You might be wondering how anyone might be able to determine what day was which in this walk through the last week of Jesus on earth as a man. The Gospel of Mark actually provides us a day by day account of the last 5 days with “on the next day” phrases. If we assume the first of these day (Mark 10:46ff) being Sunday, then knowing Monday (Mark 11:12), Tuesday (Mark 11:19,20), Wednesday (Mark 14:1), and Thursday (Mark 14:17). Using Mark as an timeline and outline, we are now on Tuesday.
Tuesday of Jesus’ last week was a thoroughly busy day. It began with Jesus and His apostles and some disciples walking from Bethany to Jerusalem. On the way those following Jesus noticed that the fig tree that He had cursed the day before was completely withered, which gave Jesus the opportunity to do some on the road teaching about the power of prayer (as we referred to yesterday).
Arriving at Temple, Jesus appears to have been confronted quickly by the chief priests about the authority with which He was “doing these things”. We don’t have a clear antecedent to what “these things” might be; they could be His miraculous healings, His raising Lazarus from the dead, His teachings, or perhaps even His cleansing of the Temple of the money changers and livestock merchants. Of these four possibilities, it would seem that the teachings and the cleansing of the Temple are the most likely antecedents; the authority for the miracles would seem to be obviously God. This, however, highlights once again the the blindness of Jesus’ critics, who couldn’t seem to make the connection between the miracles and their logical conclusions about who Jesus was and the authority that His teachings carried.
Jesus’ response to them was a counter-challenge. Generously paraphrased it amounts to “I’ll answer your question only if you answer Mine: Who gave John the Baptist his authority to preach and baptize?” The chief priests instantly found themselves in a no-win situation; any answer they gave would make them look bad. If they said that John got his authority from God, then Jesus would ask them why they didn’t believe John’s testimony about Himself. If, on the other hand, they said that John didn’t have any authority from God, they would become very unpopular, since the people believed that John was a legitimate prophet from God. So, the chief priests gave the only safe (but embarrassing) answer, “We don’t know.” So, Jesus refused to answer their question, too, and supplied us with a deft strategy for dealing with malicious critics.
But Jesus didn’t drop their challenge entirely. He went on in His teaching to tell a scalding parable about the wicked vine-growers (alternatively known as the parable of the landowner). In this parable Jesus depicts a landowner who lets us property out to vine-growers expecting a portion of the harvest as payment. When the vine-growers fail to pay the land owner sends servant after servant to collect payment, only to have those servants abused and killed. The landowner finally decides to send his son to collect, thinking that they would respect his son, but the wicked vine-growers, seeing an opportunity to kill the heir and take the land for themselves, kill the landowners son, too. Then Jesus asks the obvious question, “What will the owner of the vineyard do?” The obvious answer: He will come and destroy the vine-growers, and will give the vineyard to others. Then Jesus quotes the Psalm (118:23) that prophesies, “The stone which the builders rejected, this became the chief corner stone.” This prophecy against these wicked chief priests could not have been clearer, and it made them even more determined to find a way to stop Jesus.
Mark (11:13) tells us that it was these same chief priests and who sent other religious leaders to come challenge Jesus in the Temple courts, so the next few hours of Jesus at the Temple is filled with clearly hostile questions intended to stump Him or make Him look bad in the people’s eyes.
It started with some Herodians. They began by trying to flatter Jesus, hailing Him as one who was truthful and deferred to no one, but then gave Him a problem they thought would make Him guilty of treason in the eyes of the Romans or a collaborator in the eyes of the people — “Is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” Jesus’ response was beautifully simple, (paraphrased, of course) look at the denarius in your own purse and tell me whose likeness and inscription is on it. Then, render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.
