He parable with which this chapter opens sets forth in a few plain words, and in highly pregnant touches, the moral history of Israel as under the dealings of God. In what follows we have the various classes of Israel successively exposing themselves, while they were attempting to perplex the Lord. They thought to judge Him; the result was, they were themselves judged. But in the parable with which the chapter begins the Lord sets forth God's dealings with the nation as a whole. "A man planted a vineyard and made a fence round it." There was everything done on God's part both to give them what was of Himself and separate them from the rest of sinful men. They were duly warned against contamination by heathen corruptions. He "dug a wine-vat." There was every stilted preparation for the full results of their work, and there was also full protection, for He "built a tower." Thus the owner let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country." This set forth their responsibility. The Jewish system in the past is man under probation. "At the season He sent to the husbandmen a bondman, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard." It is the moral trial of man exemplified in Israel's conduct. Man is bound to make returns to God, according to the position in which God has set him. Israel had every possible advantage given them by God. They had priests, religious ordinances, fast-days, feast-days, every help of an outward kind, and even miraculous testimony from time to time. There was nothing wanting that man could have, short of Christ Himself; and even of Him they had the promise, and were after a sort, we know, waiting for Him as their King. They had promises held out to them, and a covenant made with them. In short, there was nothing they had not that could be of any avail had it been possible to have got any good thing out of man. But can any good thing come out of the heart? Is not man a sinner? Is he not utterly defiled and unclean? Can you get a clean thing out of an unclean? It is impossible by any means used to act upon man. You may bring a clean thing among unclean, but if a creature merely it becomes defiled. If it be the Creator, He can deliver, but not even so by merely coming down into the midst of men. It requires more than this - His death. Death is the only door of life and redemption for the lost.
The Lord, then, gives the history of what they did render to God. The servant being sent, "they caught him and beat him, and sent him away empty." There was no fruit to God - nothing but evil. There was insult to Himself and injury to His servants. "And again He sent to them another bondman; and [at] him they threw stones, and* struck [him] on the head, and sent [him] away (not only empty, but) with insult."† One sin leads to a greater sin where it is not judged. "And again]‡ He sent another; and him they killed; and many others, beating some and killing some." They are rapidly sliding down the descent to destruction. There remained only one possible motive to act upon the heart of man. "Having§ yet [therefore]|| one beloved son,** he sent him also†† last to them, saying, They will reverence my son." Would not One be acceptable who was Infinitely greater in dignity and absolutely without a fault? For even prophets had faults; though there was great power of God in and by them, they were encompassed with infirmities like other men. But the Son was perfection: what if He were to come? Surely they must feel that the Son of God had an incomparably higher claim upon their affections and their reverence. And so it would have been had not man been utterly lost. And what was the moral lesson as to man brought out in the cross. Man was then proved to be utterly corrupt. God allowed it to be shown to the uttermost practically by the people of Israel. Nothing proved it so completely as the mission of the Son of God. The trial then closed in His rejection; but His rejection was their rejection before God. Man, no matter how tried or how greatly privileged, ends in proving his total opposition to God, his hopeless ruin in His sight. "But those husbandmen said to one another, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours." It was an opportunity for the will of man not to be lost. Satan led them on to wish to have the world to themselves. This is what man most values - to shut God out of His own world, and it was consummated by no act so much as by their killing the Lord Jesus - by His cross. It was man's rejection of God in the person of His Son. Henceforth he was shown to be evidently not only weak and sinful, but God's enemy. Even when He was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, man not only preferred, but was determined to have the world without God. In fact, this manifests that the world lies in the wicked one; and Satan, who was really the prince of the world before, became, on the casting out of Him who was God, the god of the world then. Man must have some god over him; if he rejects the true God in the person of Christ, Satan becomes his god not really alone, but in this case manifestly. "And they took him and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard." This closes the probationary measures.122 "What, therefore,‡‡ shall the Lord of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard to others." Nothing is said here of their rendering Him the fruits in their seasons, as we have in Matthew. It is the breaking of the old links with Israel (indeed, with man), and the giving the place of privilege to others. But more than that: the destruction of the old husbandmen follows. This has already taken place in part in the downfall of the Jewish people and of Jerusalem. Nor is this all. "Have ye not read this Scripture: The stone which the builders rejected, the same has become the corner-stone: this is of the Lord, and it is wonderful in our eyes?"