The Great Debate: Death and Taxes Matthew 22:15-33Related Media
15 Then the Pharisees went out and planned together to entrap him with his own words. 16 They sent to him their disciples along with the Herodians, saying, ?Teacher, we know that you are truthful, and teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You do not court anyone?s favor because you show no partiality. 17 Tell us then, what do you think? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?? 18 But Jesus realized their evil intentions and said, ?Hypocrites! Why are you testing me? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.? So they brought him a denarius. 20 Jesus said to them, ?Whose image is this, and whose inscription?? 21 They replied, ?Caesar?s.? He said to them, ?Then give to Caesar the things that are Caesar?s, and to God the things that are God?s.? 22 Now when they heard this they were stunned, and they left him and went away.
23 The same day Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) came to him and asked him, 24 ?Teacher, Moses said, ?If a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and father children for his brother.? 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children he left his wife to his brother. 26 The second did the same, and the third, down to the seventh. 27 Last of all, the woman died. 28 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had married her.? 29 Jesus answered them, ?You are deceived, because you don?t know the scriptures or the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 Now as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, 32 ?I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?? He is not the God of the dead but of the living!? 33 When the crowds heard this, they were amazed at his teaching (Matthew 22:15-33).241
I am reminded of the battles between Ahab, king of Israel, and Ben Hadad, king of Syria, as described in 1 Kings 20. To make a long story short, Ben Hadad and 32 other kings besieged Samaria, but God miraculously delivered Israel while dealing a devastating blow to Ben Hadad and his allies. What fascinates me is Ben Hadad?s response to his defeat. He is not willing to accept this defeat, but insists on restaging the battle:
23 Now the advisers of the king of Syria said to him: ?Their God is a god of the mountains. That?s why they overpowered us. But if we fight them in the plains, we will certainly overpower them. 24 So do this: Dismiss the kings from their command, and replace them with military commanders. 25 Muster an army like the one you lost, with the same number of horses and chariots. Then we will fight them in the plains; we will certainly overpower them.? He approved their plan and did as they advised. 26 In the spring Ben Hadad mustered the Syrian army and marched to Aphek to fight Israel (1 Kings 20:23-26).
Ben Hadad couldn?t leave it alone. He had to find an excuse for his defeat that fit his theology, and he insisted on another confrontation. That?s the way I read our text in Matthew 22:15-33. Jesus has boldly claimed authority as Israel?s Messiah by His triumphal entry, His cleansing of the temple, and His possession of the temple for His teaching and healing ministry (Matthew 21:1-17). It is while Jesus is ministering in the temple that His adversaries ? the religious elite of Jerusalem ? choose to challenge Him publicly, demanding that He declare the source of His authority for all He has been doing (Matthew 21:23).
Jesus begins by exposing their long-standing opposition to His authority, beginning with their rejection of John the Baptist and his announcement of the arrival of Israel?s Messiah. Jesus would tell them the source of His authority, if they would disclose the source of John the Baptist?s authority. Was John?s authority from heaven (and thus from God), or from men? They dared not say, because they feared the people, who held that John was a true prophet (Matthew 21:23-27).
Jesus then followed up with three parables, all of which indicted the religious leaders for their rejection of His divine authority as the promised Messiah. The parable of the two sons (Matthew 21:28-32) condemned the religious leaders because they did not repent and believe in John?s message (in the Messiah), even after they saw all the confirming evidence of Jesus? identity. These elite were horrified to hear Jesus say that tax collectors and prostitutes were entering the kingdom ahead of them.
Jesus then told the parable of the vineyard owner who sent his servants to collect the rent he was due. The tenant farmers rejected the first delegation of servants, then a second, larger and more impressive delegation. Some of these two delegations were beaten, others were killed, and yet others were stoned. Finally, the owner sent his son. Surely they would acknowledge his authority and pay him what was due. But instead, the tenants killed the son, supposing that this would make them the owners. When Jesus asked His audience what this owner should do, they obliged Him by saying that he should completely destroy these wicked men and then lease the vineyard to those who would give him his due. Jesus shocked them when He cited Old Testament Scripture to show that the rejection of Israel?s Messiah (stone) was prophesied, and that this stone would become the cornerstone. He then went on to tell them that this stone would be the destruction of Israel?s builders (leaders). Indeed, the kingdom of God would be taken from them and handed over to another nation that would produce fruit.
