  • Then Jesus points out that Israel’s current leaders like being seen as important people a bit too much.
  • Lastly, Jesus points out a poor widow that is giving her all to the Lord as a prime example of the devotion God expects.

Historical Context:

Isaiah 5 

Isaiah prophesied during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, the kings of Judah (Isaiah 1:1). Uzziah’s reign was 52 years in the middle of the 8th century BC, and Isaiah must have begun his ministry a few years before Uzziah’s death, probably in the 740s BC. Isaiah lived until the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign (who died 698 BC), and may have been contemporary for some years with Manasseh. Thus Isaiah may have prophesied for as long as 64 years.12

When Isaiah was young he migh’ve witnessed the invasion of Israel Tiglath-Pileser III, king of Assyria (2 Kings 15:19); and again, twenty years later, when he had already become a prophet, by the invasion of Tiglath-Pileser, his successor. Shortly thereafter, Shalmaneser V, the new king of Assyria, overtook Samaria (722 BC) and Sennacherib, yet another Assyrian king (701 BC), led a powerful army into Judah.12

In the 5th chapter of his book, Isaiah uses a vineyard to illustrate the care which God had shown for his people. He states what God had done for them; calls on them to judge themselves whether God had not done for them all that he could have done; and, since God’s vineyard had brought forth no good fruit, he threatens to break down its hedges, and to destroy it.11

Isaiah reminds them that Israel has deserted God and that he will do the same to them. As a result, Israel will be destroyed by foreign enemies, but after the people, the country and Jerusalem are punished and purified, a holy remnant will live in God’s place in Zion, governed by God’s chosen king (the messiah).3

The various vices and crimes for which Israel was to be punished were:11

  1. Covetousness
  2. Intemperance, revelry, and dissipation
  3. Despising and contemning God, and of practicing iniquity as if God did not see it, or could not punish it
  4. Pervert things, and calling evil good and good evil
  5. Vain self-confidence, pride, and inordinate self-esteem
  6. Receiving bribes

A “hedge” was a fence of thorns, made by making thorn-bushes to grow so thick that nothing can pass through them. God told Israel he would withdraw his protection and leave them exposed to be overrun and trodden down by their enemies, as a vineyard would be by wild beasts if it were not protected.11

Psalms 118 

The Psalm refers to someone being saved from death by God. It is notable that the Hebrew word for son, ben, is almost the same as stone, ‘eben, which might be what generated seeing Jesus as a stone.4

Psalm 118 in summary:13

  • The author calls on all to praise the Lord because what had occurred was a matter of interest to all Israel.
  • The author gives a description of his peril and deliverance. He understood the benefit of trusting in the Lord rather than in man. He had felt, even in the midst of his dangers, that he would live to declare the works of the Lord.
  • The author approaches the temple. He asks that the doors may be opened that he may enter and praise the Lord.
  • The priests and people recognize the author as the Ruler – the cornerstone – the foundation of the nation’s prosperity, and its hope. He had been rejected by those who were professedly laying the foundation of empire, but he had now established his claims to being regarded as the very cornerstone on which the whole edifice must rest.
  • The people recognize this as a marvelous work of God.
  • The people recognize this as a joyful day, as if God had created that day for this very purpose.
  • The people pronounce the author blessed who came in the name of the Lord.
  • The people direct him to bring his offering. His offering is recognized as proper.
  • The author acknowledges God as his God and asks everyone to praise Him.

The original intent of the Psalm seemed to be that Israel, rejected by those who would try to arrange the world according to their own ideas, has, nevertheless, advanced into such a position, that it may be regarded as the most important of all the nations of the world.13

Psalms 110

Psalm 110 in summary:13

  • The Messiah is appointed and acknowledged by the author of the psalm as his “Lord.”
  • The Messiah would be endowed with “power” needful for the accomplishment of the design for which he was appointed.
  • The Messiah’s people would be made “willing” in the day when he should display his power.
  • The Messiah would be a “priest-king,” like the mysterious king of Salem, Melehizedek, to whom even Abraham submitted.
  • The Messiah would conquer and triumph.

The phrase “my Lord” refers to someone who was superior in rank to the author of the psalm; one whom he could address as his superior. The psalm, therefore, cannot refer to David himself, as if Yahweh had said to him, “Sit thou at my right hand.” Nor was there anyone on earth in the time of David to whom it could be applicable; anyone whom he would call his “Lord” or superior. If, therefore, the psalm was written by David, it must have reference to the Messiah – to one whom he owned as his superior – his Lord – his Sovereign. It cannot refer to God as if he were to have this rule over David, since God himself is referred to as “speaking” to him whom David called his Lord: “Jehovah said unto my Lord.”13

The Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) 

The Shema (which means “listen”–the first word in Deut. 6:4) was quoted both morning and evening by devout Jews and worn in leather pouches containing four strips of parchment on which were written verses of scripture (phylacteries) on the arm and forehead by the Pharisees. It was also fixed to a small box on their door-posts. This was to remind them that there is one God when they went out and when they came in.6

Reciting the shema was linked to re-affirming one’s relationship with God’s rule – a way of “receiving the kingdom of heaven.”9

The “heart” is mentioned as the seat of the understanding; the “soul” as the center of will and personality; the “might” as all of one’s energies and vital powers.9

Literally,  the verse reads: “Jehovah, our God, is one Jehovah.” Other nations worshipped many gods, but the God of the Jews was one, and one only. Jehovah was undivided. The Jewish people would be seperated from other nations if they kept this in mind.5

