Forum Class for July 9, 2006
God and Government (Luke 20:19-26)
Matthew 22:15-22 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” 18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” 21 “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
Luke 20:19-26 The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people. 20 Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be honest. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. 21 So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. 22 Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” 23 He saw through their duplicity and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?” 25 “Caesar’s,” they replied. He said to them, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” 26 They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.
Mark 12:13-17 Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. 14 They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. 17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.
Our text, and the question which the enemies of our Lord asked Him is one that is culturally rooted, but the Fourth of July, which we will celebrate tomorrow, helps us to gain some appreciation of the issues involved here. A number of English citizens had become discontent with the British Government and with life in the old country. They set out for the new world. When they arrived in America, the British government continued to view these people as their own citizens, under their authority, and thus obligated to pay taxes. This proved irritating to the Americans, who felt that the British were very far away, that they had no representation in that government, and that taxation was therefore unfair. All of this exploded, in time, in the American Revolution. The Declaration of Independence was precisely that, a declaration of independence from British rule.
The Jewish people had more than irritation with the present government to spur them to thoughts of independence. God had founded the nation, beginning with the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant, being realized at the exodus, and having several times been threatened by the captivity which came upon Israel due to their disobedience to God’s law. The Old Testament prophets had promised Israel that there would be a kingdom, based upon a new covenant (cf. Jeremiah 32-33), and that God would raise up Messiah, to rule on the throne of David (2 Samuel 7:10ff.; Luke 1:32). The introduction of our Lord by John the Baptist (Luke 3), along with the public appearance of our Lord (Luke 4) and His miracles (Luke 7:22), bore testimony to His identity as Messiah. His “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem was the “high point” of His public ministry, and the hopes of many were greatly fueled. Surely, many thought, Jesus has come to establish the promised kingdom, and to throw off all foreign dominion. Many were expecting a kind of “declaration of independence” from Rome’s rule. It is therefore little wonder that the first question which Luke records pertains to the payment of taxes. Just as taxation was the sore point in the American Revolution, so it was in Jesus’ day as well.
The payment of taxes has never been popular. Taxes are not a voluntary contribution. To fail to pay one’s taxes, or to pay less than one should is a sure way to get the attention of the government, and to discover how strong they feel about our payment of taxes. The payment of taxes is a very pragmatic matter, for governments do not run without money, tax money. But paying one’s taxes is also a symbolic act, evidencing his or her submission to the one that is paid. You will remember the argument of the writer to the Hebrews, who reasons that the one who pays a tithe is inferior to the one to whom the tithe is paid (Hebrews 7:1-10). Paying taxes is thus a practical acknowledgment of that government’s right to rule over us, and of our submission to its authority.
Specifically in our text, Jesus is being asked whether or not a law-abiding Jew (one keeping the law of Moses, that is) should pay taxes to Caesar. There is a more general question at issue, however. The interchange between Jesus and His questioners which Luke depicts here in our text is one that has to do with the relationship between God and government. We might even say that the question pertains to the relationship between church and state. It was an issue that was very much alive in Jesus’ day, and it persists as a hot issue to this very day. How is one who professes to trust in God’s Messiah to relate to pagan governments? In our study of this passage, we will seek to understand the answer which our Lord gave His questioners, and then to explore its implications for men today.
From Luke 19:45 through the end of chapter 21 there is an on-going debate, taking place in the temple. I call this section, “the tempest in the temple.” It began with the Lord’s possession of the temple, His purging of it, and it continues with His practice of teaching there daily. Chapters 22 and 23 deal directly with the arrest, trial, crucifixion, and burial of our Lord. Chapter 24 depicts the Lord’s resurrection and its impact on the disciples.
Our focus in this lesson and the next will be on the three questions which dominate the rest of chapter 20. The first two questions are asked by the enemies of our Lord, and the last is asked by our Lord Himself. The first concerned the paying of taxes, the second the resurrection, and the last, the “Son of David” who was also his “lord.” The questions are prefaced by an explanation (longer in Luke than in Matthew and Mark) of the motivation of the questioners (20:19-21a). At the end of the chapter, Luke sums up the section (unlike the other two gospel accounts of Matthew and Mark) with a strong word of warning from our Lord to His disciples, concerning the leaders of Israel, who are seeking to destroy Him.
Chapter 19 may be outlined in this fashion:
(1) The challenge of Israel’s leaders & Jesus’ response—(vv. 1-18)
(2) The response of Israel’s leaders to Jesus’ response—(vv. 19-20)
(3) “Should we pay taxes to Caesar?”—(vv. 21-26)
(4) “Whose wife will she be in the resurrection?”—(vv. 27-40)
(5) “How can David’s Son be his Lord?”—(vv. 41-44)
(6) Jesus’ warning concerning Israel’s leaders—(vv. 45-47 )
It is very important to recognize that Luke is being selective in what he reports, as are the other gospel writers (cf. John 20:30-31). Both Matthew and Mark, for example, report another question, raised by one of the teachers of the law, concerning the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34). I believe that these three questions are but a sampling of those which were raised during this tense week in our Lord’s life. It is my conviction that not only the questions, but their sequence, is of great significance in the development of Luke’s argument, and in our understanding of the gospel. It is for this reason that I have chosen to deal with these questions carefully, rather than simply passing over them quickly, looking only on them as “catch questions” and little else. The issues which underlie these questions are fundamental, and they spell out, to a large degree, how the leaders of Israel differed with Jesus and why they rejected Him as their Messiah.
The Setting (20:19-21)
19 The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people. 20 Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be honest. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor.
