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. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly.
And in his teaching he said, “Beware 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.”
And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
Mark 12:35-44 ESV
While the early church began to grow and thrive in Jerusalem following Pentecost, it certainly was met with many challenges. Perhaps the most pervasive challenge was the opposition of the religious leaders. Just as Jesus warned, they hated the apostles with the same beastly vitriol that they had aimed at Christ. In Acts 5, the high priest and the Sadducees arrested the apostles and brought them before the Sanhedrin to give an account as to why they continued to preach about Jesus. Peter answered:
We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.vv. 29-32
As this answer, the members of the council were ready to kill the apostles, but a Pharisee on the council named Gamaliel gave a word of caution. He recounted for them two would-be Messiahs who gathered a large number of followers but were killed and their followers dispersed. His advice was then:
So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”vv. 38-39
After being beaten, the apostles were released and rejoiced “that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (v. 41). Indeed, rather than silencing Jesus’ disciples, the threats of the rulers only caused them to proclaim Christ all the more boldly. Over the next several decades, the words of Gamaliel proved true. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes tried to crucify the news of Jesus’ resurrection just like they once crucified Him, yet they could not suppress the work of God. For all their schemes, they were placed under Christ’s feet as His steadily built His church by the power of His Spirit as He sat enthroned at the right hand of the Father.
A QUESTION FOR THE QUESTIONERS // VERSES 35-37
Now that we have read Christ’s responses to four questions from the religious leaders (three being hostile and one sincere), the conclusion of chapter twelve gives us three distinct passages that build upon one another and upon everything that has come before. In this first passage (verses 35-37), Jesus goes on the offensive by presenting His own question. We are not told that Jesus directed this question toward a particular group, whether the scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, etc. Instead, the text simply read, “And as Jesus taught in the temple…” Thus, this seems to be a generally proposed question, yet given the business of the religious leaders in the temple, I think we can still rightly read the point of this question being aimed at them.
Here is Jesus’ question:
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. So how is he his son?
The main premise of this question centers upon the understanding of the Christ (or Messiah) being the son or descendent of David. The root of this belief is 2 Samuel 7:12-16, where God promised a son with an eternal throne to come from David. And that great promise is reiterated in various ways throughout the Scriptures (Psalm 132 being one of the most explicit). Thus, the scribes as students and teachers of God’s law were correct in this belief that the Christ would be the son of David. And let us remember that even Bartimaeus had received some teaching of this great hope.
Thus, Jesus is in no way denying that He is the descendent of David; instead, His question revealed new depths that their understanding had failed to see. To probe these depths, Jesus cited Psalm 110:1, where David speaks of two persons, both called Lord. In the Old Testament, we find that the two ‘Lords’ look a bit different with the first being entirely capitalized and the second having only the first letter capitalized. This is to reflect that two different words are used in Hebrew. The first LORD is Yahweh, the holy and personal name of God, that is often translated as LORD because it was a common practice for later Jews to say Adonai (Lord) when reading instead of Yahweh. Thus, the first person, the first Lord, is Yahweh Himself, the Maker of heaven and earth. The second Lord is Adonai in Hebrew. R. C. Sproul notes that:
In most cases in the Old Testament, Adonai is the supreme title of Yahweh. It means “the One who is absolutely Sovereign.” This is why we sometimes find the words LORD and Lord back-to-back in Scripture. For example, in Psalm 8 we read, “O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth” (v. 1a). This text literally reads, “O Yahweh, our Adonai.” It is saying, “O Yahweh, our Sovereign One, how excellent is your name.”
Thus, Psalm 110 reads, “Yahweh says to my Adonai…” Thus, we have David, Israel’s greatest king, not only submitting to Yahweh but also to another person, an even greater sovereign. Who such a person be, except the coming Messiah? Thus, we have Jesus’ question: how could David’s son also be David’s Lord?
The question goes unanswered, in some ways, because it was not meant to be answered. Jesus is not inviting a theological debate here. That is not the goal of His question. Instead, Jesus is unveiling a deeper understanding of the Christ for all who have eyes to see. He is revealing that the Christ will not be a great but ultimately lesser imitation of David, as if David’s reign was the very pinnacle for God’s people. No, the coming Son of David would be so great that even His great and Holy Spirit-led ancestor David bowed before Him and called Him Lord. The Christ would not just be like David; He would be the greater David.
This, therefore, primarily (though subtly) served as a rebuke and warning to the religious leaders that sought to destroy Jesus. For if Jesus truly was the Christ, then they would be guilty of playing the role of Saul, seeking to destroy David in the wilderness. Saul was certainly allowed to humble David for a season, yet the LORD ultimately disposed of him and exalted David in his place. In the same way, the religious leaders would be allowed to war against Christ for a season and even to kill Him, yet He would ultimately rise again and ascend to the right hand of the Father to rule as His enemies are placed under His feet.
