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The Great Debate (Mark 11:27-12:37)

Introduction

After my first year of seminary, I spent my summer vacation teaching psychology and world history in a medium security prison in Washington State. One of my fellow-teachers had a rather embarrassing experience. In his English classes, he used an individualized teaching program that employed tests which the student would correct himself. At the end of each class period the teacher would carefully check the materials to be sure that none of the test answer booklets were missing.

On one occasion he dismissed the class without his usual check. As the last student was walking out the door, it occurred to him that he had not counted the test answer books. Hurriedly, he made a tally and found, to his dismay, that one was missing. Frantically he tried to remember who might have last been using the answer book. One student came to his mind. Running out into the hall, he caught a glimpse of him and called for him to wait. As he approached the young prisoner, the teacher felt a surge of hope as the young man looked most uncomfortable at being stopped.

The young man earnestly pled to be allowed to go his way, or to at least be allowed to stop at the rest room, but the teacher, with hope ever increasing, led him to the shakedown room and called for a guard to assist in the search. When the prisoner was thoroughly searched, he was found to have a stolen set of test answers, not for the English class, but for the math class taught by an associate. Only when my colleague returned to his class did he discover that he had made a mistake and that the answer book he sought was merely misplaced in the classroom.

The moral to this story (if, indeed, it has one) is that one should be very careful in seeking the answers to certain questions. You may well receive answers that you didn’t expect.

The religious leaders learned this lesson the hard way. Having stood helplessly by while Jesus rode into Jerusalem as the King of Israel and when He cleansed the temple for the second time, they were forced to take aggressive action to put an end to His popularity and power. The ‘great debate’ was the scheme of a coalition of differing religious and political viewpoints to publicly embarrass Jesus by asking him for answers to seemingly unanswerable questions. These questions were calculated to have only two possible answers, either of which would cause Jesus to lose credibility and popularity. One example of the kind of questions He was asked might be, “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” If I say yes, then I have admitted to doing so; if I say no, I confess to persisting at it. Either way, you see, I am caught in my own answer.

The religious leaders, like my teacher friend, sought the answers to their questions, but they never anticipated the answers they would receive. The result of the ‘great debate’ was the ridiculing laughter of the crowds and the public humiliation of the critics of our Lord. Their final response would no longer be with words of examination and debate but with works which resulted in execution and death.

Lest we approach this event merely as an exercise in historical study, let me suggest that there is much for us to learn here. The questions which our Lord was asked are the most important questions which any man will ever answer in life, and the answers which the Master gives are the key to life. Let us listen well to what He has said.

The Question of Jesus’ Authority
(11:27-33)

If there was one word which summarized the teaching of our Lord, it might well be authority (cf. Matthew 7:28-29). But where did Jesus receive this authority to act and teach as He did? This question is raised immediately after the triumphal entry and the temple cleansing. It may not have been as calculated as those occurring later. That is, I am not certain that it was necessarily a trick question, so much as a challenge to the authorization to teach and act as He did. Now if Jesus had made a clear public statement concerning His deity this may well have played into the hands of the opposition, who could accuse Him of outright blasphemy (as they later did, Luke 22:67-71; John 19:7).

The scribes and Pharisees had a rather well-defined process of ordination in the days of the Savior’s earthly ministry.77 There is little question but what the religious elite regarded Jesus as little more than a ‘country boy,’ whose teaching was to be lightly regarded.

The question of authority is a crucial one, however, and cannot be brushed aside. The response of the Master is not an evasion of the question, but the exposure of the denial and rejection of those who were the leaders of the nation.

What might the Lord Jesus have answered in His defense? He could surely have claimed that His authority came from the Old Testament Scriptures, especially those which prophesied His first coming (John 5:39,46). The Father also had given witness to Jesus as His Son (John 8:16-18). If for no other reason men should listen because of His works (John 5:36). In what Jesus said and taught, there was intrinsic authority. Men could not disregard what He taught (cf. John 7:45-46).

The real issue was not really a lack of evidence which would accredit His authority, but a stubborn refusal to draw the conclusion which that evidence demanded. Because of this, Jesus sought to expose their willful rejection of the truth. This He did by posing a question to His opponents. “Was the baptism of John from heaven, or from men? Answer Me” (Mark 11:30).

One of the primary witnesses to the identity and authority of Jesus was John the Baptist, who was sent to prepare the way for Messiah (cf. Mark 1:1-11). How did the chief priests, scribes and elders regard John and his claim? Did they accept his testimony?