Jesus had answered the challenge of the Jewish leadership, first with an embarrassing question, and then with a parable. They understood both quite clearly, and their response was dramatic. They attempted to arrest Jesus on the spot (v. 19). It would seem that the crowds prevented this. Matthew’s account is more specific here:
“When the chief priests and Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet” (Matthew 21:46).
It seems to me that the leaders actually tried to place Jesus under arrest, and that this provoked a strong reaction from the people, forcing the leaders to back off, and to develop a strategy that would facilitate a more “discrete” arrest and crucifixion. The game plan is most clearly spelled out by Luke.
The direct challenge of Israel’s leaders, as to Jesus’ authority, had backfired, bringing embarrassment to them. So, too, it would seem, their attempt to arrest Jesus publicly had failed. The motivation of the leaders was clear: they had been “put down” by Jesus, and they intended to get even. They were intent on getting back for the words He had spoken against them (v. 19). Before, they had purposed to put Jesus to death because of the threat He posed (19:47), but now it was more—it was a personal vendetta.
The goal of the leaders of the people is reported here by Luke: they intended to “catch Jesus in His words” and to “turn Him over to the governor” (v. 20). I believe that the statement of these two goals is very informative. Let us briefly consider both elements of their goal.
First, they purposed to catch Jesus in His words. It was by His words that Jesus put these leaders to shame. It was by Jesus’ words, the leaders supposed, that Jesus would be eliminated. It is also significant to me that the leaders of the people could not and would not attempt to discredit Jesus in any of His actions. Were it so that this could be said of Christians today! Jesus’ life was impeccable, and His miracles were irrefutable. They would not even try to take Jesus on in these areas. What a testimony to our Lord’s sinless life and limitless power.
Second, they sought to “turn Jesus over to the governor.” The solution to their problem, as the Jewish leaders reasoned, was a political one, not a spiritual one. They did not seek to deal with Jesus in any way prescribed by the Old Testament law. They did not, as did the psalmists of old, turn Jesus over to God for divine discipline. They turned instead to a secular government. Indeed, they turned to the very government which they despised. They would question Jesus about paying taxes to Rome, expecting Him to forbid it, and yet they looked to Rome to deal with Jesus. The government which they despised, they turned to, rather than have Jesus govern them. Those factions of Israel which differed greatly and which strove against each other, now joined together to rid themselves of Jesus, the Messiah.
The turning to political powers in order to rid themselves of Jesus made a great deal of sense. No doubt, they reasoned, they could get this “self-acclaimed Messiah” to make statements against the power of Caesar, and thus they would be able to press charges of treason against Him. Furthermore, Rome was not particularly intimidated by the thinking or feelings of the masses (as was the case with the Jewish leaders). Were the Jewish leaders afraid of the masses and their support of Jesus. Let Rome deal with Him, with all of the power which their soldiers had and their skill at suppressing uprisings. They might be afraid of the people, but Rome was not.
And so a decisive turn of events has occurred. Jesus has come to Jerusalem and has challenged the leaders of the nation. They have rejected Him, and are intent on doing away with Him, but are fearful of the masses. They now have set out on a course of gathering evidence against Jesus, which they will use to have Him arrested, tried, and put to death. This is the backdrop to at least the first of the two questions which are being posed to Jesus, as recorded by Luke.
The Jewish leaders thus laid out a multi-pronged attack plan, outlined in verse 20:
(1) They “tailed” Jesus, watching his every move
(2) They sent spies to infiltrate Jesus’ ranks
(3) They asked questions of Jesus, intended to incriminate Him
To Pay (Taxes) or Not to Pay: That is the Question (20:21-22)
21 So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. 22 Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
Our understanding of Jesus’ response in this text must begin with an awareness of what is happening here in our text. Let us begin with several critical observations:
(1) The question is not whether or not any person should pay their taxes, but whether or not a Jew should pay taxes to a heathen, Gentile government.
(2) The issue is posed as a problem of the law, not as a matter of rebellion or personal preference. The question is, “Is it permissible?,” and the standard on which the answer is based is the Law of Moses.
(3) The question is posed so as to suggest that there is conflict between God and government, between “church and state” (in our terms).
(4) The question is posed so that Jesus is limited to but one answer out of two choices, already provided. The way the question was posed does not give Him the freedom to answer as He chose, but rather as they chose. The longer I am in ministry the more I am intrigued with the kinds of questions people ask, and the way in which they phrase them. Those who really want to learn leave the answer completely open. That is, when they ask a question, they do not limit the one they are asking to only certain possibilities. It is those who wish to prove something who limit the possibilities. I resent questions which restrict the freedom to answer them any way I choose, rather than the way the questioner has chosen. (5) The entire event oozes with HYPOCRISY. Consider the following evidences of hypocrisy:
0. In appearing to respect Jesus as a teacher, a man of truth.
0. In appearing to desire to know the truth.
0. In seeming to want to obey the government, but not being sure that they could or should, according to the Law. “Is it permissible? Will the law let me do this?”
0. In appearing to have a problem with government, when the problem was Gentiles.
0. In appearing to desire to give to God, rather than to government, but in previous parable not wanting to give God His due.
0. In appearing to have God as a priority and government as secondary, when, in reality, they had chosen government over God, as would be most evident at the cross—“We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15).
So here was the question: “Shall we pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Not a bad question, when you think of it. The only thing wrong with the question was the intent of those who asked it. A sincere Israelite (which the questioner was posing to be) could have asked it. Should an Israelite pay taxes any longer to Rome, when Messiah was now present? Didn’t Messiah come to throw off the shackles of the Gentile rulers and to establish the promised kingdom? Why, then, should one pay taxes any longer to Rome? If Israel was to submit to Messiah, why should an Israelite pay taxes to some other king?
