Matthew 22:15–46. Four Great Questions and Answers.
Key Notes: The Sadducees and the After-life. The Great Commandments. Can love be commanded? Five diagrams of Church-State relationships. Jesus is God's Son and David's son.
The four questions, three asked by Jewish leaders, and the last asked by Christ, cover four large topics:
the relation of the Church to the State,
life after death,
the essence of the will of God for our lives,
and the mystery of the Incarnation.
The fact that the questions were posed in malice as traps does not distract Jesus from graciously pouring out great truth. It is a marvel of grace under pressure. We continue to reflect on the concepts. His concluding “how is He David's Son?” hangs in the air to this day.
22:15–22 A joint committee of disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians came to ask the question about whether or not to pay taxes to Caesar. The group was suspect before a word was spoken. The disciples of the Pharisees would be more angry than their fathers about the Roman occupation. The Herodians cooperated with the Herods and were collaborators with the Romans. It is very unlikely that they would be seen together unless it was for mischief. The words were oily, flattering and insincere—but nevertheless true.
The Roman occupation was politically repressive, economically crushing and spiritually blasphemous. Caesar’s face was on the common coin, the denarius. It was most likely the face of Tiberius Caesar, and inscribed “son of the divine Augustus.” On the back may have been an image of his mother, and the words “Pontifex maximus.”—Caesar is the high priest of Roman religion. Jesus was faced with a dilemma: if He said “yes” to Caesar’s taxes, He was a traitor to Israel. If He said “no”, he was a traitor to Rome.
He said (looking at the face on the coin) “Pay back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar" and (presumably looking at the back) "to God the things that are God’s."
He had grasped both horns of the dilemma. In effect, He said we have dual citizenship. We are members of two governments—civil government and the Kingdom of God. We pay back to civil government for services rendered. In the case of Israel, Rome created the structures of civilization, cities, roads, sanitation, a code of law and public safety and its citizens must "pay back". But the Christians would reject the Caesar as “High Priest” . They and we pay to God “the things” that are God’s. These are the demands of our discipleship.
22;23 The Sadducees had the second question. They took a case from the Levirate law (Deut.25:5–10) that gave a young widow another family by arranging marriage with the brother of her dead husband. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, so they made a joke of it. The woman’s husband’s brothers were short-lived and she eventually married all seven. Who was she married to in the resurrection?
Jesus was kind. He just said they were wrong and did not know the Scriptures or the power of God. He said heaven was not like the earth.
*People in heaven are not engaged in marital activities, but are like the angels.
Then He quoted from Exodus, since they only accepted the Pentateuch, Moses’ writings. God told Moses that He was “the God of Abraham and the God of the Isaac and the God of Jacob”. (Ex.3:6,16). He is the God of the living, not the dead. That is a revolutionary concept.
Although Jesus mentioned the resurrection, we understand that the resurrection is not yet. Jesus is to be the first-fruits of them that slept. (ICor.15:20). This opens our understanding to the Intermediate State. Now we see death at one end and resurrection at the other, and someplace in between. Those who have died in the Lord are in the presence of the Lord, a prelude to final glory. IICor.5:8
22:34–40 When the Pharisees came back, it is not clear that their intent was hostile. A lawyer asked Jesus to chose the great commandment of the Law. There are 613 OT commandments, and some would say they were all equal, having come from God. Jesus did not chose one of the Ten Commandments, but went to the declaration of faith that was recited by the devout twice daily.
“Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God is One Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. “ Deut.6:4
And the second is like to it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Lev.19:18. “On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets”.
That is, the Ten Commandments, and the 613 laws are examples or illustrations of these two commandments. For example, the first five of the Ten Commandments tell us how to love God; the last five tell us how to love our neighbors. Other OT rules tell us details, for example, not to address our neighbor with loud noises early in the morning. “He who blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing.” Prov.27:14
22:41–45 Finally, Jesus asked them two questions.
Whose son is the Messiah, the Christ? He is Son of David. (IISam.7:12–14)
David, inspired by the Spirit calls Him Lord. How is He his son?
David said: "The LORD (JHWH) says to my Lord (Adonai), 'Sit at my right hand till I put your enemies under your feet.'” (Psa.110:1) . The LORD is God. My Lord Adonai is also God. Messiah is David’s Son because He will rule the nations. He is also David's Lord. That was the end of the questions. In fact, the question: "How is He His son?” hangs in the air. It is the mystery of the Iincarnation.
The question of what belongs to God and what belongs to the government is a question that has provoked thought and debate ever since. The following models discuss the tension between God, the Church and the Christian vs. Caesar, the world and the culture. (Concepts from "Christ and Culture" by R.Niebuhr. Harper and Row,’51. Diagrams by Brooks Boyd.)