Our Lord?s adversaries most certainly got the point. They knew Jesus was speaking about them with His parables. They wanted to arrest Him on the spot, but they dared not. Jesus was there in the temple, and the people not only loved to hear Him, they regarded Him as a prophet (Matthew 21:45-46). But Jesus was not done with them yet. He went on to tell them yet another parable about a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son (Matthew 22:1-14). When the time for the banquet arrived, the king sent out his servants to call the guests. The guests did not come, however. So the king sent even more servants, explaining the culinary benefits of this banquet. Once again the invitation was rejected. Some merely ignored it, going about their own business; others actively rejected the invitation by mistreating and even killing some of the king?s servants.
The next men the king sent out were soldiers, not servants. Those murderers were put to death, and their city was set on fire. Finally servants were sent out to invite those who were far from the elite. People were gathered from the streets, both good and bad. No one declined this invitation, though one gate crasher tried to attend without the required attire. He was condemned to outer darkness.
?Many are called, but few are chosen,? Jesus said. And the ?few? who were chosen were not the elite, but the riff raff, the lowest element of society. The elite rejected the king?s invitation and were punished. Their city (representing Jerusalem, no doubt) was burned with fire. The unworthy were compelled to come and were provided the necessary attire.
Those who questioned Jesus? authority had been utterly humiliated. This would be a good time to retreat, permanently, but they would not allow it to end this way. They wanted to restage the confrontation. Matthew puts it this way:
Then the Pharisees went out and planned together to entrap him with his own words (Matthew 22:15).
Luke gives us a more complete picture of the nature of the opposition to Jesus after His triumphal entry:
47 Jesus was teaching daily in the temple courts. The chief priests and the experts in the law and the prominent leaders among the people were seeking to assassinate him, 48 but they could not find a way to do it, for all the people hung on his words (Luke 19:47-48).
19 Then the experts in the law and the chief priests wanted to arrest him that very hour, because they realized he had told this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people. 20 Then they watched him carefully and sent spies who pretended to be sincere. They wanted to take advantage of what he might say so that they could deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor (Luke 20:19-20).
They had entered into a war of words, and they had lost ? badly. Jesus had humiliated them publicly, and they were determined to humiliate Him publicly. They were trying, as Matthew put it, ?to entrap Him with His own words? (Matthew 22:15b). Luke tells us that their intention was to trick Jesus into saying something that was illegal ? against Rome. Jesus had issued a challenge to their religious authority by His triumphal entry and cleansing of the temple. They had sought to discredit Jesus with regard to His spiritual authority, but had failed miserably. So if Jesus had such great authority, let Him dare to speak against Rome. In their minds, Jesus had talked ?big? about His authority to them, so let Him talk ?big? in terms of His authority in relation to Rome. If they could entice Him to speak against Rome (and if He was indeed the King of Israel, why should He not do so?), then they could simply turn Jesus over to Rome and let the political authorities deal with Him.
There is yet another element to this confrontation. It was not Rome that kept the religious elite from seizing Jesus; it was the crowds, who loved hearing Jesus and who also regarded Him as a prophet (Matthew 21:46; see also 22:23). If the religious and political elite were ever to arrest Jesus and eliminate Him, they would have to discredit Him publicly before the crowds. After their first round of opposition (?By what authority?? Matthew 21:23, 24, 27), they crawled off to lick their wounds. But this time they had time to put their heads together and to think up strategies that Jesus would not expect and would not be able to handle ? or so they supposed. And so begins the second round of ?The Great Debate? between Jesus and His religious adversaries.
