Matthew 22:41-46 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” “The son of David,” they replied. 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, 44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ 45 If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” 46 No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Luke 20:41–21:4 Then Jesus said to them, “How is it that they say the Christ is the Son of David? 42 David himself declares in the Book of Psalms: “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand 43 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’ 44 David calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?” 45 While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 47 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely.” 1 As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 “I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
Mark 12:35-44 While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “How is it that the teachers of the law say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared: “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ 37 David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?” The large crowd listened to him with delight.
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling His disciples to him, Jesus said, I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
A friend of days gone by used to tell the story of his uncle, who had just purchased a new convertible, and was enjoying a ride in the Ozark Mountains (as I recall the story). He had the top down and the radio up. He did not notice the man in car behind him, eager to pass, and getting more and more irritated. Nor did he hear the man’s horn, blaring obnoxiously at him. Finally, the man behind had had enough. He found room to get by the uncle, but instead of going on by, he forced the fellow off the road, jumped out of his car and came alongside in a very hostile mood.
The uncle was quick to apologize. He was sorry, he said. He had been driving too slow and he had not been observant to see that the man behind wanted to pass him. He had said all that one could say to apologize, but the angry driver was not satisfied. He told him that he was going to yank him from the car and thump on him. Only that would appease his anger. The uncle realized that words would not suffice, and so he reached under the seat and pulled out his service 45 pistol, and pointed it at the enraged driver. It didn’t take that fellow very long to have a change of heart. Without hesitation he said, “I accept your apology,” turned and drove off.
That 45 changed things considerably. It did not change the hostile motorist’s attitude, but it did end the discussion. Jesus did not pull a 45 on His adversaries, but when our Lord drew His opponent’s attention to the 110th Psalm, it did end the discussion. Matthew informs us that from this time on no one dared to ask Jesus a question (Matthew 22:46). The debate was over.
The final words of chapter 20 are the powerful argument that could be raised in response to the challenges of this “tempest in the temple.” It was not just the words of Jesus, but the words of David in Psalm 110 that were produced with stunning force. The more I read this psalm, the more I am amazed at its message. And, the more I wonder at the restraint our Lord used, not drawing attention to all of the painful particulars which were there. For example, Jesus did draw attention to the fact that David referred to “his son,” the Messiah, as “his Lord,” but He did not ask the teachers of the Law (Mark 12:35), the Pharisees (Matthew 22:41), who the enemies of the Lord were. What a powerful passage! What remarkable reserve! Let us look more carefully to consider what Jesus intended to accomplish by bringing it to the attention of those who had gathered at the temple.
Jesus had entered Jerusalem as the “King of Israel,” but His entry was not altogether triumphal. The people of Jerusalem and the leaders there were no so enthusiastic as were the masses who had come temporarily to that city. Some of the welcoming crowds were those who had followed Jesus there, while others seem to be pilgrims to the city for the Passover celebration. The leaders of the nation had already purposed to put Jesus to death (cf. John 11:47-51; Luke 19:47). The matter had not yet become personal, however. This all changed when Jesus marched on the temple, threw out those who violated its purposes, and appeared there daily to teach (Luke 19:45-48). It is the Lord’s possession of the temple in its cleansing and His subsequent teaching there daily which is the backdrop, the setting for all that occurs in chapters 20 and 21 of Luke’s gospel.
It was while Jesus was teaching in the temple that He was confronted by the leaders of the people. These Jewish leaders came from a broad spectrum of doctrinal and applicational points of view, from the Pharisees on the far right, to the Sadducees on the far left. They first of all confronted Jesus directly as to His authority. “Who do you think you are, and by whom were you sent?” was the essence of their two questions. Jesus first of all refused to give a direct answer, based upon their refusal to commit themselves on the issue of the authority of John the Baptist. If they regarded John as from God, then they had to accept Jesus as the Messiah, for John had thus introduced Him as such. If they rejected John’s authority—which they were inclined to do, but unwilling to take the heat for—they would incur the wrath of the masses, who believed John to be a prophet, sent by God and who spoke for Him.
