Chapter twelve contains six separate teachings that Jesus gave in the Temple. Most of these were in response to direct challenges from the religious leaders. In the parable of the tenants (Mark 12:1-12), Jesus revealed that the religious leaders were nothing more than tenants that God had allowed to work with his people. However, whenever he sent his own men (the prophets), they beat or killed them. Finally, the landowner sent his own son, whom they also killed, another of Jesus’ clear claims of deity and predictions of his own death at their hands.
The Pharisees tried to trap Jesus into either supporting or publicly rebelling against the Roman government by asking him about the required taxes to Rome (Mark 12:13-17). He responded with the famous saying, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Not only did this shut down their trick question, it certainly included the poignant implication that they were more focused on Rome’s will than God’s.
With the Pharisees stopped for the moment, the Sadducees tried their hand against Jesus (Mark 12:18-27). Creating a hypothetical situation in which a woman legitimately married seven brothers in succession, according to the levirate law to provide an heir for one’s brother, they asked which one of the seven would be her husband in the afterlife. Jesus started by telling them that relationships in the afterlife, including marriage, are not like this life, demonstrating that he personally knew about it. He also took the opportunity to correct their theology about the resurrection. They did not even believe in an afterlife (Mark 12:28), but Jesus reminded them that God “is not God of the dead but of the living.”
After this an expert in the law tried to catch Jesus by asking him the greatest commandment of the entire Law (Mark 12:28-34). Jesus again showed his superior understanding and authority by demonstrating how God structured the Law in a hierarchical fashion, with two laws summarizing the rest. Who could argue that anything was more important than loving God with one’s entire being? In this case, the man was open to Jesus’ teaching, causing Jesus to note how close he was to saving faith.
With all the questions stopped (Mark 12:34), Jesus made two final comments to the crowds. First, he proved from Scripture that even David knew that the Messiah, the son of David, would be greater than himself (Mark 12:35-37). Second, he warned the crowds about the hypocrites who taught them the law (Mark 12:38-40). Although they looked good on the outside, they were concerned only with themselves, and they would be punished by God. As a kind of summary of his final teachings over the recent days, Jesus pointed his disciples to a widow who gave almost nothing into the offering box (Mark 12:41-44). No matter how anyone else viewed it, Jesus saw that she gave everything to God, compared to the small percentages the other gave. This, he noted, was exactly the kind of heart God wants – someone who will obey God no matter the personal cost.