15 Then the Pharisees went out and planned together to entrap him with his own words. 16 They sent to him their disciples along with the Herodians, saying, ?Teacher, we know that you are truthful, and teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You do not court anyone?s favor because you show no partiality. 17 Tell us then, what do you think? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?? 18 But Jesus realized their evil intentions and said, ?Hypocrites! Why are you testing me? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.? So they brought him a denarius. 20 Jesus said to them, ?Whose image is this, and whose inscription?? 21 They replied, ?Caesar?s.? He said to them, ?Then give to Caesar the things that are Caesar?s, and to God the things that are God?s.? 22 Now when they heard this they were stunned, and they left him and went away (Matthew 22:15-22).
Let us begin by noting who it is who has come to oppose Jesus here. We find an alliance of some kind between the Pharisees and the Herodians. In some ways, it seems an unlikely alliance. The Pharisees were a strict, legalistic, arrogant separatist group. They held firmly to the Law of Moses and, at least theoretically,242 to the inspiration and authority of the Old Testament as a whole. The Herodians, on the other hand, were those who endorsed and supported Roman rule over Israel. We see very little of the Herodians in the New Testament (they are mentioned only 3 times; here in Matthew 22:15 and its parallel in Mark 12:13, and in Mark 3:6). The Herodians may not have been a religious lot, being more political in their beliefs and practices. While it is sometimes said that they are arch enemies of the Pharisees, it seems that they all too quickly sided with the Pharisees, intent on killing Jesus early in His ministry (Mark 3:6). What would seem obvious is that the Pharisees would carefully scrutinize our Lord?s remarks in the light of their understanding of the Law of Moses (see Matthew 23:1), while the Herodians would listen carefully for any hint of infraction of Roman law. It was as though they had Jesus in a vice, or so it seemed.
Let us now consider the motivation of this delegation of Pharisees and Herodians. We have already noted (above) the comments of Matthew 22:15 and Luke 19:47-48; 20:19-20. We know that this is a carefully contrived trap designed to lure Jesus into a statement that will alarm Rome enough to remove Him as a threat to Rome and (more importantly) to the Jewish establishment (compare John 11:47-53). When the question about taxes is posed, Jesus first exposes the malice and wickedness which prompted it, not to mention the hypocrisy of the question:
But Jesus realized their evil intentions and said, ?Hypocrites! Why are you testing me? (Matthew 22:18)
Their ?compliments? certainly are truthful on one level. Jesus did teach truthfully, and He did not mince His words or show any kind of partiality in what He taught. Jesus told it like it was. Sadly, those who questioned Him did not live up to this standard themselves. When Jesus challenged the religious leaders to declare the source of John the Baptist?s authority, they hedged, not because they had no opinion, but because their opinion was unpopular and they were not willing to pay the price for speaking the truth (see Matthew 21:23-27). Worst of all, perhaps, was that they commended Jesus for a virtue (His truthfulness) that they hoped to turn to a vice, by saying something against Rome.
Let us make a few more observations regarding the question put to Jesus about paying taxes.
(1) The question was a legal one, seeking from Jesus, the teacher (verse 17), an authoritative statement about paying taxes to Caesar, based upon the Old Testament Law. I differ with the translation ?right? (or its equivalents) cited earlier243 (and in some other translations, including the New Living Translation and the New International Version). I believe this is clearly a reference to the legality of taxation (consistent with the Law of Moses), and not a more general, ethical question. Jesus, the One who authoritatively taught the correct interpretation of the Law (see Matthew 5:17-48; 7:28-29), is now challenged to speak plainly as to whether or not the law required or allowed the payment of taxes to Caesar.