§§ The Spirit does not here introduce the further fact related in Matthew. Not only is the stone to be exalted, the rejected prophet to become the exalted Lord (that is quite in keeping with Mark's object), but in Matthew the other positions of the stone are developed more. First of all, He is a stone of stumbling on the earth; and next the stone, after His exaltation, falls upon its enemies at the close and grinds them to powder. This is connected with the prophecies and their accomplishment for both the Jews and the world. The Jews did trip upon Him in His humiliation when He was upon the earth; but when they finally take the place of adversaries, not only in unbelief, but in deadly opposition, forming, indeed, the chosen party of His great enemy, the Antichrist - upon them He will fall destructively at the end of the age. In Mark, however, it is simply that the rejected stone is exalted. This at once was felt by the hearers.121 "They sought to lay hold on him, but feared the people: for they knew that he had spoken the parable against them. And they left Him and went away."
*"Threw stones, and": as AC, etc., Syrpesch hcl Goth. AEth. Edd. omit, after BD, etc., 1, 33, Old Latin, Memph.
†"With insult": so AC, etc., Syrpesch hcl Arm. Goth. AEth. B[D], etc., 1, 33, Old Latin, etc., have "and insulted [him]," as Edd.
‡"Again": so AN, etc., Syr, pesch hcl Arm. Goth. Edd. omit, with BCD, etc., 33, Memph.
§"Having": so ACDpm, etc., 69, Jerome's Vulg., Memph. Edd. adopt "he had," after BCcorr L, etc., 33, Syr.
||"Therefore": so ACD, etc., Syrhcl. Edd. follow BL, etc., 33, 69, Memph., in omitting the word.
**"One beloved son ": so Edd., after MBCD, etc., Amiat. Memph. A, etc., 1, 33, 69, have "one son, his beloved."
††"Also": so ACD, etc., Syrhcl Goth. Edd. omit, after BLΔ etc.
‡‡"Therefore": as ACD, all cursives, Syrpesch hcl Arm. Swete, as Edd., omits, following BL, Memph,
Now comes the trial of the different classes into which the Jews were divided. "They send unto Him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians to catch Him in His 2 words." Ominous alliance! for ordinarily the Pharisees and Herodians were bitterly hostile to each other. The Pharisees were the great sticklers for religious forms, the Herodians were more the courtier party, the men who cultivated every means of advancing their interests in the world, as the others did for securing a religious reputation. But where Christ is concerned, the most opposed can unite against Him or His truth. "And they come, and say to Him, Teacher, we know that Thou art true, and carest for no one; for Thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth." They stooped to flattery and falsehood to effect their malicious end. What they said was, no doubt, true in itself, but it was utterly false as the expression of their feelings and judgment about Him. "Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not? Should we give, or should we not give?" They wished to involve the Lord in a Yea or Nay that would compromise Him either with the Jews or with the Romans. If He said Yes, then He was giving up the hopes of Israel, apparently; He was but sealing them up in their bondage to the Romans. How could He be a true-hearted Jew, or, still more, the Messiah, their expected deliverer, if He left them as much as ever slaves of the Roman power? If He said No, then He would make Himself obnoxious to that jealous Government, and give them a handle against Him as a setter-up of seditious claims for the throne of Palestine. But the Lord replies with consummate and Divine wisdom; and "knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye Me? Bring me a penny that I may see [it]. And they brought [it]. And He says to them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." This answer was complete and absolutely perfect, for in truth there was no conscience in them. Had they felt aright they would have been ashamed of the fact that the money current in their land was Roman money. It was their sin: and man, while he rejects Christ, refuses to look at his own sin. The Lord Jesus leaves them where their sin had brought them, makes them feel that it was their own fault and sin that had put them under the Romans' authority. He simply says, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." If you are here by your own fault, subject to Caesar for your sins, own the truth of your state and its cause, and pay what is due to Caesar; but forget not that God never ceases to be God, and see that you render to Him the things that are His. They were neither honest subjects of Caesar, nor were they, still less, faithful to God. Had they been true to Him they would have received the Lord Jesus. But there was neither conscience nor faith.