The answer, it seems to me, was obvious—that is, it seemed to be obvious. There could hardly be any doubt as to what Jesus should say. After all, He was claiming to be Messiah. He was claiming the right to rule. He was, indeed, bold in His denunciation of Israel’s leadership. Why should He not be as direct with regard to the political rule of Rome? Let Him now speak out on this issue. Let Him declare His position. And when He did, the Roman rulers would be called upon to crucify Jesus as a traitor, one guilty of treason.
Jesus’ View of Paying Taxes (20:23-25)
23 He saw through their duplicity 65 and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?” 25 “Caesar’s,” they replied. He said to them, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
First, note from our Lord’s answer that it is given in accordance with the motives and intentions of the one who asked the question. I suspect that the same (essential) question, if asked by a genuine seeker after truth, would have been answered differently. At least it may have been answered more fully. Note how brief Jesus’ response was. This is a “knock-out” in the first minute of the first round.
Second, note that Jesus asked to see a denarius, a specific kind of money. Jesus first asked to be shown a denarius. The reason is more evident from Matthew’s account: “Show me the coin used for paying the tax” (Matthew 22:19).
A denarius was not just money, though it was that. The denarius was that form of money that was used for paying taxes to Caesar. In Jesus’ day there were different kinds of money. In his gospel, Matthew told of how Jesus paid the two-drachma temple tax (Matthew 17:24-27). The tax was not paid with a denarius, but with the drachma. This is the reason why the money changers were exchanging money in the courts of the temple—the temple tax could not be paid with a denarius. When Jesus asked to see a denarius, it was because this coin was the one used for paying taxes.
I do not know what was stamped on the drachma, but I would venture to say that neither the name nor the image of Caesar could be found on it. The denarius, on the other hand, was a Roman coin. Caesar’s name was inscribed on it, along with his likeness. It was a Roman coin. It belonged to Rome, in a way not unlike the way that our money belongs to the United States of America. If a government can issue money, it can also require that it be given back, especially in the form of taxes.
Third, note that Jesus again asked a question, and then based His answer on the basis of their answer to His question. The question of Jesus’ authority, raised at the beginning of this chapter, was dealt with by our Lord by asking a counter-question. When His opponents refused to answer the question about the source of John’s authority, Jesus refused to answer their direct question. So, too, in this text, Jesus asked to be shown a denarius, and then asked the simple question, “Whose image and inscription is on this coin?”
Fourth, Jesus’ answer was neither direct, nor complete. Jesus did not give a direct “yes” or “no” answer to the question put to Him. Later New Testament texts such as Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 will go much farther with this matter, instructing Christians to obey God by obeying government in every way that does not place one in disobedience to God.
Fifth, Jesus’ answer, in my opinion, took His opponents totally by surprise. I do not think that anyone expected Jesus to say, as He at least implied, that the people of Israel should pay taxes to Rome. It was not, in my mind, the wisdom alone of Jesus’ answer that amazed His audience, but the content of the answer. Who would have ever dreamed that one claiming to be Israel’s Messiah would ever advocate paying taxes to a heathen government?
Sixth, Jesus’ answer is rooted in the fact that while government and God are distinct, they are not in opposition to each other.
Seventh, Jesus’ answer is based upon the fact of Israel’s rejection of Him as God’s Messiah, and of the role of the Gentiles in this world as a result. Jesus has already implied in the parable of the vineyard that the leadership role of the Jews—their priesthood, for example—will be taken away and given to the Gentiles (cf. v. 16). If Gentiles will be given spiritual leadership as a result of the rejection of Jesus as Messiah, why would God not continue to allow Gentiles to rule over Israel as a result of her disobedience, even as the Mosaic Covenant stipulated (Deuteronomy 28).
Eighth, this whole matter of God and government is not a new matter, but one often dealt with in the Old Testament, and one which will come to a head at the cross of Calvary. 1 Samuel chapter 8 provides us with a most enlightening backdrop to this question. You will remember there that Israel demanded that God give them a king, so that Israel could be like all the other (heathen) nations, and so they could have a visible leader, who would go before them and would fight for them. God told Samuel that it was not his leadership, but God’s that was being rejected. He also warned the people that they would be heavily taxed by their king, and that the price of this government would be high. The people nevertheless insisted and they got their king.
Jesus was Israel’s King, but they would not have Him. Instead of bowing the knee in obedience to Jesus as Messiah, the leaders of the nation determined rather to look to this Gentile government to serve their self-interest by putting Jesus to death. They chose a Gentile government over God. And if this statement seems too strong, remember the words spoken by none other than the high priests, when they said to the governor, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). Here, in our text, we see that the choice has already been made to reject Messiah and to depend on secular government. It is only a matter of time. Government was designed by God to be an extension of His rule, but sinful men have often looked to government as a replacement, a substitute for it. Such is the case here.
Ninth, this matter of what is due Caesar is not an academic issue to our Lord, for He will render His very life to Caesar, and not just taxes. Jesus will give up His life on a Roman cross. That was what Caesar required of Him, but in the will and purpose of God this was the one and only means of redeeming sinful men, of redeeming Israel from her sins.
Tenth, Jesus suggests to us what the basis is for determining what belongs to God and what belongs to someone or something else. Jesus’ words strongly imply that tax money belongs to Caesar because his currency had his image and his words written on it. What belongs to God bears God’s image and has his writing on it. The Christian is begotten (again) in the image of Christ, and the Word of God is written in our hearts.
Finally, this would indicate that while tax monies may belong to government, people belong to God. It is one thing for governments to (rightly) require men to owe them taxes, but it is another thing altogether when governments think they also have the right to own people. This is only the prerogative of God, and not of government. Money bears the image and the words of rulers, men bear the image and the Word of God. Men are created in God’s image, and those who have come to a personal faith in Him have His word written on their hearts (cf. Jeremiah 31:33).