Thus, this question is Jesus warning the religious leaders that their opposition toward Him is an opposition to God. It was a promise that they could not ultimately destroy Him and, in attempting to do so, would be destroyed themselves.
But even while no one dared answer or question Jesus anymore, “the great throng heard him gladly.” Matthew Henry rightly notes however:
Probably there was something more than ordinarily commanding and charming in his voice and way of delivery, which recommended him to the affections of the common people; for we do not find that any were wrought upon to believe in him, and to follow him, but he was to them as a lovely song of one that could play well on an instrument; as Ezekiel was to his hearers, Ezek. xxxiii. 32. And perhaps some of these cried, ‘Crucify him,’ as Herod heard John Baptist gladly, and yet cut off his head.
THE VANITY OF SELF-EXALTATION // VERSES 38-40
In verse 38, we find the further teaching of Jesus, and whether it was paired immediately after the question in the previous verses or made a little later, He now forsakes all subtlety, issuing this warning to masses:
Beware 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.
Notice that Jesus is essentially warning against the self-exaltation of the scribes. Although they were meant to be students and teachers of God’s law, they displayed through their behavior their delight in the social glory. Rather than rejoicing in the privilege of instructing God’s people in God’s Word, they rejoiced in being seen as important and treated with honor.
Tragically, there are still many such religious leaders today. Any preacher or teacher is certainly capable of being like these scribes, yet the prosperity preachers are a particularly clear example. Just this past week a sermon clip went viral of a preacher rebuking his congregation because he asked for a particular brand of watch and had yet to receive it. And some online exploring will produce countless examples of people being guilted and swayed into providing for the lavish lifestyles of their so-called ministers. Such peddlers of God’s Word will certainly receive the greater condemnation.
Of course, such pomp and self-importance are the exact opposite of Christ, who came not be served but to serve. Indeed, when we consider all the ways that Paul rejoiced in being able to share in the sufferings of Christ, I do not think that Martin Luther was exaggerating when he said:
Those who are in the teaching office should teach with the greatest faithfulness and expect no other remuneration than to be killed by the world, trampled underfoot, and despised by their own. …Teach purely and faithfully, and in all you do expect not glory but dishonor and contempt, not wealth but poverty, violence, prison, death, and every danger.
Or did Jesus not say that following Him meant taking up one’s cross? Like our Lord, we should expect affliction, suffering, and humiliation in this life, with our hope in a glorious resurrection forevermore.
Before moving onto the last verses, allow me to present a brief word on hypocrisy from J. C. Ryle:
One thing, however, must never be forgotten in connection with the subject of hypocrisy. Let us not flatter ourselves, because some make a false profession of religion, that others need not make any profession at all. This is a common delusion, and one against which we must carefully guard. It does not follow, because some bring Christianity into contempt by professing what they do not really believe and feel, that we should run into the other extreme, and bring it into contempt by a cowardly silence and by keeping our religion out of sight. Let us rather be doubly careful to adorn our doctrine by our lives. Let us prove our sincerity by the consistency of our conversation. Let us show the world that there is true coin, as well as counterfeit coin, and that the visible church contains Christians who can witness a good confession, as well as Pharisees and scribes. Let us confess our Master modestly and humbly, but firmly and decidedly, and show the world that although some men may be hypocrites, there are others who are honest and true.
Indeed, such an example is what we find in our final verses.
MORE THAN ALL THE OTHERS // VERSES 41-44
After rebuking the self-exalting hypocrisy of the scribe, Jesus “sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.” Thus we read one of the most famous scenes in the Gospels. But it is also Jesus’ assessment of the scene that makes it so striking:
Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.
There is much that we can say about these verses, so let us first make some general observations and applications before drawing out the main point of this scene and how it relates to the previous scenes.
First, we must consider that Jesus’ standard is quite different from our own. Indeed, we should remember that God’s wisdom often runs contrary to the man’s pragmatism. We made this point many times throughout our study of Exodus, and here it can be seen again. From a practical standpoint, what this poor widow gave was utterly insignificant, while the large sums that the wealthy gave truly mattered, for they were what actually funded the temple ministry. Yet God delights to work through the least and the most insignificant. Just as Christ fed 5000 with nothing more than a boy’s lunch, so He is able to put to use even the smallest of gifts, especially whenever they are given sacrificially.
Second, note that Jesus clearly commends the widow’s gift because it was sacrificial. The widow’s incredibly small offering was considered by Jesus to be greater than the large sums from others because she gave her offering sacrificially. Those two coins were all she had, yet she freely gave them to the Father. This is contrasted with the wealthy givers who gave from their abundance, meaning their generous gifts had little-to-no impact upon them. Yes, their gifts were large, but there was no sacrifice in giving them. What faith is there in giving which costs nothing? The widow’s faith was made evident by her refusal to cling even to her final two coins. Let the widow’s sacrificial giving also keep us from ever using the excuse: “I would love to give more, if only I had more.” Christ’s call is to give more than we believe ourselves to be able, regardless of how much or how little we have presently.
