Jesus v. His Opponents, Round 4

This will be the final round of this one sided theological throwdown. Jesus has just been clobbering his opponents one after the other as he wields divine knowledge with deft skill. Up to this point, Jesus has been goaded to come out and defend himself. But now Jesus is the instigator as he asks them a question (v.41), gives an answer (v.44), and then issues a warning for his disciples (v.46-47). It is Jesus coming out of his corner swinging for the knockout punch which he delivers.

The Leaders of Israel Misunderstood the Christ

Jesus asks a probing theological question of the leaders of the people concerning the Christ: whose son is he? Matthew records that they answered Him “David’s son.” This is line with what these Pharisees, scribes, and others of the first century believed about the Messiah – that he would come as a physical conquerer who would come and defeat all of Israel’s enemies once more and establish an earthly kingdom. All these things Jesus did not do. The reason is because his kingdom was a spiritual kingdom, not of this world (John 18.36, twice he says this). It should be noted that Jesus is not denying his Davidic heritage; in fact, throughout Luke this has been stressed (1.27, 32, 69; 2.4; 18.38ff). What he doing is working to correct the incorrect theology of these leaders. To do this, he points them to Scripture.

Psalm 110 is one of the most quoted passages in the New Testament, esp. v.1. Jesus grabs this verse and applies it to Himself. So what you have is David calling Christ (i.e. Jesus) Lord. Now it is not in our English or even in the Greek, but if we go all the way back to the Hebrew (the language the Old Testament was originally written in) you catch the subtly of what all is being said. What you have is Yahweh (Jehovah in English) saying to Adonai (still a term for God but viewing him as lord and master) “Sit at my right hand…” David calls the Christ (again, Jesus) Adonai, Lord, thereby placing Christ above him. Therefore, Jesus says, “David thus calls him (Christ) Lord, so how is he his son?” In other words, you understanding of this passage, your interpretation is all wrong.

In addition to all this, here is Jesus the Christ making a very plain claim to divinity. As discussed above, Adonai was a name applied to God signifying his Lordship over creation and creature. You pour over this gravy of being the position of authority that belongs to be at the right of Jehovah…For that audience it would have been unmistakable. This is a participation of Christ with the omnipotence of God thereby pointing toward his deity. The religious leaders would not be able to give a response final question of Jesus.

The Leaders of Israel Meddled with Condemnation

Having dealt that theological blow to his opponents, he draws his followers close to him to impart a very clear and serious warning concerning these religious leaders, especially the scribes. He lays out a six-fold description of their hypocrisy for which a very great condemnation is coming upon them. First, they walk around in long robes. These types of robes were wore by men of distinction and pointed to a life of leisure; anyone engaged in work in the fields or mills would not wear these cumbersome robes. They have their money on display. Second, there are greetings they desire in the market place. In other words, they want attention from men. Third, they desire to have the best seat in the house (of God, that is). Of course it would follow that if they are wearing the flowing robe, they don’t want to get it dirty so they need the best place. Here they are seeking the prominence among men. Fourth, they need the place of honor at the feast. This would be a place near the head of the table, by the host (if not in the place of the host). Again, more preeminence. Fifth, these men are robbing old ladies of their money. More money, more money…and it doesn’t matter who they take it from so long as they get it. Even helpless widows. Here is greed. Finally, Jesus remarks on their prayer life. It is is not to cultivate a relationship with God. Instead it is to make a display for men. “Listen to his prayer, how long it is. Surely God has heard him.” It was this very practice Jesus accused Pagans of (Matt 6.7) and condemned. This is religious shallowness as their prayers feature length but lack depth. “They were prayers that gave the illusion of piety, but as they were offered in pretense they availed nothing before God” (Morris).

These descriptions sum up lives spent in greed and pride. They show men full of hypocrisy and self-glorification. Everything they do, they do to satisfy their own appetites and desires. They are men who are focused on God, but are focused on self. Because of that, a condemnation greater than the hypocrisy within them was coming upon them. How many Christians today do the same thing? You may not rob widows or wear long robes, but your piety is simply an afront for men. Your religion is worthless, having the marks of self-glorification and self-centeredness. You don’t attend worship to please God but to be seen by men, to grease a few palms and glad-hand the brethren. Check the box, see you next week. There is no internal change of heart; it empty external show. Again, the message from John the Baptist, Christ, and the apostolic church of Christ is “Repent.” Change your heart and turn to God.