In His parable of the vineyard and the vine-growers (Luke 20:9-18), Jesus did answer the question of the leaders, but in an indirect way, and to the people who believed Him to be from God. From the parable, He indicated that He was not merely a prophet, like John, but actually the Son of God. As such, He had the authority of God Himself, for He was God, and He also had the authority of the Father, who had sent Him. But there was more. He went on to indicate that His rejection by the leaders of Israel would lead to their removal and destruction, and, horror of horrors, that their leadership roles would be filled by Gentiles.
Now the rejection of Jesus was fueled by great personal animosity. It was a very personal issue with the leaders of Israel. If they had coolly planned to destroy Jesus before hand, now they could not wait to get their hands on him immediately. They tried, but were unsuccessful, and thus they resorted to a more devious and indirect approach (Luke 20:19-20). They had come to the decision that they could not handle Jesus, especially in light of the broad support which Jesus still had among the masses. They therefore planned a course of action which would legally kill Jesus, in spite of the support of the masses. They conspired to catch Jesus in His words, to entrap Him in some statement against Rome, so that the political authorities—the governor (Luke 20:20)—would arrest Him and put Him to death for treason.
The first question looked like it could not fail to incriminate Jesus. They asked Jesus, as One claiming to be Messiah, whether or not they, as Israelites, should pay taxes to Caesar (Luke 20:21-22). Would the King of Israel, who was foretold to be coming to throw off the shackles of Gentile rulers, advocate paying taxes to such a pagan? They Jews could not conceive of such thing. Jesus’ answer rocked them. Because it failed to achieve their intended purpose, because their hypocrisy was exposed, and because Jesus actually taught that taxes should be paid to pagan kings.
The Sadducees viewed the stunned silence that followed as their golden opportunity. They would seek to prove their point, that there was no resurrection, and they would “use” Jesus, the greatest teacher of that day, to do so. So they thought, at least. But Jesus’ answer showed that they had not thought their theology through very carefully. They based their whole argument on a passage from the law of Moses, from a temporary covenant, rather than on the basis of the new covenant and the promises made to Abraham. They had wrongly assumed that life in the kingdom would be like life on earth, and thus they had assumed that marriage would continue on in that future age. Jesus corrected this error. He also demonstrated that Moses could not be cited as rejecting the truth of a resurrection from the dead, showing from His own writings that He viewed God as the God of those who had died, but yet whom He considered alive, still. Moses not only failed to fit into their theological scheme, he refuted it.
The Pharisees and the Herodians had posed the first question, about paying taxes to Caesar (Matthew 22:15-16); the Sadducees had raised the issue of the resurrection of the dead. The teachers of the law, whom I assume to be Pharisees, cannot but praise the Lord for His answer (Luke 20:39). But now, Jesus has a question for them. It is a question about Scripture, a Scripture which I believe to be popularly understood as messianic—speaking of the Messiah. It was a Scripture which the Pharisees seemed to know well, and to teach on. Jesus was about to show the Pharisees (Matthew 22:41), the teachers of the law (Mark 12:35), how their theology failed to square with the Scriptures. Jesus turned the attention of His audience to Psalm 110, a psalm written by David, which spoke of Messiah to come. This is the same psalm to which Peter will forcefully use at the conclusion of his sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:34-36).
41 Then Jesus said to them, “How is it that they say the Christ is the Son of David? 42 David himself declares in the Book of Psalms: “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand 43 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’ 44 David calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”68
The Pharisees enjoyed the way that Jesus had silenced and their opponents, the Sadducees, when they sought to entrap Jesus in such a way as to give credence to their rejection of the resurrection of the dead. Thus they could not restrain themselves from praising Jesus for His response, even though they had set out on a course of trying to catch Jesus in His words. But the Pharisees did not handle the Scriptures skillfully either, as Jesus is about to show. They failed to take the Scriptures seriously enough, as could be seen by their handling of Psalm 110, a psalm which Judaism held to be messianic.69 Let us begin by looking at the psalm in its entirety:
The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand, Until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet.” The LORD will stretch forth Thy strong scepter from Zion, saying, “Rule in the midst of Thine enemies.” Thy people will volunteer freely in the day of Thy power; In holy array, from the womb of the dawn, Thy youth are to Thee as the dew. The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind, “Thou art a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.” The Lord is at Thy right hand; He will shatter kings in the day of His wrath. He will judge among the nations, He will fill them with corpses, He will shatter the chief men over a broad country. He will drink from the brook by the wayside; Therefore He will lift up His head (Psalm 110).
