Jesus—His Life and Message: Jesus’ Question and the Widow’s Offering

February 9, 2021

by Peter Amsterdam

In chapter 12 of the Gospel of Mark, a number of topics are covered, including the parable of the tenants, the paying of taxes, and the resurrection. At the end of this chapter, two additional topics are covered: the sonship of the Messiah and the widow’s offering.

Jesus’ Question

All three Synoptic Gospels1 tell of a difficult question which Jesus posed to His opponents.2 The account in the Gospel of Mark will be drawn from here.

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?”3

Jesus was teaching in the temple area, as He often did. He asked a question regarding why the scribes would say that the Messiah was the “son of David.” It is easy to understand why the scribes would say this, since the messianic promises of the Old Testament refer to the coming Messiah as the “branch” of David.

Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’4 

In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.5

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.6

Mark, this Gospel’s author, understood this as teaching that the Messiah is the son of David, but he was making the point that this understanding by itself was inadequate. Jesus is far more than that. The question was meant to evoke the response “The Messiah is not just the son of David; more importantly, He is the Son of God.”

As a side point, throughout the New Testament we find reference to sitting at the right hand. This term refers to a place of honor, dignity, and authority. Within the New Testament, reference is made to Jesus being at the right hand of God.

Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.7 

When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.8

What is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.9

The Widow’s Offering

In Mark10 and Luke,11 an account is included regarding a widow who gave all the money she had to God. We will focus on the account in the Gospel of Mark.

He sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums.12

Jesus was in the temple in Jerusalem. The temple’s treasury was located in the area called the Court of the Women. In this area, there were thirteen receptacles which had trumpet-shaped openings on top, into which people could put money to donate to the temple.

Each chest was for a specific kind of offering which went toward the daily running of the temple, including the animal sacrifices that were made on a daily basis. The chests were designated for specific offerings, such as bird offerings, young birds for whole offerings, wood, frankincense, and gold for the mercy seat. The funds that were deposited into these receptacles were administered by the temple leadership and were used for their designated purpose. There were also six freewill offering chests, not designated for specific uses, which could be used for helping the poor.

Jesus was sitting in the temple, in a place where He could observe individuals depositing their contributions into the offering boxes. Many of them would have been wealthy landowners who lived in or near Jerusalem; others would have been prosperous Jewish businessmen, some of whom had traveled to the capital city to celebrate Passover. Some would have been local farmers and tradesmen.

A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.13

The Greek word used here for the small coins is lepta. A lepta was a copper coin which was less than a centimeter in diameter, and was the smallest denomination of currency available. The value of the two lepta was one sixty-fourth of a denarius. One denarius was considered the normal pay for a day’s work. The value of the poor widow’s offering was financially minuscule, as it basically could only purchase enough flour for one sparse meal. However, Jesus saw it in a different light.

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.”14

Using this as a teaching moment, Jesus called His disciples. In starting the sentence with truly, He was putting emphasis on both the importance and veracity of what He was about to say. The literal translation of this poor widow is “this widow, the poor one,” which emphasizes her poverty. We’re not told how Jesus knew the woman was a widow. Likely it was due to the way she was dressed.

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.15 

It was fairly common for women who lost their husbands to be faced with poverty in ancient times, and this woman was no exception. Nevertheless, even though she had so little, she gave all that she had. Jesus made the comparison between those who contributed out of their abundance—meaning out of their surplus—and this woman who put in everything she had.

Jesus wasn’t criticizing those who gave from their abundance; rather, He was pointing out the cost to the woman of her contribution, even though the amount was meager. One author wrote:

The size of the gift is not always indicative of the sacrifice. In fact, it might be deceptive. Often it is the little gift that really costs. Jesus shows the disciples that it is not the number of the coins, but the nature of the heart that gives them. Little gifts can be taken for granted or not even noticed, yet sometimes they are in fact the biggest gifts of all.16


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

General Bibliography

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Brown, Raymond E. The Death of the Messiah. 2 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1994.

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1 Matthew, Mark, Luke.

2 Matthew 22:41–46, Mark 12:35–37, Luke 20:41–44.

3 Mark 12:35–37.

4 Jeremiah 23:5–6.

5 Jeremiah 33:15.

6 Isaiah 11:1–2.

7 Romans 8:34.

8 Hebrews 10:12–13.

9 Ephesians 1:19–21.

10 Mark 12:41–44.

11 Luke 21:1–4.

12 Mark 12:41.

13 Mark 12:42.

14 Mark 12:43.

15 Mark 12:44.

16 Bock, Luke Volume 2, 1647.