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Jesus v. His Opponents, Round 3

Thus far in Luke 20 we have seen the scribes, chief priests, and elders of the people come against Jesus in opposition. Thus far Jesus has silenced them with his answers. In this round, a different group of men come to Jesus in order to question him further: the Sadducees. In Luke 20.27, we are given a brief description of these men concerning their doctrine – they did not believe in the resurrection. In fact, they flat out deny it. Their name is believed to have been either derived from the Hebrew word for “righteous” (saddiq) or from Zadok, the high priest during the days of David. Nevertheless, they were one of the factions among the Jewish religious leaders. They viewed the Law of Moses and the laws therein as binding and ascribed to the other books of the Old Testament (prophets and the rest) a subordinate position. These men have relatively little contact with Jesus; in fact, this is the only mention of them in Luke’s gospel. However, in this episode they come with a question.

The Sadducees’ Silly Example

It is quite intriguing the way the question is asked of Jesus. The Sadducees, it would seem, did not so much hate Jesus as they looked upon him with contempt. He was a worm to them, a person who held ridiculous beliefs. The Sadducees had a nasty of making fun of people’s beliefs, appealing to the Law and showing how a person’s “ridiculous” belief led to “ridiculous” conclusions. So when they begin (v.28) to question Jesus, it is no surprise they appeal first to the law of Moses (Deut 25.5ff). This practice is called a “levirate marriage” and was desgined to ensure the man’s name and family continued.

Well, the Sadducees apply this with great rhetoric: suppose a man has seven brothers and each of them takes this woman as his and then dies, leaving no heir – who’s shall she be? And key in on the way the question is worded (v.33): “In the resurrection…” who will be the husband of this woman? All seven had her as their wife. They appeal to the resurrection not because they believe in it (for they deny it), but because it is what Jesus has been teaching (John 11.25) and even performing! Now what Jesus? I picture mental high-fives. I picture smug faces with slight smiles. We have him, they think, what a fool! Surely Jesus is trapped.

The Sadducees Serious Errors

It is interesting to note that Matthew and Mark both record a heavy rebuke from Jesus. Matthew’s, perhaps, is the most severe: “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matt 22.29, ESV). They are in gross and serious error when it comes to the Scriptures. It is obvious from Jesus’ response.

First, they are in error concerning marriage in heaven. Jesus points out that they are wrong to even suggest that earthly relationships (i.e. marriage) will continue in the afterlife. There is no more death nor marriage. After all, marriage is a temporary expedient to continue the human just as this life is a temporary expedient to get us to the afterlife. In addition, Jesus makes mention to angels. Why? Not only did the Sadducees deny the resurrection, they deny even supernatural beings like angels. How could they do that? Don’t they read the Old Testament which is rife with angelic vistations? See Acts 23.8, but somehow they got around this, too.

Jesus goes on to explain that they also err when it comes to the resurrection. He points them to Moses. Again, this is important because the Sadducees only accepted as authoritative the Pentatuch. It could be trusted, all the other writings were subordinate somehow. And so Jesus argues from the very authority they use, even citing a very specific passage they would be familiar with (the passage about the bush, Exodus 3.1-6), to make his case that God is not the God of the dead but of the living. Hence, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob “live to him.” Though these men died long before Moses’ time, if they were not still “alive” God would not call Himself their God. Hence, it is wrong to deny life after death and the resurrection from the dead. And if they still needed more convincing, they could look up a guy named Lazarus who was a waking testimony to the resurrection.

When the dust settles, who’s face is really red? The Sadducees. And perhaps it is red with embarrassment. Maybe, like the Pharisees, they are red with anger. However, one group of men, in response to this excellent answer from Jesus, acknowledge the goodness of His instruction. Perhaps their joy is over Jesus pointing them toward a passage that definitively answered a lingering question they had about the resurrection. At any rate, the Sadducees “no longer dared ask him any question.” Their courage has vanished and this will be evident in the next round where Jesus must initiate the conversation.

Herein is hope: the resurrection is real. Jesus has shown from Moses that it is real and this life is not all there is. Indeed, during his earthly ministry he showed that by the power of God dead bodies do come back to life. Even Jesus will be raised from the dead follwing his death guaranteeing our resurrection. Let us rejoice and be glad that should we prove faithful, God will grant us eternal life with him.