Third, we may note that just as Jesus sat down to observe the treasury so too does Christ observe our giving today. I think that Morgan is right that this scene is also notable to us because “we see what we should not perhaps have noticed, had He not drawn the attention of His disciples to it.” Indeed, we have no reason to believe that this widow ever intended to be noticed by anyone for her sacrificial gift. Yet Christ saw and would ensure that she would by no means lose her reward. May we do the same, keeping our Lord’s command from the Sermon on the Mount ever in our hearts and minds:
Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.Matthew 6:2–4
Fourth, we should note that this widow may very well be an example of one of the widows that the scribes were devouring. After all, she gave everything she had, not to a person in a more pressing need than her own but to the temple’s offering box. She was giving to the place that Jesus attacked only days before for placing money over worship. We should certainly not take from this point a resolve to never avoid looking into the church’s finances as well as other ministries that we may support. By no means! Yet we should consider the example of this woman. She had only one house of God to give her offering, and corrupt as it was, she gave out of duty to God. I think the principle that we ought to learn here is along the same lines as Ryle’s exhortation above. If this woman gave sacrificially to a very broken temple system, how much more ought we be willing to give whenever most churches and ministries today have transparent financials!
While there are certainly many more applications and principles that can be drawn from this widow’s example, let us now turn to the overall point of this passage. Why is the account here, and how does it relate to everything that has occurred before?
Morgan gives us a glimpse:
Looking at those two mites, those little coins, and speaking of them in the singular number, as one gift, I see here first a gift of faith; secondly, a gift of sacrifice; thirdly, a gift of spiritual life; and finally a gift law-fulfilling. I see one lonely widow woman doing a thing out of the passion and inclination of her inner life, unobserved so far as she knew by any eyes, in all probability attempting to hide from everybody the thing she did. Yet I see this one lonely woman in the midst of that crowd that day, standing in contrast to all the men who had harassed the Lord. All the hostility massed in the questions that we have tried hurriedly to survey is ranked on one side; and over against it is the simple act of a woman who put two mites into the treasury.
Now Morgan goes on to specifically contrast the widow’s gift against the four questions previously asked to Jesus by the religious leaders, but let us focus broadly upon his point, for I think it is the right one. After all the hostility arrayed against Jesus by the religious authorities, who exalted themselves above the very God who walked in the flesh among them, this widow was an example of what belonging to God’s kingdom truly meant. Like the little children and Bartimaeus, this poverty-stricken widow was among the very least of society. She was a nothing and a nobody. Yet also like the little children and Bartimaeus, Jesus gives special attention to her, and here in Mark’s Gospel, we are summoned to imitate her faithful and sacrificial giving.
Here was a woman who had every reason to cling to what little money she had, yet freely gave to God. She had every reason to demand to be served, yet Jesus allows us to catch her in the act of serving instead. Unlike the scribes who, for all their pride and pomp, would soon be humbled, here was a woman of deep humility who would one day soon be greatly exalted by God.
In fact, perhaps we ought to see in this widow’s gift a picture of Christ’s own gift of grace to broken and sinful humanity. Through the world’s eyes, what could be significant about the death of a briefly popular Jewish teacher from Galilee, crucified outside of Jerusalem? Tiberius Caesar certainly could not be bothered with such trifles from his glorious palace in Rome. Yet as thoroughly insignificant as Christ’s crucifixion was by the world’s standards, it was like a mustard seed planted in the ground that is still yielding a tree.
It was there on that cross that the eternal debt of our sins was paid in full. It was there on that the tree that Satan’s accusations lost their power. It was there on that tree that our communion with God was restored, that the ban from His presence that began in Eden was finally undone.
Just as this widow’s tiny offering was worth far more than the large sums given by those who had an abundance of funds, so too does the folly and weakness of the cross reveal that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25). Or as Paul wrote just a few verses earlier in that same letter: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
Let the world revel in its honors, wealth, and splendor for the moment. Our hope is in the Son of Man who came not be exalted but to be humiliated, who gave His life as a ransom for many. And our hope is that just as He is now seated at the right of the Father having His enemies made His footstool, so we will be exalted with Him, “provided we suffer with him” (Romans 8:17).
 R. C. Sproul, Mark: An Expositional Commentary, 293-294.
 Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentaries: Matthew to John Vol V, 537.
 Philip Ryken, “Union with Christ” from Theology for Ministry: How Doctrine Affects Pastoral Life and Practice, 180.
 J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Mark, 211-212.
 G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Mark, 266.
 Morgan, Mark, 267.