Mark 12:13-17… Then they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to trap him with his own words. 14 When they came they said, “Teacher, we know that you are truthful and do not court anyone’s favor because you show no partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” 15 But he saw through their hypocrisy and said to them, “Why are you testing me? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 So they brought one, and he said to them, “Whose likeness is this, and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” 17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him.
After Jesus answered successfully the questions about his authority, and avoided the trap set by the scribes, elders, and chief priests, they sent two other groups to trap him – the Pharisees and the Herodians in v. 13. The Pharisees were a highly influential religious group in Judea. They were religious conservatives who were steeped in legalistic traditions. The Herodians, on the other hand, were not a religious group but a political one. They were supporters of Herod the Great and his sons who ruled in Palestine under Roman authority. Whereas the Pharisees were threatened by Jesus’ religious influence, the Herodians feared him politically, and they united against him (cf. Mark 6:3). After all, it was Herod the Great who had feared a king born in Israel so much that he had all the little boys killed in Bethlehem when Jesus was born (Matt. 2:16-18).
After the elders, chief priests, and scribes failed to trap Jesus, the Pharisees and Herodians stepped up to the plate asking him about the legality of paying taxes to Rome. But before they asked him such they schmoozed him in v. 14 by saying, “Teacher, we know that you are truthful and do not court anyone’s favor because you show no partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.” The real truth is that these men were lying through their teeth! They knew that if Jesus told them that they should pay taxes to Caesar they could accuse him in front on the Jews at Passover of sympathizing with Rome. But if he would have told them not to pay their taxes, then they could accuse him of rebellion against Rome. The Pharisees would have seized him for sympathizing with Rome, and the Herodians were prepared to arrest him if he rebelled against Rome. Their trap was set, but just as before, he silenced them with an answer.
In v. 15 Jesus saw right through the hypocritical faces of those that tested him. While they were trying to look curious and butter up to Jesus he knew exactly what they were doing, and he asked them outright, “Why are you testing me?” Then, without missing a beat, Jesus asked for a denarius – a coin with an inscription of Tiberius Caesar on it. The coin had the inscription “Son of the Divine Augustus” as part of the cult worship of the Roman Emperor in Rome. Jesus looked at it and said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what it God’s.” While the trap was set for Jesus to give an either/or answer, he gave a both/and answer. Because Caesar’s image was on the coinage, he could legally tax the people. But because God created mankind in His image, He owns each individual life, and worship is owed to Him.
Food for Thought
Jesus clearly believed in paying taxes – even to the evil Roman government. Even though God and government are distinct, however, they are not completely separate. They work together to accomplish God’s will (cf. Romans 13 where Paul commands the same thing). Christians owe their government no matter how high or how oppressive their taxes can be. Paying taxes to our government is being obedient to Christ, and it’s also giving to God what is His. The next time you do your taxes remember: “Render to Caesar what is his and to God what is His.”
Mark 12:18-27… The Sadducees, who deny a resurrection, came to Jesus asking, 19 “Teacher, Moses wrote: ‘if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, he must marry the widow and have children for his brother.’… 20-23 Well, all seven died leaving no children. Whose wife will she be in the resurrection?”… 24 Jesus said, “You are in error because you don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God. 25 For when they rise from the dead, there is no marriage, but they’re like angels in heaven. 26 Now as for the resurrection, have you not read about Moses, while at the bush, and how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob’? 27 He is not the God of the dead but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”
After Jesus left the Pharisees and the Herodians “utterly amazed” in 12:17, the Sadducees entered. Like the Pharisees, the Sadducees were a strict religious group in Israel. They adhered to the Mosaic Law as found in the first five books of the OT (Torah/Pentateuch), but they largely ignored or rejected the prophets and the Psalms. They got their doctrine solely from the Torah, which did not specifically teach the resurrection of the dead or the doctrine of angels.