(2) On the surface, this question is about the payment of taxes,244 but at a deeper level it is a question regarding the acknowledgment of Israel?s subject status to Roman rule and the obligations which flow from this status. In effect, the taxes which are in view are a form of tribute paid to Rome, a tribute which acknowledges the legitimacy of Rome?s authority and control, and thus their right to collect taxes from a subject people. When nations rebelled against their captors, they ceased to pay tribute (see 2 Kings 17:1-6). To pay taxes to Rome was to admit one?s subject status to Rome, something which many Jews were unwilling to do:
?We are descendants of Abraham,? they replied, ?and have never been anyone?s slaves! How can you say, ?You will become free??? (John 8:33)245
(3) The question is illegitimate because it is unfairly restrictive. It allows only two possible answers, and both are wrong. It is like asking, ?Have you stopped beating your wife?? Either answer condemns you as a wife-beater. Jesus gave only two options for the answer to His question to the chief priests and elders of the people (Matthew 21:23-25), but one of the two answers (?from heaven? or ?from men?) was right. They were unwilling to grant the right answer (because they didn?t believe it), and also unwilling to say the wrong answer, but only because of the political repercussions for doing so. It would appear that Jesus was trapped. He could do as the chief priests and elders had done ? refuse to answer ? but in that case Jesus would have been no more authoritative than they had been. They would have won with their question because they would have appeared to ?stump? Jesus. No answer was only slightly better than one answer or the other.
Our Lord?s response to this ?unanswerable? question is a masterpiece. Jesus first points out the hypocrisy of the question and the wicked motivation that prompted it. Let no one think Jesus had failed to recognize the question for what it was. But then He goes on to give an answer which leaves everyone in awe, and His interrogators speechless.
Jesus asks them to show Him one of the coins used to pay the tax. He did not ask to see just any coin, but the tax coin, the one which would be used to pay taxes to Caesar. They produced such a coin ? a denarius ? which may have been self-incriminating. Someone possessed a coin that was used to pay taxes. This would imply that they did pay their taxes, whether they were Pharisees or Herodians. Jesus then asked whose image was on the coin and whose inscription. They replied, ?Caesar?s.?
Our Lord?s response is simple, elegant, and devastating to those who had sought to incriminate Him. Had Herod himself been present, he could not have challenged this answer (which I will paraphrase):
?What belongs to Caesar you should give back to Caesar; what belongs to God you should give back to God? (paraphrase of Matthew 22:21b, emphasis mine).
Jesus is very deliberate here in His choice of words, but few translations make this distinction clear to the reader. The word translated ?pay? in their question (?Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?? verse 17) is slightly, but significantly, modified by our Lord in His response. He adds a prefix to this Greek word so that now it should rightly be translated, ?pay back.? Thus we have: ?Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and (give back) to God what belongs to God.? What can be wrong with giving back something that belongs to that person in the first place?
The coin was minted and issued by Caesar. It belongs to him. He can require that it be given back any time he wants, and men are obliged to give it back. But Caesar does not own everything. Ultimately, God does. And so we are to give back to God that which rightly belongs to Him. In general terms, we should give ourselves back to God. At this point in time, Jesus teaches that there are at least two realms of authority (God and government), and that each has its own proper sphere and obligations. Our Lord does not spell out what these spheres are. There are several New Testament texts which later will further clarify this matter (Acts 5:29; Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-17), but there is no need for our Lord to do so now. His questioners are not sincerely seeking guidance; they are seeking a pretext in order to accuse Jesus of a crime against Rome.
Those who asked Jesus this question did so because it seemed to suit their purposes, but in the providence of God, this matter of one?s obligations to God and country is raised. Little did any of these challengers realize how soon they would have to make a choice between God and government, indeed between God and Caesar.
14 (Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover, about noon.) Pilate said to the Jewish leaders, ?Look, here is your king!? 15 Then they shouted out, ?Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!? Pilate asked, ?Shall I crucify your king?? The high priests replied, ?We have no king except Caesar!? (John 19:14-15)
There were deeper lessons to be learned concerning God and government, but for the moment, our Lord?s purposes were realized. He had, once again, stunned and silenced those who had purposed to silence His teaching. They were stupefied by how quickly and easily Jesus had turned the tables on them, making His answer the source of their shame and silence.