"Then come unto Him the Sadducees, which say there is no resurrection; and they asked Him, saying, Teacher, Moses wrote unto us, If anyone's brother die, and leave a wife behind, and leave no children, that his brother shall take his wife, and raise up seed to his brother. There were seven brethren; and the first took a wife, and dying left no seed. And the second took her, and died, neither left he any seed; and the third likewise. And the seven [took her, and]* left no seed; last of all the woman also died. In the resurrection,† when they shall rise again, whose wife shall she be of them? for the seven had her as wife."
*["Took her and"]: so AD (virtually), most later uncials, almost all cursives, Syr, Jerome's Vulg., and other versions. Edd. omit, with BCL, etc., 33.
†ACcorr, etc., 1, Amiat. Syrsin pesch hcl. Arm. AEth. add "therefore" after "resurrection." Edd. omit, after BCpm, etc.
Here, again, it was merely a difficulty. The Sadducees were the infidel party, and all the apparent 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. The whole basis is false assumption. The Lord says to them, "Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the Scriptures, neither the power of God." They betrayed, as usual, their ignorance of the Scriptures, spite of much pretentiousness, else they would not have put such a case. As for difficulties, what are they to the power of God, supposing there were difficulties to man? But what is beyond the power and conception of man is very possible to God; all things are possible even to him that believeth. But the truth is that it was total ignorance to suppose that in the resurrection state such a contingency could arise. The question, besides, took for granted the resurrection, which was exactly what they denied. Scepticism is habitually crooked - not less false than superstition. Whose would this woman be who had the seven husbands successively? The answer is, she would belong to none then. There is no such thing as a resumption of earthly ties in the resurrection. People do not rise from the dead as husbands and wives, parents and children, masters or servants. Next, the Lord meets the question, not on the ground of their difficulty or mistake, but on its own merits according to the word of God. "When they rise from among [the] dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels in heaven. And as touching the dead, that they rise, have ye not read in the book of Moses, how, in the [section of the] bush, how God spoke unto him, saying, I [am] the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living."
This portion He takes, not because it is the clearest Scripture in the Old Testament, but because it is in the books of Moses, which these Sadducees chiefly valued. God never gave the land of Israel in actual possession to Abraham or Isaac or Jacob when * they were alive in their natural bodies; yet He did promise them the land, not merely to their children, but to themselves. Therefore they must rise in order to have that land so promised to them. God gave them the land in promise, but they never possessed it; they must therefore possess it another day. And as this possession cannot be in their dead state, they must live again in order actually to have the promised land. The resurrection, therefore, is proved from God's declaring Himself to Moses as the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob It is impossible that the promise He made them should not be fulfilled.
Mat_22:34-40; Luk_10:25-28, Luk_20:39-40.
Then come the Scribes. One of them, "having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, Israel; The LORD our God is one LORD; and thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thine understanding, and with all thy strength.123 This is the first commandment.* And a second like it [is] this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these." The scribe was obliged to acknowledge the Lord's wisdom.
*"This is the first commandment": so AD, etc., all cursives, Syrsin pesch hcl, most Lat., Arm. Goth. Edd. omit, as B, Memph.
