Bible Commentaries

Hamilton Smith's Writings

Mark 12

Verses 1-44

( Mark 12:1-12). The religious leaders have been exposed as hypocrites, who, thinking only of their own religious reputation, "feared the people," but had no fear of God. The Lord now sets before them, in a parable, the moral history of the nation to show that, as with the chief priests at that time, Song of Solomon, throughout the past, the leaders had always broken down in responsibility. Moreover, looking on to the near future, the Lord foretells the judgment coming upon the leaders and the nation. Like the vineyard in the parable, Israel had been established in a choice land, and separated from the nations by a law which regulated their lives, and, like a hedge, set bounds around them. Moreover, like the place, digged for the vinefat, provision had been made for the nation to bring forth fruit for God. Further, as with the tower in the vineyard, they were protected from every enemy. Then the nation had been set in responsibility to maintain their unique position and bring forth fruit for God.

In due season, God seeks some return from the nation for all His goodness. Alas! this moral trial of man as exemplified in Israel"s history, only serves to prove his utter ruin. Man has no heart for God, even when so richly blessed by God, and when given every opportunity of realising this goodness.

So it comes to pass that every overture on the part of God, in seeking fruit from the nation, Isaiah, not only repulsed, but met by increasing resentment. The first servant is sent away empty. The second is treated with insult. Others are sent, and meet not only insult, but persecution even unto death. Increasingly, the nation shows the failure of man under responsibility. But there is one last test, to see if it is possible to act upon the heart of man. There is one Song of Solomon - the well beloved Song of Solomon - He shall be sent, and if there is a spark of goodness in the husbandmen, they will surely reverence the Son. There may be cause of dislike and even hatred in the best of prophets and kings, but in the Son there can be no cause of hatred. Alas! He has to say, "They fought against Me without a cause. For my love they are my adversaries . . . they have rewarded me evil for good, and hatred for my love" ( Psalm 109:3-5).

The advent of the Son made manifest the real state of the heart of man. Israel would fain have a kingdom without Christ, and the Gentiles would have a world without God, even as the husbandmen in the parable say, "This is the heir, come let us kill Him, and the inheritance shall be ours." And as it was with the leaders of Israel, in the day of the Lord, so it is with the whole world today. It is increasingly seen that man"s will is to shut God out of His own world. The evolutionist would shut God out of His creation; the politician would exclude God from government, and the modernist would shut God out of religion.

Here, then, we are permitted to see the true character of the flesh that is in us. It can be patriotic and social and religious, but if it is allowed to have its own way it will kill Christ and cast Him out of the world. CHRIST- the Christ of revelation (for the flesh can even invent a Christ of its own imagination) - is the real test, and proves that however fair the outward appearance of the flesh at times, at root it is always in deadly opposition to Christ.

This rejection of Christ brings governmental judgment upon the nation, and would lead to others being taken up from whom God will seek fruit. The Lord quotes their own Scriptures ( Psalm 118:22-23) to convict them of their sin in rejecting Himself. By this terrible sin they were acting in direct opposition to God; for the One they were about to nail to a cross, God was going to exalt to the highest glory. Nevertheless, the Lord indicates that the time is coming when a repentant remnant will own that what the Lord has done is marvellous in their eyes.

With the conscience touched, but the heart unreached, man is only maddened. Thus, with these wicked men, they sought to lay hold of Him, but for the moment they are hindered by mere policy, for they feared the people. So "they left Him and went their way." How hopeless the condition of those who deliberately turn their backs on Christ and go their way.

(Vv13-17). The religious leaders of the nation having been exposed in all their hatred of Christ, we are now to see the exposure of the leaders of the different parties, into which the nation had become divided. First there comes before the Lord the Pharisees and Herodians. Though opposed to one another, they were united in their hatred of Christ, and alike in their desire to exalt themselves in this world. The Pharisees were seeking a religious reputation by the outward observance of forms and ceremonies; the Herodians were seeking advancement in the social and political world. Of necessity they both find that One who is here entirely for the glory of God must condemn such aims, and hence they oppose the Lord. All that He was, every truth that He taught, His every Acts, sprung from motives entirely different to those which swayed the lives of these men. Thus, if they come to Christ, it is not to learn at His feet, but in the hope of catching Him in His words. The worldly motives that swayed them had so entirely blinded them to the glory of Christ, and so puffed them up with the conceit of their own powers, and importance, that they actually thought they could catch the Lord of glory in His words.

