SETTING THE TRAP

Mark 12:13-34

BRIRF INTRO: In our previous study, we read about the “authority” of Jesus being questioned by the chief priests, scribes, and elders (11:28). We then had the blessed privilege of viewing how Christ responded to their question! First, He asked them a question in which they knew the correct answer but were afraid to say it because they feared the people (11:32). And then, I think, in cunning irony, He answered their question by using a parable about their history and by utilizing Old Testament scripture (12:1-12). His “authority” comes by virtue of Him being the Son of the living God!

As we move forward in this chapter, we will witness three conflicts that Jesus had with three different groups. Groups that generally were arguing among themselves about the theology of the other. But, as the adage goes: “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” We will witness them go after Jesus in rapid succession with one goal in mind: to trip Him up in His words so that the people would lose faith in Him, and then they could move forward with their plans to destroy Him (11:18).

13 Then they *sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Him in order to trap Him in a statement. 14 They came and *said to Him, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and [a]do not care what anyone thinks; for You [b]are not partial to anyone, but You teach the way of God in truth. Is it [c]permissible to pay a [d]poll-tax to Caesar, or not? 15 Are we to pay, or not pay?” But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a [e]denarius to look at.” 16 And they brought one. And He *said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” And they said to Him, “Caesar’s.” 17 And Jesus said to them, “Pay to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at Him.

FOCUS ONE: Conflict with the Pharisees and Herodians (13-17)

The first group to attack are the Pharisees and the Herodians. “The Herodians were as obnoxious to the Pharisees on political grounds as the Saducees were on theological grounds.” Yet, they come together in their attempt to destroy Jesus. Their sole purpose is stated for us, so there is NO speculation on this fact: “to trap Him in a statement” (v. 13).

Their particular question revolves around the issue of taxes. Is it lawful to pay a poll tax to Caesar? But they don’t just nail Him with the question outright; oh no, they first pave the road of bad intentions with some flowers of flattery! Such flattery is not only self-serving, but it’s also hypocritical. They didn’t mean any of it. Their only goal, as previously stated, was to destroy Jesus.

“Since the time of Archelaus’s banishment in A.D. 6, Jews had been required by the Romans to pay tribute money into the fiscus, the emperor’s treasury. Some Jews (the Zealots) flatly refused to pay it, because it was for them an admission of the Roman right to rule. The Pharisees disliked paying it but did not actively oppose it, whereas the Herodians had no objections to it.”

With such a divide in thinking between these groups it becomes pretty clear their intent with that question. If they can force Jesus to answer, one way or another, He would be identifying with one or the other group and be caught in their trap. The dominoes would begin to fall, and they would have their goal achieved.

But, we see Jesus in no way falling for it because He knew their hypocrisy (v. 15). He tells them to bring Him a denarius (equivalent to one day’s wages). And then, in a way that seems so simple, He asks them, “whose likeness and inscription is this?” They answer Him saying, “Caesar’s.” 

His point? “Caesar has a legitimate claim and so does God. Give to each his rightful claim” (v. 17). This very point they had tacitly conceded when they very quickly produced and handed Him one such coin! That might well imply that using such coins themselves acknowledged Caesar’s authority and, therefore, their obligation to pay the tax.

These folks didn’t have Romans 13 then, but we do. Paul, led by the Spirit, was establishing the principle of “subjection to the governing authorities,” because such authority comes from God Himself (13:1). There is a place for civil authority and our subjection to it as long as it does not infringe on God’s sovereignty over all governing authorities.

18 “Some Sadducees (who say that there is no resurrection) *came to [a]Jesus, and began questioning Him, saying,19 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves behind a wife and does not leave a child, his brother is to [b]marry the wife and raise up [c]children for his brother. 20 There were seven brothers; and the first took a wife, and died leaving no children. 21 The second one [d]married her, and died leaving behind no children; and the third likewise; 22 and the seven together left no children. Last of all the woman also died. 23 In the resurrection, which one’s wife will she be? For each of the seven had her as his wife.” 24 Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not [e]understand 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 But [f]regarding the fact that the dead rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not the God [g]of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken.”

FOCUS TWO: Conflict with the Sadducees (18-27)

Next up? Some Sadducees. Right out of the gate, we see their hypocrisy. This group does not believe that there will be a resurrection, yet that is their line of questioning. “In the time of Jesus, the Saducees were small numerically but exerted great influence politically and religiously. They were not, however, popular among the masses. They represented the urban,wealthysophisticated class  and were mainly residing in Jerusalem. Josephus says they were educated men and many of them held prominent positions.”

Mark marks them out (pun intended) as those who say there is no resurrection (v. 18). The Sadducees accepted “only Scripture and rejected all beliefs and practices not found there.” It sounds like a good thing to me, but they claimed that they could not find clear teaching on the resurrection in the Old Testament. That’s the problem. There is clear teaching about it in the Old Testament, and Jesus clarifies that to them. “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures, OR the power of God” (v. 24)?

Notice what He claims:

  1. They will rise from the dead (v. 25)
  2. There are NO marriages in heaven
  3. Those who rise will be like the angels (service for and fellowship with God).

In answer to their ignorance of the scriptures, He directs them back to Exodus 3:6, in the Old Testament and where the account of Moses and the burning bush is located. “His use of the Pentateuch was significant because this part of the “O.T.” was considered particularly authoritative by the Saducees.” 

These three men mentioned, Abraham, Sadduceesnd Jacob, had all died long before God made this statement to Moses. Remember what God said: “I AM,” not “I was.” So, God is saying that these men were still alive in Moses’ time (v.27)! And He will certainly raise their physical bodies at the resurrection of life!

Something else that should be mentioned at this point is the idea that God is a “covenant God.” God made promises to these men, and scripture shows that He can be relied on! This “underscores the basic thrust of Jesus’ argument-the faithfulness of God.”

28 One of the scribes came up and heard them arguing and, recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the [a]foremost of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The [b]foremost is, ‘Hear, Israel! The Lord is 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, “Well said, Teacher; You have truly stated 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 the burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And then, no one dared any longer to question Him.

FOCUS THREE: Conflict with the scribes (28-34)

A scribe is “a teacher of the law.” At first glance, we might tend to think his question is sincere. After all, He heard all the questions and answers that came from these discussions, and he believed Jesus “answered them well” (v. 28). But Matthew 22:24 paints another picture.

Keep in mind that the rabbis counted 613 individual statutes in the law. 365 that were negative and 248 that were positive! It seems “that the question arose out of a works-righteousness understanding of the law and keeping of its commandments.” 

Jesus does not pick one of these 613 in answer to his question; instead, He quotes two passages from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Leviticus 19:18). The Deuteronomy passage is directly related to the “shema.” The Shema affirms two things, “(1) the unity of God and (2) the covenant relationship of God to the Jewish people (The Lord our God.).” Because He gives Himself completely in love to His people, He expects His people to give themselves totally (heart, mind, soul, and strength) in love to Him.

Its relationship to the Leviticus passage is important because it shows “that love of neighbor is a natural and logical outgrowth of love of God.” These two commandments belong together and cannot be separated. 

The scribe’s response reveals that what Jesus was saying to him was getting through. “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (v.34). This statement should have challenged the man to think on this more and contemplate its veracity. This must have been a challenge from the Lord to comprehend what was said and then take decisive action. Nothing is said regarding whether or not He, in fact did so.

Jesus so wisely and powerfully answered the questions of these three groups that “no one would venture to ask Him anymore questions” (v. 34). But, in our next study, we will see that Jesus has a question for them!

The Expositors Bible Commentary

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