We are in the midst of the twentieth chapter of Luke’s gospel where the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem are challenging Jesus’ authority. Jesus is teaching in the temple complex every day. He is cleansing the temple by teaching the very words of God. After teaching the parable of the wicked tenants, verse 19 tells us that the leaders are now looking for a way to arrest him. But they do not just want to imprison Jesus. They want to arrest him and hand him over to the Roman authorities for execution (20:20). Luke 19:47 told us that they are looking to destroy Jesus. They want him killed but they cannot do it themselves because they are fearing the crowd. So they are going to play some games with Jesus. They are going to present Jesus with some difficult questions so that they can catch him in his words (20:20). But they are not trying to get answers for Jesus. They have sent spies. They are pretending to be sincere. They look like they really care. Listen to verse 21. “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God.”
To see the relevance of what we are about to study, I want to ask you if you are playing any games with Jesus. You may wonder what I mean by that. What issue is keeping you from full surrender to Jesus? What is holding you back from exploring a deep relationship with Jesus? What are you using to think that you do not have to draw near to Jesus? As you think about that, let’s look at the games these religious people are playing with Jesus.
The question the spies bring to Jesus is this: “Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” The ESV does a good job here by translating the question about tribute. This is not a generic question about taxes. It is a question about a particular tax: the tribute tax, also called a poll tax. This was a payment made by the people of one nation to another, with the implication that this is a symbol of submission and dependence. The Roman Empire had conquered the Palestinian lands. Therefore every individual was pay a tribute tax as a symbol of your submission to nation, and the tribute was paid to Caesar. This tribute tax represented Roman sovereignty over Israel. Each year as they paid this tax it was a reminder of their subservience to Rome. You can imagine the hatred the people had for paying this each year. They were paying money to live on the land that God had given to them back in the days of the exodus. Therefore, the question poses what seems to be unbreakable dilemma. If Jesus says not to pay the tribute tax, then Jesus is directly challenging Rome, which would garner the favor of the people but would be the charge of treason the leaders need to hand him to Pilate. If Jesus says to pay the tribute tax, then Jesus will lose his popularity with the people and will afford the leaders the chance to arrest him. This is all set up in verses 19-20. The leaders cannot arrest him because of his popularity. To get around the popularity they will try to get him to speak treason and hand him to the governor. Any answer Jesus gives is a win for the religious leaders. Back in 6-7 AD, a man named Judas fiercely opposed this tribute tax and led an uprising with the battle cry: “No tribute that puts God’s land and people under the control of foreigner.”
Jesus’ answer is masterful. The portrait on the coin represented submission to Rome. We are called to be good citizens in both kingdoms. While our citizenship is in heaven, according to the apostle Paul, this is not a license to neglect or forsake the obligations of the government under which we live. Living under and supporting a government does not violate one’s commitment to God. In fact, Jesus is teaching that part of our Christian duty is to give what the government requires. This is an important message to understand because there are some religious groups that we teach we are not to yield to the government we live under because we are citizens of heaven. But that is not how Jesus understood our position. Give to the government what it asks of you and give to God what God asks of you. We are created in the image of God and therefore we belong to God. To render to God what is his means that we will give to God faithful service on behalf of his kingdom in the midst of the nations. We are called to serve and to display righteousness and integrity in the midst of a world that does not acknowledge sin or God. The immoral character of a nation is not grounds for challenging the nation politically or socially.
Now here is where the teaching is interesting. Back in the parable of the wicked tenants the point was made that the prophets were sent for some fruit from the vineyard only to be mistreated and sent away empty-handed (20:10). The people are not giving God what belongs to God, but they are giving to the Roman Empire what belongs to it. Consider the power of what Jesus is saying. How easy it is for us to carry out our duties as citizens of the United States of America but refuse to carry out our duties as citizens of the kingdom of heaven! Give to God what is God’s. Our citizenship of your country is not an excuse to not give to God what belongs to him. And our citizenship in heaven is not an excuse to not give to the country what belongs to it.