Roman Poll Tax

The poll tax paid by the Jews to the Romans was a symbol of their subjection and thoroughly hated by all the people. It was a head tax which Rome placed on all conquered peoples–essentially a census. This empire-wide tax on males fourteen years through sixty-five years and on women twelve to sixty-five, who lived in imperial provinces went directly to the Emperor. The institution of this tax in 6 AD was the reason Luke gave for Joseph leaving Nazareth and going to Bethlehem with the pregnant Mary.10  It is also the reason the Zealots formed. Judas from Galilee rallied the Jews anger against the tax and turned it against Rome in a small revolt.6

The coin used in paying the poll tax had an image of Caesar on one side and was inscribed, “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, Son of the Divine Augustus.” On the back of the coin was a picture of Tiberius seated on a throne and the inscription “Highest Priest.”10 It appears that the inscription had its origin in the cult of emperor worship.8

Jesus’ opponents sought to put him in a true bind. If Jesus said “Yes,” his influence among the people would have been destroyed; if he said, “No,” they would have brought charges against him for sedition.1

Mite

Mite denotes a small coin made of brass, the smallest in use among the Jews. Its value was about one third of one cent,5 or six minutes of an average daily wage.4

In other translations the coins are called “lepta,” which means “the thin thing.”6

Herodians

The Herodians most likely they took their name from Herod the Great, most likely as a political party.

Moses said that “a stranger” should not be set over the Jews as a king (Deuteronomy 17:15). Herod, who had received the kingdom of Judea by appointment of the Romans, held that the law of Moses referred only to a voluntary choice of a king (Israel’s ideal situation), and did not refer to a state in submission (i.e. Israel’s present situation). The Herodians, therefore, said that it was lawful to pay tribute to a foreign prince. This opinion was, however, extensively unpopular among the Jews; and particularly the Pharisees, who looked upon it as a violation of the Law.5

Sadducees

The Sadducees denied a physical resurrection, as well as any sort of future state of the world, and the separate existence of the soul after death. They also denied the existence of angels and spirits.13

Observations:

  • The man who planted the vineyard stands for God; the vineyard is Israel; the hedge about it is God’s protection of Israel throughout the history of the chosen people; the wine-press, tower, and, in a sense, also the hedge, represent the Law of Moses and the Jewish ceremonies. The owner’s going into another country represents God’s leaving Israel free to work out his will during a long period prior to Christ. The husbandmen represent the Jewish religious establishment.1
  • The tenants of the vineyard may have assumed that the absentee landlord, so long in a foreign country, had already died.1
  • The master going away from the vineyard gave the servants the opportunity to produce, to be fruitful. This represents God’s setting Israel in the promised land and being less “visibly” involved than during the exodus. The leaders had the stewardship of the nation.7
  • They “‘beat'” the master’s servants refers to a severe beating. It literally means “to skin” or “to flay”.10
  • Mark makes it clear that Jesus was using the parable of the vineyard to prophecy that God would destroy Israel and extend salvation to the Gentiles. The vineyard would ultimately belong to the followers of Jesus.1
  • There is also here an implied promise of the resurrection; because Christ identified himself not only with the son killed and cast out of the vineyard, but also with the rejected stone that became the head of the corner.1
  • There also seems to be a direct historical reference to Sennacherib, king of Assyria, some 700 years previous to Jesus telling the parable of the vineyard. Sennacherib conquered Babylon at the time that Hezekiah was king of Judah, and set up several rulers over Babylon, all of whom were overthrown. Finally, he sent his son to rule, but after a short time, he was also killed. Finally, Sennacherib himself went to Babylon and destroyed the city stone by stone, and placed a curse on it that it should not be rebuilt for seventy years.2
  • Jesus made an argument for the certainty of a resurrection to rest upon a single Old Testament verb, and the tense of a verb at that! Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are not “dead” but “living.”1
  • hich law was the greatest law was a question disputed among the critics in the law in Jesus’ day. Some would have the law of circumcision to be the great commandment, others the law of the sabbath, others the law of sacrifices.9
  • The verses Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 both begin with ve’ahavta “and you shall love.”9
  • he widow who gave her last coins did so in the Temple’s Court of Women, in which there were fixed a number of places or coffers, made with a large open mouth, in the shape of a trumpet, for the purpose of receiving the offerings of the people; and the money thus contributed was devoted to the service of the Temple–to incense, sacrifice, etc.5. The Sanhedrin met within earshot of the place; and it was here that they brought the woman taken in adultery to be stoned (John 8).1
  • Jesus knows not merely the amount given, but the amount retained, and makes his evaluation accordingly.1

Discussion:

  • What fruit does God expect his vineyard (now the church and our lives) to produce? Is it producing the right kind of fruit? How can you tell?
  • The Jews took the Shema very seriously. Is this something we should reinstate? How should the church continually remind itself of the two most important things to God?
  • What is God’s? What does he claim?
  • What is the lesson from how the widow gave her offering? Why does God want us to give? How much?

References:

  1. Coffman’s commentary
  2. Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen
  3. Book of Isaiah
  4. Widow’s Mite
  5. Barnes commentary (Mark)
  6. Easy English commentary
  7. Hampton’s commentary
  8. Herrick’s commentary
  9. Shema
  10. Utley’s commentary
  11. Barnes’ commentary (Isaiah)
  12. Isaiah
  13. Barnes’ commentary (Psalms)
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