The truth was they did not. But they were very discreet to keep their verdict to themselves, for they knew the masses accepted him as a messenger of God, a true prophet (Mark 11:32). If they parroted the position of the majority, then they would play into the hands of Jesus. If John were a prophet, indeed, then why did they not consider John’s testimony sufficient authority for Jesus’ teaching and ministry? If, on the other hand, they revealed their true appraisal of John (which probably was that he was some kind of religious ‘nut’) they would lose whatever esteem the multitudes had for them.

I marvel at the gospel accounts of the religious hierarchy’s private discussion, for not once did they consider the issue theologically (in terms of what the truth was), but only politically and pragmatically (what will the crowds think?). Their theology seemingly was only a facade, a high-sounding explanation for their moral wickedness.

The principle underlying the answer of our Lord to His critics is this: “Your response to the claims of Jesus is determined by your ultimate source of authority.”

The scribes and Pharisees considered themselves to be the ultimate authority. They were those who ordained and accredited religious leaders. They set aside scripture and made it subservient to their traditions (Matthew 15:6). They rejected the witness of the Law and the prophets. They refused to hearken to the preparatory announcement of John the Baptist. They made themselves the authority.

That, my friend, is precisely what men and women do today. The reason that many reject Jesus as their Messiah and Savior is that they place themselves above the authority of the Word of God. They trust in their own reasonings rather than in divine revelation. The fundamental question one must face in deciding about Jesus Christ is “What is my ultimate authority?” How sad it is that many spend more time and effort in choosing a laundry detergent (or a television) than in considering the claims made by the Scriptures concerning the Christ.

The Parable of the Vineyard
(12:1-12)

Mark informs us that Jesus’ response to the challenge of His authority consisted of a number of parables (Mark 12:1), of which Matthew records three. Mark preserves only one of these, but each of them displays the same truth from a slightly different perspective.

The parable of the vineyard dramatically depicts the willful rejection of Jesus as Messiah by the religious leaders of Israel. The backdrop to this parable, and the key to its interpretation is the analogy of Israel to a vineyard in the prophecy of Isaiah 5:1-7. The vineyard is the nation Israel and the owner is God the Father. The vine-growers to whom the vineyard had been rented were the religious leaders of the nation Israel. The slaves who were sent to the vine-growers to collect what was due the owner were the prophets, who were rejected by the nation throughout its history. The son of the owner is, of course, the Lord Jesus, God’s final messenger to the nation.

Seeking to take the property as their own,78 they premeditated the death of the Son, thinking that in His absence, there would be no further interference with them. Matthew, in his account (21:40-41), indicates that this (perhaps rhetorical) question was answered by those who heard. Like David before Nathan, by their own lips they condemned themselves.

As the scribes and Pharisees quickly perceived (Mark 12:12), Jesus was not just spinning a yarn. He was still answering their challenge to His authority by this parable. They had refused to accept the credentials of Jesus, the fulfilled prophecies, the testimony of John, the accreditation of the words and works of Jesus. This rejection was, in and of itself, a witness to Jesus’ identity and authority, for the Scriptures had foretold of Messiah’s rejection by the religious leaders of the nation.

“Have you not even read this scripture: ‘The stone which the builders rejected, this became the chief corner stone; this came about from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes’” (Mark 12:10-11).79

The stone, frequently regarded as a reference to Messiah in Jewish writings, was to be rejected.80 The rejection of Jesus by the leaders of the nation was no shock, but simple fulfillment of Scripture. This rejection was no impulse or momentary decision; it was the final act of rebellion in a steady sequence of acts of disobedience and denial. Had they rejected Jesus’ authority? So they had refused John’s testimony? Had they disregarded John? So had all the prophets been ignored or ill-treated.

But not only does the quotation of Psalm 118:22-23 contain the element of fulfilled prophecy, it also includes unfulfilled prophecy—the promise of the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus after His death. The stone which was to be rejected by the builders was also destined to become the chief cornerstone. Would they put Messiah to death? God would raise Him from the dead and install Him as Israel’s King.

Here, then, is the answer of Jesus to the question of His authority. While they practiced human accreditation and ordination, they rejected divine authentication. Jesus would not reaffirm His authority because no matter how impressive or compelling it was, they would reject it. They had rejected John, as all the Old Testament prophets. This human rejection is not detrimental to the cause of Jesus the Messiah but is rather a declaration that the Old Testament prophecy of His rejection is fulfilled.

Man’s Obligation to His God and His Government
(12:13-17)

Now the fat is really in the fire. Though not intended to humiliate, Jesus’ defense has greatly angered His religious opponents. Would He make them look like fools before the people? Would He ask a question that they dare not answer? They would do so to Him, and more!