Moreover, they think that the tactics that can often be used so successfully with their fellow-men can be used with the Lord. Thus by flattery and falsehood they seek to entrap the Lord. They say, "Thou art true, and carest for no man: for Thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth." This, though true in fact, was not the true expression of their evil hearts. Having, as they thought, prepared the way by flattery, they put their question, "Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not?" Their wicked minds had devised a question which, they thought, would compromise Him, whatever answer He gave, be it "Yes" or "No," with either Jews or Gentiles.

The Lord exposes their hypocrisy with His question, "Why tempt ye Me?" Seeking to catch Him in His words they fall into their own trap and make manifest their low condition, actually before men, and morally before God. In answer to the Lord"s request, a penny is brought to Him, and He asks, "Whose is this image and superscription?" and they said unto Him, "Caesar"s." Obviously, then, it belongs to Caesar; that being so it is only right to "render to Caesar the things that be Caesar"s, and to God the things that are God"s." The Roman power could find no fault with rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar"s; the Jew could find no fault with the principle of rendering to God the things that are God"s. The fact that Caesar"s money was circulating in the land was a witness to the low condition of the nation in bondage to the Gentile. Alas! in spite of their humiliating position there was no true repentance, for they continually rebelled against Caesar, and they rejected their own Messiah. Perceiving the wisdom of the Lord"s reply, they marvelled, but, alas! they had neither conscience toward God nor man.

(Vv18-27). The Pharisees and Herodians having been exposed and silenced in the light of the Lord"s presence, the Sadducees now approach the Lord, only to have their ignorance and infidelity laid bare. The Sadducees were the materialists of that day, and represented the infidelity of the flesh. It has been truly said, "The strength of infidelity lies in putting difficulties, in raising up imaginary cases which do not apply, in reasoning from the things of men to the things of God." (W. K.). So in this case these wicked men seek to oppose the truth by ridicule. They raise an imaginary case which they Judges, shows the absurdity of resurrection. As usual with infidels, they betray gross ignorance of Scripture and ignore the power of God. If Scripture had said that people marry in the resurrection state their imaginary case might indeed have presented a difficulty. If God had no power, the resurrection itself would be impossible.

There is not a line in Scripture to say that the relationships of earth will be continued in heaven. We shall not rise as husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants, but in this respect shall be as the angels. We shall not be angels, as people vainly imagine, but like them in being free from earthly relationships. The believer will enjoy privileges, and heavenly relationships far above angels, and the passing relationships of the time state.

As touching the resurrection, the Lord again shows their ignorance of Scripture. They had quoted Moses, in the endeavour to show that the Lord"s teaching was in opposition to Moses; the Lord therefore turns to Moses to expose their ignorance of what He had said. Is it not recorded in the book of Moses that "in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." When the incident at the bush occurred, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had been long dead, yet God still speaks of Himself as their God: He is not, however, the God of the dead, but the God of the living. Though dead to this scene, they still live and will rise again to enjoy the promises of God, which, sin having come in, can only be fulfilled on resurrection ground. Thus the Lord can say to the infidels of that day, as of this, "Ye therefore do greatly err."

(Vv28-34). The Sadducees are followed by a representative of the Scribes, who were the interpreters of the law, and believed that some laws were of greater importance than others. He asks the Lord to give His judgment as to "Which is the first commandment of all?" In His perfect wisdom the Lord passes over the ten commandments which would naturally occur to the mind of Prayer of Manasseh, and selects certain great exhortations from the Pentateuch which sum up the law and express man"s whole duty to God and man.

