In the Fulness of Time/Part 131

By: Dr. Thomas O. Figart; ©2010
The Pharisees and Saducees had a common motive, to entrap Jesus no matter how He answered the three questions in this section of Matthew: Is it lawful to pay tribute to Caesar, how will marriage work in the Resurrection, and which is the Great Commandment?

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Jesus’ Denunciation of the Rulers. Matthew 22:15-23:39

His Wisdom toward their Unfair Questions. Matthew 22:15-46

The Pharisees and the Herodians. Matthew 22:15-22

The Issue: Tribute to Caesar. Mt. 22:15-17

Mt. 22:15 “Then went the Pharisees and took counsel how they might entrap him in his talk.”

This approach of the Pharisees had a single motive, to entrap Jesus no matter how He answered. Luke adds a few details: “And they watched him, and sent forth spies, who should feign themselves righteous men, that they might take hold of his words that so they might deliver him unto the power and authority of the governor (20:20).

Mt. 22:16 “And they sent unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man; for thou regardest not the person of men.”

When Luke calls them “spies” he probably refers to the disciples of the Pharisees. With them came some Herodians, more of a political party than religious, supporting the right of the family of Herod the Great to rule. The Herodians were more interested in the Roman tax money sustaining their dynasty rather than direct Roman rule. They were not so much concerned with true Judaism as they were with their own view of life, even though they may have held to some of the outward forms. Thus, though the Pharisees had little love for the Herodians, they agreed together to catch Jesus in His words.

Flattery is not hard to recognize, and in this case Jesus called it outright “hypocrisy.” What they said about Him was accurate; He was teaching the way of God in truth, and would never change, no matter what men might say or think or say. But He also knew that they did not believe a word of what they professed!

Mt. 22:17 “Tell us, therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not?”

The issue was both political and religious, and they supposed it was unanswerable without Jesus being in direct opposition to the one side or the other. If He said it was unlawful to the Jews’ religious belief, He would immediately be accused by the Herodians, perhaps, of subordination against the Roman government. This may have been His expected answer; was He not presenting Himself as the Messiah of Israel? How could a Jewish Messiah condone a poll tax which signified that Israel was in political servitude to Rome? But if Jesus said it was lawful, He would alienate the religious community. There seemed to be no answer that would not violate the allegiance of one side, either the political or the religious.

The Answer: Two spheres of authority. Mt. 22:18-22

Mt. 22:18 “But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why test ye me, ye hypocrites?”

Jesus saw through their flattery to their wicked motive; attempting to discredit Him one way or another. This was hypocrisy at its lowest level. The entire population knew that Pharisees and Herodians were poles apart, both religiously and politically. Why would they suddenly come to common ground with an issue on which they were fundamentally divided, unless it was engendered by an ulterior motive?

Mt. 22:19-21 “Show me the tribute money. And they brought him a denarius. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render, therefore, unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things which are God’s.”

As many have observed, the denarius was a small silver coin with the image of Caesar on it. It was mentioned in 20:2 as a day-laborer’s wages. Jesus asked to see it, in order to identify it with Caesar. Since the denarius bears Caesar’s image, the obligation was upon them to pay taxes; but at the same time, just as distinctly, Jesus places equal responsibility upon them to give to God that which belongs to Him, The application was simple. Caesar demanded their taxes; God demanded their entire lives. When all is turned over to God, it will always follow that our temporal obligations are met. Romans 13:1-7 reinforces this double relationship of obligation to God and government. To resist government, therefore, is to resist God. In fact, government is called “the minister of God” in both positive and negative aspects (Rom. 13:4), for good to those who obey, and for evil against those who violate the law.

Mt. 22:22 “When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left him, and went their way.”

That which they hoped would entrap Jesus only embarrassed themselves. His answer was so powerful that it left no alternative but for them to depart!

The Sadducees. Mt. 22:23-33

The Issue: Marriage in Resurrection. Mt. 22:23-28

Mt. 22:23-28 “The same day came to him the Sadducees, who say that there is no resurrection, and asked him, saying, Master, Moses said that if a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. Now there were with us seven brothers; and the first, when he had married a wife, died and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother; Likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh. And last of all, the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? For they all had her.”

This second question came from the Sadducees, and as mentioned in 3:7, they were numerically fewer than the Pharisees. This was related to the fact that socially, they were of the higher classes. Politically, Sadducees were associated with the Roman government and were in control of the priestly office, as mentioned later in Acts 5:17: “Then the high priest rose up and they that were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees).” Religiously, they were more liberal and said that: “there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit” (Acts 23:8). Though they did not reject outright the other books of the Old Testament, they held to the Pentateuch as their main source of Scripture. Yet, at the same time, they rejected the legalism of the Pharisees which was based on the Pentateuch.

Their question, therefore, was facetious and meant to entrap Jesus, though none of the Synoptic accounts directly state this. Their concoction of a story involving seven brothers marrying the same woman (in succession) as each one died is a possibility, but obviously hypothetical. Even so, it was posed as a problem to Jesus, for if there is a resurrection, how could all seven brothers be her husband, or if only one, which one? Thus, the Sadducees would assert, Moses certainly did not believe in resurrection! From Deuteronomy 25:5-10 they quoted the Mosaic Levirate marriage obligation (Levir is a Latin word for “brother-in-law”) which, in their thinking, cancelled out the possibility of resurrection.

The Answer: The Issue proves their Ignorance. Mt. 22:29-33

Ignorance of the Power of God. Mt 22:29-30

Mt. 22:29-30 “Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels of God in heaven.”