The public attack upon Jesus was well planned, I believe. It was the concerted effort of several distinct (and opposing) segments of Israel’s religious and political leadership. They strike with a barrage of verbal attacks, each following upon one another like waves against a rock. Each attack is couched in the form of a smashing question, seemingly innocent and innocuous, but carefully put so as to give the Lord Jesus only two possible answers, either of which would prove devastating. The order in which these questions have been recorded may also be significant.81

Strange bedfellows, these Pharisees and Herodians! The Pharisees were the purists, who wanted to stand aloof as much as possible from the contamination of Roman rule. The Herodians, on the other hand, seem to have determined to make the most of the situation. Nevertheless their common hatred of Jesus outweighed their dislike for one another.

The question was a simple one: “Is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” (Mark 12:14b). Taxes were no more popular in Jesus’ day than they are today. In those times there were both religious and political taxes, which could amount to as much as 40% of one’s income.82 Essentially there were three taxes imposed by the Roman government. The tax here in question is the poll tax.83 Not more than 25 years previous to this, a revolt had taken place over this very question. Out of this insurrection, one party of the Zealots had been born.84

No one likes to pay taxes, but the issue was not just a political issue. The coin typically used to pay the poll-tax was the denarius. This small silver coin “portrayed the emperor as the semi-divine son of the god Augustus and the goddess Livia and bore the (abbreviated) inscription “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, Son of the Divine Augustus’ on the obverse and ‘Pontifex Maximus’ on the reverse. Both the representations and inscriptions were rooted in the imperial cult and constituted a claim to divine honors.”85 One could easily conceive of tax paying with such coins a religious sacrilege.

This question was not posed out of genuine concern for spiritual purity, but as a trap by which to discredit Jesus. It was an act of hypocrisy (Mark 12:15). This was evident by the words of flattery which introduced the question. In effect the questioners said, “We know that you are a man who says what he thinks, who lets the chips fall where they may.” Thus they are encouraging Jesus to speak freely, even if the matter was controversial. They encouraged a hasty and careless reply.

When I was considerably younger, I supported Senator Barry Goldwater in his bid for the presidency in 1964. 1 was the only school teacher in the entire faculty parking lot with a Goldwater bumper sticker. I can still remember my embarrassment at the answers he gave the press on crucial issues. I finally removed my bumper sticker. That is the kind of thing the would-be seekers of the truth hoped for from Jesus, but it didn’t work.

It may well be that when Jesus asked for a denarius and it was presented the battle was partially won, for if having such a coin was a sacrilege, why did they have one in their possession? The Savior then asked whose name was on the coin. “Caesar’s,” they replied. The inference was then drawn. If Caesar minted the coins, if they bear his image, then they must ultimately belong to him. One does not do wrong in giving to another what rightfully belongs to him.86

Here, then, is the principle regulating one’s responsibilities to God and government: “‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17). Government is not intrinsically opposed to God. Indeed the epistles inform us that government is a servant of God to punish evil-doers and to reward those who do what is right (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17, etc.). The many benefits of Roman rule must be paid for, and taxation is a means of doing this.

The answer to the question is a limited ‘yes,’ but it must be qualified. It is good and right to give to Caesar that which rightfully belongs to him. But this suggests that there is a sphere of rightful claim as well as a sphere in which he has no claim at all. If you would, our Lord is laying down, in part, the principle of separation of church (or religion) and state (or government). Each has its rightful place. To render to Rome its due is to also serve God. But Rome has no rights in certain areas.

Government, in my opinion, has no right either to establish and support religious endeavors, nor to restrict and prohibit them. In principle, I believe that the church has the right to operate schools and children’s homes without governmental harassment. When a country like Sweden can pass a law that a parent cannot spank their child I believe they have gone beyond their rightful authority. Where this line is to be drawn is the individual decision of every Christian. The principle of our Lord is timeless and universal. Its application is the responsibility of each Christian.

Note also that our Lord carefully distinguished between God and government. In Rome this distinction was clouded by claims to deity by Roman emperors. Such claims were carefully and discretely denied by the Master. I believe that Communism in our day in effect deifies government, making it the highest and ultimate good, and man its virtual slave. We must distinguish between God and government. They are distinct and each has its rightful role to play. Each has its rightful claim on men. Perhaps I should go on to say that whenever the demands of God and government clash, we must obey God, rather than men (Acts 5:29).

The Question Concerning Life After Death
(12:18-27)

The Pharisees and Herodians having utterly failed at their mission of humiliating Jesus, the Sadducees87 make their bid in verses 18-27. The issue here is that of life after death. The Sadducees were the religious liberals of their day, believing neither in resurrection or angels. They tended also to reject the inspiration and authority of the Old Testament books other than the five books of the Law. Their approach was to discredit Jesus by posing a ludicrous hypothetical situation based upon the overly physical and materialistic interpretation of the Scriptures and the injunction of levirate marriage (Deuteronomy 25:5-6).