The Outcome (20:26)
26 They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.
Once again, those who have endeavored to trap Jesus in His words have only trapped themselves. The Lord’s answer, as well as the Lord’s absolute and total control of the situation was disarming. Mouths seem to have been gaping. Minds were reeling. How could it have gone so wrong? It seemed like such a great plan. Jesus had won—again. But fools will rush in, as our next text will show. The answer which our Lord gave was not expected. They gave Him two choices, one of which He must choose, but He refused, telling them, in essence, that both choices were true. One must give government its due, which includes taxes. One must give God His due, which is our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. And these two obligations often are not in conflict, as the questioners seemed to assume.
Why would Jesus, if He were the Messiah, not rid the Jews of Roman rule? Why would He tell His questioners (by inference) that they should continue to pay their taxes to Caesar? Why was the kingdom not quickly established? Why did Jesus Himself submit to Caesar and give up His life to these Gentiles, who put Him to death on the cross of Calvary?
The reason is really quite simple. Heathen rule was a symptom, not a root problem. From Deuteronomy 28 and other biblical texts we know that Israel’s subjection to Gentile rule was due to their disobedience to God’s law, to the Mosaic Covenant. The root problem is not Israel’s bondage to Rome, but her bondage in sin. Israelites thought of freedom mainly in political and governmental terms, while Jesus thought of it in redemptive terms, as freedom from the bondage of sin. Jesus therefore had to die on a Roman cross, not for His own sins, but as the sin-bearer, as the one who was punished for the sins of the whole world. When John the Baptist introduced Jesus he did not speak of Him as the One who would overthrow Rome, but as the One who taketh away the sins of the world.
True freedom, then is the freedom from the power and the penalty of sin, and it can only be obtained on the basis of the death of Jesus Christ. By acknowledging your bondage to sin and by trusting in Christ as your sin-bearer, you can experience the freedom from sin which Jesus came to bring about on the cross. When you have experienced this freedom, political freedom, while desirable, is no longer a compelling need. We will never experience the joy of a perfect government until Christ returns to the earth to reign as King. And this will happen in the good timing of God.
In the meantime, we are to submit to human governments, even pagan ones, so long as we do not violate the Word of God. Those who questioned Jesus wrongly concluded that government is contrary to and competitive with the rule of God. But New Testament teaching (cf. Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17) instructs us that human governments are not contrary to God’s rule, but a part of it. God has placed governments on the earth to restrain sin until He comes. We are to obey government, not as the enemy of God, but as the agent of God.
There are two extremes to be avoided in our outlook on government. The first is to see government as the enemy of God, and to be always opposing ourselves to it. The other extreme is to view government too highly, as man’s salvation and security. It is all too easy to look to government for those things which only God can give. It is all too easy to turn from God to government. In our text, we see Israel’s leaders looking at Jesus, the Messiah, as the problem which they must be rid of, and a heathen government—Rome—as their deliverer. Just as Israel rejected God when they demanded a king, like the Gentiles (1 Samuel 8), so we reject God and look to government to save us.
Some Christians oppose government unnecessarily and unbiblically, using God as their pretext for rebellion and disobedience. Others seem to view government as the solution to all our earthly (and spiritual) problems. Some think that we can establish a righteous government on the earth and so clean it up that Messiah will come. I believe that only Messiah can clean up this mess, and that only after He comes will a righteous government exist. Let us keep government in perspective. It is not the enemy of God, but God’s agent. Let us obey government as to the Lord, in every way possible.
I find it very interesting that the religious leaders of Israel could not find a religious solution to the problem of Jesus. Jesus was not the problem, but the solution, and yet they failed to see it, or to accept it even if they did understand that He was the Messiah. Unfortunately, I find many professing Christians resorting to political means and methodology because of our spiritual impotence. When we turn from dependence on God, we turn to human means and instrumentality. How often we depend more on politics than we do on the power of God to solve our problems. Let us find Him sufficient. Let us go about our task using the implements of spiritual warfare, not the secular crutches of politics. Let us look to God and not to men for the establishment of righteousness on the earth.
On this Fourth of July weekend, may I remind you that the gospel is our Lord’s “Declaration of Independence.” It is only by faith in His death on the cross that you can be truly free. He is the truth that sets men free. May you experience that freedom today.
NOTE: 65 Note that in the parallel accounts of both Matthew and Mark, Jesus condemned the hypocrisy of those who sought to entrap Him (Matthew 22:18; Mark 12:15).
One Bride for Seven Brothers (Luke 20:27-40)
Matthew 22:23-33 That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 24 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and have children for him. 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 same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. 27 Finally, the woman died. 28 Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?” 29 Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 31 But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 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.”
Luke 20:27-40 Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. 28 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. 30 The second 31 and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. 32 Finally, the woman died too. 33 Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?” 34 Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, 36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels.66 They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. 37 But in the account of the bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ 38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” 39 Some of the teachers of the law responded, “Well said, teacher!” 40 And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Mark 12:18-27 Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 19 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother. 20 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. 21 The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. 22 In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. 23 At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?” 24 Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? 25 When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 26 Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”
In my college days, Ted was my partner on the cleaning crew. He and I were washing windows one afternoon. We were cleaning the windows of the dormitory in which we lived. In the basement of the dorm, classes were in session. Little did we realize that what was about to take place would create such a disturbance they would have to dismiss the classes. Ted was far up on his ladder, washing the outside of the second floor dormitory windows. In the basement below him, classes were in session. Then Dan arrived.
