Mark 12:18-13:2: Jesus, the Kinsman-Redeemer
All the indicators are that these conversations are taking place in the Temple. Jesus returned to the temple in 11:27 and it appears that Jesus continued there teaching until he leaves in 13:1 (cf. 12:35). He has talked with and judged the “priests, scribes and elders”, dealt with the Pharisees, and now he turns to the Sadducees and finishes off the scribes and then leaves the building.
The Sadducees and the Resurrection
We should remember that as far as 1st century theologians go, the Sadducees are the liberals. This is front and center with the fact that they want to argue about the resurrection, perhaps the central point of contention (12:18). Extra biblical sources indicate that the Sadducees were also some of the wealthiest Jews and readily compromised with the various political authorities of the day in order to keep up their lifestyle. We should notice however, that the Sadducees are both asking a theological question and using a completely absurd example.
The example is taken from the Kinsman-Redeemer provision in the law. Because the promises of God were tied to the land of promise and to particular families, God made provision such that if a man died childless an heir could be raised up through the nearest kinsman (Deut. 25:5-10). The story of Ruth and Boaz is the great example of the provision of this law. The Sadducees are using this provision to show what they consider to be the absurdity of the resurrection. But it should be pointed out that while in the abstract we might be able to imagine a situation like the example the Sadducees have come up with, the most likely reason why a situation like this would arise is because this fictional woman is being neglected, abused, and taken advantage of (cf. Gen. 38).
Jesus’ answer may be taken in a couple different ways, but the point is that Jesus takes God’s identity with the patriarchs as proof of the resurrection (12:26). This is strange since the patriarchs are dead, but He insists that this proves that God is the God of the living. How does this work? Often, great emphasis has been put on the present tense of Jesus words, claiming that Jesus is saying that God is the God of the patriarchs now, but again, that doesn’t help since they are dead now. What is far more likely is that Jesus is proving the resurrection by the promises of God to the Patriarchs. The God of Abraham and Isaac is the God who promised him the nations of the world and raised his son Isaac from the dead in a figure—which Abraham believed to be fully within God’s power (Heb. 11:19). And the God of Jacob is the same God who took Joseph, the beloved son, down to the grave of Egypt and then raised him up to become the life of Israel and the nations of the world. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the God who surely and completely fulfills His promises. And in order to be faithful to the patriarchs God performed resurrections, and it is the same God who will and must fulfill His promise to everyone who has died believing the promises of God.
The Scribe, their Teachings, and their Doings
The Scribe comes, following on the question of the Sadducees, and “perceiving that he answered them well” (v. 28), and he asks about what this faith looks like. He and Jesus agree, and Jesus answers that he is not far from the Kingdom. But following this observation, Jesus goes on to discuss the teachings and practices of the “scribes.” First the discussion of their teachings is strange. What is Jesus’ point raising the question: how is the Messiah both David’s Lord and his Son? And why do the people respond gladly? It may be that Jesus is addressing some of the concerns that have already been raised by the Pharisees and Sadducees. David has a master, a lord that he submits to (responding to the Pharisees), and this master is the promised Messiah who is also David’s descendent, a son who is enthroned at God’ right hand, fulfilling His promises (responding to the Sadducees).
And Jesus continues His discussion by giving a warning about particular scribes (12:38-40). First, we should notice that Jesus doesn’t mind generalizing about a class of people, even when an exception to the rule is near at hand (e.g. 12:34). Secondly, notice in particular their habit of devouring widows’ houses and the very next scene where Jesus and his disciples witness this very thing taking place (12:43-44). While this woman is often held up as an example of piety, Mark Horne argues convincingly, that this isn’t Jesus’ point, and both Jesus’ previous warning and Jesus’ immediate response following confirm this. Jesus leaves and immediately begins talking about the destruction of the temple. The last straw is the fact that this religious establishment is being funded on the last pennies of widows. And Jesus’ words of condemnation remind us once more of the levitical judgment against leprous houses. The final act was to break the house down, throwing all the stones down. This is the very thing Jesus accused them of at the first, and now He has seen it with his own eyes: the temple is a ‘den of thieves’.
Conclusion & Application
This portion of our text forms a very nice, simple chiasm with female victims on either side and the greatest commandments and the promised Messiah at the center. And this is no accident: The gospel is the story of a man coming for his bride only to find that she has been grossly unfaithful and is now suffering for her sins by being abused and mistreated and enslaved by fathers and brothers and other suitors. But completely undeterred, the man offers his own life for the life of his bride, and he dies giving up his life for her, giving up his reputation, becoming her kinsman-redeemer. This is the gospel that you are the Bride of Christ and that he has redeemed you though you were barren and unfaithful. And you are called to respond, hearing these words gladly (12:37, cf. Prov. 3:24). David has a Son who is also his lord and master, and His name is Jesus.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!