There is one more thing about our Lord?s answer which we need to observe. Jesus is asked to authoritatively pronounce on the legitimacy (legality) of paying taxes to Caesar. One would surely have expected Jesus to have buttressed His answer with scriptural support (as He will do in answer to the next question), but He does not answer from Scripture. Why not? It is not because there was no answer to be found in Scripture. Jesus could have cited Leviticus 26 or Deuteronomy 28-30 to show that God would subject His people to foreign rulers because of Israel?s sin. He could also have called their attention to men like Joseph (who submitted himself to Pharaoh, Egypt?s king), or Daniel (who submitted himself to Babylonian and Persian kings). He could have cited texts like Jeremiah 29:4-7. There was plenty of scriptural support for Jesus? answer, but He chose not to use it.
There are other possible answers, but this answer seemed to stand out among the options: Jesus demonstrated His authority by not citing Scripture. Remember that it is Jesus? authority that is being called into question. The best that His opponents could say is, ?Moses said?? (see Matthew 22:24). But Jesus could do better, because He was God. Thus repeatedly in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught, ?You have heard it said, ? but I say to you ? ? (see Matthew 5:21-22ff., 27-28ff., 31-32, 33-34ff., 38-39ff., 43-44ff.). It was by this kind of teaching that Jesus impressed the crowds with His authority (Matthew 7:28-29). Second class authorities cite others with more authority than themselves; first class authorities speak for themselves. That is what Jesus did, and thus He need not cite Scripture, even though His answer was scriptural (consistent with Scripture).
Stunned and silent, these challengers left Jesus alone, no doubt shaking their heads as they retreated (verse 22), wondering, ?What just happened? .??
23 The same day Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) came to him and asked him, 24 ?Teacher, Moses said, ?If a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and father children for his brother.? 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children he left his wife to his brother. 26 The second did the same, and the third, down to the seventh. 27 Last of all, the woman died. 28 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had married her.? 29 Jesus answered them, ?You are deceived, because you don?t know the scriptures or the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 Now as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, 32 ?I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?? He is not the God of the dead but of the living!? 33 When the crowds heard this, they were amazed at his teaching (Matthew 22:23-33).
Until now, the Sadducees have not played a very prominent role in Matthew (the term occurs only five times before appearing in our text, while ?Pharisee? or ?Pharisees? occurs over three times as often in the same chapters). The Sadducees will take on a much larger role in the Book of Acts, after the resurrection. The Sadducees, Matthew informs us, did not believe in the resurrection of the dead (Matthew 22:23). Luke confirms this, adding that neither did they believe in angels nor spirits (Acts 23:8). The Sadducees were generally part of the wealthy aristocracy. They were anti-supernatural; the power they embraced was more earthly ? political clout. The Sadducees were lovers of the Greek culture, and they collaborated with Rome. They accepted only the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) as authoritative. The rest was merely commentary, at best.
Like me, you may have jumped to the conclusion that the question of the Sadducees is hypocritical, like that of the Pharisees and Herodians, earlier. But this is not the case. Jesus does not call the Sadducees hypocrites. Jesus told these Sadducees that they were deceived (Mark 12:24), ignorant, and mistaken (Mark 12:27). In Matthew, He calls them deceived and ignorant (Matthew 22:29). They were not being underhanded, but were openly challenging Jesus? position on the resurrection of the dead. It is quite clear that the Sadducees, like the chief priests and the Pharisees (Matthew 27:62-66), understood Jesus to teach that there would be a resurrection of the dead.
Thanks to Matthew?s account of the confrontation between the Sadducees and Jesus, we can understand the argument the Sadducees confidently set forth. I believe they sincerely thought that their ?scriptural proof? would demonstrate the fallacy of the doctrine of the resurrection. If this were the case, then Jesus would be discredited because they understood the resurrection to not only be a part of His teaching, but foundational to it. Disprove the resurrection and the Sadducees would discredit Jesus.
Their argument was logical, even if it was fatally flawed. They begin by addressing Jesus as ?teacher,? and then they cite the instruction of Moses regarding levirate marriage246 from Deuteronomy 25:5. Levirate marriage was designed to insure that a deceased Israelite would have offspring (begotten through his brother).