Dan was always into some harmless, but irritating mischief. He would set up his stereo system so that he could broadcast messages from his window. Today, as he walked by the ladder on which Ted was standing, he could not resist giving it a little shake. Those of us who have stood high up on such a ladder know the disconcerting feeling of that motion telescoping up the ladder, so that we feel tossed about in the air. My friend Ted was not pleased with Dan’s humor, and so he did the only thing possible at the moment—he wrung out his sponge on Dan’s head.
This was the beginning of a water war so great that afternoon classes had to be dismissed. It rapidly escalated to buckets full of water, not just thrown about on the outside, but thrown and dumped in the halls. The place was swamped. It was about this time that George, the head resident, was informed and appeared on the scene. Believe it or not, I was not involved in the water war. I was stationed on my ladder, outside of the dorm, two stories high. It was from this vantage point that I could see everything—more than I really wanted to.
George came into the dorm room in front of me, and looked out the window I was washing to see what all the disturbance was about. He saw me, inches away, busy at work. That was a shock. He looked down to see Dan, on the ground below me, drenching wet. It was no surprise for George to learn that Dan was in the middle of this disaster. George was playing out his supervisory role, dealing with Dan.
My friend Ted was not in sight. Not in sight to everyone but me, that is. Ted had gone back into the dorm to refill his bucket. (You should not need to ask why it was empty.) On his way down the stairwell, Ted looked out and saw Dan standing directly below him, two stories down. Do you have any difficulty deciding what Ted did? Ted was on his way to the window, one room to my right. From their positions, neither George, the head resident, nor Ted, my partner could see each other, because a wall separated them. I could see both. I could not warn Ted because I was standing face to face with George. I would not warn Dan. And so it happened. In front of George’s eyes, a bucket of water descended on Dan, and swamped him. I did the only thing one in my position could do, I shouted, “Run!” to Ted. Ted disappeared, just as George did, and both collided in the hall. I was there to see it all, and to hear George say to Ted, “Man, Ted, You hit him dead center!”
Now here were words I had never expected to hear from the lips of a head resident. How could he commend the “straight shooting” of a fellow who had just instigated a water war? I think that George was right. He knew that Dan was always in trouble, and that Ted was a hard-working, dependable fellow. In essence, George was acknowledging that Dan deserved just what he got. So he did. I have the same response to the words spoken by the “teachers of the law,” to what Jesus had said in response to the question of the Sadducees. These teachers, who seem to have been Pharisees, and who had thus been challenging Jesus from the very outset of His ministry (from Luke 5:17 on), here commend Jesus for having spoken well. The reason, of course, is obvious. Jesus had proven the position of the Sadducees to be wrong. He had taken their “best shot,” their most profound argument in favor of their case, and shown it to be shoddy thinking. The Pharisees, though their differences with Jesus were great, could not but commend Him for His words here. It is as though they had said, in George’s words, “Man, Jesus, you hit them dead center!”
Jesus had now arrived in Jerusalem, in a variety of ways demonstrating Himself to be Israel’s Messiah. A number of people received Him gladly, but no one understanding fully who He was, or the implications of His coming. Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, and His daily possession of it for teaching and ministry was viewed as a serious threat to their authority and positions by the Jewish leaders, who had already purposed to put Him to death (cf. John 11:53; Luke 19:47). But when they challenged Jesus’ authority, Jesus became even more outspoken against them. The parable of the vineyard and the vine-growers (Luke 20:9-18) was a painful blow to them, for it not only identified Jesus as the Son of God, sent by the Father, but it revealed them as God’s enemies, who would be destroyed, only to be replaced by Gentiles. Before, their opposition was “nothing personal”; now it was something very personal. They wanted to arrest Jesus on the spot, but the masses would not allow it. They thus implemented a multi-pronged plan to have Jesus arrested and put to death by Rome.
One prong of this attack was the hypocritical question posed to Jesus concerning paying taxes to Caesar (Luke 20:21-22). Jesus’ answer was not only unexpected, but amazing. Never would they have thought Jesus could get out of this one, but He did. They would not have dreamed that Jesus would teach that taxes belong to Caesar, but He did. As a result, they were left utterly speechless.
It is this silence that afforded the Sadducees the opportunity they had been looking for. They were only too happy to use this occasion to pose yet another question to Jesus, one which they believed would establish their theological position, and which would stump Jesus as well. At this point, I do not think that the Sadducees cared about putting Jesus to death so much as they were interested in making themselves look good. They had an ax to grind (no resurrection, Luke 20:27), and they would gladly do so at this golden opportunity.
I think that the eyes of the other groups (Pharisees, in particular) were rolling when this interrogation began. I can hear one Pharisee saying to another, “Oh, for goodness sake, here they go again.” What joy these Pharisees had, watching the Sadducees go down in flames. While they had not successfully drawn blood with Jesus, they at least had the pleasure of watching one of their rival groups be discredited, publicly.
The Structure of the Text
(1) The Setting—(v. 27)
(2) A Passage, A Premise, and a Problem—Whose Wife?—(vv. 28-33)
(3) Jesus’ Answer—(vv. 34-38)
(4) Marriage is not for Heaven—(vv. 34-36)
(5) Moses and the Resurrection of the Dead—(vv. 37-38)
(6) The Response of Some Pharisees—(vv. 39-40)
The Purpose of the Question
The question of the one bride and the seven brothers is not a search for the truth. The Sadducees do not expect, indeed, do not want, an answer. They hope to stump Jesus, and thus to demonstrate how “foolish” ideas of a resurrection from the dead are. The purpose of this question is not to “get Jesus into trouble,” but to further the dogma of this group. If Jesus, the most noted and unstumpable teacher alive, could be stumped by their question, then He would become (reluctantly) an endorsement for their view.
