For the Jews of first-century Palestine, taxation was a burdensome problem. The Herodian family, which ruled on behalf of Rome, taxed the people heavily to finance their own building projects. The Jewish religious leaders also taxed the people to maintain the temple. Then there was the large amount of money needed to keep the Roman Empire going. In all, Jewish families paid about half of their income toward various taxes.
Phylacteries (Matthew 23:5) were small cube-shaped leather cases that were tied to the left arms and foreheads of Jewish men attending the synagogue. In the cases were passages of Scripture written on pieces of parchment. This was done in an effort to literally fulfill the OT command to keep the words of the Lord on their hands and between their eyes (Ex. 13:9; Deut. 6:8).
Hypocrites! That’s what Jesus called the Pharisees, who followed man-made traditions while often disregarding God’s laws. God sees into our hearts. He wants our genuine devotion and obedience (Matthew 23:13–32).
The bankers (Matthew 25:27) were probably money-changers, who would charge for their services. It was rare for people to have money or treasure to invest, but if they did, they buried it (Josh. 7:21), had a friend or neighbor guard it (Ex. 22:7), or kept it in a temple.
Showing mercy to the least of our fellow humans around the world (Matthew 25:40) is the same as caring about Jesus himself. The care we show (or don’t show) to others reveals what is in our heart.
Gethsemane was most likely a garden area among olive tree groves that had an area for pressing the olives into oil. Though the traditional site is now marked by the modern Church of All Nations, many archaeologists believe that a cave located a couple hundred feet north of there is a more likely location.
Barabbas was a notorious criminal who had committed robbery, insurrection, and murder and may have belonged to one of the rural bandit gangs roaming the countryside. Bandits were popular with the public because they often targeted the wealthy and harassed the Roman government, both of whom were despised by the masses.
Jesus’ resurrection is a crucial part of the gospel message. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, we are still in our sins (1 Cor. 15:17). Yet the Jewish leaders chose to make up the story that it never happened (Matt. 28:13–14).
What is a “Gospel”? “Gospel” literally means “good news.” The “Gospel according to Mark,” along with the other three Gospels, reports the good news of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This salvation is freely available to everyone who believes in Jesus Christ, everywhere in the world.
Reclining at the table. During formal dinners in NT times, guests reclined on a couch that stretched around three sides of a room (Mark 2:15). The host took the central place surrounded by a U-shaped series of tables. The most honored guests reclined on either side of the host, with the guests’ heads toward the tables and their feet toward the wall.
Why does Mark say “immediately” so often?
The Greek word translated “immediately” occurs in the Gospel of Mark more often than in the rest of the NT combined. The frequent use of the word stresses the importance of an event and helps to show that Christ’s ministry has a divine purpose and plan behind it.
What did people use for lamp fuel?
In OT times, people used animal fat as fuel for their lamps. By NT times, this had been replaced with olive oil. Olives were usually pressed two or three times. Oil from the first pressing was used for food. Oil from the second and third pressing was used as fuel for lamps.
The one true God. Mark emphasizes the divine Sonship of Jesus. In NT times the Roman emperor was worshiped by many as a god or as a “son of god.” It was essential, then, for Mark to make it clear that Jesus was the Son of the one true God. Jesus is not a tribal deity only for Jews, but is to be received by all peoples and cultures as Lord of all.
Shake the dust from your feet. In ancient times, when Jews returned from a Gentile area, they would sometimes shake the dust off their feet (Matthew 6:11) to avoid contamination from Gentiles. The act of shaking off the dust illustrates that people who reject God’s message are accountable to God alone.
What is “Corban”?
Corban (Mark 7:11) literally means “dedicated to God.” Jewish tradition said that money set aside for the care of one’s parents could be given to the temple instead. Jesus said that this tradition allowed people to avoid honoring their parents as the law required.
A diet of bread. For many of the poorer people in NT times, as well as for many around the world today, bread might be their entire meal. Jesus called himself the “bread of life.”
A voice from the cloud?
In the Bible, clouds are often associated with the presence of God and the mystery and holiness surrounding him (Matthew 9:7). The prophet Nahum said, “clouds are the dust of his feet” (Nah. 1:3).
Blindness was a common condition in biblical times. Because they were unable to work, people who were blind often became beggars (Mark 10:46–52; see Luke 18:35).
Fig trees (Mark 11:13) reach an average height of around 10 to 30 feet (3 to 9 m). Figs are harvested twice a year, once in spring or early summer and again in autumn. Figs could be eaten straight from the tree, dried, or made into cakes for the winter.
The Sadducees were a small but powerful group of Jewish leaders who did not believe in the resurrection (Mark 12:18). This may have been because of their emphasis on the Pentateuch (Genesis–Deuteronomy), which does not seem to explicitly mention the resurrection. But Jesus showed them that the idea of resurrection can, in fact, be found in the Pentateuch (Mark 12:26–27).