Question by the Pharisees and Herodians (Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26)
It is Luke’s account that gives us insight into the motivation for the questions asked on this day. The Jewish leaders hoped to catch Jesus in a slip that would allow them to turn him over to the Roman governor. To accomplish this, they sent in men to pretend to be followers. They were instructed to ask questions.
The first attempt came from the sect of the Pharisees and the Herodians. The Herodians were believed to be a political party instead of a religious party. The fact that the Pharisees teamed up with them hints at the level of their hatred for Jesus because the Pharisees, who focused on religious purity, would not normally associate with men who focused on secular thoughts and dealt regularly with the Roman government.
Since their goal was to catch Jesus in a slip, they began by complimenting him in hopes of getting him off his guard. While the compliments are true, Jesus was true, a teacher of truth and impartial, the ones complimenting him were not sincere. The emphasis on his disregard for a man’s position was to give Jesus an opening to take a stand against the government. They then asked Jesus if it was proper to pay taxes to the Roman government.
No one likes to pay taxes and for the Jews taxes paid to a conquering nation was especially painful. If Jesus said taxes must be paid, it would undermine his popularity with the people and the Jewish leaders could spread word that Jesus was a supporter of the Romans. If Jesus took a stand against paying taxes, they would be able to bring him before the Roman governor and charge him with sedition.
What these deceivers did not count upon is that they were truly dealing with God. Jesus knew their thoughts and the motives behind their question. He told them plainly that he knew they were trying to trap him and charged them with being hypocrites (putting on an act).
Jesus then asked for someone to show him the coinage used to pay taxes to Caesar. In producing the coin, the people showed that they accepted the coinage for value. Jewish taxes were paid with a temple issued coin. Roman taxes were paid with coinage issued by the Roman government. Jesus sealed the point by asking the questioners whose image was on the coin – in other words, he is asking who issued and backed the value of the coin. They answered that it was Caesar’s image. Jesus then pointed out that Caesar had the right to tax what he issued, just as God had the right to tax what belonged to Him (Romans 13:7; Malachi 3:8-10).
The answer left both the questioners and the audience stunned as to the clarity of Jesus’ answer. Instead of directly answering the yes or no question posed, Jesus answered with the foundation upon which an answer could be concluded. This something we all should note and learn. Often false teachers propose questions which are form with a limited number of possible answers, all of which look bad. Instead of answer the question directly, we should point to the teaching of God that gives the foundation for answering the question.
Question by the Sadducees (Matthew 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-38)
The other major sect of the Jews, the Sadducees, tried their hand at trapping Jesus. The Sadducees were the main political arm of the Jewish nation, yet they came with a carefully crafted religious question. To understand the nature of the question God made sure we understood that as a sect the Sadducees taught that there was no life after death. They did not accept that spiritual beings, such as angels existed (Acts 23:8). Nor would they believe that God would resurrect people from the dead. It is important to understand this because their question concerned the resurrection. A common technique for denying a belief is to seek a flaw in its application. If the belief is seen as resulting in something not acceptable or absurd, then the belief is declared to be wrong.
In this case, the question involved who a woman would be married to in the resurrection if she was married to multiple brothers because of the law that has the wife of a man who has had no children to be given to the next nearest relative to raise up children on his behalf (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). The use of seven brothers leading to seven marriages was to take the point to the extreme. If Jesus said that she was married to all of them, then that would be advocating polygamy. While some polygamy was tolerated for men, polygamy by a woman would be repulsive. The Sadducees would then claim that Jesus was promoting an immoral position and they would claim there could be no resurrection because it would lead to such situations.
Jesus points out that their question, which is actually a teaching, is in error that came about from their misunderstanding of the God’s word and God’s power. They made an assumption that marriage would have to remain past death if there was a resurrection. Yet, the Old Testament never made such an assertion.
Their denial of a resurrection, in essence, denied their very existence. If God could give life to dust (Genesis 2:7), then why would it be absurd to believe God could raise the dead?
Jesus points out that in the resurrection people don’t marry. Luke’s account records that Jesus called those who are resurrected for eternal life as “worthy of that age.” This implies that not everyone will reach heaven. There are conditions to be met. Marriage comes about from the physical world with its male and female sexes. In the resurrection, people will be spirits like the angels. They would be equal to the angels, as Luke’s account records, living eternally. When people live eternally, there would be no need for a marriage to raise up a family since there would be no need for repopulation. The need for preserving families, implied in the question, would not be needed in eternal life.