In Matthew’s account, Jesus is reported as having asked the Pharisees directly about whose son the Christ was (22:41-42). In Mark and Luke, Jesus seems to be speaking to others about the teaching of the Pharisees. I see no contradiction. Jesus was daily in the temple, teaching the people. It was also here that our Lord was confronted and challenged by the leadership of the nation. I believe that Jesus asked the Pharisees directly, at this time of confrontation, and then referred to it in His subsequent teaching. They had all heard the question posed to the Pharisees by Jesus, and the answer that was given. Now, Jesus would challenge the crowd to think about what they had heard, and to come to their own conclusions.
When the Pharisees were asked, “Whose son was Messiah, the Christ?,” there was no hesitation in their response. Everyone who looked for Messiah’s coming believed he was to be the “son of David.” This was indicated by the prophets, who said that the Messiah would come through the line of David, and who would reign on the throne of David (cf. 2 Samuel 7:8-29; Isa. 9:5-7; Mic. 5:2). At the birth of our Lord, it was emphasized that Jesus was of the line of David, and that He had come to reign on His father’s throne (Matt. 1:1; Luke 1:27, 32, 69; 2:4). In Luke 18:38, the blind man on the outskirts of Jaycee called to Jesus as the “Son of David.” The Messiah was to be David’s son. This seems to have meant two things to the Israelite. (1) Messiah would be of the Davidic line; and (2) Messiah would be a man—human. It was not carried through so as to be consistent with other revelation—that Messiah would also be divine, that Messiah was to be both man and God:
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this (Isaiah 9:6-7, NASB).
Jesus did not appeal to Isaiah to prove His point, but rather to the 110th psalm, a psalm of David. This psalm does not stress the humanity of Messiah. David did not refer to the Messiah as “his Son,” but rather reveals the words of the Father Himself (“The LORD,” v. 1), who speaks to Messiah, His Son and David’s Lord (“my Lord,” v. 1). It was taught in Scripture that Messiah would be the “son of David,” and yet David himself refers to Messiah as “his Lord.” How can this be? There was a clear, simple, but miraculous answer—the incarnation. Jesus Christ was, as the Old Testament Scriptures foretold, and as the New Testament writers attested and confirmed, both God and man, human and divine, through the miracle of the virgin birth. Before the birth of our Lord, the two aspects of His character and nature—the divine and the human—seemed in conflict, but not after His birth. The incarnation was a miracle, but it is the all-powerful God who promised it, and who brought it to pass.
I believe that Jesus chose Psalm 110 over all other available texts for several reasons:
(1) Since the Messiah was commonly understood to be a “son of David,” who could speak with more authority on his son than David?
(2) The 110th Psalm went far beyond the issue of Messiah’s humanity and His deity, referring to His coming in power to overthrow His enemies. In addition to speaking of Jesus as Israel’s King, it also taught that He would be her priest, of an entirely different order than the Aaronic priesthood. This must have been a rather disconcerting thought to the priests.
(3) Psalm 110 reveals the attitude of David, as Israel’s leader, to the superiority of his Son. In ancient times, some kings killed their offspring, so that they could not take over their throne. Other kings would have taken great pride in their son, saying repeatedly, as it were, “That’s my son!” David gratefully anticipated the day of his Son’s enthronement, and he wrote a psalm of worship in response to God’s revelation to him. David welcomed His Son’s greatness, his superiority to himself.
