Here, I. Christ shows the people how weak and defective the scribes were in their preaching, and how unable to solve the difficulties that occurred in the scriptures of the Old Testament, which they undertook to expound. Of this he gives an instance, which is not so fully related here as it was in Matthew. Christ was teaching in the temple: many things he said, which were not written; but notice is taken of this, because it will stir us up to enquire concerning Christ, and to enquire of him; for none can have the right knowledge of him but from himself; it is not to be had from the scribes, for they will soon be run aground.
1. They told the people that the Messiah was to be the Son of David (Mark 12:35), and they were in the right; he was not only to descend from his loins, but to fill his throne (Luke 1:32); The Lord shall give him the throne of his father David. The scripture said it often, but the people took it as what the scribes said; whereas the truths of God should rather be quoted from our Bibles than from our ministers, for there is the original of them. Dulcius ex ipso fonte bibuntur aquae—The waters are sweetest when drawn immediately from their source.
2. Yet they could not tell them how, notwithstanding that it was very proper for David, in spirit, the spirit of prophecy, to call him his Lord, as he doth, Ps. 110:1. They had taught the people that concerning the Messiah, which would be for the honour of their nation—that he should be a branch of their royal family; but they had not taken care to teach them that which was for the honour of the Messiah himself—that he should be the Son of God, and, as such, and not otherwise, David’s Lord. Thus they held the truth in unrighteousness, and were partial in the gospel, as well as in the law, of the Old Testament. They were able to say it, and prove it—that Christ was to be David’s son; but if any should object, How then doth David himself call him Lord? they would not know how to avoid the force of the objection. Note, Those are unworthy to sit in Moses’s seat, who, though they are able to preach the truth, are not in some measure able to defend it when they have preached it, and to convince gainsayers.
Now this galled the scribes, to have their ignorance thus exposed, and, no doubt, incensed them more against Christ; but the common people heard him gladly, Mark 12:37. What he preached was surprising and affecting; and though it reflected upon the scribes, it was instructive to them, and they had never heard such preaching. 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. 33:32. And perhaps some of these cried, Crucify him, as Herod heard John Baptist gladly, and yet cut off his head.
II. He cautions the people to take heed of suffering themselves to be imposed upon by the scribes, and of being infected with their pride and hypocrisy; He said unto them in his doctrine, “Beware of the scribes (Mark 12:38); stand upon your guard, that you neither imbibe their peculiar opinions, nor the opinions of the people concerning them.” The charge is long as drawn up against them in the parallel place (Matt. 23:1-39); it is here contracted.
1. They affect to appear very great; for they go in long clothing, with vestures down to their feet, and in those they walk about the streets, as princes, or judges, or gentlemen of the long robe. Their going in such clothing was not sinful, but their loving to go in it, priding themselves in it, valuing themselves on it, commanding respect by it, saying to their long clothes, as Saul to Samuel, Honour me now before this people, this was a product of pride. Christ would have his disciples go with their loins girt.
2. They affect to appear very good; for they pray, they make long prayers, as if they were very intimate with heaven, and had a deal of business there. They took care it should be known that they prayed, that they prayed long, which, some think, intimates that they prayed not for themselves only, but for others, and therein were very particular and very large; this they did for a pretence, that they might seem to love prayer, not only for God’s sake, whom hereby they pretended to glorify, but for their neighbour’s sake, whom hereby they pretended to be serviceable to.
3. They here aimed to advance themselves: they coveted applause, and were fond of it; they loved salutations in the marketplaces, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts; these pleased a vain fancy; to have these given them, they thought, expressed the value they had for them, who did know them, and gained them respect for those who did not.
4. They herein aimed to enrich themselves. They devoured widows’ houses, made themselves masters of their estates by some trick or other; it was to screen themselves from the suspicion of dishonesty, that they put on the mask of piety; and that they might not be thought as bad as the worst, they were studious to seem as good as the best. Let fraud and oppression be thought the worse of for their having profaned and disgraced long prayers; but let not prayers, no nor long prayers, be thought the worse of, if made in humility and sincerity, for their having been by some thus abused. But as iniquity, thus disguised with a show of piety, is double iniquity, so its doom will be doubly heavy; These shall receive great damnation; greater than those that live without prayer, greater than they would have received for the wrong done to the poor widows, if it had not been thus disguised. Note, The damnation of hypocrites will be of all others the greatest damnation.