The Man with the Answers
“He seems to have an answer for everything.” “He always has the last word.” These comments are often heard today. Usually they describe some individual who is a “fast talker” — one who has a way with words.
If we had been among the people who heard Jesus speak, we would have overheard comments like these: “We were amazed at the gracious words which came out of His mouth.” “We were astonished at His teaching, for He spoke with power.” “What a speech is this. He speaks with authority.” “No man ever spoke like this man.” The people who heard Jesus did not consider Him just a “fast talker” — they were amazed at the marvelous wisdom of His answers to various questions.
During the last week of His earthly life Jesus was confronted by a contingent of various groups, each seeking to ask Him a question. The manner in which He answered them displays the amazing wisdom with which He captured His followers and silenced His detractors. The account of this fascinating dialogue is found in Matthew 22:15-46.
The three groups who approached Jesus were the Herodians, the Sadducees and the Pharisees. They were three of the various sects and parties among first-century Jewry. It should be carefully noted that the questions they asked were meant to “entangle him in his talk” (v. 15). They were not sincere inquiries after the truth, but were questions designed to either embarrass Jesus or cause Him to contradict Himself. Let us see, firstly, how He responded to each of these questions, and, secondly, the burning question which He asked of them.
The Herodians were a Jewish political party who supported the Herod dynasty which had been ruling the Jewish people as “puppet kings” since 37 B.C. Most Jews despised the Herods, but this group supported them and urged the people to accept them as well. it was appropriate, therefore, that their question was of a political nature: “Tell us, therefore. What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?” (v. 17). The question they raised was a burning issue for every Jew. Since 63 B.C. the Jews of Judea, Samaria and Galilee had been under the heel of their hated overlords, the Romans. Part of their responsibility to their Roman rulers was the payment of a head tax. There was great anguish among Jews over this tax, for they recognized only Jehovah as their legitimate King.
Although this seems like a legitimate question, we must not forget their motive in trying to “entangle him in his talk”. They were attempting to put Jesus on the horns of a dilemma. If He answered, “Yes, it is lawful to pay the tax,”’ then He would lose favor with the common people who despised Herod and the Romans. If He answered, “No, it is not lawful to pay the tax,” then they would report Him to the Roman authorities as an inciter of treason. As Jesus asked for a “denarius”, the coin used to pay the tax, He pointed out to them the embossed image of Tiberius Caesar, the Roman Emperor who reigned from 14 to 37 A.D. Then came His classical answer, “Render, therefore, unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God, the things that are God’s” (v. 21). In this simple yet profound statement, Jesus enunciated a principle which is confirmed throughout the rest of the New Testament — the distinction between our political and spiritual responsibilities (Rom. 12:1-7; 1 Pet. 2;13~17). In other words. He says, “Your money has Caesar’s image on it, therefore, it belongs to Caesar; your soul has God’s image on it, therefore, it belongs to God.” The government under which we live should be given taxes and all rightful political obedience; God should be given worship, obedience, service and dedication of one’s whole life. if and when a conflict in these allegiances should arise, God is our highest authority, of course (cf. Acts 5:29). instead of entangling Jesus in His words, the Herodians “marveled, and left him, and went their way (v. 22).
“The same day came to him the Sadducees, who say that there is no resurrection . . .” (v. 23). The membership of the Sadducees was largely from the priesthood and upper classes (cf. Acts 4:1; 5:17). Unlike the Pharisees, who put great emphasis on oral tradition, the Sadducees “hold that only those regulations should be considered valid which were written down in the Torah” (Josephus, Antiquities, XIV, 297). They put great emphasis on the first five books of Moses, which, they said, did not teach the resurrection of the body and immortality of the soul (Mt. 23:2; Acts 4:2; 23:8).
The question they asked of Jesus was designed to show the foolishness of the doctrine of resurrection. They cited the Levirate law of Deuteronomy 25:5-10 which states that a deceased man’s brother should marry the surviving widow. Then they presented a hypothetical situation of a woman who had been widowed seven times, her husbands all being brothers. Such a disaster might prompt us today to check out the gal’s cooking! However, the Sadducees’ purpose was to show that this would create quite a problem in the resurrection, for “whose wife shall she be of the seven? For they all had her” (v. 28).
