When giving a talk in a school, church or other location my favorite time is the question and answer period after the official talk. People’s questions always bring out of me, I think, the most interesting and thought-provoking ideas. My friend Douglas Gresham likes Q & A so much that when he is invited to give a talk somewhere he usually speaks for only five minutes or so and then immediately moves into question and answer.
However, Q & A is not always friendly. Unfortunately I have been in congregational meetings in churches where it seemed that people in the congregation were trying to get me in trouble by certain pointed questions they asked.
Such was the situation with Jesus and the religious leaders of his day. The leaders asked Jesus by what authority he overturned the tables of the money-changers in the temple. Then Jesus proceeded to tell various parables as a warning against them. The religious leaders disliked this so much that they immediately set about trying to get Jesus in trouble with his words. In fact, the Pharisees enlisted the help of the hated Herodians, the Jews in league with the Romans. That’s how much they hated Jesus. You will see that the Q & A during the last week of Jesus’ life was not very friendly at all. In fact, it was extremely deadly. Here is the record from Matthew 22:15-46,
15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words.Let’s take these questions one by one and see how Jesus answered them. Question #1 was: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?
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.
23 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."
33 When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.
35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:
36 "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"
37 Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'
38 This is the first and greatest commandment.
39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'
40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
41 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.
First of all we must understand something about the people asking the question. Interestingly enough, the Pharisees were dead set against paying taxes to Caesar while the Herodians were all for it. So, from the get-go, Jesus was in trouble.
If Jesus answered, “No, it is not right to pay taxes to Caesar,” then the Pharisees and Herodians could immediately hand him over to the Roman authorities on the charge of being a revolutionary. On the other hand if Jesus said, “Yes, pay the tax to Caesar,” then he would be in trouble with the people who hated paying the tax to their Roman oppressors. Think how you would feel if some country from the other side of the world invaded the United States, took control of our government and then made you pay taxes to their government to boot.
Jesus immediately knew the Pharisees and Herodians were trying to trap him but he didn’t shy away from the controversy. He called them hypocrites and what took place next shows us why the Pharisees were just that.
Jesus said, “Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” This was a very clever action on Jesus’ part. For by making the Pharisees produce the hated coin he proves that they were hypocrites. They didn’t believe in paying taxes to Caesar but they obviously had no problem handling Caesar’s coinage!
When the Pharisees brought Jesus the denarius he asked them two counter questions, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” The portrait on the coin was that of Tiberius. The Jews considered such a coin to be a graven image—so why were they handling it?! Secondly, the inscription on the coin was hateful to the Jews. The inscription read: “Tiberius Caesar, Augustus, son of the deified Augustus, chief priest”. Here was a blatant example of blasphemy—a man making himself a god. The Pharisees almost spat out the answer to Jesus’ question—“Caesar’s!”
Then Jesus gave his masterful answer: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
Some New Testament scholars question whether all the words attributed to Jesus in the Gospels were really his. I love the response of columnist Joseph Sobran which I read many years ago. He basically said that if words like “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” were made up by “forgers” putting these words on the lips of Jesus, then maybe we should be worshipping the “forgers”! What he meant was that such a statement as this could only be made up by a very wise man, perhaps a divine man.
Literally Jesus’ response reads: “Give back to Caesar . . .” In other words, “Caesar’s image is on the coin so why not give it back to him.” That would be the natural implication of Jesus’ words. But notice Jesus hasn’t actually endorsed the paying of the tax nor has he denied that it should be paid. He has gotten out of the Pharisees’ trap unscathed. For Jesus’ words could be taken by his contemporaries to mean, “Caesar is a revolutionary so give back to him what he deserves—more revolution!”
But the second half of Jesus’ answer was most important. “And give back to God what is his.” Whose image do we bear? God’s. To whom do we belong? God. So we should give to God what he deserves—our whole selves. The early Christians built upon these words of Jesus. They very carefully paid their taxes to Caesar but at the same time they refused to worship Caesar as a god, for they knew there was only one true God who must be worshipped.
Have we given to God what is God’s?
Question #2 was brought to Jesus by the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection. The question was basically: if a woman had seven husbands in this life then who would she be married to in the resurrection?
In order to understand what’s going on here we must see who was asking the question and what it was based upon. First of all, the Sadducees asked the question. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection so they were trying to prove the doctrine ridiculous. They also did not believe in most of the Old Testament, only in the Torah, the first five books, or books of Moses.
Secondly, the situation the Sadducees propose arises out of a practice mentioned in Deuteronomy, one of the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures. The practice was called Levirate marriage. The purpose of it was to keep a family line going since so many of God’s promises in the Old Testament were made to descendants. So the idea was that if a man died the brother of that man was obligated to marry his brother’s wife and sire children by her in his brother’s name. The Sadducees point is: look how ridiculous the idea of resurrection is! A woman couldn’t be married to seven husbands once they all receive their resurrected bodies. (You see, the Pharisees actually believed in marriage after the resurrection, so this was a problem for them.)
Again, Jesus does not shy away from controversy. He faces the Sadducees square in the eye with their problem. He tells them straight out that they are in error because they do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.
How many of us have the same problem in our lives? Do we know the Scripture well enough that we can argue from it as Jesus does? Do we know the power of God to bestow new life?