The hypothetical question is based upon two premises. First, that men will be raised from the dead. (Remember that the Sadduccees didn’t believe this, verse 18.) The second was that the necessity of levirate marriage was still binding. (This, too, had largely been explained away by contemporary Judaism.)88 It is little wonder that the Sadducees could not accept the proofs posited for the resurrection of men by the Pharisees, for they were, indeed, difficult to defend.89

With tongue in cheek, the Sadducees posited a hypothetical dilemma. A woman by levirate marriage was married to seven husbands, but bore children by none.90 Whose wife would this woman be in the resurrection? Jesus’ response was that both the Sadducees and the Pharisees were greatly in error, as revealed by such a question (verse 24). There were two fundamental misconceptions which must be corrected.

The first error was concerning their understanding of Scriptures. The Pharisees viewed life in the resurrection as virtually a continuation of things as they presently are. While the Pharisees were correct in their conviction that men would rise from the dead,91 they were very wrong in their estimations of what this life would be like. There would be no need of physical procreation, and therefore, no need for marriage as a means of child-bearing. To be ‘like the angels’ does not necessarily mean to be sexless (cf. Genesis 6:1-2; 19:1-11), but rather not to be in need of earthly relationships or in institutions such as marriage.

The problem of the Pharisees was too earthly a view of heaven. The error of the Sadducees was a failure to believe in the power of God, as disclosed by their disdain of the Supernatural, and, in particular, the resurrection of the dead. While the Pharisees had been ineffective in their efforts to biblically defend the resurrection from the Old Testament, our Lord beautifully expounded it from a portion of the books of the Law (which the Pharisees held to be authoritative).

In Exodus chapter three, God had said, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

Even when God made this statement Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were dead. How could God be the God of dead men? God had made specific promises to these men which, until the present, have not been fulfilled. No self-respecting Jew could believe this statement, regarded as one of the cornerstones of the Jewish faith, without grasping the implications it had toward the resurrection of the dead. By their rejection of the doctrine of the resurrection the Sadducees greatly erred and failed to grasp the power of God, the power over death and the grave.

Here is a truth fundamental to all men concerning life after death. All men will be raised from the dead; some to everlasting life, and others to everlasting torment (Daniel 12:2; John 5:28-29; Revelation 20:4-15). The nature of our resurrection life has not been (and, in fact, cannot be) fully defined, but we are safe in assuming that it will not be a mere continuation of life as we presently know it.

The Greatest Commandment
(12:28-34)

It would seem that there was one exception to the rule of rejection by the religious leaders confronting our Lord. Almost in spite of himself he applauds the wisdom of Jesus’ reply. This, in turn, evokes a question, although perhaps initially intended as a test (Matthew 22:35), it results in a positive influence upon this student of Scripture.

The Jews loved to discuss which parts of the Law were weightier than others.92 This may have suggested another question to this lawyer, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” (Mark 12:23). Jesus began with the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4, followed by the commandment to love God with all your heart, self, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. If the whole Old Testament Law were to be condensed to its simplest terms, this is what it must be.

The lawyer could not help himself. What Jesus replied could not have been said better. While this scribe agreed with our Lord’s statement, I cannot help but get the impression that this religious authority is giving his approval as a superior to an inferior, such as a professor would respond to one of his students. He virtually repeats Jesus’ words with a few additional comments. While he has accepted the truth of His teaching, he has not yet acknowledged His sovereign authority, otherwise he should have fallen at the feet of Jesus.

The answer of the Savior must have been shocking. If the scribe had commended Jesus with an evaluation roughly equivalent to ‘not bad, not bad at all,’ Jesus appraises this man’s position as ‘not far from the Kingdom’ (Mark 12:34). That is tantamount to saying to a man like Billy Graham, “That was a fairly good sermon,” or to John Calvin, “Your theology is coming right along, so stay with it.” If the best word Jesus can give to this somewhat receptive scribe is ‘not far,’ what can His evaluation of the rest be? Matthew chapter 23 tells us, with these words no one else dared to ask anything further (Mark 12:34).

The Meaning of Messiah
(12:35-37)

But Jesus was not quite finished. He had been asked many difficult questions; now it was His turn to ask one final question,93 for it was on this one final question that the whole issue hinged: “How can Messiah be both David’s son and David’s Lord?” That the Messiah would be the ‘Son of David’ was nearly universally accepted in Judaism.94 From this supposition it was easy to regard Messiah as a man, a mere man, and one who would be a military leader like His father, David.

Jesus had claimed to be more than man. His authority was not that of men, but of God. The religious leaders could not tolerate Jesus largely because He claimed to be more than a mere man. This was the bone of contention underlying all of the questions of the day. Jesus would not depart from His interrogators until the real issue was clearly in view.