The Sadducees’ confrontation of Jesus was pretentious and haughty as they mockingly looked down upon Jesus – the insignificant carpenter from Nazareth. They posed their question to Jesus in reference to the Torah. Moses had written in Deuteronomy 25:5-10 that the brother of a man who died without bringing forth a son to carry on the family line had the responsibility to marry his brother’s widow and bring forth a son in the dead man’s name. This practice not only preserved the family line, it also benefited the widow who would have been reduced to begging.
They gave Jesus a hypothetical situation where one man, who had seven brothers, was married then died. When the first man died without a son, his brother married the widow to keep the dead brother’s lineage in tact. But each brother in the scenario also died – all seven of them – without bearing a son for the original husband. This scenario was the setup. Now they posed the question, “Whose wife will she be in the resurrection when they all rise again?” They must have sarcastically emphasized the word “resurrection” because they rejected it. Now the text says nothing about them attempting to “trap” Jesus like the other groups. Their motive was to make Jesus look stupid while trying to justify their belief system in front of the crowds that day.
Jesus’ response to the Sadducees is brilliant! For even though the OT Scriptures do teach the resurrection from the dead (Psalm 49:15; Hosea 6:1-2; Dan. 12:2), those passages are not in the Torah. Therefore, Jesus used the Torah by quoting Exodus 6:3 where God appeared to Moses at the burning bush and introduced Himself as, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” – three patriarchs that had long since died by Moses’ day. But Jesus used this event to say, “God is not the God of the dead but of the living” – clearly showing that all three men were alive! So even the Torah taught the resurrection from the dead. But don’t miss the fact that Jesus also, in v. 25, says that the righteous dead are “like the angels.” In other words, Jesus lambasted the Sadducees’ false belief system of no resurrection and no angels by using the very Scriptures, the Torah, they used to defend their denial of angels and the resurrection from the dead.
Food for Thought
Jesus’ assessment of the Sadducees’ bad theology was that they were in error “because they didn’t know the Scriptures or the power of God.” This is why they were “badly mistaken” in v. 27. They serve as examples that simply knowing the Scriptures isn’t enough. For they knew them well! They just didn’t interpret them correctly, and they underestimated God’s power in raising the dead. Let us then handle God’s Word with care and apply the whole of Scripture.
Mark 12:28-34… Now one of the experts in the law came and heard them debating. When he saw that Jesus answered them well, he 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 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 The expert in the law said to him, “That is true, Teacher; you are right to say that He is one, and there is no one else besides Him. 33 And to love Him with all your heart, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he had answered thoughtfully, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Then no one dared to question Jesus.
The Wednesday of Jesus’ last week before his death was an eventful day. After dealing with questions about his authority, paying taxes, and the resurrection of the dead, Jesus, in 12:28, was confronted by “one of the experts in the law.” This was another scribe, a lawyer, who seems far more genuine about his question than the previous groups who tested Jesus.
The experts in the law in Israel had broken down the Ten Commandments as given to Moses, along with all the sacrificial and judicial laws, into 613 commands. In Hebrew the Ten Commandments comprise 613 Hebrew letters, and when all of God’s commands from Exodus to Deuteronomy are added up they total 613. The rabbis divided them up and found that 248 laws were affirmative (one law for every part of the body) while 365 where negative (one law for every day of the year). Each law was separated in two groups – one was heavy, the other light. Now though this was a superficial view of the law, it was in this context that the scribe approached Jesus and asked him to name the most important commandment of all.
Jesus didn’t miss a beat in his reply. He quoted Deuteronomy 6:4-5 in v. 29 as the most important commandment, namely, that God is One (though He exists in three separate persons) and that He is to be loved with all of one’s heart, mind, soul, and strength. Then Jesus added the second most important commandment by quoting Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” These two commandments, in Jesus’ mind, were the most important ones.