(4) Psalm 110 confronts the Israelite with a very perplexing problem, a problem which is central and foundational to the Israelite leaders’ rejection of Jesus as the Christ. The Psalm clearly teaches both the humanity of Messiah (a son of David) and His deity (David’s Lord). This was the fundamental problem which the leaders of Israel had with Jesus. If you could sum up the grievance of the Jewish leaders with Jesus, I believe it would be this: ALTHOUGH JESUS WAS MERELY A MAN (in the eyes of the Jews who rejected Him), HE HAD THE AUDACITY TO ACT LIKE GOD
From the very early portions of Luke’s gospel, the issue of our Lord’s humanity and His deity were stressed. In the birth narratives, Jesus’ birth was a miraculous one, so that the offspring of Mary and of the Holy Spirit—the virgin birth of Christ—was an utterly unique person, the God-man, Jesus the Christ, who was at one and the same time, fully man and fully God. In the fifth chapter of Luke’s gospel, Jesus told the man lowered on his pallet through the roof that his sins were forgiven. The Pharisees immediately objected, on the basis that only God could forgive sins (Luke 5:21). They reasoned, “How can a man claim divine prerogatives?” The answer was simple: “Jesus could claim to forgive sins because He was both man and God.”
This issue persisted throughout the life and ministry of our Lord, and came to its climax in the final week of our Lord’s earthly life and ministry, commencing with the triumphal entry, aggravated by the Lord’s cleansing of the temple, and by His teaching there. The question of Jesus’ authority, as recorded by Luke in chapter 20 (verses 1 & 2) was an outgrowth of the Israelite leadership’s rejection of our Lord’s claim to deity.
By citing this passage from Psalm 110, Jesus made it clear that they not only had a grievance with Jesus, who claimed to be both human and divine, but more so, they were inconsistent with the Old Testament Scriptures, even those written by King David, which spoke of Messiah as a man and as God. The citing of Psalm 110 by our Lord brought the central issue into focus, and showed it to be a truth taught clearly by the Scriptures.
Finally, David’s response to the fact that His son was superior to him was to provide a contrast with the attitude of the leaders of Jesus’ day, who resented Jesus superiority, and whose jealousy was so strong they purposed to put Him to death. That contrast becomes clear as we move to the next section, where the real motives of the Pharisees are exposed by our Lord.
45 While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 47 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely.”
The problems of Jesus’ foes were, in the first place, theological ones. For the Sadducees, it was the issue of the resurrection. For the Pharisees, it was the issue of Jesus’ deity that was the central bone of contention. Jesus has now addressed both of these issues in the preceding verses. He now moves on to the practical problem of the Pharisees, who are His principle focus. One problem was the that of abused authority, of wanting those things which belong to God, and to His Christ, who is God. They loved the position, prominence, power and prestige of leadership. They resented Jesus for “outranking them” and for rightfully becoming the object of men’s worship and praise.
Another problem of the Pharisees was that of hypocrisy. They wanted to appear righteous, to practice that kind of “righteousness” which could be seen and applauded by men (Luke 16:15). But the greed of the Pharisees led them to abuse their authority in another way: they used their power and position to take advantage of the weak and the powerless. In Jesus’ words, they “devoured widows’ houses.” To mask this, they made a great show of their “righteousness” by praying lengthy prayers. (It is interesting, by way of contrast, to note how short the recorded prayers of our Lord are.)
For their wickedness and hypocrisy, the Pharisees would be even more severely punished, for they had abused their stewardship of leadership. But what is the logical connection between what Jesus has just asked, pertaining to David’s son being also his Lord, and this? There is a very clear connection, I think. Consider it with me for a moment.
Look once again at that portion of Psalm 110 which our Lord has cited: “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand 43 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’ Not only has David called his son his Lord, but he has cited the Father’s words to the Son, which speak of a time of waiting, and then the overcoming of His enemies, whose overthrow paves the way to the establishment of His eternal throne.
Jesus’ question was an obvious and potent one, but there is an unstated question here, one which our Lord’s enemies could hardly have missed: “Who are Messiah’s enemies?” If Jesus were the Messiah, as He claimed, and as John had testified, then they were His enemies. They were the ones whom God would overthrow. And this is precisely what Jesus had suggested in the parable of the vineyard and the vine-growers earlier in this chapter (vss. 9-18).