He comprises the pith of the law of God in these two extracts - the love of God, which is unlimited; the love of one's neighbour, not with all the soul and strength, but "as thyself." The first is loving God more than oneself, to the exclusion of every other object as a competitor; the second is loving one's neighbour as oneself. In effect, he that loves God and his neighbour has fulfilled the law, as the Apostle says. Grace goes farther than that - even to the total renunciation of self. The grace of God, which assimilates the Christian spirit, according to the power of his faith, to the revelation which he has made of Christ, leads a person even to death for his brother's sake. "We ought to lay our lives down for the brethren'' (1Jn_3:16), still more for God and the truth. "And the scribe said unto Him, Right, Teacher, Thou hast said the truth; for He* is one, and there is none other; and to love Him with all the heart, and with all the intelligence, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love neighbour as oneself, is more than the burnt-offerings and sacrifices."
*"He": so ABKLM and later uncials, 1, 33, Amiat. "God" is in (D)EF(G)H, 69, Syrsin hcl (corr) Arm., etc.
He owns in his conscience that thus to love God and one's neighbour is far better than all upon which the Jews put such stress and value - the outward forms and ceremonies of the law. But there he ended: he saw not Christ; grace, therefore, was unknown to this man. So that all the Lord could say to him was, "Thou art not far from the kingdom of God." Still, he was outside, for grace alone brings into the kingdom of God through the knowledge of Christ. And whether a person is near or far off from the kingdom of God, it is equally destruction if he does not enter it. This scribe owned what was in the law, but he did not know what was in Christ. The grace of God that brings salvation he knew nothing of. Duty to God and to his neighbour he owned. He set to his seal that the law was good and just (and so it is); not that God is true as revealed in Christ. After this no man durst ask Him anything more. They were answered and silenced in everything.
The Lord now puts His question. It was a brief one, and totally different from the points raised by men. Man's questions were founded either upon present things, or upon improbabilities to his mind, or upon the casuistry of rival duties. Christ's question is founded directly on the Scriptures, and, more than that, on the mystery of His own person, that only link of souls with God. Christ's question had nothing of curiosity in it, nor was it merely one for conscience, but for searching into God's ways and implicit submission to the revelation of Himself. "How say the scribes that the Christ is Son of David?" It was true the Lord did not deny that the scribes saw the truth, but He raised a question which, if answered truly, holding fast the Scriptures, would have led them to the truth about His own Person. In a word, it was this: How is Christ David's Lord as well as David's Son? The scribes saw truly enough that He was David's Son, but David, writing by the Holy Ghost, said that He was his Lord.124 How are these two things to be put together - the lower truth with which the scribes were occupied, and the higher one on which the Holy Ghost specially insists? How was Christ David's Son and David's Lord? The link and foundation of it was this, that while He was man, and as man David's Son, He was much more. In order to be David's Lord, He must be a Divine Person; but more than that, He is exalted into that place. The Lordship of Christ rests, not alone on His being, a Divine Person, but because He was rejected as Son of David. God has exalted Him to be both Lord and Christ. This opens the whole question of Israel's treatment of Christ, as well as of Jehovah's attitude toward Him. In Ps. 110 we read: "Jehovah said unto my Lord, Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool." Here it is not God sending His well-beloved Son down to the vineyard of Israel, but, when He was cast out, raising Him to His own right hand in heaven. Thus it involves their owning that Israel must have rejected their Messiah, and that when rejected God sets Him at His own right hand in heaven. This, evidently, is the key to the present position of Israel, and leaves room for the calling of the Church; in a word, it is the mystery of the person of Christ and the counsels of God that follows upon His rejection.
Matt. 23; Luk_20:45-47.
But He does more than this. "He said to them in His doctrine, Beware of the scribes, who like to walk about in long robes, love salutations in the market-places, and first seats in the synagogues, and first places at suppers. It is not only that the doctrine of the scribes is utterly Imperfect, but even in their ways there was much that was morally low and bad. They loved the honour of men, religious honour peculiarly, and therefore the chief seats in the synagogues, besides the uppermost rooms at feasts. Everything that would contribute to their ease and honour in this world was eagerly sought. More than this, they devour widows' houses - that is, they take advantage even of the sorrows of people that would expose them to be more entirely under their influence. Along with this there was great religious ostentation, for a pretence making long prayers. "These shall receive severer judgment."