This scene bears witness not only to the authenticity of this gospel record, but also to the predictable humanity of mankind. Even though these rival groups had come to some kind of alliance (formally or informally) to rid Judaism of Jesus, they still had their own pet dogmas and practices, their own “sacred cows,” which they could not leave alone, even for a short period of time. The rivalry and competition are still here, even in the midst of this inquisition.
The Sadducees (20:27)
27 Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question.
Perhaps the easiest way to describe the Sadducees is to say that they are the opposite of the Pharisees. If a Pharisee said “White,” the Sadducee would be almost certain to argue, “Black.” The contrast between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, according to Edersheim at least, can be found in three major areas: (1) their view of tradition (at least the traditions of the Pharisees), (2) their view of the supernatural, especially the resurrection of the dead, angels and spirits, and (3) their views on divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The Sadducees were disenchanted with the traditions of the Pharisees, they rejected the concept of the resurrection of the dead, and the existence of angels and spirits, and they leaned heavily on the role of the responsibility of man. Luke here tells the reader (as do Matthew and Mark) that the Sadducees “say there is no resurrection” (v. 27). In Acts 23:8, Luke further informs us that the Sadducees do not believe in angels or spirits.
Geldenhuys summarizes the distinctives of the Sadducees in these words:
The Sadducees were the priestly aristocracy among the Jews by whom the political life of the people was largely controlled from the time of Alexander the Great onwards. They tried to live in close contact with the Roman rulers after 63 B.C. so that they might as far as possible promote the secular interests of their people. Consequently they took little interest in religious matters and in many respects clashed with the Pharisees, especially as regards the Pharisees’ attachment to the ‘traditions of the elders’ which made Jewish religious life so intricate. Everything which, according to their views, was not taught by ‘the law of Moses’ (the first five books of the Old Testament) was rejected by the Sadducees as forbidden innovations. So, as the Jewish scholar Montefiore puts it: “They were in a sense conservative. The letter of the Law was enough for them; they did not want the developments of the rabbis. In doctrine, too, they were against innovation.… Many of these priests, and many of the nobles and ‘rulers,’ possessed, I should think, but a very formal and outward religion. We may compare them with many of the bishops, barons and rulers of the middle ages” (Synoptic Gospels, part i, p. 102). 67
In the past, I would have called the Pharisees the “conservatives” and the Sadducees the “liberals,” which is somewhat true. But in terms of insisting that doctrine be grounded in biblical revelation, the Sadducees wanted “chapter and verse,” while the Pharisees were content to cite their traditions. Note, too, that the Sadducees have not been mentioned in the gospel of Luke to this point, appearing only here, but referred to five times in the book of Acts (4:1; 5:17; 23:6, 7, 8). If the Pharisees were the moving force behind the opposition to Jesus before His crucifixion, death, and resurrection, it is the Sadducees who take up this role afterwards, for now the issue of resurrection has become a crucial part of the gospel message.
The main thing which Luke wants us to be aware of is that the Sadducees, who are pressing Jesus for an answer concerning the resurrection do not really believe in it themselves. The hypocrisy of the Sadducees is thus apparent and undeniable. They were asking Jesus about something they didn’t believe. Indeed, they were seeking to establish their premise that belief in a resurrection from the dead is both unbiblical and impractical.
The Question (20:28-33)
28 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. 30 The second 31 and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. 32 Finally, the woman died too. 33 Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”
I cannot conceive of the question asked here as being an original one. It is no doubt that question which the Sadducees had found most effective in promoting their particular doctrine and practice. It surely was not new to the Pharisees, whose eyes must have rolled when they realized that it was being raised, again. The question was based upon a command given in the law by God through Moses. The command is found in Deuteronomy:
If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel (Deuteronomy 25:5-6).
The purpose of this legislation was to assure that each family and tribe in Israel was perpetuated by the bearing of children. When the oldest brother married, but died before having any children, the younger brother was to take the widow as his wife so that the first son would carry on the name and the leadership of the deceased. Other legislation assured that the inheritance of land would remain in the tribes and families. Here was a very practical law, given to assure future generations. One can especially see the importance of this legislation when you recall the fact that Messiah would be born of a woman (Genesis 3:15), from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:9-10), of the line of David (2 Samuel 7:8-16). How crucial it was for the tribes of Israel to perpetuate, for from such the Messiah would be born.
The Sadducees did not have this purpose in mind when they cited this text, however. They saw this text as a proof text for their denial of the resurrection of the dead. Since by this law Moses made provisions for the perpetuation of a dead Israelite’s family line, the Sadducees seemed to have come to two conclusions. First, they seemed to conclude that immortality was not attained by resurrection from the dead, but by the carrying on of an Israelites' family line through his offspring. Immortality was the perpetuation of a man’s name through his offspring. Second, they concluded that since a man’s younger brother had to assume the duties of his deceased brother, Moses must not believe that men would someday be raised from the dead. Why would such provisions need to be made for the perpetuation of a man’s offspring if he were someday going to be raised from the dead?
At first glance, it would seem that the argument had considerable weight. Did this legislation imply that men would not rise from the dead? The Sadducees thought so, while the Pharisees strongly disagreed. Jesus does not argue every point of error, but highlights two crucial errors in the thinking of His opponents. These Luke outlines in verses 34-36 and 37-38. Let us briefly consider these two errors of the Sadducees, as exposed by our Lord.
The Dispensational Error (20:34-36)
34 Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, 36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.
The Lord Jesus was an advocate of a “new age” movement. That expression has many disturbing connotations today, but the fact remains that Jesus was arguing for a “new age,” as very distinct from the “old” order. The Sadducees thought of the kingdom in terms of the present, not in terms of the future. The kingdom to them (especially since they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead) is now. Consequently, there is no future age. It also follows that since the “kingdom” is thought of in terms of the present, it will not differ from the way things are now.