Citing a text in Deuteronomy concerning levirate marriage accomplished several things. First, it was a proof text from the Pentateuch.247 Secondly, it established the biblical basis for levirate marriage. Thirdly, it underscored the importance of preserving a line of physical descendants. Finally, it provided the Sadducees the occasion (or so they foolishly assumed) to discredit a belief in the afterlife, and thus the resurrection of the dead.
Here?s how the argument seems to flow. The Sadducees don?t believe in the resurrection. Jesus knew this, and the Sadducees made no pretense about who they were and what they did, or didn?t, believe. Matthew informs his readers, because they might not know this. They cited the basis for levirate marriage in the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 25:5), and then proceeded to apply this law in the context of a literal resurrection of the dead (as they knew Jesus believed and taught). The fact that there were seven brothers makes this a pretty fantastic (or should I say fanciful) situation. Surely it was hypothetical and extreme, but that?s what the Sadducees felt they needed to prove their point. Eventually all seven brothers died, but without producing an heir for their deceased brother. Now, in the resurrection, what was to be done with these seven brothers and this one wife? To the Sadducees, it was an impossible situation. And thus, they concluded, the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead must be false. (How could one believe a doctrine that led to such an impossible outcome?)
The Sadducees were in no way challenging the legitimacy of the law of levirate marriage. Indeed, they embraced this law because it tended, in their thinking, to support their rejection of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. Why was levirate marriage necessary and thus a part of the law? It is because it was essential for an Israelite man to have descendants. And why was it essential for an Israelite to have descendants? Because (the Sadducees reasoned) there is no afterlife; there is only this life. One?s immortality is to be accomplished by preserving his family line of descendants. To the Sadducees, the kingdom of heaven is something earthly and physical. To them, the existence of the law of levirate marriage was itself proof that there was no resurrection. And to more forcefully make their point, they devised this hypothetical situation, which seemed to make bodily resurrection seem impractical.
What I want you to see is that the Sadducees were open and above board in their attempt to discredit our Lord?s teaching concerning the resurrection. They were not hypocritical, as were the Pharisees in the previous challenge (Matthew 22:15-22). Jesus therefore does not rebuke them for hypocrisy. This is not to say that our Lord let them off easily. He did not. His words in response to their challenge must have stung. The Sadducees were people who were used to power and prestige. Their fascination with Greek culture made them think of themselves as the intellectual elite.248 They were people ?in the know.? They were used to winning arguments and debates, and used to being respected. Jesus told them they were wrong, and that they were wrong because they were both ignorant and deceived.
While they had quoted Scripture, they were not well read in the Scriptures (verse 29). They were ignorant and deceived in two main ways. First of all, they were ignorant concerning the nature of the resurrection. They rejected a stereotype of the resurrection that was not really biblical. I am indebted to Frederick Dale Bruner for his suggestion that the concept of the resurrection the Sadducees rejected was probably that of the Pharisees.249 To the Pharisees (and others), heaven was life as they knew it, only better and longer. Thus, they assumed that sex and marriage were to be a heavenly experience. And they were wrong.
Jesus corrected their flawed view of the resurrected state by responding that heaven is vastly different than what we experience in this life. Specifically, men will be like the angels in heaven, and thus there will be no marriage. This hypothetical woman would not be anyone?s wife in the resurrection. Both Jesus (Matthew 19:10-12) and Paul (1 Corinthians 7:25-35) speak positively about those who may choose to live on earth as though they were in heaven. In neither case is the single life commanded, but for those who can deal with it, it is commended, especially in particularly difficult times (1 Corinthians 7:26).
If what Jesus says is true ? and it most certainly is ? then the Sadducees? whole argument against the resurrection collapses. There remains only one reason why the resurrection would be denied: men must lack faith in the power of God to accomplish it. That is precisely the indictment Jesus makes against the Sadducees. In the first place, they had misread the Scriptures, concluding that heaven would have marriage, just like we have it on earth. In the second place, they did not know the power of God. They had not experienced God?s mighty power, either intellectually or experientially. They did not believe God was so powerful as to raise the dead.