Sadducees joined the effort to bring Jesus down in the eyes of the people with what they considered an unanswerable question about the resurrection. What if, they proposed, a man married a woman and then died before they had children — and then her brother marries her (under the Levirate law) but also dies before they have children — and then she marries the next brother, etc. down to the last of 7 brothers and then the woman dies. If there really is a resurrection, whose wife will she be? Jesus, agains, skillfully diagnoses their errors and answers them brilliantly. Their error: they didn’t understand either the Scriptures or the power of God. The answer: there will be no marriage in the resurrection and, yes, there will be a resurrection, testified to by a verse right out of Exodus (3:6), “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” — the stress being placed on the present tense verb “am” (as opposed to the past tense, “was”). Jesus concluded, “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken.”
Another came asking what the greatest command might be. This was a question of great concern to many a religious Jew, since there were so many laws that must be observed, let alone all the traditions. Would it be keeping Sabbath, would it be keeping kosher laws, would it be keeping the holy days? Could it even be whittled down to the 10 commandments? What was the one command that, if you kept it perfectly, you could rest assured that you would be saved? Jesus’ answer might have surprised many, essentially it was the well-known “Shema” of Deut. 6:4,5 — there is one God and you shall love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And then Jesus adds, for good measure, the second commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This answer was so profoundly correct, that even the scribe who seems to have asked the question as a trap, was impressed and said so. And this seems to have shut down the oppositional questions — for the moment.
But Jesus had a question for them to ponder from Psalm 110:1 which prophesied that the Messiah would be both a son of king David and One that king David called “Lord”. Fathers, especially a king, never called their sons “Lord” — unless their son was indeed of higher status, like God.
Jesus’ day also consisted of pointing out the hypocrisy of some of the religious leaders who prayed long prayers for show and then privately oppressed the poor. He also sat across from where Temple contributions were deposited and watched while rich men dropped in bags of silver or gold with an accompanying loud thump; and also as a poor widow dropped in a few small coins that probably couldn’t even be heard as they hit the bottom of the box. Jesus’ commentary on the value that God placed on such gifts has lived on in precious memory now for centuries. It illustrated what a great difference there is in giving disposable income and giving one’s rent and food money.
Toward the end of the day, Jesus and the apostles left the Temple on their way to the Mount of Olives, where they planned to spend the night. As they left, the apostles commented on the beauty of the Temple, but were shocked to hear Jesus predict that not one stone would be left on another. When they arrived at the Mt. of Olives, probably Gethsemane, the apostles asked Him to explain what He meant and when this end of the world (as they understood it) scenario would make place. Jesus then uses what is known as a double prophecy to predict what would happen in the near term (AD 70) and what would happen in the longer term (the end of time).
Now what can we learn? Actually, too much for one blog, so I’ll condense a few observations.
Jesus’ answer to the Herodians encourages us to be good citizens of the physical authorities (as much as that is possible, while being good citizens of God’s eternal Kingdom — always.
The criticism and warnings that Jesus provided to the Jewish leaders in the Temple needs to be heeded by modern religious leaders, too, this writer included. God holds leaders to a higher standard and they need to read Scripture carefully, objectively, thoroughly, and practically.
The scribe who came asking what the greatest commandment might be gives us insight and hope that not every skeptic’s heart is cast in concrete. It is way too easy to write people off completely if they ever express skepticism about Christianity or an inclination toward something worldly. Jesus’ and the apostles’ early converts included a lot Jewish priests (see the book of Acts), Pharisees (e.g., Nicodemas), and tax collectors and sinners.
Beyond the conversion of the scribe, the answer Jesus gave about loving God first and second loving others is, of course, worth pondering. Jesus’ priority guidance is to love God first and then to love our neighbor.
The hubris of the Sadducees, believing that they could trap Jesus with their proof-texted resurrection question should make all us take greater care in our Bible study. Correct Bible study needs to include to important things 1 pay attention to details, and 2) use the “sum” of Scripture and not just “some”. These are still the shortcomings of many a would-be theologian.
Lastly, the prophecy about the destruction of the Temple put side by side with the true end times is something that should be studied, not for trying to figure out exactly when the Lord will be returning (that will NEVER happen), but for the sake of fortifying ourselves in perseverance and hope against the great forces of worldliness that will persecute every disciple of Christ.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.