The first responsibility of man is to maintain the unity of the Godhead according to the Scripture which says, "Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord." It follows then, that man is responsible to love God more than himself, and to the exclusion of every other object as a competitor; secondly, to love his neighbour as himself. This is the summing up of the whole law and presents the whole duty of man upon earth according to the law. If these two laws were kept none of the other laws would be broken.

The scribe bears witness to the perfection of the Lord"s reply. His conscience tells him that the Lord has expressed the truth. He recognises that to give God His due, and act rightly towards one"s neighbour is of more value than all outward forms and ceremonies of the law. As ever, in God"s sight, the moral condition of the soul is of far greater importance in the sight of God than the outward show of piety.

The Lord recognises the discreetness of this lawyer. As far as intelligence and an honest recognition of the truth goes, he was not far from the kingdom of God. But, alas! he was outside. He saw the truth of what Christ said, but he did not see the glory of Christ, or bow in recognition of the truth of His Person. As one has said, "Whether a person is near or far off from the kingdom of God, it is equally destructive if he does not enter it." (W. K.). As with many others, the lawyer saw what was in the law, but he failed to see his own deep need as one that had entirely failed to meet the demands of the law, and hence he failed to see the glory of the Person of Christ, and the grace that was in Him to meet the need of those who have entirely failed in their responsibilities.

After this, no man durst ask the Lord any question. Representatives of all classes- Priests, Rulers, Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees and Lawyers- had come with their questions, tempting the Lord, only to find themselves exposed and silenced. The Pharisee, who professed to uphold religion, had not rendered to God the things that are God"s. The Herodian, who professed to maintain the political interest of Caesar had not rendered to Caesar the things that are Caesar"s. The Sadducee, that boasted in intellect, was remarkable for his ignorance. And the Scribe, who expounded the law, had not kept the law. However opposed to one another, they are all united in opposition to Christ, and in manifesting the complete ruin of man in responsibility.

(Vv35-37). Having answered all questions and silenced every opposer the Lord, Himself, asks a question of supreme importance, for it touches the glory of His Person upon which all blessing for man depends. "How say the scribes that Christ is the Son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Spirit, the LORD said to my Lord, Sit Thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool." The questions of His adversaries had been based on the reasonings and imaginations of their own minds: the Lord"s question is based on Scripture, and goes to the root of their solemn position, for it brings to light the mystery of His Person, which they refused to acknowledge. The scribes saw truly that the Messiah would be the Son of David, but they did not see, what the Holy Spirit distinctly states in their own Scriptures, that He was not only the Son of David but also David"s Lord. How can He be both David"s Son and David"s Lord? There is only one answer. He is truly Prayer of Manasseh, and yet as truly a Divine Person. Refusing to own the truth of His Person they miss the blessing, and the One they reject passes to the right hand of God, there to wait until the time comes to deal with all His adversaries in judgment.

(Vv38-40). The exposure of the leaders is followed by the Lord"s word of warning against those who made a great religious profession, but whose one motive was the exaltation of themselves. Such, love display- "long clothing;" public recognition- "salutations in the market-places;" religious pre-eminence- "the chief seats in the synagogues;" social distinction- "the uppermost rooms at feasts;" self-aggrandisement, even at the expense of widows; and religious ostentation when, "for a pretence" they "make long prayers." How solemn are the Lord"s words, "These shall receive severer judgment." The greater the pretension, the greater the judgment.

(Vv41-44). In contrast to those who have been exposed as religious hypocrites, we are permitted to see that there were those in the nation that the Lord delights to own, represented by this poor widow. The godly remnant that returned from Babylon in the days of Ezra to build the House of God, are still seen in this devoted soul who gave up all her living to maintain the House of God. Ignorant she may have been that this house had been corrupted by man and was about to be destroyed in judgment; but her heart was right with God, and her motives pure. She gave but two mites, but, in God"s sight it was more than all others gave, though they cast in much. They gave of their abundance; "she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living." God judges of the value of a gift, not by the amount given, but by what is kept back for self.

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Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Mark 12". "Hamilton Smith's Writings". https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hsw/mark-12.html. 1832.