The Sadducees now make their attempt to discredit Jesus. The Sadducees, as we are told in verse 27, did not believe in the resurrection. Acts 23:8 records that they did not believe in angels either. The Sadducees have a question that had apparently won a number of converts to their belief system. Verse 28 records what the Law of Moses, which is found in Deuteronomy 25:5. If a man’s brother died and that brother had a wife with no children, it was the duty of the man to marry her and produce children so that she could be provided for. This was the social security of the Law of Moses. The Sadducees came up with quite a problem. Imagine there are seven brothers and each one dies without children after marrying this woman. This is quite a woman who is able to survive seven different brothers. I think she would get the label, “widow maker” at this point. The question is in verse 33: “In the resurrection, whose wife will the woman be?” Seven men were married to her so whose the husband that she will be living with in the resurrection?
Jesus responds that marriage is not part of the age to come. Life in the coming age is different than life now. We will no longer be living a flesh life but a spiritual life. It is not legitimate to project earthly conditions into the future age. We do not know what heaven will be like. We cannot understand what the resurrection and age to come will be like because it has not been revealed to us. To assume the conditions of this life as similar to the conditions in the future eternal life is a mistake. We are spiritual beings that do not marry and do not die. Things are completely different in eternal life. Jesus’ first point is that we cannot use what we know in this life as the metric by which we determine how heaven will be. We can do the same thing. I won’t get exhaustive in all the guessing that goes on about what life will be like in heaven. But allow me to address one in particular. How can we know each other in heaven if the loved ones that I know from this life are not there? The conclusion is often drawn that we will not know each other in the life to come. I believe what Jesus teaches here is important for us. The way things operate in this life is not how things will operate in the next life. I do not have an answer to that question. What I know is that we will be in Paradise, with God, and we will all be gathered together. I will let God sort out the details.
The second response goes to answering the question whether there is a resurrection. Jesus is very clear in verse 37. The dead are raised. There is no doubt or question about it. Death is not the end of our existence. The dead are raised. Jesus uses the words of Moses at the burning bush where Moses calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. The point is that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. Why is God the God of the living? Because they are all alive before God. The point is that only living people can have a God. They must be alive because God is ascribed to them. We saw this truth in Luke 16 where Jesus told us about the rich man and Lazarus. The surprising twist in the story was that the beggar was in comfort with Abraham and the rich man was in torment, separated from Abraham. Life in the age to come is not like this life and, yes, there is a resurrection.
Who Is Jesus? (20:41-44)
But this is not the end of the scene. After silencing the scribes and the Sadducees, Jesus does not let them walk away. Remember, we started this lesson considering that these leaders are playing games with Jesus. They will not approach him in sincerity but have something in their hearts causing them to reject him. So Jesus is going to turn the tables and ask them a question. Here’s his question from the scriptures: how can the Christ be David’s son when David calls him Lord? The quotation of scripture comes from Psalm 110.
Jesus told a parable earlier in this chapter showing that he is the Son sent from the Father who they are going to kill. Jesus is going to drive that teaching even deeper. How can David call his son, the coming Messiah, Lord? Notice that Jesus does not answer this question and the Jewish leaders do not answer this question. The Matthew account tells us that no one was able to answer him a word and see that here in Luke in verse 40.
The implication of the teaching is clear. The Messiah must be God. Why else would King David call him Lord? The Messiah has to be more than a mere man for David to submit to him and call him Lord. Somehow he is greater than David, has authority over David, though David is the king. Jesus is going to be killed which will lead to his exaltation and enthronement. To sit at the right hand is to be exalted to a position of honor. The apostle Paul summarizes this truth as he begins his letter to the Romans:
3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 1:3–4 ESV)
He is the Son of God, the Messiah, who has come to save the world from their sins.
Let us return to verse 35 because Jesus makes a subtle point to the Sadducees and before the crowd in the temple complex. “But those who are considered worthy to attain to that age.” Not everyone is going to counted worthy to enter in and experience the age to come. At the beginning of the lesson I ask what it was that was keeping us from enjoying Jesus and having a deep relationship with him. Jesus has an answer for whatever is holding us back. He is offering you life. We must give to God what is God’s if we are to be counted worthy of the blood of Jesus to cover our sins. Give to God what is God’s. What is God’s? Everything. Everything belongs to him. To be counted worthy of partaking in the age to come is give him everything.