The entire argument of the Sadducees is predicated on a single premise: life in the kingdom of God things will be just like it is now. Consequently, the present institution of marriage is assumed by the Sadducees to continue on in the kingdom. Thus, a woman who was married to seven brothers would be in a terrible predicament in heaven, for she would have to choose one of them to live with.
Jesus’ answer was direct and devastating. He speaks of two ages, “this age” and “that age,” which are very different from each other. The kingdom of God will be very different from the way things are now. There will be no death, there will be no bearing of children, and there will be no marriage. Thus, the theoretical problem posed by the Sadducees is erroneous and non-existent. Resurrection will pose no problem for husbands and wives. Marriage is for now, but not for heaven.
People in this age die, and thus the need for God to spell out through Moses provisions for preserving the family name. People in the future age will not die, and thus there is no need for such legislation. One of the reasons why men will not die in that future age is that their bodies are different, too. Men in that future age will be “like angels,” which neither die nor reproduce. How different conditions will be in that future age, and thus how foolish of the Sadducees because they cannot see how present conditions can be continued after the resurrection. That is precisely the point. They can’t be continued. There is no inconsistency, then.
The Israelites all erred in placing so much emphasis on the “law of Moses,” the Mosaic Covenant, that they minimized the Abrahamic Covenant. They failed to recognize that the Mosaic Covenant was temporary, imperfect (unable to perfect), and provisional. They were partial to the law of Moses, I believe, because it offered them the opportunity (or so they supposed) to earn righteousness before God, while the new covenant would give it freely, on the basis of faith as a gift of God’s grace. Legalists do not like grace, however, and thus they will always opt for a system of works. Such was not what God had given in the law of Moses, but it was what the people had made of it. They therefore preferred the temporary to the permanent, the imperfect to the perfect.
Jesus’ words should have provided the Sadducees with much fuel for thought. What were some of the other ways in which “that age” will differ from “this age”? How is it that only some Israelites will enter into that age, to take part in it (by inference), and what is it that causes one to be worthy of it? Jesus did not give the answers to these questions, but He did challenge His audience to think about them. All of the answers would be very clear, after His crucifixion and resurrection. For the time being, they only knew that those who enter into the kingdom are referred to as “children”—“children of God” and “children of the resurrection.” Resurrection, then, is the gateway to the new age. Surely those who reject it will not enter into the kingdom.
Moses and the Resurrection of the Dead (20:37-38)
37 But in the account of the bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ 38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
The second error of the Sadducees was their assumption that Moses rejected the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. Jesus now will demonstrate that Moses was a believer in the resurrection of the dead, contrary to the belief of the Sadducees. There were a number of clear Old Testament texts which spoke of the resurrection of the dead, to which our Lord could have referred, and to which the apostles will refer after our Lord’s death and resurrection (cf. Acts 2). Here are but two of the clearest:
Your dead will live; Their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy, For your dew is as the dew of the dawn, And the earth will give birth to the departed spirits (Isaiah 26:19, NASB).
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2).
If the Sadducees were wrong to think of the “kingdom” in “present terms,” they were also wrong to think that Moses did not believe in the resurrection. This our Lord goes about proving from the Pentateuch, which was the Word of God written by the hand of Moses. It was not enough for our Lord to prove the resurrection of the dead was taught in the Old Testament; He was intent on showing that Moses believed in it, for Moses was the one to whom they appealed.
Luke is careful to tell us the context of these words, written by Moses and spoken by God. These words come from an early portion of the book of Exodus known as “the bush” section. That is, these words were spoken to Moses by God from the burning bush. Both the precise words and the context are of great significance to us in the matter of the resurrection of the dead. Let us consider both briefly.
God identified Himself to Moses, and thus to Israel, as the “I am,” the eternal God. But further, God referred to Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, thus speaking of these patriarchs not as dead men, but as those who are alive, immortal. If God spoke of dead men as though they were alive, then this implied that these men would live again, they would rise from the dead. This is that which the writer to the Hebrews spoke, not only of these three patriarchs, but of all the Old Testament saints:
All these died in faith, without receiving the promises but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own (Hebrews 11:13-14).
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “IN ISAAC YOUR SEED SHALL BE CALLED.” He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received him back as a type (Hebrews 11:17-19).
The matter of the Israelites’ resurrection from the dead was not merely an obscure and unimportant truth, vaguely referred to in the words of Exodus 3. In reality, resurrection is the thrust of these words, the assurance of which the writer to the Hebrews referred, and that which would serve the Israelites as a motivation for obeying the commandments which God gave through Moses from atop Mt. Sinai.
You see, the context of “the bush” section is the exodus of the nation Israel from Egypt. God was sending Moses to Pharaoh, to demand the release of His people. Furthermore, God was sending Moses to Israel, to call them forth from Egypt. For people to do as God commanded through Moses was to face the very real possibility of death at the hand of Pharaoh and his armies. Virtually every command of God to His people poses a threat to the true believer in Him and in His word. And yet our text indicates that in spite of the difficulties which seem to be present, dead men will rise, some to everlasting blessing; others to everlasting torment. It was God’s character as the eternal One, the I am, and His promise of deliverance from death which gave the Israelites confidence to obey God’s leading, even when it seemed to be the “way of death,” as the crossing of the Red Sea surely seemed to be, beforehand.
In his gospel, Luke has already made frequent reference to the resurrection of the dead, either directly or indirectly. Simeon, the saint to whom it had been revealed that he would not die until after he had seen the Messiah. Thus, on seeing the Christ-child, he could eagerly face death:
“Now Lord, Thou dost let Thy bond-servant depart In peace, according to Thy word; For my eyes have seen Thy salvation, Which Thou has prepared in the presence of all peoples” (Luke 2:29-31).
