Notes on Mark 12:34-40

Translation and Notes

The notes below relate to and expand my podcast Jesus Strikes Back.

35In response Jesus began to teach in the temple this way: “How is it that the scribes say that the Messiah is the son of David? 36David said by the Holy Spirit,

The Lord said to my lord
Sit at my right side,
Until I place your enemies
as a footstool under your feet.

This is a hard saying for a modern exegete, because it seems not to follow any sustainable principles of Biblical exegesis. Psalm 110 is not all that likely to actually be composed by David and it was not likely in its original intent Messianic. But all of that is unimportant. What is important is that Jesus knew that his hearers accepted this as a Messianic passage, and based on their view of the passage it creates quite a problem.

The ancestor should be greater than the descendant in this case. David is the one who gives the name to the family. But here David is quoted as calling him Lord. How can this be?

Jesus was not denying that he was the son of David. He was, however, suggesting that he was more than that, more than the ancestor who had received the promise of a returning Messiah. He could indeed be both David’s son and his Lord. The theology of that would take some time to work out, but here it was in seed form.

37If David himself calls him ‘lord’ then where does he become David’s son?”
And the large crowd was listening to him with delight.

The crowd loved what Jesus was doing because they were described by these same important people whom Jesus was putting to flight. We often think that the most important thing about our presentation to other people is that we are right. But there is also the issue is whether we, personally, are believable. I think the crowds were drawn to Jesus partially because his life showed that he meant what he said. It also showed that he was connected to them. Thus they were receptive to what he had to say.

Too often a preacher or teacher presents a topic faithfully and accurately, but does not frame it in such a way that an audience can receive it.

38And as he was teaching he began to say, “Beware of the scribes who want to walk about in fancy robes and to receive greetings in the marketplaces

Mar 12:38Beware of the scribes – There was an absolute necessity for these repeated cautions. For, considering their inveterate prejudices against Christ, it could never be supposed the common people would receive the Gospel till these incorrigible blasphemers of it were brought to just disgrace. Yet he delayed speaking in this manner till a little before his passion, as knowing what effect it would quickly produce. Nor is this any precedent for us: we are not invested with the same authority. — John Wesley

John Wesley makes a good point. We are tempted to use this passage in two wrong ways. First, we see it as a license to criticize the Jews, because Jesus is hear criticizing the Jewish leadership. But we must remember that whatever Jesus said to other Jews, he said as a Jew. As gentiles, we don’t have the same freedom. Second, we see it as a license to judgment, something to which we are not called. We have to be sure to be constructive in our rebuking.

39 and the best seats in the synagogues and best places at feasts, 40 who eat up the households of widows and make a show of long prayers. These will receive the greater judgment.

This preoccupation with prominence is an inevitable result of the lack of any significant “inside.” The great sin of the scribes, and of all pushers to front seats, is a lack of love. The way of salvation is to be found in the acceptance of another and higher standard. Jesus proclaimed it again and again. The road to greatness is still the way of service. What would an edition of Who’s Who be like if it were published, not in Chicago or London, but in heaven? If it contained the names of the occupants, not of the chief seats of earth, but of the kingdom of God? A strange book, truly! It would be a “servants'” directory, as Jesus used that word “servant.” In the very next paragraph he awards an honored place in God’s Who’s Who to an unknown in Jerusalem, a widow who put a penny in the alms box. — IB Exposition on Mark 12:37-40

It’s interesting how many of us think we would like to be in leadership. Sometimes we then get into leadership and wonder why we ever wanted the position. They will receive the greater judgment is a warning to all of us. For me it always combines with James 3:1—not everyone should want to be a teacher! The point is that greater knowledge and greater authority bring greater responsibility. And when you abuse your greater responsibility you become subject to greater judgment.

This shouldn’t keep you from answering God’s call, but it should make you answer that call prayerfully and carefully.

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