The Sadducees had taken the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 25 and twisted them to disprove the resurrection. Jesus could have gone to Abraham?s offering of Isaac to establish the fact that his faith was a resurrection faith, just as Paul and the writer to the Hebrews would do later in the New Testament (Romans 4:16-25; Hebrews 11:17-19). But instead, Jesus went to the very core of Israel?s faith in the Pentateuch:
??I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?? He is not the God of the dead but of the living!? (Matthew 22:32, citing Exodus 3:6)
God?s very name ? ?I am? ? tells it all. He is the eternal, ever-living God. But He is more than that; He is the God of those who have died. God spoke these words in Exodus 3:6 to Moses several hundred years after the deaths of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God spoke of Himself as the God of those who had trusted in Him, and yet had died. There is but one explanation for Him doing so ? these men did exist in some sense presently (as we have seen Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration ? Matthew 17:2-3), and they will exist in glorious form at the resurrection. That is why the writer to the Hebrews can say,
13 These all died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth. 14 For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 In fact, if they had been thinking of the land that they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16).
Jesus has won hands down. He has destroyed their arguments against the resurrection, and He has shown biblical proof of the resurrection in one of the texts they most revered. We are not told how the Sadducees reacted, but Matthew does tell us how the crowds responded:
When the crowds heard this, they were amazed at his teaching (Matthew 22:33).250
Were the Sadducees seeking to publicly embarrass and discredit Jesus? It didn?t work. They were shown to be wrong, and with their own Scriptures. They were exposed as poor students of Scripture and as those who had been deceived concerning the resurrection.
This past week, Dr. Condoleeza Rice went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as part of the process of becoming Secretary of State. It seemed quite obvious that some of the administration?s opponents wanted the chance to grill this brilliant and capable woman and to be able to voice their opposition to the President?s policy in Iraq. Even though it was apparent that her appointment would be approved, the process was delayed so that more opposition could be voiced.
What a contrast we find in the ?grilling? that the Sadducees intended to give Jesus. They fully intended to show that Jesus was ?beating a dead horse? (pardon the pun) when He taught that all men would be raised from the dead, some to eternal life and others to eternal doom (hell).251 Jesus exposed His adversaries as poor students of Scripture and those who were greatly deceived, and buttressed His teaching on the resurrection with texts they themselves esteemed. Trust me; they did not wish to prolong this conversation one second longer. Their silence is deafening.
The intent of these questions was to undermine or nullify our Lord?s authority. His opponents wanted to discredit Jesus before the crowds and pit Jesus against Rome. In seeking to challenge our Lord?s authority, the Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees only served to enhance it. It was they who were silenced, not Jesus. It was they who had been made to look foolish. The crowds, if they were laughing, were laughing at them, not Jesus.
The questions that were raised dealt with matters of great significance. Notice that both questions pertain to the future. The Sadducees asked Jesus about the resurrection of the dead, while the Pharisees and Herodians asked Jesus about the relationship between His kingdom and that of Rome. Both groups and both questions made it clear that our Lord?s opponents were far more interested in the present than in the future. But our Lord?s kingdom was not an earthly one ? one that He would establish at that moment by casting aside Roman rule. Jesus made this very clear to Pilate:
Jesus replied, ?My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my servants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish authorities. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here? (John 18:36).
A proper view of heaven is the basis for godly living on earth (2 Corinthians 4:7?5:10; Philippians 1:18-26). No wonder false teachers distort the doctrine of future things (2 Timothy 2:16-18; 2 Peter 3). Who better to speak to us about heaven than the One who came down from heaven (John 6:41, 51)?
