12.1 Mark may have asked "What kind of teaching did Jesus give those last two days in the temple?" He mainly used parables, and the most striking one pictured the Jewish religious establishment as a vineyard. The imagery was well known "A pleasant vineyard, sing about it! I, the LORD, am its keeper; every moment I water it; I guard it night and day" (Isaiah 27:2-3). And the Lord complained that "Many shepherds have destroyed my vineyard" (Jeremiah 12:10). In a previous parable Jesus had described how he invited people to come in and work in his kingdom vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). Here the point is that the tenants of the Jewish religious establishment have failed to do their work, and the vineyard will be given to other tenants (see12:9).
12:2 In addition to planting and tending the vines, a vineyard needed months of work first to fence it for protection from wild boars. Then a huge vat was dug out where the baskets of harvested grapes were tipped in, and trampled to produce the grape juice which quickly fermented to become new wine. The new wine needed fresh skins (2:22). A watchtower (with a room underneath to store the wine) enabled servants to see those who wanted to come in and steal. When the vineyard was ready, it would be leased out to tenants who were expected to give a quota of wine for sale every year.
12:3-4 Throughout the Old Testament period the Messiah kept sending prophets to his vineyard to call people back to their function to be "a priestly kingdom and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:6). But they forgot the third part of the original covenant with Abraham. "In you all the families of the earth will be blessed" (Genesis 12:3). Instead of the temple being a place of worship for all peoples, it had become a den of thieves (11:17). But when the prophets reminded them of God's loving purposes for them, the religious leaders rejected them.
12:5 In his condemnation of the Pharisee teachers Jesus said "I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of the righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come upon this generation" (Matthew 23:34-36). That suggested that, even before the crucifixion of Jesus, the Jerusalem religious establishment was already ready to be judged. But the Messiah gave them another 40 years to change course before the final destruction came in AD 70.
12:6-8 Here Jesus calls himself the "beloved son" of the Father. That he was the eternal Son of God had been revealed to him at his baptism (1:11) and on the Mount of Transfiguration (9:7). During his ministry he usually called himself "Son of Man" (as in 2:10, 28. 8:31, 9:9, 31,10:33). But now in this parable addressed directly to the religious leaders he used the term Son of the Father. On the one hand the Son was sent by the Father (John 3:16), but Paul stresses that his incarnation was a voluntary emptying of himself (Philippians 2:7-8). And we should add that the Holy Spirit actually effected the conception in Mary's womb (Luke 1:35). We should distinguish the work of the three Persons of the Trinity, but understand their close relationship to one another in the oneness of God. In the crucifixion the religious leaders rejected the Father's love, the pleading of the Spirit through the prophets, and their own Messiah. Or we could say that the Father let the Son suffer, the Son went through the crucifixion, and the Holy Spirit raised him from the dead (Romans 8:11).
12:9 The result would be the terrible siege of Jerusalem (AD 69-70) and a final destruction of the temple (as prophesied in 13:2, 24-26, 30). Before that time there would be an earlier proclamation of the good news mainly by Jews such as Peter and Paul (13:10). But Jesus expected the transferring of the vineyard to other tenants in nations to the east, west, north, and south (13:27, as in Matthew 8:11) and this would happen through his church in each place (Matthew 28:19, Acts 1:8, 8:4, 10:44-47). Matthew reproduced the parable as Peter told it to Mark, but he added the explanation that Jesus had given. "He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time" (Matthew 21:41).
12:10-11 Jesus used the quote from Psalm 118:22-23 to point out that though he was the rejected stone, he would become the cornerstone (1 Peter 2:4-7) of the new temple (1 Corinthians 3:16, Ephesians 2:21). When this happened it would be an astonishing event, which could only have been the Messiah's own doing.
12:12 We have given our interpretation of the meaning of each verse in this parable, but when Jesus told it he gave no explanation. But the religious leaders saw it was directed against them, and they would have arrested him there and then, but "they feared the crowd" (see note on 11:18, 14:2, 64).
12:13 Pharisees (who were legalists) and Herodians (whose interest was political advantage), were normally enemies, but now they united in a mission to catch Jesus in some fault that would get him condemned by the crowd who were so far on Jesus' side (12:12).
12:14 Having pretended to pay him great deference (to please the crowd), they asked about paying taxes. There were religious taxes required of all Jews for the expenses of the temple (as in Matthew 17:24). But Pharisees objected to paying taxes to the heathen Romans. If Jesus had said they must pay their taxes to the Emperor the crowd would have turned against him. But if he said they need not pay taxes, the Herodians would get him arrested for sedition.
12:15-17 They made the question pointed by demanding an immediate answer. But Jesus understood the hypocrisy of the question and asked to see a denarius (the coin usually paid as a laborer's wages for a day's work, Matthew 20:9-10, NRSV margin). The Roman coin should be paid to the emperor and the Jewish coin paid for the temple tax (12:14). Jesus was not preaching sedition and Paul later made it clear that Christians should "pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants. Pay revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due" Romans 13:6-7). The verb translated "they were utterly amazed" is an imperfect tense (of the verb ekthaumazo) which should be translated "they kept wondering in astonishment." As Jesus kept giving answer after answer (as in 11:30-33, 12:17, 24-27, 34, 37) the religious leaders were totally astonished..