Herod feared that Jesus may have been John the Baptist, raised from the dead (9:7-9). Jesus taught that one’s actions ought to be based on the assurance of one’s resurrection, which was to be accompanied by rewards for obedience in this life:
“But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:13-14).
The God who is greater than death is the One who has assured mankind that all will be raised from the grave, some to their rewards, and others to retribution (Daniel 12:2; John 5:28-29). Because of this, Jesus taught, God views all men as alive. This is why our Lord referred to the dead as only sleeping (Mark 5:39; John 11:11-14). The resurrection was no small matter. It was, and is, one of the fundamental and foundational truths of the Bible. As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, if there is no resurrection “we are of all men most to be pitied” (15:19).
And so the Sadducees are wrong on two counts. In the first place, they were wrong in their assumption that life in the future, in the kingdom of God, would be but a continuation of life here in this age. They failed to make a crucial dispensational distinction. This led them to reject the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead because it seemed that it would be impossible for men to continue in the present as they had begun on earth. Their second error was in supposing that Moses rejected the hope of resurrection, based on their erroneous understanding of the Law of Moses, and particularly of the legislation pertaining to the preservation of the oldest brother’s line of descendants.
The Stones Cry Out: Jesus Praised for His Words (20:39-40)
39 Some of the teachers of the law responded, “Well said, teacher!” 40 And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
What irony! The expressed purpose of the rulers of the Jews was to discredit Jesus by His own statements, to catch Him in His own words. And yet here we find some of the Jewish leaders praising the Lord for the words which He just spoke, words which were especially tough on some. This is, to me, a greater miracle than that of the rocks crying out in the praise of God. His answer was so powerful, His adversaries had to commend Him. While they differed with Him in many respects, they were firmly in agreement about the resurrection of the dead. The praise of the Pharisees will be short-lived, however, for in the next question, raised by our Lord Himself, Jesus will show the Pharisees they do not understand the Scriptures.
I believe that many questions were asked of Jesus during this period of time (which I refer to as “the great debate”). Why did Luke choose to record this particular question and Jesus’ answer, when we have not heard from the Sadducees before in Luke? I believe that that are at least two reasons: First, the Sadducees will become a more prominent and aggressive force in the book of Acts (cf. Acts 4:1; 5:17; 23:6-8). Second, the issue of the resurrection of the dead is one that is crucial to the gospel. Paul clearly taught this, as can be seen in the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians. Jesus staked His credibility and His gospel on His own resurrection (Matthew 12:38-40). The Holy Spirit will utilize the empty tomb as a powerful witness to the righteousness of Jesus Christ (John 16:10). The gospel of Jesus Christ stands or falls on the truth of Christ’s resurrection, and thus the resurrection of all men. In introducing the Sadducees to us here, Luke is preparing us for their appearance and activity in his second volume, the book of Acts.
The resurrection of the dead is also crucial because it is the gateway to the future kingdom of God, it is the means through which God’s promises made to those who have died will enter into the blessings which God promised. All of the Old Testament saints died, without having received the promised blessings of God, but by means of the resurrection of the dead, they will (cf. Hebrews 11).
The degree to which we believe in the resurrection of the dead will determine the way we presently live. If we are assured of our own resurrection, we will boldly stand for Christ, neither fearing man, nor death. If we are certain of a future life in God’s kingdom, entered into by means of resurrection, then we will look at this life very differently. We will be encouraged to lay up treasures in heaven, rather than to hoard wealth on earth.
On the other hand, the degree to which we live obediently to the commands of our Lord in this life, the more we will cling to His promises concerning the resurrection of the dead and eternal life. The commands of our Lord to “sell our possessions, and to give to the poor” can now be seen as God’s gracious imperatives, designed to stimulate in us a hunger for heaven. Notice how the obedience of Paul to his calling, and even the afflictions and adversities of his life caused him to have a greater hunger and hope for heaven:
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. 13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:7-18).
It is quite easy to look at the Sadducees with a very critical eye. How foolish, we might think, for them to reject the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, when it is so clearly taught in the Scriptures. How evil for them to love this present evil world so much that they do not want that which is sure to come. But let me ask you, as I ask myself, how much do we believe in the resurrection of the dead? How does the certainty of our resurrection, and of the kingdom of God to come, impact our present lives?
When I was a boy not yet 16, I used to fear that the Lord would come before I got my drivers license. That seems foolish to me now, and yet I still have many earthly desires for the future, and I do not yearn for heaven as I should. Unlike the Sadducees, who at least were honest enough to admit to rejecting the resurrection and the future life, I hold to it. But my lifestyle and my values betray my lack of faith in this area. How much like the Sadducees we really are. We are so “blessed in this life” that we would set aside thoughts of the next. May God grant us a certainty of the resurrection, and a yearning for heaven that overturns the way in which unbelievers live.
66 We are told by Luke in Acts 23:8 that the Sadducees did not believe in angels either.
67 Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1951), p. 513, fn. 1. Morris adds, “The Sadducees are mentioned here only in this Gospel. None of the Sadducee writings has survived so our information about the sect if fragmentary and we see the Sadducees only through the eyes of their opponents… They were the conservative, aristocratic, high-priestly party, worldly-minded and very ready to co-operate with the Romans, which, of course, enabled them to maintain their privileged position.” Leon Morris, The Gospel According to St. Luke (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), pp. 289-290.
David's Son (Luke 20:41-21:4)
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).
How Can David’s Son Be David’s Lord? (20:41-44)
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.
The Messiah’s Foes (20:45-47)
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.
The Contribution of the Weak and Powerless (21:1-4)
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.
70 J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973), pp. 45-47.