A. In New Testament times the duality was between God and Caesar. Jesus taught the disciples to acknowledge the Caesar and be responsible citizens. Paul expanded the concept in Rom.13:1–8 and Peter added to it. (IPet..2:11–17). But there was tension because of the demand to worship Caesar and the Christians’ resistance to idolatry. This led to Roman attempts to destroy the Church. By the time of the Revelation, Rome was seen as the Great Whore of Babylon. (Rev.17–18). She was the mortal enemy of the Church and a candidate for destruction. Some Christians today think of the World as an antagonistic force.
B. A second model is the opposite, an assimilation of the best of the world and a synthesis with Christian truth. The philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, the poetry of Virgil, the theology of Thomas Aquinas, the later great works of Michelangelo, Bach, Raphael, and Shakespeare, all are the products of God’s grace. Some Christians see the best of pagan thought as given by God, compatible with Christian truth, and sources of enlightenment and pleasure. “All truth is God’s truth.” The culture of the West has brought science, music, politics and art of the highest sort to the world. It comes out of a Christian world-view. It is an optimistic position, and we might say liberal.
C. Luther took the New Testament teachings and extended the idea of two governments. Neither should be the enemy of the other. It is the State’s duty to protect the Church, and the Church’s duty to advise the State. They are mutually dependent. The State must promote the family, good order and peace. The State must permit itself to be chided and judged for failure to conform to God’s will.
“It does not fall to the State to establish a policy of morality.” –said a Mexican legislator speaking in favor of abortion.
Luther would disagree. “It is enough that they (the princes) have the rule over everything else; over God’s word they are not to have it (the rule). For God’s word appoints them, makes them gods, and subjects everything to them. Therefore they are not to despise it, for it is their institutor and appointer; but they are to be subject to it, and allow themselves to be rejudged, rebuked, made and corrected by it.” (quoted in The Ethics of Martin Luther. P. Althaus; Fortress,’72; p. 150).
D. The fourth model of the Church and State is dominated by the Wall of Separation, a term coined by Thomas Jefferson. Some think it is part of the Constitution. It is the model that is current in American society and is a reaction to the strength of Christians in society. The opposition to Christians intends to remove any religious influence in public life. There should be no prayer or religious education in public schools. No chaplains should be supported with public money in any government institution. Christian ideas must not influence legislation. Churches should pay taxes. Many Christians are involved in this struggle, working in the legislative process.
E. The fifth model is a conversion or penetration model. The earth is God’s creation and we will work to recover it and make it better. The Government is instituted by God and as citizens we will participate and lobby and petition. We will be salt and light in industry, media, education and local government. We will proclaim Good News in all our circles of influence and strive to win our friends and associates to Christ. Christ is the only hope of the world.
On the first question that Jesus answered, we would say that we give to the government what belongs to the government, especially our taxes. The question is whether we give to God what belongs to God. The government claims about 40%. We give it. God claims 10%. We don’t give it. We don’t think we have to.
On the second great question, Jesus teaches us the stunning truth that those who have died in the Lord live with the Lord. That is the power of God. The other important verse on this subject is Paul’s “…we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (IICor.5:8). Moses and Elijah conversing with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration is an important clue. (Matt.17:3)
The description of the resurrection life disappoints some who would like more sex, not none. But heaven will have greater ecstasy, higher highs, with no let-down, no hang-over, and no blocked fulfillment.
The third question covers the will of God for our lives. The command is to love God and our neighbor. Must we? Hear Martin Luther's sermon.
“Therefore it is not right and is not to be tolerated when one wants to preach (as it was done some time ago and as some dumb spirits still do): ’If you still do not keep the commandments to love God and neighbor, yes, if you are still an adulterer, it doesn’t matter, if you just believe you will be blessed.' No, dear man, that won’t wash: you will not possess the kingdom of heaven; it must come to the place that you keep the commandments and you are in a relation of love with God and the neighbor. For it stands there clearly: ’If you want to enter life, keep the commandments’; again, Gal.5:19–21….But that this (knowledge of the commandments) be turned into deed and not be preached in vain, the other doctrine (of faith in Christ) must be added that teaches us how and by what means we come to that (keeping). (Quoted from Martin Luther’s sermon, 1537. in Matthew. A commentary. F.D. Bruner. Eerdmans,’90; Vol.2, p.410)
Can love for God be commanded? I can be commanded to do loving deeds, but can I be commanded to have loving feelings? Without feelings, “love” is mere duty. The first fruit of the Spirit is love….It is there for the asking.
The last issue is about the deity of Christ. Notice that Jesus says that David is inspired by the Holy Spirit. The inspiration of Scripture is imbedded in the text of Scripture.
The One who sits at God’s right hand until all enemies are under His feet is Messiah.
David calls this Person “My Lord”, i.e. David’s Lord and God.
But Messiah is son of David; all agree with that.
So how is it that Messiah is David’s son? That is the mystery of the Incarnation.
Live with God now and forever.
Give to God what belongs to Him.
Love God and your neighbor with everything you have.