Our text is one of several that, by inference, warns us concerning the danger of what I call ?binary thinking.? It is the kind of thinking which believes that it is either one way or the other, but not both. The Pharisees and Herodians pressed Jesus about paying taxes to Caesar. Should one pay taxes to Caesar or not? Yes or no? Jesus said that it was not that simple. One must give back to Caesar what is rightfully his, but he must also give back to God what is His. Is God sovereign, or is man responsible? God is sovereign, and man is responsible. Is Jesus human or divine? He is both. Living the Christian life is living in such a way as to keep certain truths and principles in tension, rather than holding to one and rejecting the other. Living in this way requires guidance and wisdom that comes from God, and He has promised to give us such wisdom when we ask for it (James 1:5-8). Let us be careful not to make every issue binary.
In our text, men were questioning the Son of God. It is not wrong to have questions about God and His Word, so long as we seek the answers from His Word and are content about those things He chooses to reveal to us in heaven, rather than on earth. But let us remember that rebellion often surfaces as a question (see, for example, Genesis 4:9). Repentance begins with our agreeing with God, and then acting accordingly.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is all about authority. Once we grant the authority of the Bible as God?s Word, and the authority of Jesus Christ as the living Word of God, then we have already set our course. When we reject Jesus Christ as God?s provision for our sin, and His only way to heaven, we deny the authority of God, and we establish ourselves as the ultimate authority. I would suggest to you that when men who have rejected Jesus stand before God in heaven, they will be as silent as those who sought to oppose Jesus in our text. We will have no excuse, and no argument will justify our rebellion against Jesus. Jesus alone is God?s way of salvation. Trust in Him.
240 Copyright ? 2005 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 69 in the Studies in the Gospel of Matthew series prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on January 23, 2005. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God?s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel.
241 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
242 I say theoretically because when I find the Pharisees referring to the Old Testament, it is to the Law, and not to the prophets. Indeed, it would seem to me that Jesus corrects the Pharisees in their interpretation of the Law because they disregard the prophets. For example, the Pharisees strongly oppose Jesus for ?working? on the Sabbath when He performs some gracious miracle. On several occasions, Jesus responds, ?Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?? (Matthew 12:10), or ?Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath?? (Matthew 12:12) Based upon Isaiah 58, especially verses 13 and 14, I believe that the answer is clearly ?Yes.? The prophets sought to highlight the principles taught by the Law, and then to apply them as such. Legalists avoid the prophets because they love to ?strain gnats and swallow camels? (Matthew 23:24). The one exception I see in the Gospels is the lawyer, who inquires about the greatest commandment, especially in Mark?s account (Mark 12:28-34).
243 Of the nine times this word is found in Matthew, the NET Bible renders it ?lawful? (or its equivalent) seven times. ?Lawful? is not only the dominant meaning of the word in the New Testament (26 out of 32 times in the Authorized Version), it is the only reasonable meaning here.
244 I have to smile here, as I remember that Matthew was called while a tax collector.
245 Even if these taxes were not literally tribute, the inference of being subject to Rome was still very real in Jewish minds.
246 See also Genesis 38:6-10 and Ruth 4:1-12.
247 That is, the first five books of the Law: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
248 ?The Sadducees were biblical illiterates for whom contemporary Greek culture was the real fascination, Greek literature the real ?Scripture,? and Greco-Roman standards the real ideals.? Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew, Volume 2: The Churchbook?Matthew 13-28, revised and expanded edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004), pp. 405-406.
249 Bruner is really insightful here when he writes, ?To think people still marry in the kingdom betrays a crass resuscitation theory of resurrection, as though life in the kingdom were simply this life slightly or considerably elevated (cf. Mormonism and Islam). It was the Pharisees? error to imagine the resurrection in just such crude ways (Hill, 304), and this crudity no doubt confirmed the Sadducees in their contempt for the idea. (A true doctrine, falsely held, confirms the doctrine?s opponents ? a phenomenon witnessed all the time).? Frederick Dale Bruner, op. cit., p. 406.
250 Luke tells us how the scribes responded in Luke 20:39.
251 See John 5:28-29.
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