As the lord comes to Jerusalem for the final time, the Jewish leaders mount a concerted effort to silence Him, or to discredit Him before the people. Three times, they bring deliberate challenges before He finally asks a question of them. Every class of ruler is seen to try to catch Him, but every question is answered to the astonishment of the people, and the silencing of the questioner. The following questions are raised in Matt. 22. 15-46;
Tribute for Rome
The Question of Resurrection
The Greatest Commandment
What think ye of Christ?
Tribute for Rome
The first question appears to be a fool-proof trap. It is asked by a most unlikely combination of people, showing clearly that the flesh will always unite in opposition to the Spirit. The Pharisees and the Herodians came together and asked about tribute. The Pharisees would never willingly accept the need for tribute, the Herodians would own the right of Rome to exact tribute. If He agreed to tribute, the Pharisees would stir up the people, if He refused, the Herodians would inform Rome that He was a rebel.
His mastery is seen first in that He sees through their flattery. The flesh is always open to being flattered, and so it always thinks others will be so as well. They speak what is true, but in an insincere way. He is true, He teaches in truth without respect for man. They realize that He will not answer in an insincere way, whoever may be offended by His words. In reality, it is this that is the basis of their approach. They are convinced that His honesty will give a true answer which they can use to condemn Him. Such is the thinking of men, but they are not aware of their enemy. The Lord answers with a question that leaves the critics to supply the answers.
The first demand is to show a penny. While it may be evidence that the Lord had nothing, it is more important to see that He lets them provide the answer. Not only do they show the penny, they identify the image and superscription. The Lord points out the coin is Caesar’s. Here is the evidence that they have accepted the authority of Caesar. If they use his money, they cannot refuse to pay his tribute, and so he has a claim upon it. If they are going to question the matter of tribute, then they open themselves to a further question. Whatever their thoughts on tribute for Caesar, they also have tribute to pay to God. This has aspects: the debt of sin and the homage due to God. As to the first, we can never express adequately how thankful we are that a little later God’s claims would be met in full by the Son who did not need to pay, for sinners who had nothing to pay. As to the second, we are reminded by our Lord, Luke 17. 7-10, that when we have done all that is asked of us, we have done no more than is our duty, and we are still unprofitable servants.
The Question of Resurrection
The second question regards the resurrection. This is raised by the Sadducees who did not believe in resurrection, angels, or spirits. Because of their background, they can only think about what is seen. For this reason, they raise a question which appears to have no answer from the natural point of view, but is easily answered by the Lord.
Their question relates to the man who marries and dies without seed. As a result, his brother takes his wife as the Law demanded. After seven brothers have taken the wife and died without seed, she dies. Apparently, to their minds, she is now married seven times, and so if there was a resurrection, all would have a claim on her.
The Lord answers with three telling statements. Firstly, they have refused to admit either the truth of Scripture or the power of God to raise the dead. If the word of God states that there is a resurrection, it is not for us to question what He has said, nor yet His power to accomplish this. Secondly, they have assumed that the present order will apply in resurrection. In fact that is a false assumption, and so, as marriage is not relevant, neither is the question of husband and wife. We ought to rejoice in the glorious fact that there is a marriage in heaven, as the Bride is given the Heavenly Bridegroom, and we take our place alongside Him for ever, Rev. 19. Finally, the Lord calls, not on stock verses, but on a simple statement, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’. He is the God of the living, so they must be living, not dead. Let us never forget that many questions are clearly answered by such simple statements, rather than by arguing technicalities of language. We ought to remember that it is not our place to strive, but rather to present the word of God for the Spirit of God to use in convicting the heart. It is interesting to note that Luke records this as the point where His authority is recognized, and the questions are silenced. He is the Man by whom resurrection comes John 11. 25, 1 Cor. 15. 21, and so He has the authority to silence all on the question of resurrection.
The Greatest Commandment
If the Pharisees and Herodians have questioned concerning tribute, and the Sadducees have asked of resurrection, then a lawyer from among the Pharisees would ask of the greatest commandment. Here was a question which once more shows the superficial thoughts of these men. They were so concerned with detail that they had failed to appreciate the spirit of the law. They expected one of the Ten Commandments to be quoted, leaving open a debate about the relative merits of others. In answer, they are reminded of the two other commandments upon which all the law is based. Their thoughts are turned from the outward conformity of which they were so proud, to the heart desire of God, to which they gave no thought. We ought to consider this today. We can be as guilty as the Pharisees of promoting obedience to certain Scriptures above others. This need not be done intentionally, but simply by the prominence we give to certain teaching we can convey this. Let us take great care to consider carefully what the words of our Lord mean for us today. We may debate which of the commandments are relevant today and why, but the words of our Lord here silence all questions for the spiritual mind. If our heart is moved by love for God, and love of our neighbours, then we shall do far more than the law demands in obedience. There will be occasions when the letter of the law does not dictate, but love does. Paul points out the principle to the Corinthians, ‘All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient’, 1 Cor. 6. 12; 10. 23. In each of these verses a different consideration is given. In the first it is, ‘I will not be brought under the power of any’. Here, love for God means that nothing else must have rule in our lives. In the second it is, ‘All things edify not’. This reminds us that love for our neighbour means that we do what will benefit them as well as us. The same commandments are to control our lives as those under law. Grace only serves to give a higher motive for service. They were commanded to love; ‘We love him because he first loved us’, 1 John 4. 19. It is here that Mark records the silencing of the critics. This is appropriate because we are reminded now of the Perfect Servant who has fulfilled the will of God from the heart. He speaks with absolute authority because His life matches up to what He asks of His hearers.
What Think Ye of Christ?
Having now stopped all questions from men, the Lord now turns to complete the work by asking a question of them. Matthew records this before recording that they dare not ask any more questions. This again is in keeping because it is the King speaking, and showing His claim to the throne.
If the Jews had asked questions expecting to divide the people against the Lord, then He deliberately asks a question with two answers. Their only real charge against Him was that He claimed to be the Son of God, a blasphemous statement from one who could not prove the claim. Here the Lord is going to show clearly to these men that David recognized the truth of His claim.
Their answer to the question is that the Christ is the son of David. Unless this were true, there is no title to the throne. It is a clear promise from the time of David that the Christ would come of his seed. David however had spoken of the word of Jehovah to ‘my Lord’, and it was equally clear that the Messiah is in view, see Ps. 110. 1; Acts 2. 34, 36. This reminds us that the Scripture is far beyond natural understanding. Here the verse is used to speak of what happened before the time of David. In Heb. 1. 13, it is used in a context that we might understand to be in resurrection. The reason is simply that when we are looking into eternity, we cannot limit our thoughts by time. The Pharisees admitted the existence of angels and spirits, and the fact of resurrection. What they did not do was realize just how different the spiritual state was to the natural. In this way, they were no better than the Sadducees who denied resurrection and a spiritual realm altogether.
The question of the Lord here is the ultimate test of every profession of man. If teaching is not consistent with the Person of Christ, and does not glorify Him, then it must be open to question. No matter how right a practice may be, if it is taught as a legal requirement, rather than the response of love in the heart to the Lord, it is open to abuse. The other side of this is that refusal to obey the word of God in any point is a rejection of the Lordship of Christ. While we may not always understand the full meaning, and we may think we know better from natural experience, we must obey if we truly love the Lord, John 14. 15, 1 John 5. 2, 3.
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