Jesus always stirred the ire of the religious leaders, whether it was by the timing of his miracles (e.g. taking place on the Sabbath) or the words that He spoke (e.g. “Your sins be forgiven you…” So too now, the religious leaders were plotting to take Jesus and yet could not easily do so because of the number of his followers. So they would take Jesus by stealth. This leads to the three sets of questions that the religious leaders asked Jesus, trying to catch Him in His words, make Him out an enemy of Caesar, or expose a contradiction or misunderstanding of the Law of Moses. We will be looking at these three questions from Matthew 22:15-40 but they are also found in Mark 12:13-34 and Luke 20:20-40. We must marvel at the answers Christ gives but even more at His willingness to pinpoint wrong understanding and sin in those who are asking Him.
The first question (Matthew 22:15-22) is an attempt to prove Christ is a traitor and Caesar risks a civil uprising being led by this rebel leader. So the question is, “Is it lawful to give tribute (i.e. tax money) to Caesar or not?” In answering Christ exposes their heart motivation – they are not really concerned for Caesar or interested in paying taxes, they are tempting Christ. But to answer – he takes a denarii and displays the image on the moneypiece and states, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” So Jesus says it is not a “Yes” or “No” answer – but a “Both-And.” But the level of authority of Caesar is a lower authority to stake claim to tax money, while God’s authority is sovereign, staking claim on the individual person, body and soul, who bears the image of God!
The second question (Matthew 22:23-33) is a theolgoical question about the resurrection, a truth which the Sadducees denied. The Saducees were set on presenting a scenario that the resurrection could not possibly accomodate. So they give the hypothetical case of a family of seven brothers, the eldest of whom marries a woman. This one died and the second boy takes the wife of his brother as his next-of-kin. The second boy dies and so the third fulfills the responsibility of next of kin and so on until finally only the woman is left and she dies. The question is, “who will be the rightful husband of this woman in the resurrection?”
Jesus again exposes the error (sin?) of those asking the question, both on a theological level in their incorrect view of the resurrection. Interestingly, Jesus deals with the risen state first to show that there is no marriage in heaven, but all are given to the service and enjoyment of God. Having dealt with the lesser mistake, Jesus goes to the core sin which is a rejection of the true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob Who is all powerful. He is the “I am” and is not surprised, nor unable to deal with temporal sequences, because He is the same and there is no passage of time for Him. Obviously the suggestion is, that the Sadducees are the [spiritually] dead ones because they do not know this God personally.
The final question (Matthew 22:34-40) is on the great commandment of the Law. A lawyer was seeking one defining principle, one over-arching truth that would clarify and hold sway over all other laws. This would be such a help to a lawyer! But He was trying to show Jesus misunderstands and misrepresents the teaching of Moses! But Jesus answers truthfully, giving the first great commandment from Deuteronomy 6:5 and other places, but then quickly adding a second commandment of equal importance – stating Leviticus 19:18, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Jesus addition of the second great commandment, when the lawyer was asking for one – shows how Christ knew the lawyer’s temptation and viewed it as a breaking of the second table. The lawyer was not loving Christ as himself! But even more, Christ would go forward to the cross bearing the sins of His people, sins against God and sins against their neighbors – Christ, God and Man, would manifest perfect love to God and to unworthy, sinful neighbors.
I hope these three questions and and the answers Christ gave for them leads us to fall down and worship. We do not understand everything. Even worse than that, sin still tragically impacts our minds, affections, and wills. Yet, may our blessed God work in us that saving faith to believe into the One Who with opposition went forth to accomplish the work and bring many sons to glory!