These words of indictment, which are very briefly stated by Luke, are given in much greater detail in Matthew 23. But the indictment in both cases comes immediately after the question about David’s Lord. The enemies of Messiah are the enemies of Jesus, and these enemies are not Gentiles, but Jews, indeed they are the leaders of the nation, who have prostituted their power and position for their own gain, at the expense of the most vulnerable. The outcome was that the widows, those whom the law instructed Israelites to protect, were the victims of the leaders of Israel. No wonder they resisted Jesus, and no wonder God was about to destroy them.
Now, the contrast between David’s response to the revelation that his Son would be greater than he, and the attitude of the leaders of the nation Israel toward Jesus can be seen. David, upon hearing that his son would be his Lord, rejoiced. It was a day David longed to see. It was different with the leader of Israel and Jesus. The Lord’s words indicate that they came to enjoy the position, the prominence, the power, and even the riches that came with their position. They did not wish to relinquish this to anyone, not even Messiah. Thus, while David rejoiced at the knowledge that Messiah, his son, would be both God and man. The leaders of Jesus’ day rejected the deity of Messiah flat, especially in the person of Christ. Jesus’ citation of Psalm 110 forced them to reject this doctrine—the doctrine of Messiah’s deity—from the Scriptures themselves.
Note one more thing about Psalm 110. The second (unquoted) stanza of the psalm talks of the Messiah, not as Israel’s King, but as her Priest. How would you have felt, if you were one of the priests of that day, to have been reminded of this psalm, which spoke of a new order of priest, an order of which you were not a part? As Jesus had warned in the parable of the vine-growers, the position of the leaders would be taken away. The priesthood of a few would become the priesthood of all believers, especially (in this age) of Gentiles. And the Great High Priest would be Christ Himself, who is a priest after the order of Melchizedek. These would be sobering words to one who sought to preserve his position, and at the same time sought the destruction of Messiah.
1 As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 “I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
It is somewhat perplexing as to why these first four verses of chapter 21 are divided, so that there is the suggestion that they relate more to the disciple’s comments on the glory of the temple (21:5ff.) than to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, at the end of chapter 20. The NASB version seems to leave them connected to chapter 20, while the NIV does not. In Mark’s account, however, the “widow’s offering” is kept as a part of chapter 12, with chapter 13 beginning with the disciples’ words about the temple.
It would seem to me that these four verses are placed here by Luke in contrast to the Pharisees, to show how God’s ways differ so greatly from those of men. The Pharisees loved riches, and they viewed wealth as an evidence of piety. God, in their minds, would be impressed by the wealthy, and would be especially pleased by the size of their contributions. In these last verses of Jesus has condemned the “rich and famous” and He commends the insignificant gift of a widow. While the Pharisees have “devoured widows’ houses,” it is the gift of one such widow which is the focus of our Lord’s praise and instruction. An insignificant amount of money greatly pleased Jesus, because of what it meant to her. It was her life, her livelihood, all that she had to live on. In giving this money, she evidenced her trust in God to provide for her needs, and to sustain her life. Her trust was in her God, not in her money. Poverty was no reason to cease in her giving to God. How many of us, on the other hand, are sure to have all of our needs met, first, and then to give God the left-overs?
What a rebuke to those of us who excuse ourselves from obedience to God because we have so little to give. You will recall that the one steward who “hid his master’s money” was the one who thought he had so little, while those with greater amounts did more. It was not the size of the gift, but the sacrifice and the faith which prompted it which Jesus praised. How different is our Lord from those who are in leadership and in large ministries today.
Finally, there is an implied contrast between the widow’s offering in verses 1-4 and the disciples’ admiration for the temple in verses 5 and following. Jesus was impressed with what took place in the temple—with the widow’s offering; the disciples were impressed with the temple itself—with its beauty and splendor. Man truly looks on the outward appearance, and God on the heart, here, as always.
We have now come to the “bottom line” in the on-going opposition of the Jewish leaders to Jesus. Their real contention is with Jesus’ self-acclaimed authority. This authority was different from and higher to any that they possessed, as was quickly perceived by the masses:
The result was that when Jesus had finished these words, the multitudes were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes (Matthew 7:28-29).
