Throughout the Gospel of Mark, Jesus has been in conflict with the authorities at Jerusalem, who will eventually kill Him.
“And he began to speak unto them by parables . . .” (Mark 12: 1-44).
Remember that in the early portion of Mark, Jesus had five controversies with the Jews. Here, at the other end of His ministry, we find five more controversies (2:1-3:6 &11:27-12:37). In addition, the four questions posed here correspond exactly to the four questions found in the Passover eve liturgy — questions of wisdom, mockery, conduct, and exegesis.
Jesus tells a parable (not to be mistaken for an allegory) about the nation of Israel. This is taken unmistakably from Isaiah 5:1-7, in which the vineyard was Israel. The point of this parable was not missed by Christ’s enemies (v. 12). The Lord told how a vineyard was established by a man who rented it out to farmers (v. 1). He was an absentee landlord, and when he sent a slave to collect his share, the slave was badly treated (vv. 2-3). This happened again and again, with the situation escalating (vv. 4-5). Then he sent his son on the assumption that they would at least respect him (v. 6). The sharecroppers think that if they kill the son, the property will be theirs (v. 7). And so this is what they do (v. 8).
The Lord asks what the sentence upon these wicked men will be. The end of the farmers will be utter destruction, and the vineyard given to others (v. 9). Changing the metaphor, Jesus then quotes from Ps. 118, the psalm chanted by the crowd at the Triumphal Entry. The builders rejected the stone which then became the capstone (vv. 10-12).
The Pharisees and Herodians try to catch Him in His words (v. 13). They begin by flattering Him as one who did not care for human opinion (v. 14). He did not return their sentiments (v. 38). They ask, yes or no, should we pay tribute to Caesar or not? (v. 15). They wanted to get Him in trouble with the people, who hated the tribute, or with the authorities, who didn’t. Jesus does not have a Roman denarius on Him, so He asks for one. Then He makes them say whose image it bears, and points to the inscription. The denarius at that time said, “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, Son of the Divine Augustus” on the obverse and “Pontifex Maximus” on the reverse. Give, Jesus says, according to the image (v. 17).
Enter the Saducees (v. 18). They denied the resurrection, and sought to show how ludicrous the idea was by asking about marriage in the resurrection. They spun a drawn-out scenario (vv. 19-23). The Pharisaical answer to this conundrum was that the first husband got her. But Jesus shows that they did not understand the scriptural descriptions of the resurrection, or the power of God (v. 24). There is no marriage as we know it in the resurrection. But the resurrection will be far better than what we know now, so do not imagine from all this that seeing your wife in heaven will be like meeting an old girl friend at your high school reunion. “Oh, hi. It’s you.” And, as far as the dead are concerned, they have a living God (vv. 26-27), emphasis on the present tense.
One of the scribes was impressed with this exchange, and asked about the greatest commandment (v. 28). Jesus answers this, an honest question, straight up. The greatest commandment was to love God with all your being, and the second commandment was to love your neighbor as yourself (vv. 29-31). This scribe echoes the Lord in similar terms (vv. 32-33). Jesus tells him that he is not far from the kingdom (v. 34). The questioning was over.
But then Jesus, the Son of David, has a question of His own. Given Ps. 110, whose Son is the Christ? There was no scribal answer to this (vv. 35-37). If the Messiah is the Son of David, then why would David look up to Him, calling Him Lord?
Jesus then launches His attack on the self-intoxicated religious leaders of His day. On the one hand is all their showboating, and the impression we get is of a pack of religious pasty boys (v. 39). But they do have a type of hardness, the hardness of a bully. They devour widow’s houses, and will be damned (v. 40). As a contrast to them, Jesus then holds up the example of one such virtuous widow (vv. 41-44). The stage is set for destruction. This portion of Mark is the portico of wrath.