Mark 12: Religious Rulers Challenge Jesus and See Him as a Threat

As I dive deeper into Jesus’ last week on earth, I can’t help but notice the similarities between the religious leaders back then and who we have now. Today’s “woke” pastors are threatened by the Gospel Truth and they refuse to preach it. They fear that people will leave their churches. People need to hear the truth as Jesus tells it. Let’s dig in…

Mark 12

The Parable of the Tenants

And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed.

He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard.

What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Have you not read this Scripture:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone; (Psalm 118:22-23)
11 this was the Lord’s doing,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

12 And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away.

Paying Taxes to Caesar

A Roman Denarius Coin, which says on the back, "Pontif Maxim"
A Roman Denarius Coin, which says on the back, “Pontif Maxim”

13 And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. 14 And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” 15 But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” 17 Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him.

The Sadducees Ask About the Resurrection

Moses and the Burning Bush. Top image by Sweet Publishing from, (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Moses and the Burning Bush. Top image by Sweet Publishing from, (CC BY-SA 3.0)

18 And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection. And they asked him a question, saying, 19 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 20 There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring. 21 And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise. 22 And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died. 23 In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.”

24 Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? 25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.”

The Great Commandment

28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”

29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Whose Son Is the Christ?

35 And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
    until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ (Psalm 110:1)

37 David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly.

Beware of the Scribes

Orthodox priests
Orthodox priests

38 And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

The Widow’s Offering

41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins (leptas), which make a penny. 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Mark 12 ESV

Let’s Unpack this Section by Section

The Parable of the Tenants

When Jesus speaks in parables — telling stories — they always represent people of His day. The stories indirectly — and sometimes directly — put certain folks in their place. The people who get it — understand who He’s talking about — are enlightened. Those who don’t get it, are angry. They know He’s talking about them, but they still can’t figure out how to get rid of Him.

Who’s Who in the Parable
  • Owner of the Vineyard – God
  • Tenants – Jewish religious leaders
  • Servants – the Old Testament prophets, like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, etc. They spoke God’s message to the people and were rejected, shunned, imprisoned, ignored…
  • Jesus is the son, whom they killed

This particular parable comes straight from Isaiah 5. Any Jewish leader worth their salt would have recognized it.

Pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s

Yes, we have to pay our taxes to Uncle Sam whether we like it or not. I always remember this line when April 15th rolls around.

Who’s “they”?

The “they” here are the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish court. They sent some Pharisees and Herodians (King Herod’s cronies) to try and trap Jesus. From the Sanhedrin down to Herod — they all saw Jesus as a threat. However, they didn’t understand Him at all.

  • Herod was a puppet king assigned the position by the Romans. He wasn’t even Jewish! Remember what he did to John the Baptist? Herod was afraid Jesus would hurt his image.
  • If Jesus said not to pay taxes, they could arrest Him for going against Roman rule.
  • Why compliment Jesus? They thought flattery would bait the trap.
  • The religious leaders are trying to manipulate Jesus — every step.
  • They are very frustrated.
  • Romans taxes had to be paid.
  • The Roman denarius had the image of the current emperor and on the back it said, “pontif maxim” (see image above). Hmmm, isn’t the Catholic Pope referred to as “Pontifex Maximus”? I wonder where they picked that title from? Emperor?
  • The times were politically charged and emotional.
  • They wanted to trap Jesus, but He shut them down by being clever and more direct. Danny Saavedra comments…

Jesus’ last words here are, “Give . . . to God what is God’s.” The coin belonged to Caesar and his kingdom because his image was stamped on it. But our lives belong to God and His kingdom because His image is stamped on us. And thus, as His children who belong fully and solely to Him, we must give to God our everything—our lives, heart, mind, soul, strength, love, devotion, will, and plans.

Danny Saavedra, The Gospel of Mark (Part Six):

The Saducees and the Resurrection

The Saducees were sad, you see, because they didn’t believe in the Resurrection of the dead. (That’s how you remember who they are, by the way.) They also didn’t believe in the Holy Spirit, judgment, angels or the afterlife. To them, death was the end and the souls die with the bodies. There is no fate and God is not in control.

They were rich, highly educated, from priestly families. Very much puffed up, a minority, and had an offensive theology to the Jews.