The Messiah was to be the seed of David. This was without dispute. It was also widely held that Psalm 110:1 was a Messianic Psalm. How could David refer to the Messiah as his son on the one hand, and his Lord on the other? Here was a real dilemma. Here was a question for His questioners to ponder. For in the answer to this question is the key to the identity and authority of Jesus. Jesus was, at one and the same time, the Son of David and the Son of God. He was the God-man. This is where He derived His authority. And this is what the religious leaders refused to acknowledge.

Many today, like those in Jesus’ day, were willing to accept Jesus as a good man, an impressive teacher, a noble example for men to follow. But they stop short at the crucial point of His divinity. This is what sets Him apart from all men, and what qualified Him to be the Savior of the world.

Conclusion

The historical implications of the great debate are unmistakable. This is the last verbal confrontation between Jesus and His opponents. They have tried to resist Him with words, now their last hope is some kind of quiet arrest and execution. In this final debate, all of the most powerful and influential segments of Jewish religious and political life have formed a coalition of conspiracy against the Messiah.

While the Lord Jesus did not deliberately or with malice seek to make the religious elite look like fools, it could not be avoided. While they tried to humiliate Him with debating tactics, He confronted them with the truth. In their blind rejection of Him as Messiah, they could not see the futility of their efforts, nor the fact that all the while the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Christ were being fulfilled. From here on, there is no turning back for the nation and its leaders. Their course is set on the cross.

In addition to its historical significance this text has a great deal to say to men today. It is noteworthy to observe that the entire section can be summarized by a question mark. The entire debate centers around crucial or critical questions.

I would like to suggest that questions can often be an indication of unbelief and rebellion. Questions frequently disclose an argumentative spirit. The book of Malachi illustrates the same kind of stubborn independence as was shown by the religious leaders (cf. 1:2,6; 2:14, etc.). Job revealed a rebellious and unsubmissive spirit when he began to question God’s working in his life, and for this he was rebuked.

Besides being an indication of our own rebelliousness or unbelief, questions are also one of Satan’s most effective means of destroying the faith of men. It is no surprise that the fall of Adam (and, thus, of all mankind) began with a question, a challenge to the goodness of God (cf. Genesis 3:1).

Over and over young Christians have floundered in their faith due to the scoffing questions posed by an arrogant and unbelieving professor. And one reason why questions prove so effective is that the scoffer does not have to have any answers of his own; he need only be skilled with his questions. This is probably part of the reason why the Lord Jesus turned the question of His authority back to His interrogators. They had many questions, but one’s authority should never be based upon his ability to ask, but rather to answer the basic questions of life.

There are two particularly destructive types of question which are employed in this portion of Scripture. The first type of question is purely hypothetical. Such is the case of the question about marriage in the life after death. Remember that the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, yet their whole question hangs upon its premise. So also was the possibility that a woman could be married to seven brothers, all of whom died without a son.

Hypothetical questions are the favorite food of the situationalist. He will pose a question in which only two alternatives are possible, both of which are sin. It would appear that the Christian must sin, taking the ‘lesser of two evils.’ This is an absolute denial of 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.”

The Bible tells us that God never puts us in a position where we must sin. The situationalist poses questions about situations in which sin seems unavoidable, but remember that these ‘situations’ are always hypothetical, and so they must be according to God’s Word. Unbelievers and skeptics love hypothetical questions because they ‘tempt’ the Christian to anticipate his actions in circumstances which God has promised we will never be found.

The second type of question which is employed here is that of asking a question but limiting the answers to two, both of which are wrong.95 “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” There is only a yes or no answer allowed, and both answers might well be wrong. I greatly respect those who hold a strongly Calvinistic understanding of the Scriptures. While I do not fully agree with those who tell us that the only purpose of Christ’s death was to accomplish the salvation of the elect,96 I disagree strongly with the kind of question which is often raised to support their view of the atonement: “For whom did Christ die: To make all men savable, or to save the elect?” Such a question in my opinion does not do justice to those who hold this doctrinal position. One need not resort to debating type tactics to prove one’s doctrinal position. Let us ask the question, “For whom did Christ die?” and then let the Scriptures answer as they will. We need not restrict the answers to our questions.

It is interesting to note that in our world, our entire reasoning process is founded upon the question. This is the scientific method. The difficulty is that such a mentality can never accept a question as authoritatively answered. No wonder we live in a day of skeptics and agnostics. It is the spirit of our age. Beware of questions!97

In this questioning age, even though the questions may be asked by scoffers (as they were asked of Jesus), let us always be ready to give a reasoned answer, “… always being ready to make a defense to every one who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15). As we give answers to the questions let us remember that even though we perfectly answer, convincing and converting men is God’s work at His discretion. Even the Lord did not convince His enemies.

