Questioning Jesus – Mark 11–12

Read the Passage: Mark 11-12

Elders’ Question (11:27–33)

The questioning of Jesus by the chief priests, scribes, and elders (cf. Mark 11:27–33) followed Christ’s cleansing of the Temple, which was recorded in Mark 11:15–19. Chronologically speaking, the Passion Week began with Jesus’ triumphal entry on Sunday (cf. Mark 11:1–11), followed by His cleansing of the Temple on Monday, which resulted in the religious leaders’ questioning of Christ on Tuesday. Note that Jesus was also interrogated the first time He cleansed the Temple, at the beginning of His ministry (cf. John 2:14–18). In their own minds, the religious leaders’ question to Jesus appeared to be a win-win, for knowing they had not sanctioned Jesus’ actions, in their estimation the range of possible answers was: Jesus cleansed the Temple (1) with Roman authority, (2) with Satanic authority, or (3) without authority—each of which was an insufficient answer.

In response to the leaders, Jesus asked His own question about the authority of John the Baptist. After they refused to answer Him, Jesus then gave the Parable of the Vineyard Owner to illustrate the religious leaders’ rejection of Him and their coming judgment. In this parable, the vineyard owner = God; the vine-dressers = the Jews; the vineyard = the Kingdom of God; the servants = the prophets; the son = Jesus; and the others = Gentiles. Note that in the Old Testament God frequently uses the illustration of a vineyard (cf. Isa. 5:1–7; Ps. 80:8–13; Jer. 2:21; Ezek. 19:10–14). The religious leaders’ reaction (cf. Mark 12:12) to the parable shows they understood Jesus was talking about them. In response, Jesus rhetorically asked the leaders about the meaning of Ps. 118:22–23, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone” (cf. Acts 4:11; 1 Pet. 2:7).

Pharisees’ Question (12:13–17)

Just as Jesus predicted in His parable, so the Pharisees sought to harm Him, even joining forces with the Herodians, who were not a theological faction, but a political party that supported the Roman rule of Palestine. Given that the Pharisees hated Roman rule, it is notable they and the Herodians joined forces. Observe that these two parties had collaborated against Christ earlier in His ministry (cf. Mark 3:6). In asking Jesus about the morality of paying taxes, it seems that any answer Christ could give would be problematic: if Jesus said that not paying taxes was right, he would offend the secular authorities; if Christ encouraged the paying of taxes, he would offend the populace who resented Roman rule and taxation. Of course, Jesus gave the perfect answer to the question, essentially demonstrating that, in their spiritual blindness, the religious leaders had incorrectly framed their question about the paying of taxes.

Sadducees’ Question (12:18–27)

While the priests, scribes, elders, Pharisees, and Herodians were all unsuccessful in their attempts to ensnare Jesus with their questions, the Sadducees nevertheless attempted to set a trap for Christ. The Sadducees were a much larger theological group than the Pharisees, and they controlled many aspects of Temple service, including the high priesthood. The Sadducees differed from the Pharisees in that they mostly studied the Pentateuch and they denied the resurrection (cf. Mark 12:18). The trap that the Sadducees set was to ask Jesus about a woman who had married five different husbands in accord with the Old Testament law of levirate marriage (cf. Deut. 25:5–10). At face value, it appeared Jesus would have to choose between two problematic answers: first, Christ could agree with the Sadducees, thus affirming their authority, in saying that there was no resurrection; or second, Jesus could contradict the biblical law of levirate marriage.

As was the case in His interaction with the Pharisees, so in His discussion with the Sadducees, Jesus gave the perfect answer. The Sadducees, who are only mentioned here in Mark’s Gospel, seem to have made the same error as did the Pharisees—that is, they asked a bad question based upon their own incorrect presuppositions. Jesus, then, began His response by asking the Sadducees, “Are you not therefore mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Mark 12:24). Christ proceeded to teach that in the resurrection there is no marriage—at least not as we conceive of marriage in the present sense. Therefore, in affirming the resurrection of the dead, Jesus taught that it will not be a problem for the woman and for all five of her husbands to be resurrected together, for they will not be married in the present sense of the concept.

Application Questions:

  1. Why was Jesus so patient in receiving questions from those who were hostile toward Him and His ministry?
  2. Why did Jesus not answer the religious leaders’ question to Him, thus withholding the truth (cf. Prov. 9:7; Matt 7:6; 15:14; 1 Pet. 2:15)?
  3. Why did the servants in Jesus’ parable not give the vineyard owner his due share? Why was the vineyard owner so patient with the tenant farmers?
  4. How can it be moral to pay taxes to immoral government leaders who will use tax funds to promote sin?
  5. What did Jesus mean in teaching that in the resurrection people will be “like angels in heaven” (Mark 12:25)?