The scribe who posed the question to Jesus was impressed with his answer and not silenced and humiliated like the previous groups who had attempted to trap Jesus. He told Jesus that he fully agreed with the ones he chose as the most important, and his affirmation of Jesus’ answer brought about Jesus’ own approval. Jesus told the man, after realizing that he had answered “thoughtfully,” “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
The scribe was open to Jesus’ answer but only insofar as Jesus’ answer was in accordance with his own belief system. It just so happened that his own belief system was in accordance with truth. No wonder Jesus assured him that he wasn’t far from the kingdom of God. Obviously God had revealed Himself to the scribe, and Jesus affirmed this.
Food for Thought
God’s true children don’t argue with what He says in the Bible. They affirm it, knowing that He is God. Can you imagine a world where everyone loves God and loves his neighbor as himself? Two simple commands that if obeyed would change the world forever. Imagine a world with no locks on our doors (b/c no one would rob each other), no jails, no alarms, no fear, no poverty, no fighting or violence, and no hypocrisy. All of these are rooted in a lack of love for God and for His creation and people. That place awaits those who call to Jesus for salvation.
I) Question of authority (11:27–12:12)
II) Question of responsibility (vv. 13–17)
A) Possessing & using coins shows that his authority is accepted in some sense.
B) Using mail, firemen, police, & national security shows that govt. is accepted.
III) Question about eternity (vv. 18–27)
A) God’s children are higher than the angels (John 17:22–24; 1 John 3:1–2).
B) Resurrection bodies will be sexless like the angels
IV) Question of priority (vv. 28–34)
A) Love God; love your neighbor: (love as a verb)
1) Heart: w/all of inner self; must overwhelm/overcome all of our other loves/hates.
2) Soul: one’s earthly existence & life; what begins in the heart manifests in life
3) Mind: understanding & intellect; can’t worship what we don’t understand
4) Strength: with one’s abilities
B) Those who love God will experience His love within and express that love to others.
C) Divorce would cease; lawsuits; problems at work; locks/security, etc.
D) Obedience over Sacrifice (1 Sam 15:22; Ps 51:16–17; Jer 7:22; Hos 6:6; Micah 6:6)
U Not far from the kingdom…
1. Faces truth honestly w/o defending a “party line” or even personal prejudices.
2. One who tests faith by what the Word of God says, not by some religious group
3. Having the courage to stand up for what is true no matter the loss
U To Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s… what is God’s? Us! Romans 12:1-2 commands us to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice holy and pleasing to Him. In the previous context of the parable the vineyard workers kept back what they owed. And just like Romans 12 we are to give back to God what is His because His image is on us. We owe Him worship. If we spent the same amount of time giving God ourselves that we do griping about our taxes and what we owe our government we might actually worship more than we gripe!
U In error b/c you don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God… causes us to misinterpret the Bible; ignore convicting passages; lead others astray. Knowing the Scriptures is to know what the Bible says AND what it means AND how to apply it. Knowing the power of God is to be able to believe anything – even the dead coming back to life. We don’t come to church enough, Bible studies, prayer groups… we gripe too much about petty items. And when we do learn the Scriptures we refuse to implement the knowledge we gain. I know that God heals marriages & hates divorce in the Bible, but do I understand the power of God?
U Our problem is that we don’t worship… we don’t know the Scriptures or understand God’s power… and we don’t love God and our neighbor. The problem then isn’t evangelism but that the church of Jesus Christ – his body – is racked with cancer. We must be about a quest for holiness and purity and implementation. That’s why we come to this church to build up the body of Christ, heal our illnesses, and let the world see us and be converted. We have one year to work on that before our church really gets marketed. Are we going to settle for a church that is just like all the others? Or are we going to be what Christ called us to be?... worshipful, knowledgeable, and loving others with our lives.
U We want to implement programs to love others (evangelism, good works, etc.) to help our consciences, but if we truly LOVED others and were able to do so God would send them to us. Notice how He did that for the apostles and prophets. People just came to them!