In reverse order Jesus explains how they were ignorant of the scriptures and of the power of God. “These men thought they were wielding a two-edged sword, either edge fatal to Jesus, and never dreamed He would strike the flat side of their blade and snap it off at the very handle” (Lenski, R.C.H., Matthew, p. 846). Jesus reminded the Sadducees that they were self-deceived (plana-o means “to wander, go astray, deceive;” in the middle voice it means to be self-deceived) because of their ignorance of the Word of God and the power of God. First, he informs them that resurrected believers do not marry nor are they given in marriage; they are like the angels of God in heaven. Luke 20:36 adds: “Neither can they die anymore; for they are equal unto the angels, and are the sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.”

It is important to recognize what these verses say as well as what they do not say. Positively: resurrection bodies do not die; there are no marriage relationships since they are like the angels of God in heaven. Negatively: nothing is said concerning the fellowship of resurrected saints, but certainly this is implied, in that they are “sons of the resurrection.” Even in Matthew 17, at the Transfiguration, Moses (who was not resurrected) and Elijah (who was caught up bodily into heaven), were recognizable to the disciples. Later Scripture, such as 1 John 3:1-3 makes clear that: “we shall be like him,” and 1 Corinthians 13:12 affirms that: “then shall I know even as also I am known.” God’s power is infinite; He can establish a state of existence in the resurrection which is, as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 15:44 as a “spiritual body,” that is, a body adapted to the spirit and as a body: “raised in power” (15:43). These self-deceived Sadducees did not, and would not see anything more than earthly elements, even if there should be a resurrection!

Ignorance of the Scriptures. Mt. 22:31-33

Mt. 22:31-33 “But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at his doctrine.”

When Christ made reference to the Word of God, He quoted from the Pentateuch, which the Sadducees could not deny. From Exodus 3:6 are His Heavenly Father’s own words: “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” affirming that God is the God of the living. His use of the present tense, “I Am” shows that these patriarchs are now living, and this indicates that living spirits exist, a doctrine denied by the Sadducees. He could have gone farther back, to Job 19:25-27 for proof of the resurrection, or He could have gone ahead to Isaiah 26:19 or Daniel 12:1-2, but He chose the very section of the Old Testament held in highest esteem by the Sadducees themselves, silencing any objections and astonishing the multitudes!

A Lawyer of the Pharisees. Mt. 22:34-40

The Issue: Which is the Great Commandment? Mt. 22:34-46

Mt. 22:34-36 “But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, who was a lawyer, asked him a question, testing him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment of the law?”

A third attempt at “testing” (peiradzo) Jesus came from the Pharisees, who sent one of their lawyers. Though this expert in the Law (nomikos) was pleased with the answer Jesus gave (Mark 12:32), nevertheless, the motive of the Pharisees was just as negative as before, namely, to trap Jesus in His words. Lenski’s opinion is that: “the chief point with all these Pharisees was that the Sadducees rejected all the Pharisaic commandments not plainly written in the Law, all those that were only the tradition of the fathers” (Lenski, R.C.H., Matthew, pp. 855-856). The testing, then, was to see whether Jesus would side with the Sadducees.

The rabbis had given 613 commandments; there are 365 prohibitions, one for each solar day of the year, and 248 positive mandates, corresponding to the number of the limbs of the human body. These 613 laws are listed, with references from one of the five books of Moses for each (Jewish Values. Jerusalem, Israel: Keter Publishing House, Ltd., 1974, pp. 209-235). So their question was, how could Jesus possibly narrow these down to one greatest commandment?

The Answer: Comprehensive Command. Mt. 22:37-40

Mt. 22:37-40 “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Though Jesus did not quote from the Ten Commandments, He did use two passages from the Mosaic Law. The first is from Deuteronomy 6:5, part of the Shema (“Hear” which is the first word of Deuteronomy 6:4). The second is from Leviticus 19:18 and is directed toward the neighbor. Jesus said the second is like the first, since love for the Lord must result in love for our fellow man. Later, the apostle John would say the same thing: “And this commandment we have from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also” (1 John 4:21).

If the question is raised concerning how all the Law and the prophets can hang on this twofold precept, the answer is given succinctly by Paul in Romans 13:8-10: “Owe no man anything, but to love one another, for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, Thou shalt love thy neighror as thyself. Love showeth no ill to his neighbor; Therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”

The word Torah came to refer to the whole body of Jewish teaching:

Thus the Talmud (Shab 31a) tells the story of a heathen who wished to be converted to the Jewish faith but only on the understanding that he would be taught the whole of the Torah while standing on one leg. Hillel accepted him, and in response to his request replied, ‘That which is hateful unto thee do not do unto thy neighbor. This is the whole of the Torah. The rest is commentary. Go and study.’ (Jewish Values, p. 3).

Actually, Jesus had said the same thing, only in a positive way, in Matthew 7:12: “Therefore, all thing whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.” The great commandment may be phrased differently, but the precept is the same.

From Mark 12:33 the scribe, that is, this same lawyer, got the point, for he said that Christ’s answer was “more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” The great emphasis of the Pharisees on lesser things is summarily denounced by Christ in Matthew 23:23: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy, and faith; these ought ye to have done and not to leave the other undone.” The two greatest commandments would have incorporated all the requirements of the law. In the verses of Matthew 23:23-33 we will see how Jesus pronounces a number of woes on the scribes and Pharisees, and says “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” all of these things will be fulfilled “in the fulness of time.

Read Part 132

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