Finally, let me say that while the motives of our Lord’s interrogators were wrong, and their methods despicable, nevertheless their questions touched upon the greatest issues of their day and ours: the source of our authority, the responsibility of men to God and government (we call it separation of church and state), the question of life after death, and the matter of Christ’s deity and humanity. These are the great questions of our day, and our Lord had answered them well. His answers may not be sufficient for the critic, but they are enough for the Christian.


77 “But authoritatively to teach, required other warrant. In fact there was regular ordination (Semikhah) to the office of Rabbi, Elder, and Judge, for the three functions were combined in one. According to the Mishnah, the ‘disciples’ sat before the Sanhedrin in three rows, the members of the Sanhedrin being recruited successively from the front-rank of the Scholars. At first the practice is said to have been for every Rabbi to accredit his own disciples. But afterwards this right was transferred to the Sanhedrin, with the proviso that this body might not ordain without the consent of its Chief, though the latter might do so without consent of the Sanhedrin. But this privilege was afterwards withdrawn on account of abuses. Although we have not any description of the earliest mode of ordination, the very name—Semikhah—implies the imposition of hands. Again, in the oldest record, reaching up, no doubt, to the time of Christ, the presence of at least three ordained persons was required for ordination. At a later period, the presence of an ordained Rabbi, with the assessorship of two others, even if unordained, was deemed sufficient. In the course of time certain formalities were added. The person to be ordained had to deliver a Discourse; hymns and poems were recited; the title ‘Rabbi’ was formally bestowed on the candidate, and authority given him to teach and to act as Judge (to bind and loose, to declare guilty or free). Nay, there seem to have been even different orders, according to the authority bestowed on the person ordained. The formula in bestowing full orders was: ‘Let him teach; let him teach; let him judge; let him decide on questions of first-born; let him decide; let him judge!’ At one time it was held that ordination could only take place in the Holy Land. Those who went abroad took with them their ‘letters of orders.’” Alford Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), II, p. 382.

78 Here, as I understand it, the Lord is speaking of the religious leaders’ desperate attempt to maintain their position of prestige and power in the face of the challenge put to them by Jesus. It looked as if all Israel were about to follow Jesus (John 11:47-48; 12:19). They must be rid of Jesus to regain their dominant role in Jewish society.

79 It is hard to know to what extent the religious leaders grasped the implications of this statement. Nothing could be more abhorent to a devout son of Israel than the thought of Jewish blessings being given to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 22:21-22).

80 “In rabbinic literature the rejected stone of Ps. 118:22 was understood with reference to Abraham, David, or the Messiah, while the expression ‘the builders’ was sometimes used of the doctors of the Law.” William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), p. 420.

81 “D. Daube, however, has suggested that the four accounts which follow show an awareness of the traditional structure of the early Passover liturgy. The sequence of questions proposed corresponds to four types of questions recognized by the rabbis: questions of wisdom, which concern a point of law (cf. Ch. 12:13-17); of mockery, which frequently bear on the resurrection (cf. Ch. 12:18-27); of conduct, which center in relationship to God and men (cf. Ch. 12:28-34); and of biblical exegesis, which often concern the resolving of an apparent contradiction between two passages of Scripture (cf. Ch. 12:35-37). It is only in the Passover eve liturgy that the four types of questions appear in this particular order, and there the first three questions are posed by a wise son, a wicked son and a son of simple piety. The fourth is posed by the head of the family himself. This arrangement sheds light on the sequence of questions in Ch. 12:13-37.” Ibid., p. 421.

82 “To the psychological and ideological irritant of Roman rule must be added the much more practical grievance of Roman economic policy. The Jews had their own temple tax and other religious dues to pay, but the pax Romana was not a free gift either. There were dues on land and cattle, duties on trade and transport of goods, but above all a considerable poll-tax, rigorously enforced through periodic censuses, which was a perennial cause of unrest. It has been calculated that the total taxation, Jewish and Roman together, may have exceeded 40% of an ordinary man’s income.” R. T. France, I Came to Set the Earth on Fire (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1976), pp. 19-20.

83 “There were, in fact, three regular taxes which the Roman government exacted. There was a ground tax; a man must pay to the government one tenth of the grain; and one fifth of the oil and wine which he produced; this tax was paid partly in kind, and partly in a money equivalent. There was income tax, which was one per cent of a man’s income. There was a poll tax; this tax had to be paid by every male person from the age of fourteeen to the age of sixty-five, and by every female person from the age of twelve to sixty-five; it amounted to one denarius—that is what Jesus called the tribute coin—and was the equivalent of about ninepence, a sum which is to be evaluated in the memory that eightpence was the usual day’s wage for a working-man. The tax in question here is the poll tax.” William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1963), II, pp. 300-301.