Jesus’ authority to forgive sins was challenged in Luke chapter 5. His authority to enter Jerusalem as its King, and to possess the temple was just challenged. And the basis for His authority is rooted in His identity. Thus, the question of the religious and political leaders, as we might paraphrase it, “Just who do you think you are, anyway, claiming to have the authority to forgive sins, receiving men’s praises, and possessing the temple?”
If Jesus was the Messiah, He did have the authority to do everything He did. And if He was the Messiah, then according to the Scriptures, He was both man and God. Other texts clearly taught the humanity of Messiah—that He was to be the “son of David.” The psalm which David wrote, and to which Jesus referred, also taught the deity of Messiah, for David’s son could only be David’s Lord if He was Lord, if He was God.
The problem which the leaders had with Jesus was His authority, which was rooted in His identity. Jesus was a man who acted like God because He was the God-man, God incarnate. If the Jewish leaders did not like this, they must take the matter up with God and with His revealed Word, for this is not just what Jesus claimed, it is what the Scriptures taught. Even David, whose son was to be the Messiah, spoke of Him as His Lord. If the deity of Jesus Christ were granted, everything which He did and said would be explained and vindicated. The incarnation of our Lord is the bedrock foundation of everything which He did and said. Reject this truth and Jesus’ authority is nullified. Accept it, and we must submit to Him as Lord.
In a very excellent chapter in his book, Knowing God, J. I. Packer writes about the crucial role played by the incarnation of our Lord, and how the truth of His deity, mixed with His humanity, explains all that Jesus said and did:
But in fact the real difficulty, because the supreme mystery with which the gospel confronts us, does not lie here at all. It lies, not in the Good Friday message of atonement, nor in the Easter message of resurrection, but in the Christmas message of incarnation.… This is the real stumbling-block in Christianity. It is here that Jews, Moslems, Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and many of those who feel the difficulties above mentioned (about the virgin birth, the miracles, the atonement, and the resurrection), have come to grief. It is from misbelief, or at least inadequate belief, about the incarnation that difficulties at other points in the gospel story usually spring. But once the incarnation is grasped as a reality, these other difficulties dissolve.
If Jesus had been no more than a very remarkable, godly man, the difficulties in believing what the new Testament tells us about his life and work would be truly mountainous. But if Jesus was the same person as the eternal Word, the Father’s agent in creation, ‘through whom also he made the worlds’ (Heb. 1:2, RV), it is no wonder if fresh acts of creative power marked His coming into this world, and His life in it, and His exit from it. It is not strange that he, the author of life, should rise from the dead. If He was truly god the son, it is much more startling that He should die than that He should rise again. `’Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies,’ wrote Wesley; but there is no comparable mystery in the Immortal’s resurrection. And if the immortal son of God did really submit to taste death, it is not strange that such a death should have saving significance for a doomed race. Once we grant that Jesus was divine, it becomes unreasonable to find difficulty in any of this’ll it is all of a piece, and hangs together completely. The incarnation is in itself an unfathomable mystery, but it makes sense of everything else that the New Testament contains.70
The leaders of the nation did not reject Jesus’ deity because they failed to understand His claim to be God, nor because the Old Testament failed to indicate that Messiah would be both divine and human, but because to do so would have required them to submit to His authority, to obey and worship Him, to repent of their sin, to cease receiving the glory, praise, and preeminence which their leadership roles had come to provide for them. They, unlike the humble widow, and unlike David, would not place their trust in Jesus, nor render to Him the worship and adoration He deserved. Like Satan, they would glory in their position and power, and uncontent with what God had given to them, they would seek to usurp that which belongs only to God. Their animosity toward Jesus was so great that they would rather have a pagan—Caesar—for their king, than Messiah.
In the light of the character and conduct of the Jewish leaders, take note of the way in which they had come to handle the sacred Scriptures. Both the Pharisees and the Sadducees limited the Scriptures to that which they could grasp and were willing to accept. The Sadducees did not wish to think of an afterlife and they could not envision how it would work out (marriage and all), and so they rejected it, even though a number of Scriptures clearly taught it. Similarly, the Pharisees believed in one God, and thus they rejected the clear claims and inferences of Jesus (e.g. the statement, “Your sins are forgiven, …” Luke 5:20-23) to be God. They also believed that since Messiah was a man, he could not also be God, yet He was.
