And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”‘ David himself calls him. Lord. She how is he his Son?” And the great throng heard him gladly. And in his teaching he said, “Bewared of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” – Mark 12:35-40
Great military battles have been won by counterattacks. A counterattack is a response to an attack. It can be the difference between victory and defeat. Mark 12:35-40 records a counterattack by Jesus. It was Tuesday of Passion Week – the day of controversy. Jesus taught in the courts of the temple. His teachings were repeatedly interrupted by the religious authorities who sought to trap him in his words. Political, theological, and religious questions were asked in a succession of attacks. Each failed to discredit Jesus or produce a charge against him. On the contrary, with each answer Jesus gave, he made his questioners look foolish.
Mark 12:34 says, “And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.” Jesus fended off their attacks. He then launched a counterattack. The religious leaders asked question after question. Jesus answered them all. Now he initiates engagement by asking a question of his own. Jesus has the last word.Mark 12:35-40 record two distinct but connected scenes. Both sets of verses mention the scribes.
- Verse 35 questions the scribes’ interpretation of scripture.
- Verse 38 warns against the religious hypocrisy of the scribes.
But the connection is more substantial than that. In these verses, Mark records the end of the public ministry of Jesus. In Mark, Jesus is a man on the move. He is preaching the kingdom, healing the sick, and casting out demons. Now, in the courts of the temple, his three-year ministry ends. What Jesus says and does going forward will prepare his disciples for his rapidly approaching crucifixion and their gospel work after his resurrection.
It seems the ministry of Jesus ends unceremoniously, with him fending off the attacks of those who will ultimately put him to death. But in this counterattack, Jesus has the last word. That is not just an incidental detail of the text. It is the inescapable fact of life. Jesus always has the last word.
- What you say about Jesus is not the last word.
- What Jesus says about you will be the last word.
What will Jesus say about you in the end?
Two questions determine what Jesus will say to you at the end.
Do You Know The Truth?
Verses 35-37 record the question Jesus asked. Mark does not mention whom Jesus addressed. Matthew 22:41 says Jesus asked this question to the Pharisees, of which the scribes were a part. They asked Jesus questions they thought he did not know how to answer. Now he asks them a question they cannot answer.
A Strategic Question. Verse 35 says, “And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, ‘How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David?’” In a fair debate, you should accurately represent your opponent’s position. Jesus fights fair. His question stated what the scribes taught. “Christ” means “the anointed one.” It is the New Testament term for “Messiah.” In the Old Testament, God promised to send an anointed one to redeem and restore his people. The Christ would be “the son of David.” In 2 Samuel 7:11-16, the Lord promised David one who would sit on his throne forever. The coming Messiah was thus considered the son or descendant of David.
In Mark 10:47, Bartimaeus cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” That blind beggar called Jesus the Messiah. Mark 11:10 says the people cried out during the Triumphal Entry, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” The jubilant crowds viewed Jesus as the promised Messiah. This was the core issue the religious leaders had with Jesus. It was not merely that he was popular. It was that his popularity stoked messianic fervor. Jesus did not duck the issue. He confronted it head by asking, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David?”
Jesus’ question did not deny the Christ was the son of David. It confronted them with the fact that Jesus himself was the Christ. In verses 28-34, a scribe asked Jesus about the most important commandment. Jesus answered correctly, and the scribe confirmed his answer. Verse 34 says, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” The scribe affirmed that Jesus told the truth about God, as revealed in scripture. He only needed to believe that Jesus told the truth about himself, as revealed in scripture. To believe the truth about God is to believe the truth about Jesus.
Religious leaders point away from themselves to their teachings. Jesus makes himself the issue. We are saved by faith in his finished work on the cross. But the Work of Christ does not save if the Person of Christ is not true. Matthew 22:42 states the question bluntly: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?”
A Scriptural Question. In verse 35, Jesus questioned what the scribes taught about the Christ in light of scripture. The religious leaders quoted other religious leaders. The word of God was the authority of the Son of God. His strategic question was a scriptural question.
The Mystery of Scripture. Verse 36 says, “David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared…” Jesus then quotes Psalm 110:1. Notice how Jesus quotes the Psalm. He affirms its Davidic authorship and divineauthorship. The superscription of Psalm 110 reads: “A Psalm of David.”
Jesus viewed that title as inerrant. David wrote this psalm. Every passage of scripture was written by a human author. But the Bible is more than a collection of human thoughts, teachings, or traditions. It is divine revelation. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” Jesus affirms this by saying David wrote “in the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:20 says, “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Why trust the Bible? I believe the Bible because Jesus believed it. He declared it to be the divinely inspired truth about himself. Do not trust any teacher who rejects, undermines, or negotiates the authority of God’s word.
The Message of Scripture. Verse 36 says, “David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”’” Jesus quotes Psalm 110:1. David says, “The Lord said to my Lord.” The Greek word for “Lord” is used twice in the statement. In Hebrew, it reads “Yahweh” said to “Adonai.”
- Yahweh is the Self-Existent One.