But now the Lord singles out those with whom He had sympathy on the earth. "Jesus sat down opposite the treasury, and saw the crowd casting money into the treasury; and many rich cast in much. And a poor widow came, and cast in two mites, which make a farthing; and He called to [Him] His disciples, and said to them, Verily I say unto you, This poor widow hath cast more in than all who have cast into the treasury." The reason He gives: "for all have cast in of their abundance, but she of her want hath cast in all that she had, the whole of her living." God does not go by the amount given; He judges not by what is contributed, but by what is kept behind for self. In this case it was nothing - all was given. Those who gave of their abundance reserved the greater part for themselves; but the test of liberality is not what is given, but what is left. The much that is kept for self-enjoyment is the proof of how little is given. But when there is nothing left, but all is cast into the treasury of God, there is the true working of Divine love and faith. There is what God values, because it is the expression not only of generous giving, but of entire confidence in Himself. This poor woman was a widow, and it might have seemed that she of all others was entitled to keep what little she had; but no - little as it was, all is for God. The dealing with such a small sum might have been a trouble to those who would have to count it, but it was noticed of God, valued by Him, and recorded for us, that we may confide in God, and may give whatever is according to His mind.
NOTES ON MARK 12.
121 Mar_12:1-11. - This is the passage taken by Dr. Abbott in comparison with Mat_21:33-44, Luk_20:9-18, to illustrate the theory of the composition of the Gospels put forth by him in the "Encyclopaedia Britannica" (see note 11). All the words in the Greek of Mark, save four, he shows, are common to Matthew's and Luke's parallels. The difficulty any mere "compiler" would have had is set forth without any exaggeration.
122 Mar_12:8. - It is common, with regard to the question of probation, either (1) to uphold the idea that Christians are under the law, or (2) to deny man's complete moral ruin before God, in either alternative impairing Pauline doctrine (Gal_5:18, Rom_6:14, Rom_7:18, Rom_8:8). The alleged antithesis between the Synoptic reaching of the Lord on this subject and that of the Apostle is one of the novelties of "modern thought" with which the present generation is harassed. Anyone may understand that the full truth as to human depravity must have become clearer after the Crucifixion; yet the germs of Paul's doctrine, like that of John (John 3), are to be found in Mar_10:15, the truth of which Matthew's στράφητε (Mat_18:3) does but emphasize.
123 Mar_12:28-34. - The words quoted by the Lord in verse 29 f. are those of the Shema, which it was the duty of males to repeat morning and evening. On the use made by Christ of the Hebrew, Farrar ("Life of Christ," p. 69) writes: "Jesus was acquainted with it, for some of His Scriptural quotations directly refer to the Hebrew original."
124: Mar_12:35-37. - We are here told that David himself, and that by inspiration (for the Greek, cf. Rev_1:10), said that which modern critics deny to him as his words. The old Jewish idea of the authorship of Ps. 110 was that, in David's old age, when he could no longer go out to battle, a Court poet composed it in order to console him. But the Evangelist here tells us that the Lord cited the Psalm definitely as David's own. Not content with the denial of such authorship, some writers go on to represent that Christ here disavowed His being Himself "Son of David" Réville i., p. 47 note, 303 f., 381; Bousset, p. 182). Compare what Professor Sanday says on this subject (article "Son of God," p. 573 in Hastings); Neander (p. 402) "to oppose a one-sided adherence to the one at the expense of the other"; and, for the relation of sonship of God to the Lord's Messianic claims, the article in Hastings just referred to, p. 576.
125 Mar_12:40. - As to the result of comparing Mark's record with that of Matthew (23: 5), see note 7.