Jesus v. His Opponents, Round 2

Raise your hand if you like taxes. (cricket chirp) Uh-huh…just as I thought. Well, imagine you live under a government you absolutely despise and you are forced to pay taxes to a tyrant ruler (for some, this exercise is easier than it is for others). That’s pretty much the mentality and mindset of the first century Jew. Nobody like paying taxes to Rome, but everybody did it in order to keep Rome from coming with the army. And so in Luke 20.19-26, we have the opponents of Jesus once again coming out swinging with a very incendiary question.

The Cover-up

Notice the opposition is once again from the spiritual leaders of Israel. Scribes worked with law, copying it diligently. Chief priests were Annas and Caiaphas, the high priests at that time. So these are some pretty big dogs doing a lot of barking. They want Jesus and now because they believe the parable he just spoke was pointed at them (and it was). They are furious over this, but their hands are tied. They cannot outright grab Jesus because the people love him. An arrest during this wave of enthusiasm over Jesus would be risky business. What to do? Ah…

These crafty snakes determine to keep an eye on him, watching him closely, something they should have been doing but with a different heart. All the while they would send spies to infiltrate the crowds. These spies would “pretend” to be something they are not, namely righteous. In other words, they would be insincere hypocrites (the Gk. word is similar to the Gk word for hypocrite). All this to try to catch Jesus in his words and from that trap deliver him over to the governor. 

Truly this is sick. Men who should have realized the folly of their predicament and repented of their wickedness instead determine to justify themselves and try to catch the master teacher in his own words, a proposition which is fantastic and foolish. Nevertheless, here is the deceitful depths to which men will go in order to avoid being convicted and changing their erroneous course.  

The Confrontation

Now that the trap is set, it is time to spring it. Verse 21 opens up the confrontation with some very rich words from the opponents. They start with flattery concerning Jesus: he speaks and teaches rightly (something they are trying to prove is not accurate), shows no partiality (a Hebraism meaning to examine the outward appearance; Jesus knew what was in a man (See John 2.25), and correctly teaches the way of God. Truly there is so much butter there one could clog an artery, but that final admission is the greatest sign of these men’s hypocrisy. If Jesus teaches the way of accuractely, why not obey? Indeed, their hypocrisy knows no bounds. One writer called this “the worthlessness of heartless praise.” It really means nothing when spoken from such insincere men.

Following this set-up, here is their question in verse 22: “Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” (ESV) Its a good question, probably something many Jews were wondering. Since the kingdom of God is at hand, should we even bother paying taxes. Can’t we just keep it and then in the kingdom we can give the money to the proper king (right)? But zero in on this: is it lawful for us, we Jews, to pay taxes? Are we, the people of God, to submit to this human institution known as the Roman empire? How about it Jesus?

Ah, but there is the prince of perception, the king of knowledge standing before them, ever aware of their duplicity and craftiness. He has a question for them. He asks for a denarius (a day’s wages) and asks about the inscription, whose picture was on it? We have presidents on our money; Rome had her emperors on her’s. And that is what the people say: why that’s Caesar, Jesus!

The Conquest

Trap sprung. But not from the people who are trying to trap. Jesus has sprung a trap of his and turned the tables on them. And now he hits them with the answer: “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (ESV). Oh the brilliant knowledge of the Lord and Savior! Notice he says “then.” This is a logical conjunction. Sort of like a “duh” statement. Caesar’s face on this coin, it must be his. Give him what’s his. Oh! And with that he has answered their question. But our Lord goes even deeper…

There are some things ever man needs to render to God: obedience, worship, reverence. So here are these men, acknowledging that Jesus is speaking the oracles of God – then why are they not rendering a proper response to the word of God which he is speaking? Jesus is phenomenal with these kinds of remarks. And that is why the people, the opponents, everyone goes silent. First, certainly, because they have no means to do what they set out to do and catch Jesus in his words (and they had been so certain they could catch him). But more than that is “his answer” which is a striking rebuke for their continued disobedience to the word of God.

So many today want to catch Jesus and God in their words. They work to twist or distort and try to find alleged contradictions in the word. However, each “contradiction” may be difficult, but valid explanations can be given. The word of God has stood for millenia and men will continue to try to trap. But the brilliant and infallable wisdom of God stands true. We need to be sure we render to God the things which are God’s.