So if you had a chance to ask Jesus a question, what would you ask him? The religious leaders are going to have their chance to ask Jesus a question. The Pharisees are going to ask Jesus a question and the Sadducees are going to ask Jesus a question. Unfortunately, they are not asking Jesus a question to learn. You will notice in Matthew 22:15 at the Pharisees are plotting on how to trap Jesus in his words. The Sadducees are also trying to test and trip Jesus up. Back in Matthew 16:1 we read that this is the goal of both of these religious groups. Jesus even warned his disciples about the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 16:12. Religious groups who do not agree with each other are joining forces in agreement of their rejection of Jesus. The way Jesus is going to answer this questions are going to stun the crowds (cf. 22:22,35). In fact, you will see in verse 46 that after Jesus gets done with answering these questions, no one is going to dare to ask him any more questions. As we look at these questions and Jesus’ response to these questions, we are not going to spend as much time on the teaching. Rather, we will spend much of our time considering why these two religious groups failed to see Jesus and failed in their understanding of God.
Taxes Question (22:15-22)
The Pharisees try to trap Jesus as they come to him with the Herodians with their question. But before they ask their question, you will notice that they try to flatter Jesus. In verse 16 they tell Jesus that they know that he is true and truthfully teaches the way of God. This is quite ironic since they were unwilling to listen to Jesus’ teachings. Further, they proclaim that Jesus is not swayed by people’s opinions and is not partial. They want Jesus to decisively answer this question so that they can trap him. Now Jesus knows what they are trying to do. He calls them hypocrites in verse 18 and also knows the malice in their hearts.
Now taxes were a great conundrum for the Jews in the Roman Empire, especially this particular tax that they are asking Jesus about. This was the poll tax that had to be paid by each person each year. It was a hated tax. It was so hated that about 20 years earlier there was an insurrection in Galilee over it. The argument was that the Lord was their God to whom they owed tribute and not Caesar. This was not an income tax or a sales tax. This was a tax for your existence in the Roman Empire. It was an annual census which required non-Roman citizens to pay for living in the empire. It paid for nothing. It just was simply giving Caesar your money. If someone challenged this and said that the tax paid for the expenses of the Roman Empire, the answer would be that no Jew wanted the Roman government and we would be happy to get rid of them. So this is a challenging question. If Jesus says to the pay this census tax, everyone will hate him. If Jesus says to not pay the census tax, the people will love him but he will be openly breaking Roman law and will be categorized as another insurrectionist. You can see this in the question they ask Jesus. They want to know if it is lawful for a Jew to pay this to Caesar.
The answer that Jesus gives is brilliant in the way it teaches God’s principles. Jesus does not merely answer to pay your taxes. The principle declared is important. Jesus said to render to Caesar the things that belong to him. The word “render” means to give back or pay back. Jesus is saying to give back to Caesar what belongs to him. Then Jesus continues to give back to God the things that belong to God. Listen to how the apostle Paul summarized this godly truth:
Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:7-8 ESV)
What is Paul saying? What is Jesus teaching? They are teaching that we pay back what is owed. Give to everyone what you owe them. Pay all your obligations. Pay back with your taxes. Pay back your credit cards. Pay back your car, house, and school debts. But keep reading what Paul is saying in this principle. Pay back respect to whom respect is owed. Give back honor to all to whom honor is owed. Do not owe anyone anything. Do not misread this to say that we cannot have debts. Rather, it is saying that whatever the debt is, even if it the debt of honor or respect to those who have authority over us, we pay it.
Now think about what Jesus said in that teaching. Give back to God the things that belong to God. What do we owe him? What doesn’t belong to God? What do we have that does not belong to God? Listen to how Paul said this very truth.
Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “In him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:27-28 ESV)
What do we have to give back to God if it is because of him that we live, we move, and we exist? The problem is that these religious leaders did not understand that we owe God our whole lives. Give back to God what belongs to God. But this message bounced right off of them. This leads us to the second question which will build Jesus’ second key teaching that these religious leaders missed about God.
Resurrection Question (22:23-33)
With the Pharisees failing to trap Jesus, the Sadducees now take their opportunity. The Sadducees did not believe in the physical, bodily resurrection. They have a hypothetic scenario to prove that there is no such thing as the resurrection of the body. Moses taught that if a man died having no children, his brother was to marry the wife, care for her and raise up offspring so that their inheritance line would continue. But here is their great sticking point. Imagine that this happens seven times. Seven men all marry her and die. The question is whose wife will she be in the resurrection. You see that they have come up with the perfect hypothetic in which they can disprove any notion of their being a bodily resurrection. Unfortunately, the same is true today. People do not believe in the resurrection of our physical bodies because it just seems to fantastic and too impossible. A bodily resurrection defies human logic. You might remember that the apostle Paul ran into the same objection in Athens. Many mocked Paul when he taught the resurrection of the dead (cf. Acts 17:32).