84 “After A.D. 6, when Archelaus was deposed from his rule and Idumaea, Samaria and Judaea became Roman provinces under a procurator Caesaris, this tax was levied on the Jews (cf. Rawlinson, St. Mark, in loc.) The tax was extremely unpopular, and when it was levied the first time provoked the rebellion of Judas the Galilean (cf. Acts v. 37 and Josephus, Antiquities, xviii, I,I). The rebellion was suppressed, but the ideas for which Judas died continued to live, especially among the zealots. These extremists (who had tremndous influence among the whole nation) regarded the payment of the tribute as a punishable national infidelity towards God and ascribed all the misery of their country and people to this. Their view was that the Roman yoke should be thrown off by force of arms. Among the masses, however (probably through the influence of the Pharisees), the current view was that God would Himself remove the foreign overlordship and would do so through the actions of the Messiah (cf. Friedrich Hauch in loc., and also Rengstorf and Buchsel, in loc.).” Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951), pp. 506-507.

85 Lane, Mark, p. 424. It should be stressed, however, that contrary to Lane’s statement that this was the only coin accepted for payment of taxes (p. 424), this was not necessarily the case.

“Herod had never had the right to strike silver coins. The Romans reserved this privilege for themselves. For current use they struck bronze coins, and to spare the scruples of the Jews at seeing human portraits which had for them an idolatrous savour, these little local coins had emblems imprinted on them from the world of nature, ears of corn, palms, vine-leaves, or other objects. But the denarii, Roman money ‘par excellence,’ bore the emporer’s portrait” (cf. Luce, in loc.).” Geldenhuys, Luke, p. 507, fn. 8.

86 “This fact proved that they tacitly accepted Caesar’s rule, for “it was regarded as a generally acknowledged principle that a king’s domain extended as far as the limits within which his coins were valid” (Strack-Billerbeck, das Evangelium nach Matthaus, p. 884). See also Fr. Hauch, in loc, and cf. the words of the Jewish scholar Maimonides: “Wherever the coinage of any king is current, there the inhabitants acknowledge that king as their ruler” (cf. Godet, in loc.).” Ibid., fn. 9.

87 “The Sadducees were the priestly aristocracy among the Jews by whom the political life of the people was largely controlled from the time of Alexander the Great onwards. They tried to live in close contact with the Roman rulers after 63 B.C. so that they might as far as possible promote the secular interests of their people. Consequently they took little interest in religious matters and in many respects clashed with the Pharisees, especially as regards the Pharisees’ attachment to the “traditions of the elders” which made Jewish religious life so intricate. Everything which, according to their views, was not taught by “the Law of Moses” (the first five books of the Old Testament) was rejected by the Sadducees as forbidden innovations. So, as the Jewish scholar Montefiore puts it: “They were in a sense conservative. The letter of the Law was enough for them; they did not want the developments of the rabbis. In doctrine, too, they were against innovation. … Many of these priests, and many of the nobles and ‘rulers,’ possessed, I should think, but a very formal and outward religion. We may compare them with many of the bishops, barons and rulers of the middle ages” (Synoptic Gospels part i. p. 102).” Ibid., p. 513, fn. 1.

88 Cf. Edersheim, Life and Times, II, p. 400.

89 “The Sadducees insisted that the doctrine of life after death could not be proved from the Pentateuch. The Pharisees said that it could be so proved. It is interesting to look at the proofs which the Pharisees adduced. The Pharisees cited Numbers 18:28 which says, “Ye shall give thereof the Lord’s heave-offering to Aaron the priest.” That is a permanent regulation; the verb is in the present tense; therefore Aaron is still alive! They cited Deuteronomy 31:16: “This people shall rise up,” a peculiarly unconvincing citation for the second half of the verse goes on, “and go a-whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land”! They cited Deuteronomy 32:39: “I kill and I make alive.” Outside the Pentateuch they cited Isaiah 26:19: “Thy dead men shall live.” They cited the Song of Solomon 7:9 which speaks of “causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak.” It cannot be said that any of the citations of the Pharisees are really convincing; and no real argument for the resurrection of the dead had ever been produced from the Pentateuch.” Barclay, Matthew, II, pp. 304-305.

90 “The story may have been adapted from a popular version of the book of Tobit (for a woman married to seven husbands, all of whom died childless, cf. Tobit 3:8,15; 6:13; 7:11; for levirate marriage, cf. Tobit 4:12; 6:9-12; 7:12f.).” Lane, Mark, p. 427.