There is no evidence that such an event ever took place in all of Israel. The idea was probably gotten from the apocryphal book, Tobit, a fanciful story that was then circulating among the Jewish people (cf. Tobit 3:7-9). Whatever be the source of this hypothetical “case”, Jesus dealt with their question in a forthright manner. He answered, “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels of God in heaven. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am (present tense) the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (vv. 29-32). Jesus analyzed the error of the Sadducees as twofold: (1) They misunderstood the spiritual nature of the resurrection life, confusing it with our natural relationships which we sustain on earth; and (2) they were ignorant that the Torah itself in Exodus 3:6 proclaimed that God sustained a living relationship to the dead patriarchs; therefore, the truth of immortality and resurrection was implicit in the Scriptures which they recognized.
“And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at his doctrine” (v. 33).
The Pharisees must have been delighted when Jesus silenced their rivals, the Sadducees. The Pharisees composed the largest and most popular sect of Judaism. They firmly held to the “oral law”, a large body of tradition that had been handed down for generations, “the tradition of the elders”, involving many regulations about ritual purity (Mt. 15: 1-3; Mk. 7:1-13). Since the Pharisees were the only Jewish sect to survive the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., they formulated the later rabbinic regulations of the Talmud, and today’s Orthodox Jews are their modern descendants.
“Then one of them, who was a lawyer (or scribe), asked him a question, testing him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” (vv. 35-36). The Pharisees were constantly occupied with the law (i.e., the Torah ). They counted, classified, weighed and measured all the separate commandments of the ceremonial and civil law. Through their computations, they had concluded that there were six hundred thirteen (613) commandments, two hundred forty-eight (248) positive precepts (answering to the members of the body) and three hundred sixty-five (365) negative precepts (answering to the days in a year)! They had even counted the number of Hebrew letters in the Ten Commandments, and, lo, the sum total was also six hundred thirteen! It was a constant discussion among them as to which of these commandments was the most important. Such is the background of this question.
In His infinite wisdom, the Lord Jesus answered their query, “Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment And the second is like it. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (vv. 37-40). Jesus first quoted “from one of the most familiar passages to the observant Jew, Deuteronomy 6:4, which forms part of the “Shema”, the most basic prayer of all Judaism. This verse expresses the vertical responsibility of man to God. He then quoted from Leviticus 19:18, a verse which expresses the horizontal relationship of man to man. In citing these two commandments Jesus was not exalting some commandments above others, He was summarizing the whole Torah as (1) love to God, and (2) love to man. We often speak of the “two tables of the law” as comprising the Ten Commandments the first five expressing our responsibility to God and the last five our responsibility to others. Jesus refused to be caught up in their never-ending wranglings. As a Jew faithful to the Hebrew Scriptures, He was simply echoing what the prophet had already stated, “He hath shown thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Mic. 6:8).
The Big Question
Having been on the receiving end of their questions, Jesus now turned the tables and confronted the Pharisees gathered around him with the most important question that a Jew can ever be asked, “What do you think about the Messiah? (literal translation) Whose son is he? They say unto him. The Son of David. He saith unto them, How, then, doth David, in the Spirit, call him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David, then, call him Lord, how is he his son?” (vv. 42-45).
The Pharisees had long ago concluded from the Hebrew Scriptures that Messiah would be a descendant of David (2 Sam. 7:12-16; Mfc. 5:2; Ps. 132:11). Jesus did not deny that Messiah would be David’s son (Mt. 1:1; 21:9; Lk. 1:32). In citing the messianic prophecy in Psalm 110:1, He desired to show them that David also considered the Messiah as his Lord. Thus, the One who was to be a human descendant of David was to be his Divine Lord as well! The apparent contradiction in such a statement can only be comprehended if the Messiah was a God-Man — just what the Scriptures had predicted (Isa. 9:6). Jesus of Nazareth, and only He, fulfilled such a marvelous description.
“And no man was able to answer him a word, neither dared any man from that day forth ask him any more questions” (v. 46). Although these Pharisees departed with their mouths closed, such infinite wisdom had its effect on them. We read that Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were so affected by these and other claims of Jesus that they became His disciples, although secretly at first (Jn. 3:1 ft.; 7:45-52; 19:38-42; Lk. 23:50-53). The early church in Jerusalem later included many Pharisaic members (Acts 15:5), and the great Apostle Paul had himself been a Pharisee (Phil. 3:5).
And thus it is for the modern descendants of those ancient Pharisees. Every Jewish person must face that inevitable question, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is He?” Will you receive Him today as your Messiah, the “anointed one” of God, who not only fulfilled these and dozens of other prophecies, but offered Himself as a sacrifice for your sins, and not only for yours, but for the sins of the whole world?