Now you will notice that Jesus destroys their hypothetic argument. First, in the resurrection the way things are in this world will not be same. We are not going to marry in the resurrection. Just because it is a bodily resurrection does not mean that the new world is the same as this world. Second, the scriptures are clear that there will be a bodily resurrection by referring to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the present tense and not the past tense. But what I want to focus on is the reason that they failed to understand these things. Look at verse 29. Jesus told them that they are wrong because they did not know the scriptures or the power of God.
We need to think about what Jesus says here. The reason these religious teachers were wrong was because they did not know the scriptures. Now think about this. Did they know the scriptures? They did know the scriptures. They studied the scriptures regularly. Jesus said that they searched the scriptures in John 5:39. The people looked to these religious leaders and teachers for knowledge of the scriptures because they knew them. This is what is stunning. It is possible to know the scriptures and still not know the scriptures. How is this possible? There is a way to read the scriptures and miss the whole point. Now here is what I want us to see. All of us have done this. How many times have we read the scriptures and then someone shows us something in it and we wonder how we never saw that our ourselves?! If you have wondered why I teach the way I do, this is one of the main reasons why. I do not want Jesus to say about us that we do not know the scriptures or the power of God. The only way we can understand the power of God is by knowing the scriptures. The only way we can come to know God is by knowing the scriptures. We need to see and understand what the scriptures say. If we do not know the scriptures, then we cannot know God or the power of God. What I think is chilling is how much these religious teachers knew the scriptures and Jesus said that they still didn’t know the scriptures.
Jesus even stumps the Pharisees with a question in verses 41-46. David calls his son, Lord. Why would David do that? The point Jesus is making is that they did not carefully think about the scriptures though they knew what the scriptures said. They knew David’s son would be the Messiah. Yet David’s son must be even more than the Messiah because David calls him, Lord. Jesus is clearly showing that the Messiah must also be the Lord himself for David to write what he wrote. This is another proof that Jesus is God because he is the Messiah who came to save. It was another way these leaders had read the scriptures but did not understand what the scriptures were teaching.
Greatest Command Question (22:34-40)
So now the two groups that opposed each other come together in verse 34. This is yet another question to test Jesus. Which law is the greatest? Jesus answers that the greatest and most important command is to love the Lord your God will all your heart, soul, and mind. The second command is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. All of the God’s word depend on these two commands. What Jesus says here is profound and again exposes how these religious teachers did not know God or the power of God. Everything in the scriptures is showing us how we are to love God and love others. Yet Jesus also says that everything in the scriptures was about him.
You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures that testify about me, but you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life. (John 5:39-40 NET)
Please think about this. They missed Jesus and did not know Jesus because they did not know the scriptures. They missed that Jesus shows us what it means to love God and love others. Listen to what Jesus said about this.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (John 13:34 ESV)
We need to hear what Jesus said. Jesus said to his disciples that he showed us how to love God and love others. You know that we can read that loving God and loving others is the basis for all of God’s teachings. We can even think that we are loving God and loving others. But when Jesus says that we are to love others like Jesus has loved us, then everything changes. Now I need to know Jesus if I am going to truly understand how I am supposed to love God and love others. This was the problem of the religious teachers. They did not know the scriptures or the power of God. They did not know Jesus nor did they care to listen to him. But Jesus showed us. Jesus showed us how to love God and love others. How did he show us how to love God? Remember that Jesus made the point to the Pharisees that we are to give back to God what belongs to God. Jesus showed us what that looked like. He gave everything to the Father and did the Father’s will. He showed us how to love others with inexpressible love by giving his life for our good. We cannot read the scriptures and not see Jesus. We cannot read the scriptures and fail to learn how to love God and love others because this is what it is all about. We are missing everything if we do not do this. We are missing everything when we do not know Jesus.
Would you please truly get to know Jesus? Would you look to understand who is he and what he is offering to do in your life? Would you spend the time to look deeper? Your love for God and for others will only increase when you get to know Jesus and you only can get to know Jesus by seeing Jesus in God’s word. He deserves so much more time in your life. He deserves your whole life because we are to give to God want belongs to him. Will you give him your time? Will you give him your worship? Will you give him your life? Will you give him your love?