In addition to limiting divine revelation to that which can be humanly grasped and understood, the Pharisees and Sadducees limited themselves and others to an “either/or” mentality. Either you obeyed God, or you obeyed government, but surely you could not do both. Thus, the question about paying taxes. Jesus differed by saying that both God and government should be obeyed. Either Messiah was man or He was God, but it never entered their minds that He might be a God-man.
These two errors—(1) limiting divine revelation to that which is humanly comprehensible, and (2) limiting to one of two options—when joined together led to a fatal flaw in dealing with divine revelation. Problems posed by the Scriptures led to the rejection of truth, only because it could not be understood fully, but not because it wasn’t clearly revealed.
The confrontation between the Jewish leaders and Jesus in our text reveals the fact that there were two major factors involved in their rejection of Jesus, and especially of His authority (rooted in His deity). The first factor was their practice, their lifestyle. The wickedness of the Pharisees, as summarized by Jesus in verses 45-47, explains from a particle point of view why they would not want to submit to the authority of Jesus as Messiah. Jesus would “clean up” their lives, just as He cleansed the temple, and they wanted none of this. It was the holiness of Jesus which they most loathed. Their excuses for rejecting Jesus were hypocritical, and theological. They sought biblical reasons for their rejection, but they were all shown to be distortions of the truth.
A recognition that the theology of both the Pharisees and the Sadducees was the basis (the excuse) for their denial and rejection of Jesus as the Christ forces me to reevaluate the role of theology. Let me begin by saying that theology—the systematic study of God and of biblical revelation—is a vitally important matter. Most of us are not nearly the students of theology that we should be.
But let us also remember that theology is distorted by our sin and our human limitations. Theology is, at best, the summation of biblical truth as we understand it. Theology differs from biblical revelation as the truth does from our interpretation of it. When Jesus came to the earth and did not conform to the theology of the Pharisees, or of others, men should have conformed their theology to Christ, rather than to insist that Christ conform to their theology. I fear that for some of us we have forgotten how distorted our theology can become, and we begin to view it as having an equal footing with the Word of God itself. Theology, by its very nature, is limited to our level of understanding, but God’s Word surpasses our understanding, not often understood until its fulfillment, and not ultimately understood until eternity, for we now “see through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Let us therefore hold our theology a bit more loosely, a little more tentatively, especially in those areas where evangelicals disagree. The fundamentals we must hold fast, but let us be on guard against “straining gnats and swallowing camels.”
How often we, like the Pharisees and the Sadducees, are guilty of narrowing the possibilities to one of two options, of going through life with an “either/or” mentality. The Pharisees thought that Messiah was either God or man; Jesus declared from Scripture that He was both. Some thought one must obey either human government or God; Jesus taught that we must do both. We often fight about the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man, as though either one or the other can be true, but they are both true.
As I have pondered this text and the questions which the enemies of our Lord have put to Him, it occurred to me that the One to whom all the questions were asked was Himself the answer. I am sure that you have often seen or heard the expression, “Christ is the answer,” but I have never seen that statement so relevant or applicable as I have in the setting of our text. Christ was bombarded with questions, all of which He handled beautifully, but the tragedy and irony of these things is that Jesus, the One who was questioned so vigorously, was the answer. The reason why they persisted with their questions is because they refused to accept God’s answer to their problems.
Stop to ponder this for a moment. The Jews were stunned to hear Jesus teach that Jews must render obedience both to God and to a pagan government. How could this be? Christ is the answer. He surrendered to the will of the Father, and so doing surrendered Himself into the hands of Rome, to be nailed to the cross of Calvary. Jesus lived out the answer to the problem of the Jews. How could Messiah be both God and man? Christ is the answer. Christ is both God and man; He is God incarnate, or, as the Old Testament prophet foretold, He is “Immanuel”—God with us (Isaiah 7:14; cf. Matthew 1:23). There were yet other questions. For example, the question which Peter will raise later on in his first epistle (1 Peter 1:11). The problem with which the prophets struggled was this: “How can the Christ be One who suffers, and yet who triumphs? How can He be a sufferer and also a triumphant ruler? How can one harmonize suffering and glory, in the same Savior?” Christ, I repeat, is the answer. We now can see that He came first to suffer so as to save, and He will come again to reign in righteousness and power, subduing His enemies.