12:18-23 Now the Sadducees came in to the attack. They hoped to catch him in a question about the resurrection of the body which they denied (see Acts 23:8). The denial was based on the fact that there was no mention of resurrection from sheol in the five books of Moses. So they pictured a totally unlikely situation of a woman who was married one after another to seven brothers. This was based on the law that if a woman was widowed, and left without a male heir, her husband's brother must marry her (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). If there was such a thing as a resurrection, who would be her husband in heaven?
12:24 Jesus rebuked them for their ignorance of the Scriptures and the power of God. In the Old Testament there are only a few references to human resurrection (Job 19:25-26, Psalm 16:9-11, 17:15, Daniel 12:2-3), but the Pharisee faith in the resurrection was correct. The souls in the abode of the dead (sheol) were asleep but still alive, and that was obviously not their permanent destiny. As Messiah, Jesus intended to free those who were held there. "The hour is coming when all those who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out to the resurrection of life," or of condemnation (John 5:28-29). The Sadducees had no conception of the power of God that could accomplish this..
12:25 Mark may have asked "did Jesus say anything about the life of heaven after the resurrection?" Jesus explained that marriage is an arrangement in this life for a couple to love and support one another in the raising of their family. But in the perfect love of heaven there will be no exclusive relationships. The old relationships of nationality will continue (as in Revelation 21:24-26), but in quite new conditions where they are perfected in the love of God.
12:26-27 The Sadducees refused to accept any evidence for resurrection beyond the five books of Moses. But Jesus brought out the implications of what was said to Moses by the burning bush (Exodus 3:6). The LORD (see Exodus 3:13-15, 4:5) who was served by Abraham, Isaac, and Moses, did not cease to be their God when they died. When Matthew used Mark's account of Jesus' teaching about resurrection he added the words "And when the crowd heard it, they were astounded at his teaching" (Matthew 22:33). After the word "angels" Luke made it clear that in heaven we are not merely angels but "children of God, being children of the resurrection" (Luke 20:36).
12:28 In a previous encounter with a man who wanted to know about eternal life Jesus had reminded him of the second half of the ten commandments (10:17-19). Now a theologian asked the question which was constantly discussed among the rabbis. What is the greatest, or most important of the commandments in the law?
12:29-31 Jesus summed up the first grouping of the ten commandments as loving God, and the second as loving one's neighbor as oneself. Instead of defining health by negatives, "you must not have a patch on your lung, broken bones, a fever, or a skin condition," we can ask "are you eating well and enjoying your work and your life?"
12:32-33 "What did the theologian respond to that?" He thought he had been upstaged by this country preacher, so he repeated Jesus' answer, and with great authority, based on the words in the prophet, he added that justice, kindness, and a humble walk with God were more important than the sacrifices of the temple (Micah 6:6-8).
12:34 Jesus then told him he was not far from the Kingdom of God. He had given a correct answer, and Jesus recognized his sincerity (as in 10:21), but obviously he had not yet recognized the King of the Kingdom of God. That silenced the questioners, and none of them dared to cross examine him again.
12:35-37 Jesus then turned to ask them a question. The theologians all agreed that the Messiah must be descended from King David and born in Bethlehem (Matthew 1:1, 16, 20, 2:1-6, Luke 2:4). But throughout the Psalms the Holy Spirit inspired David to address the Messiah as LORD (see Psalm 110:1). How then can the Messiah be David's son? The implication was that the eternal Son of God and reigning Messiah was the Person David was addressing. And in fact he was that same Messiah. The theologians were speechless, but the crowd kept listening to their discomfiture (a Greek imperfect continuous tense) with delight.
12:38-40 "Did Jesus make any comment about the theologians?" He told people to beware of them. They wore impressive gowns, expected to be addressed by respectful titles, and demanded the best seats in the synagogues and other functions. As the people knew, they were rapacious. Instead of defending the rights of widows they defrauded them, and proclaimed their righteousness by praying long prayers (used as in Luke 20:46-47). Matthew also took this condemnation verbatim and included it in a whole chapter describing the hypocrisy of the religious teachers (Matthew 23, which included other examples of what he had taken down verbatim from Jesus words on various occasions, see Introduction to this commentary.
12:41-42 "What else did Jesus do in the temple?" On one occasion he sat down on a bench watching people putting money into the temple offering box. He observed how rich people put in their pieces of silver, but a poor widow came and gave two copper coins (each the equivalent of half a kodrantys, 64 of which made up a laborer's daily wage). In our valuation what she gave seems to have been, not half a cent, but more like $1.50.
12:43-44 "What did Jesus say about that?" He said that what she gave was more than all those who had given of their abundance. She gave all that she had for the next meal.