This shows that patterns of bad theology pop up over the centuries. The Saducees sound very much like the woke, progressive, liberal pastors of today.

So, here they come to Jesus with a really stupid, hypothetical situation. Jesus, nevertheless, corrects them rather than putting them down.

Although Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob died centuries ago, God is still in a state of relationship with them and will continue to be so until they are raised at the resurrection.

Pastor Dan Hickling, The Gospel of Mark (Part Six):

The Greatest Commandment

Next, a scribe comes to question Jesus. Now, the scribes were well-educated and well-versed in Old Testament Jewish law. This one comes to bait Jesus. Was he sincere? Maybe. As Jesus told him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Are you?

I did a special study on this passage. It’s cool how Jesus wrapped the 10 Commandments into 2 great ones..

  1. Love Your God
  2. Love Your Neighbor

Who’s Son is the Messiah?

Danny Saavedra explains this well…

Now, from an earthly standpoint, Jesus was in fact the “son” of David in the same way He was also the “son” of Abraham. But just as He showed us when He said “before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58 ESV), here He’s showing that beyond the human understanding, He predates David (and Abraham and even Adam!) as He’s not only fully man and thus fulfills the prophecy that the Messiah would come through the line of David, but that He is also fully God and has eternally existed before the foundations of the earth. As we’re told in Colossians 1:16–17 (NIV), “For in him all things were created. . . .  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Jesus is the son and Lord of David, the root and fruit of David.

So, why this question and all this explanation from Jesus? Because in Jewish culture, the ancestor outranks and represents all his descendants. And so, logically in their minds, Messiah, a descendant of King David, would be subordinate to David. Thus, while the Messiah would be a significant figure, he would be a man no more special than David, and actually considered under David in hierarchy. So, Jesus explains that Messiah must be much more than merely David’s son or Abraham’s son; Messiah must be the Son of God in equal measure to being the Son of Man! His authority doesn’t come from any earthly lineage or birthright, but from His eternal, heavenly position as God incarnate and birthright as preeminent over all creation! 

What’s the lesson for us? Jesus, the Messiah, can’t be merely seen through human understanding—good teacher, prophet, guide, copilot, homeboy, descendant of a king. He must be seen and worshipped as God in the flesh, King of kings and Lord of lords, and Savior of the world. There is no in between with Him!

Danny Saavedra, The Gospel of Mark (Part Six):

Beware of the Scribes

Catholic Priests.
Catholic Priests.

Whenever I read this passage it reminds me of Catholic priests, bishops and cardinals in their flowing robes.

Jesus here is warning the people that these religious leaders go around like peacocks, prideful, ambitious, hypocrites. In Matthew 23, Jesus really lets go on the Jewish leaders. It all still applies to the religious leaders today.

The Widow’s Offering

The Widow's Mites Image by Good News Productions International from (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
The Widow’s Mites Image by Good News Productions International from (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

God always measures what’s given in terms of attitude, not amount. Two mites sacrificially offered in faith mean more to Him than a mountain of money offered with mixed motives. No amount of wealth moves God, because He ultimately owns everything to begin with (Psalm 24:1)! But God is moved by a heart that’s free and open to give all it has, regardless of how much or little, trusting that He’s all the security they need. That is the truest definition of wealth, making this widow the wealthiest of all in God’s eyes.

Pastor Dan Hickling, The Gospel of Mark (Part Six):

Wow! There’s a lot to chew in this chapter. Read it all again, aloud to yourself. Take it in slowly. Go through the Bible plan in the free YouVersion Bible app. If you really want to get to know Jesus, the Gospel of Mark is where to do it.

Here’s a closing prayer from the Bible plan…

Jesus, I believe You are who You say You are. Son of God, Son of Man. Son of David, and Lord of David. King, Savior, Lord, Friend, Creator, Sustainer. You are Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. And I worship You as such. I pray Jesus that I would never forget this and never let anything or anyone take the place in my life that is meant for You to occupy! Amen.

The Gospel of Mark (Part Six):

If you don’t know Jesus that way, the place to start is here…

Invite Jesus into Your Heart and Receive the Gift of Grace, Joy, Peace, and the Confident Hope of Eternal Life…

Top image is copyright of the LUMO project (Big Book Media) from

Only Jesus

You are God Alone

Great I Am

Soli Deo Gloria! To God Alone Be the Glory!

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