(*Suggestion: First, grab your Bible and read Mark 11:20-14:11. You’ll understand this post better if you read the Scripture. Remember: The Old Preacher’s job is just to pass on God’s Word.)
The conflict begins. Not physical, just verbal. But tension is building. The controversy between Jesus and Jewish leaders has become a life-and-death struggle. Either Jesus must die or Jerusalem must fall. The kingdom of God (see Mark 1:14,15) cannot peacefully co-exist with the kingdoms of this world, be they religious or secular. Mark fills Tuesday’s news with the growing conflict.
Preparing for the Day. In the morning Jesus and the disciples pass by Monday’s cursed fig tree. “Rabbi, look!” Peter exclaimed. “The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” Jesus answered, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown in to the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him” (Mark 11:20-23). Jesus was preparing the Twelve for what lay ahead. Israel (symbolized by the fig tree) would fall. Life would turn upside down. But they must have faith in God. Their believing prayer could move mountains. As Philip Yancey wrote, “Faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse.”
Facing the Conflicts. In 14:1,2 Mark will make it clear that “the chief priests and scribes were seeking how to arrest [Jesus] by stealth and kill him, for they said, ‘Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.'” Passover pilgrims packed the city. Many hoped Jesus was Messiah. Arrest Jesus in the middle of that mob and a riot is sure to erupt! So for now the conflict will be verbal.
The chief priests, scribes and elders fire the first salvo. “By what authority are you doing these things . . . ?” (Mark 11:28). If he said, “God’s”, they’d claim they represented God’s authority. If he said, “Mine”, they’d claim theirs exceeded even a miracle-worker’s like him. They thought they had him. But Jesus used a common debate tactic, turned the tables on them and they found themselves had (Mark 11:29-33).
Other temple visitors were listening, of course. It was an opportunity Jesus seized to fire a salvo of his own. He told a parable about a vineyard owner who sent a series of servants to collect fruit from his tenant farmers. But the tenants refused, abused the servants and even killed some. Finally they even killed the owner’s son. “What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this Scripture: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone . . . ?'” (Mark 12:1-11). Jesus’ interrogators would have grabbed him that minute. (They knew he told the parable against them.) But, fearing the people, they simply sulked away (Mark 12:12).
Try again. ” . . . they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians (representing two sects in Judaism) to trap him in his talk.” After flattering Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Jews hated Caesar. So a simple “yes” would have made Jesus a friend of Jewish oppressors, while “no” would have been grounds for treason. You know how he answered, right? If not, read Mark 12:15-17. Everybody “marveled at him.”
Next came Sadducees (another sect) who didn’t believe in a last-day resurrection. (Did they not think how their belief clearly showed the hypocrisy of their question?) They wanted to know if a woman had seven husbands who died, whose wife would she be in the resurrection! Jesus demolished both their question and their belief. ” . . . when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage.” Furthermore, when God spoke to Moses he was still Abraham’s, Isaac’s and Jacob’s God–the God of the living. ” . . . you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Mark 12:18-27). Whoops.
“Which commandment is the most important of all?” one of the scribes standing nearby asked. With hundreds of commandments, rabbis debated this incessantly. Maybe this could somehow trap the Teacher. Love the one God with your whole being and your neighbor as yourself, Jesus replied. The scribe was so impressed he actually congratulated Jesus (Mark 12:28-34)!
Warnings about the Scribes. According to Mark, Tuesday’s conflicts were over. But Jesus had two warnings for the crowds about the scribes. (Scribes were authorities on Jewish law.) The first came in question form: “How can the scribes says that the Christ is the son of David?” In other words, how could Messiah be both David’s son and David’s Lord? The question (which Jesus didn’t answer) implied that Messiah would bring a different kind of kingdom than anybody understood–including the scribes. The second warning was against following the scribes who were hypocrites and would one day receive great condemnation (Mark 12:35-40). Jesus pointed to (of all people) a poor widow who exemplified both the emptiness of hypocrisy and the nature of the messianic kingdom. Many rich people were making a show of putting large sums of money into the temple treasury, while a poor widow modestly dropped in a penny–all she had to live on. Jesus explained, ” . . . this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing . . . ” (Mark 12:41-44). Different kind of kingdom for sure! One in which outward signs of importance mean nothing.
Warnings about Coming Judgment. Continuing his implications about the nature of his kingdom and assuring his disciples that he would win the war against his opponents, Jesus warned of coming judgment. These impressive temple buildings would be destroyed. Wars, earthquakes and famines would mark coming days. They would be “birth pains of the kingdom”. Jesus’ followers would suffer. But in the end (no one knows when that will be) , “they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” So they must not be misled by false messiahs. They must “stay awake”, living with that end in view (Mark 12:1-37).
Plotting the Betrayal. By Tuesday night Jewish authorities have decided they must wait to arrest and kill Jesus until Jerusalem empties after Passover (Mark 14:1,2). Meanwhile, back in Bethany, Jesus knows death is imminent. When a woman pours expensive perfume over his head, he explains, ” . . . she has anointed my body beforehand for burial” (Mark 14:3-9). In fact, in the darkness of that very night Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, “went to the chief priests in order to betray [Jesus] to them” (Mark 14:10,11).
So the conflict’s outcome was settled. Jerusalem would stand. Jesus would die. But, in view of Jesus’ prediction of judgment falling and of his coming, was something more happening here than met the eye? If so, was it something that would change the world–and our lives–forever?