The longer I live, and observe life, and study the Scriptures, the more I am convinced that the one solution to all of life’s problems, to all of life’s questions, is Christ. I do not believe that there is any question to which He is not the final and ultimate answer. Christ is not only the solution, He is the resolution of life’s unanswered questions and problems. Our Lord brings together those inscrutable and seemingly incompatible aspects of life. He brings together, for example, a righteous God and sinful men. He reconciles Jews and Gentiles, the most irreconcilable of foes (Ephesians 2). He joins together humanity and deity, divine sovereignty and human responsibility. He is the Great Reconciler of those things which seem irreconcilable. To come to Him in simple repentance and faith is to find the solution to all of life’s problems. To turn from Him is to face countless irreconcilables with the most feeble attempts at human resolution.
This text confronts us with a very important insight into the problems of life, and into the problems which we find in the Scriptures (problems, I might add, which are there by design). This insight may be expressed as a principle: EITHER OUR PROBLEMS WILL DRAW US TO CHRIST, OR THEY WILL DRIVE US FROM HIM
It is a very simple truth, but a vitally important one. To the Pharisees and Sadducees, problems were their pretext for drawing their own conclusions, in direct denial of the Word of God. To Jesus, problems were intended to draw men to God. It was those with great problems who came to Christ for help and healing. The seemingly unsolvable problems raised by the Scriptures caused men of faith to turn to God and to wait for His resolution to the seeming contradictions of the prophetic promises, which pertained to two comings, not one. It was the problems of prophecy which pointed to Christ as the marvelous resolution of them by God, in a way that men could not have predicted, could not understand, and were even reluctant to accept when He stood in their midst. Problems are designed by God to draw men to Himself. If we reject God’s purposes for problems, they will ultimately turn us away from Him, rather than to Him, due to our own willfulness and sin.
My prayer for you, my friend, as well as for myself, is that we shall find Christ a sufficient answer for all of our questions. Those questions which are vital and eternal have a clear answer now, in Christ. Those questions yet unanswered, have a future and certain answer, in Christ. Christ is the answer. I pray that you have found Him so, and that you will continue to do so.
68 “The critique of their theology is addressed to the scribes (vs. 41, cf. vs. 39); the critique of their way of life is addressed to the disciples (20;45). (a) Luke 20:41-44 poses a puzzle for the scribes very much in the same manner the Sadducees had presented Jesus with a riddle. The pericope assumes first that ‘the Lord’ is God, that ‘my Lord’ equals the Messiah, and that David is the author of the psalm (vs. 42); and second, that, according to oriental mores, a son did not surpass his father. Given assumption two, how could the Messiah be David’s son (vs. 44)? David would not address a son of his as Lord… . The one who is David’s son (1:69; 2:4; 3:23-38) became David’s Lord by virtue of his resurrection-ascension-exaltation (Acts 2:34-36; 13:22-23, 33-37).” Charles H. Talbert, Reading Luke: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Third Gospel (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1984), pp. 195-196.
69 “Strack-Billerbeck show in a detailed digression on Psalm cx (op. cit., part iv, pp. 452-65) that during New Testament times Jewish scholars regarded Psalm cx as a Messianic psalm, but that subsequently, when the Christians used this psalm so generally to prove the Old Testament had prophesied that they messiah would be a divine Redeemer, they rejected its Messianic interpretation. so from about A.D. 100 to 250 they applied this psalm to Abraham! But afterwards they again accepted it as a Messianic psalm (for then the conflict with the Christians was no longer so violent, since the church then consisted mostly of non-Jewish members and the church and the Jewish community each went its own way).” Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1951), p. 517, fn. 3.