91 “A firm belief in the resurrection was an integral element in popular Jewish piety as expressed in the second benediction of the Shemoneh ‘Esreh’ (“Blessed be thou, O Lord, who raises the dead”) or in the doxology to be pronounced in a cemetery, “He will cause you to arise. Blessed be he who keeps his word and raises the dead!” (Tos. Berachoth VII, 5.).” Ibid.

92 “The Scribes had declared that there were six hundred and thirteen comandments: two hundred forty-eight affirmative precepts—as many as the members of the human body—and three hundred sixty-five negative, as many as the days of the year (Vincent). There was a great discussion between the opposing theological schools of Shamai and Hillel as to which were the “light” and which were the “heavy” commandments. They discussed the distinction between the ritual and the ethical, or the positive and the moral, the prevalent tendency being to attach more importance and greater weight to the positive commandments relating to circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, and other ritual requirements (Lightfoot). The result was the “exaltation of the ceremonial element, the curse of later Judaism.’’ The words of the Rabbis were to be prized above the words of the Law. It was commonly agreed that the positive commandments about the minutest details of the ceremonial law were as binding as the fundamental moral code. The heavy commandments were the ones to which the death penalty was attached, such as the Sabbath-keeping laws, sacrifices, and purifications. If the Pharisees could get Jesus entangled in the web of current theological, hair-spliting controversy, they would bring the unlettered Nazarene Rabbi into disrepute. They hoped He would take the fatal step of asserting again His divine supremacy. This would precipitate a reaction of violence against Him such as had almost swept Him away on various previous occasions.” J. W. Shepard, The Christ of the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939), pp. 501-502.

93 “Among the scribes this would be recognized as a Haggada-question, a question of exegesis concerned with the reconciliation of two seemingly contradictory points of view expressed in Scripture. The unity of different biblical passages was stressed by demonstrating their harmony, which depends upon bringing them into a correct relationship to each other. In a Haggada-question it is shown that two affirmations are true, but each is concerned with a different situation or a different epoch. Jesus, then, posed the question how the Davidic descent of the Messiah (which is attested by the Scripture) is to be harmonized with the equally supported affirmation that the Messiah is David’s Lord.” Lane, Mark, p. 436.

94 “Popular hopes, heightened by the celebration of redemption in the festival season, found expression in the pilgrim chant, “Blessed be the kingdom of our father David which is coming” (Ch. 11:10). The conviction that national deliverance would be achieved under Davidic leadership was an integral element of both scribal and sectarian piety, and the matter of the fulfilment of the divine promise to David (2 Sam. 7:11-16) was in the air. The Davidic sonship of the Messiah was a scribal tenet firmly grounded in the old prophetic literature (Isa. 9:2-7; 11:1-9; Jer. 23:5f.; 30:9; 33:15,17,22; Ezek. 34:23f.; 37:24; Hos. 3:5; Amos 9:11). Although the precise terminology “son of David” is not attested until the middle of the first century B.C. (Pa. Sol. 17:23), the designation soon became common for the messianic deliverer among early Palestinian teachers.” Lane, Mark, p. 435.

95 This method must be distinguished from that of the Savior in Mark 11:30, for in His question one answer was right and the other wrong.

96 My understanding of the doctrine of the atonement is that Christ died to save only the elect, not that Christ died only to save the elect. This is a very fine distinction. By it I mean that Christ died to pay the price for the sins of the whole world, and in this sense He is the Savior of all men (1 Timothy 4:10, 2 Peter 2:1). In the broadest sense, Christ’s death had a universal scope in that it paid the penalty of all men’s sins. However men’s sins are forgiven on the condition that the price is paid (which it is) and on the basis that men turn to God in faith for the benefits of the work accomplished by Christ. Only those who are the elect will turn to Christ as Savior. In the mind of God then the death of Christ from eternity past was purposed to pay the price for all men’s sins but to actually save only the elect. The best analogy is that parable recorded by Matthew (13:45-46) wherein the man finds a pearl of great value in the field. He purchased the field in order to possess the pearl. So, also, Christ died for the whole world to save the elect. We do no injustice to the sovereignty of God to acknowledoe both truths. Yet the most rigid Calvinists maintain that He either died for all men or just the elect. Christ did not die to save all men; He died to save the elect. But He died to pay the penalty of sin for all men.

97 By this I do not mean that we should not have an inquiring and critical thinking. We should leave our theology open to refinement and revision, but we must be able to say, “This one thing I know.” There are verities and certainties which constitute the foundation of our faith (cf. 1 Corinthians 15). Let us not be like those who are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7).

Related Topics: Christology, Apologetics, Cultural Issues