- Adonai is the Sovereign One.
David used two terms to describe two persons. Both were called “Lord.” The Jews read this as a Messianic Psalm. The Lord God said to the Messiah-King: “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.” The church understood the Psalm the same way. Psalm 110:1 is the most quoted and alluded to verse in the New Testament. It is fulfilled in the resurrection, ascension, and enthronement of Christ.
Jesus ironically quoted a verse that promised his enemies would be brought into total subjection to him. But his focus was not on its statement of ultimate triumph. Verse 37 says, “David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” The Christ was the son of David. But David calls him “my Lord.” How could David’s son be David’s Lord? Matthew 22:45 says, “And no one was able to answer him a word.” The teachers of the law did not know the answer.
The answer is the incarnation of Christ. By his virgin birth, Jesus was truly man and truly God. John 1:14 says, “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus Christ was the God-Man. David’s son was David’s Lord because David’s son was David’s God.
Verse 37 ends, “And the great throng heard him gladly.” It may be cynical to suggest they enjoyed seeing Jesus body slam the religious leaders. But it would exaggerate the truth to say they understood, much less believe what Jesus said. They were eager hearers. They were not true converts. Here’s a dire warning. You can listen with great benefit to years of faithful preaching about Jesus Christ. But it will not do your soul any eternal good if you do not trust and obey him. How are things between you and Jesus?
Do you Live the Truth?
Verses 38-40 shifts scenes. Jesus was done talking to the religious leaders. His final public remarksare to the great throng that heard him gladly. It was a warning about the religious leaders. In Matthew 23, Jesus issues seven “woes” against the scribes and Pharisees. Mark simply records the admonition of Jesus about those who do not live the truth.
Beware of Religious Conduct. Verse 38 says, “Beware of the scribes.” “Beware” means to watch out for or be on guard against. Ours is a meek and lowly Jesus who would never call out wrongdoers. The biblical Jesus treated false teachers as threats who should be avoided. Jesus speaks truth to power. He calls out religious leaders, not political leaders. He exposes six aspects of their hypocrisy. Let me put them into three categories.
Religious Pride. Verse 38 says, “Beware of scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces.” “Like” is not strong enough. These are things in which they took great delight. “They like to walk around in long robes.” Scribes wore official attire as they carried out their ministerial duties. Some walked around in long robes to be recognized as religious leaders. R. Kent Hughessaid, “They were ‘power dressers’ par excellence!”
They also “like greetings in the marketplaces.”These were not gregarious men who enjoyed small talk with people they met along the way. They were religious snobs who wanted people to stand in their presence and greet them with honorific titles – Rabbi,Master, Father. There is an unhealthy fixation today with religious garb and official titles. Jesus does not call this giving honor where honor is due. He calls it religious pride that we should beware of.
Religious Power. Verse 39 adds they like to “have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor of feasts.” The “chief seats” were up front – the seat before the ark that held the scrolls, next to the official reader. Their seat-seeking did not stop at the synagogues. They wanted “places of honor at feasts.” If a wealthy person threw a party, they only attended if the seats of honor were reserved for them – on the right or left of the host.
There is nothing wrong with wanting good seats. But this was not about seats. It was about power. This is why Jesus rebuked James and John for asking to sit on his right and left in the kingdom. Things have not changed. Some today pick seats because they want to be “close to the fire.”Others pick seats for prestige, power, and position. It’s not about where you sit but how you walk.
Religious Pretense. Verse 40 says they “devour widow’s houses and for a pretense make long prayers.” Widows and orphans were the most vulnerable groups in the ancient world. God blessed those who cared for them and punished those who mistreated them. Most widows were like the woman in verses 41-44 who gave two mites. Some were wealthy. Jesus said the scribes “devoured widows’ houses.” He did not tell us how they did it. The point is that they did it. They seemed to be righteous men. Their ethics changed when money was involved.
Their moral corruption was also evident when they prayed. Their prayers were as long as their robes. Jason Meyer wrote: “The length of their prayers does not demonstrate the depth of their devotion to God but the lengths they will go in order to be noticed as religious.” It was a “pretense.” Beware of those who put money before ministry and turn piety into a performance.
Beware of Righteous Condemnation.Why beware of the conduct and character of the scribes? Verse 37 answers: “They will receive a greater condemnation.” This is eschatological language that points to final judgment.
- You may get by.
- You won’t get away.
Jesus has the last word. The one who does not know or live the truth about Christ is condemned. John 3:18 says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Not only is there a condemnation, but there is also “a greater condemnation.”
Here is one of the mysteries of eternity. In heaven, there will be no sense of loss. But some will receive a greater reward. Everyone in hell will be eternally punished. But some will have a greater condemnation. This warning is not about prostitutes, tax collectors, or other notorious sinners. It is about religious hypocrites who play church! That’s the final word of Jesus’ public ministry: Stop playing church before it’s too late!
- The bad news: There is a greater condemnation for those who do not trust in Christ.
- The good news: There is now therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.