Next, Jesus denies the doctrine of the Pharisees. He says there will be no marriage at the resurrection.
And let’s be clear what is meant by the resurrection. We’re talking about life after life after death. In the Old Testament there was always a belief in some kind of shadowy existence, a sort of disembodied life after death in Sheol, though the Sadducees didn’t even believe in this. They believed that the soul died along with the body. And that was their way of wielding power over people, as it has been for rulers down through the ages. Death is a real threat if you don’t believe in any life after death. But if you believe in a bodily life after death, if you believe in resurrection, then death no longer holds the same sting and you aren’t so afraid of what men or governments can do to your body.
Resurrection was a fairly late developing belief in the Jewish religion. It developed especially during the few hundred years between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New. It was the belief of the Pharisees and in fact the majority of Jews during Jesus’ time, that when God ushered in the New Age of his Kingdom he would raise all of his dead people to bodily life once again. But that is to be distinguished from mere life after death, the soul going to be with God in “Abraham’s bosom”, which the Pharisees and other Jews besides the Sadducees also believed in.
So, Jesus denied the doctrine of the Pharisees, that there would be marriage at the resurrection. He says we will be like the angels. We won’t be angels, but we will be like them in that we will have eternal life and therefore no need to propagate.
Then Jesus goes on to quote from Exodus, one of the books the Sadducees did believe in, to prove the resurrection. Who did God tell Moses that he was? He said, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Jesus makes the stunning point, something even the Pharisees weren’t able to convincingly prove from the Pentateuch, that God is not the God of the dead, but the living. In other words, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are still alive. So it’s as if Jesus is saying, “There is a life of the soul after death which you Sadducees do not believe in. And if God is powerful enough to keep the soul alive after death then certainly he can raise bodies to new life too!”
When the crowds heard this they were understandably astonished at Jesus’ teaching.
Once the Sadducees failed to trap Jesus in his words, the Pharisees stepped up to bat again. Question #3 which was asked of Jesus was perhaps the most important. Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?
Remember, there were hundreds of commandments in the Torah. How could Jesus pick just one of them and exalt that as the most important? Even out of the Ten Commandments, how could Jesus pick just one and leave aside the others?
Once again, Jesus answers in a masterful way. He quotes two commandments from the Torah which sum up all the others. The first comes in Deuteronomy 6:5 and is also part of a prayer called the Shema, from the first word of the prayer: Hear. “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” This prayer is prayed daily by every conservative Jew down to the present day.
Notice that the text I just read has “heart . . . soul . . . strength”. Some manuscripts of the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, add “mind”. In Mark’s Gospel Jesus brings all four together: “heart, soul, mind and strength”. In other words, we are to love God with everything in us. That, says Jesus, is the greatest commandment. And no one could fault Jesus for saying so.
And Jesus adds that the second greatest commandment is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That comes from Leviticus 19:18, also part of the Pentateuch. How is this command like the first? When we love our neighbor as our self then we love the image of God in our neighbor.
Jesus says that all the Law and the Prophets, in other words—all of the Hebrew Scriptures, hang on these two commandments.
But the really big question is: who of us has ever fulfilled either of these commandments? Other commandments in the Scriptures might be fulfilled on our own power, but not these two: for they require a disposition of the heart, an attitude of love toward God and neighbor at all times. At all times we must do what is best for God and our neighbor. None of us have ever done this. And this shows us our need for a Savior—someone who can rescue us from the sin of not loving God, not loving neighbor, someone who can enable us to do these things. And Jesus’ next question leads us to confront just such a Savior.
Question #4 comes not from Jesus’ opponents, but from Jesus himself. “What do you think about the Messiah,” he asks the Pharisees, “whose son is he?”
The Pharisees give the expected answer: “the son of David.” The Pharisees, along with many of the Jews of their time, expected the Messiah literally to be a son from David’s line who would take the Jewish throne and sweep the Romans out of Palestine ushering in a golden age.
Jesus tells them that expectation is not enough. The Messiah is more than the son of David.
Jesus points them once again to Scripture. This time it is Psalm 110:1, which will become one of the most quoted of the Hebrew Scriptures in the New Testament.
The Lord said to my Lord:Then Jesus asks his second question: “If David, the author of the Psalm, calls the Messiah ‘Lord,’ then how can the Messiah also be David’s son?”
“Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”
Little did the Pharisees know it, but the answer to Jesus’ question was staring them right in the face! Jesus was the answer to his own question. Yes, the Messiah is David’s son. And yes, he is also David’s Lord. Son of Man, Son of God, in one person—that is the perfect description of Jesus: the God-Man.
Game-Set-Match goes to Jesus in this Q & A battle. Jesus will not face his enemies again until he faces them on trial for his life. Matthew’s point will then become utterly clear: Jesus is the Messiah who will be enthroned as king through his crucifixion and resurrection.
This Q & A time between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day has shown us one very important thing among others. That is that there is no question too difficult for Jesus to answer. And so I ask you: what questions do you have for Jesus? Maybe you have some real tough ones like I did when my brother died at age 49 leaving behind a wife and two children. It is in those times that we ask Jesus that terrible question: “Why?” I believe Jesus has the answer to all our questions. But some of the answers we won’t be prepared to hear until we stand before him one day. In fact, I think the answer to many of our questions will be just to see his face.