All three of the synoptic evangelists present that which follows from the question about the commandments (though this is omitted by Luke). Though this study has spent most of its time with Matthew, Mark’s rendering will form the basis of a treatment of this section, primarily because it begins with “While Jesus was teaching in the Temple courts” (12:35a). Though Mark feels the need to reiterate the fact that Jesus is still in the Temple, Matthew, offering a reminder that this section flows directly from the question and answer about the greatest commandment, begins with “While the Pharisees were assembled” (22:41a). Luke moves from the Sadducees’ question about marriage and the resurrection to this next exchange, with a smooth “But He said to them” (20:41a).
Staying with Mark, Jesus says “How is it that the experts in the law say that the Christ is David’s son? David himself, by the Holy Spirit, said, ‘The Lord said to my lord, “Sit at My right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ If David himself calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” (12:35b-37a) Luke’s record is essentially identical to Mark’s, whereas prior to Jesus’ longer statement from Jesus, Matthew reports that “Jesus asked them a question: ‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?’ They said, ‘The son of David” (22:42). Following Jesus’ words, Mark reports that “the large crowd was listening to Him with delight” (12:37b), and Matthew says that “No one was able to answer Him a word, and from that day on no one dared to question Him any longer” (22:46), while Luke offers no editorial comment.
As has been seen before and made abundantly clear, and though Jesus is obviously offering a question that, according to the Gospel records, goes unanswered (thus, in the mold of rabbinic challenges in an honor and shame culture, asserting His final and unchallenged authority as a teacher), there is more than meets the eye (or ear). This quotation by Jesus, lifted from the one hundred tenth Psalm, is designed to call to mind the entirety of the Psalm (as should be well understood). Jesus, standing on the Temple mount, which is generally and idealistically referred to as Mount Zion (though the Zion mount may not have been the actual site of the Temple), quotes from a Psalm that says, “here is the Lord’s proclamation to my lord: ‘Sit down at My right hand until I make your enemies your footstool!’ The Lord extends your dominion from Zion. Rule in the midst of your enemies! Your people willingly follow you when you go into battle. On the holy hills at sunrise the dew of your youth belongs to you. The Lord makes this promise on oath and will not revoke it: ‘You are an eternal priest after the pattern of Melchizedek.’ O sovereign Lord, at your right hand he strikes down kings in the day he unleashes His anger. He executes judgment against the nations; He fills the valley with corpses; He shatters their heads over the vast battlefield. From the stream along the road he drinks; then he lifts up his head” (110:1-7).
Though Jesus frames the desired response with His follow-up question, He and the Gospel authors are undoubtedly communicating a great deal of information. In this Psalm, not only is there talk of Zion, which is quickly translated into Temple-talk, especially with Jesus standing in the Temple while speaking, but there is also talk of an eternal priesthood occurring in the place where there were constant priestly functions occurring. With the quotation from the Psalms potentially calling to mind a mention of Melchizedek and an eternal priesthood, it also calls to mind a replacement priesthood---a bold move, considering Jesus’ location.
Is it reasonable to make such a suggestion? It seems to be so, especially when Mark and Luke do not follow-up with a theological and philosophical elaboration on what Jesus meant by His questions, but rather report Him as saying “Watch out for the experts in the law. They like walking around in long robes and elaborate greetings in the marketplaces, and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ property, and as a show make long prayers. These men will receive a more severe punishment” (Mark 12:38b-40). Luke’s record is nearly identical. Are the enemies the experts in the law, as stand-ins for the Temple authorities? When Jesus mentions a more severe punishment, is He speaking in generalities, or does He have something in mind? If it is something in mind, one might ask “A more severe punishment than what?” Well, the striking down of kings, judgment against the nations, valleys filled with corpses, and heads shattered on battlefield seems to be fairly severe punishment. Those that defile the Creator God’s Temple, and doing so through pretended service to His people (echoes of Jeremiah’s plaintive cry of judgment ringing through) will receive punishments of greater severity.