The Perfect Servant in Mark’s Gospel: His Destiny

Many challenges were raised by the Lord’s opponents on this day of Arguments (11:27-12:44) and all were answered with perfect wisdom. The perfect Servant possessed a “mouth like a sharp sword” (Isa 49:2)[1] and every word spoken was instructive and incisive. He had the “tongue of the learned” (50:4) and no challenge raised against Him would succeed. The best of Israel’s religious elite had attempted His defeat but, after His answer to a sincere scribe, “no one dared to ask him any more questions” (Mar 12:34 ESV). They were vanquished, but the Lord was not finished.

A Final Challenge: the Question about Christ (12:35-40)

All questions asked by the Jewish leadership were important, but the question asked by the Lord Jesus was all-important. This final challenge concerned the vital issue. They had asked about the source of Jesus’ authority, the payment of tribute, bodily resurrection and the greatest commandment; the Lord Jesus would ask them about the identification of the Messiah. Israel’s refusal to accept the true identity of the Messiah would bring upon them divine condemnation.

The Lord’s Challenge (vv35-37)

“How say the scribes that Christ is the Son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The LORD said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool. David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son?” (vv35-37).

The scribes taught publicly that the Messiah was to be David’s descendant; this fact was clear from many of the Old Testament Scriptures. However, recognising only this about the Messiah did not do full justice to all that the Scriptures revealed. The Lord’s question showed that their view of the Messiah was inadequate.

Quoting from Psalm 110, the Lord Jesus reminded them that David, carried along by the Holy Spirit, had said, “The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool” (v36). David had, therefore, clearly identified the One who would sit at God’s right hand and would ultimately rule for God in this world as “my Lord.”

If, then, David himself called the Messiah “Lord,” how could He be David’s son? The same Old Testament that identified the promised Messiah as David’s son also confirmed that He was David’s Lord. How could these two facts be reconciled?

Identifying the Messiah solely in human terms was to show an insufficient understanding of the complete revelation given in the Old Testament. To be David’s son and David’s Lord, the Messiah must be both man and God. But this was a conclusion the Lord’s opponents were not willing to consider.

The religious leaders remained silent while the crowd of ordinary people looked on and listened with delight. It wasn’t often that they saw the chief priests, scribes, elders, Pharisees and Sadducees so completely defeated.

The Lord’s Conclusion (vv38-40)

“And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts: which devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation” (vv38-40).

The Lord issued a solemn warning to the crowds who listened: “Beware of the scribes …” As a group these experts in the law were morally bankrupt. This is evident from their desires (vv38-39) and their deeds (v40). As to their desires, they wanted to be seen and saluted; they wanted to be regarded as special and superior. By external appearance and social prominence, they wanted to command the respect of others.

As to their deeds, they demonstrated that they were utterly unsuited to be spiritual guides. They were covetous and hypocritical, cruelly defrauding susceptible widows out of their possessions while hiding their covetousness beneath a show of personal religious devotion.

The Lord’s most forthright denunciations and strongest condemnations were always reserved for such religious hypocrites.

Many lessons applicable to us can be learned from these challenges and the Lord’s conclusion. First, we should notice that the Lord’s victory over all His challengers was based on the recognition of the authority and harmony of the Scriptures. He reasoned soundly from revealed Scripture. An adequate interpretation of God’s Word must take into account all that is written and give proper weight to each passage of Scripture. There is nothing illogical or irrational about the Lord’s answers, but they are all firmly based on the Word of God.

Second, the moral bankruptcy of the Jewish leaders must be avoided at all costs. In their confrontations with the Lord, these religious hypocrites thought winning an argument was more important than discovering the truth (11:31-33). A cowardly fear of the people stopped them from saying what they wanted to say and doing what they wanted to do (11:32; 12:12). They presented themselves as sincere questioners while seeking the Lord’s destruction (12:13). They used flattery to bait their trap (v14). They had a poor understanding of God’s Word and God’s power (v24). Most egregiously, they refused to accept the clear teachings of their own Scriptures in order that they may hold to their previously agreed upon position and utterly reject the Lord (vv25-27). Adding to this their desire for personal glory, social status and wealth, which they hid under a cloak of religious respectability, we can surely understand the Lord’s scathing assessment of their hypocrisy and prediction of their end: “These shall receive the greater damnation” (v40).

May the Lord preserve us from such leaders. As Paul wrote to Timothy, “But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness” (1Ti 6:11).

[1] Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.