Notice that in answering, Jesus uses the very doctrine the Sadducees thought to declare as being absurd. The Sadducees reject the resurrection, but they brought the topic up as if it existed. Jesus simply affirms what they implied by their question. He supports his argument by mentioning angels, something else the Sadducees deny. He mentions eternal life, yet another doctrine the Sadducees say cannot exist. But now they are in an awkward position because they opened the door to contradicting their beliefs by asking a question that assumes their doctrine is wrong.
Interestingly, the Old Testament does contain clear passages that there is life after death and a resurrection would take place (Daniel 12:2; Isaiah 26:19), but Jesus chose to use a more subtle approach. Jesus points out that God told Moses that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exodus 3:6). These men were long dead when Moses lived, but God spoke of them as existing, thus there must be life after death. This particular book was selected because history tells us that the Sadducees had doubts about the writings of the Prophets, but accepted Moses’ writings – they even cited Moses to back their question.
As a side note, in Hebrew the phrase in Exodus 3:6 is stated without a verb. But Jesus’ argument is based on the verb tense, implied but not stated in Hebrew, but clearly stated in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament. If Matthew was written in Hebrew as some claim, the argument would be too subtle for most to follow, but it is very clear in Greek. This is a clue that Matthew, like Mark and Luke, was written in Greek. It is also support for the use of translations for discussing the Scriptures.
Once again the crowd listening to this was amazed. The argument was not one a teacher of the law, such as the Pharisees, could make because Jesus asserted how life after death would be like in straightforward terms. These things are only hinted at in the Old Testament. And his choice of a subtle but powerful proof that life after death existed was astonishing.
Question by a Pharisee Lawyer and Scribe (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 20:39)
Hearing the Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees decided to make another attempt. They might have been happy that their religious rivals were defeated, but they would not have been happy that it was Jesus who did it. Mark mentions that they thought Jesus had answered the Sadducees well. This time they sent one of their members who was a scribe and a lawyer – that is, a person well versed in the Law of Moses. He proposed this question: “What is the greatest command in the law?”
This is a difficult question because there are so many laws in the Law and one can argue that all are equally important. Any selected would leave a person open to argument that another is equally important. Or so, it would appear on the surface.
Jesus selected a command that doesn’t even appear in the famous ten commandments. He selected the command found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5. It is the greatest command because all others follow from it. Unless we acknowledge and love God, we would not be motivated to follow any of God’s commands (John 14:15). Thus a love for God must come before everything else.
Though not asked, Jesus states the second greatest command, which was to love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18). It was one listed as an explanation to a series of commands, easily overlooked. But like the first command, it is the key to most of God’s commands to men. It is what is behind most of the commands (Romans 13:8-9). These two commands sum up the entire Law of God.
Unlike the other questioners, this man did not mind admitting that he was impressed with Jesus’ answer. His honesty impressed Jesus in turn. He told him that he was closed to being able to enter the kingdom.
Jesus’ Question for the Pharisees (Matthew 22:41-46; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:40-44)
By this time, the leading Jews were afraid to ask Jesus more questions. In answering their questions Jesus was making them look ignorant and shallow. So Jesus turns the tables on them and asks his own question. Like the other questions, the question was to test the other person’s knowledge and not to gain more personal knowledge.
Since they refused to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus asked them whose son is the Christ. They answered that he would be the son of David. Mark points out that this is as the scribes had been teaching the people. Jesus then asks them how David, in Psalm 110:1, could call the Messiah his Lord when the Messiah was his descendant. The word “Lord” is reserved for a person who is over the person, yet a descendant would normally be seen as under the ancestor. In asking, Jesus rules out a mistake on David’s part by emphasizing that David spoke these words by the inspiration of the Spirit of God.
The answer to Jesus’ question is clear if one accepts that the Messiah was superior to David because of his divine nature. Yet, those Jesus was addressing would not accept that God could be born in human form, thus they could not determine an answer to Jesus’ question. In other words, their expectation concerning the Messiah was less than what the Scriptures indicted.
The question does not prove that Jesus was the Messiah, but it does illustrate for us why the leading Jews had so much trouble accepting Jesus as the Messiah. The nature of Jesus and his authority was different from they were expecting.
Though the experts in the Law could not answer Jesus’ question, the common people listening were glad to listen to someone who obviously knew more than the scribes. It was the leaders goal to make Jesus look foolish and they were unable to make a dent in the people’s view of Jesus. Nor were the leaders willing to ask Jesus anymore questions because they knew it would not further their cause and Jesus was making them look foolish.