Who is Jesus, Really? Thinking Out Loud
One of my favorite riddles in Scripture is the one Jesus poses to the religious elite in Jerusalem in Mark 12. To catch how cool it is, you have to slip back into chapter 11 and see the beginning of the riddling interplay between Jesus and the religious elite. They try to trap him with a question about authority. You see, they’re the authority, they know they didn’t authorize his work, so they think they’ve got him trapped, and in public, no less. But Jesus flips the script on them by pointing to his cousin John the Immerser, another God-operative working without authority from Jerusalem. But he’s not just dodging — he’s answering — but to hear his answer you have to accept his teaching. Jesus has said from day 1 that John is the Elijah who was to come before the great Day of the Lord — to be the forerunner of YHWH Himself coming to save (or judge?) Israel. If John is the Elijah, who must the one who comes after him be?
Next, He tells a story about a master and servants: a master who established a vineyard, set up servants in it, and went on a long journey. In rabbinic literature, these stories are always about YHWH and Israel. Sometimes YHWH appears suddenly to settle accounts (as in the parable of the talents) and sometimes not. In this Jesus story, the master sends his son to collect — and then, in order to identify the son, Jesus pulls a very cool quotation of Scripture.
The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes (Ps 118:22-23, cf. Dan 2:45)
Son, in Hebrew, is BEN. Stone, in Hebrew, is eBEN (as in eBEN-eZER -Stone of Help). In one line, Jesus identifies himself as Messiah, tells the authorities that he knows what they’re trying to do, and foreshadows his own victory. Sheer genius.
Then he confounds some more verbal tricks (first “Render unto Caesar,” then the “seven brothers married to the same woman” riddle, and finally affirming the rabbinic tradition that taught that Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18 were the pegs upon which all the Law hung) before getting back to his point with the question that finally silences his challengers. Matthew writes in his hero-honoring boast, “nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.”
Here’s the two-part question: the question the Jews couldn’t answer without shattering their own worldview. The first half, as always, is quite innocuous-sounding.
“What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” (Mt 22:42a)
There is only one possible answer for a devout Jew.
They said to him, “The son of David.” (Mt 22:42b)
Here it comes — and I wish I could be there to hear the religious elite choke on their retorts and gape at one another before retreating to the rooms where they plotted the ambush that would occur later in the week.
He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”
David was no term-limited president. David never abdicated his throne. David died as King, calling no one but YHWH Lord. So how do you answer the question? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?