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Wednesday, May 22nd, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 22

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Verse 1

And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by parables, and said,

Twice before Jesus has depicted the malevolent attitude of the Jewish hierarchy toward God’s Son (21:28–32; 33–41). Instead of accepting the rebuke, however, these leaders plan to destroy Him (21:46). Jesus now responds to their murderous intent with this third warning. This final parable of His trilogy shows the imminent peril in which these Jews have placed themselves by rejecting God’s invitation to the Messianic banquet. The gist of this parable is basically the same as The Great Supper found in Luke 14:15-24. Although only Matthew records this parable, it seems clear Jesus repeats His illustrations throughout His ministry, varying the details and content to fit His purpose and audience.

Verse 2

The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son,

The kingdom of heaven is like: This is Jesus’ usual formula for introducing a parable (compare 13:10–11, 24, 31, 33, 44, 45, 47 and 20:1). Similar to the others, this parable is designed to spotlight some particular aspect of the Messianic kingdom. At least three points are illuminated: Israel’s disappointing response to God’s invitation, God’s extension of mercy to the Gentiles, and the final judgment of the unprepared.

unto a certain king, which made a marriage: Weddings in the ancient times are perhaps the most festive occasions of Jewish social life. Friends and relatives gather for a week of merriment and feasting (Judges 14:17). As illustrated in verse 4, the "marriage" (gamous) refers not just to the ceremony itself but also to the banquet that accompanies it.

for his son: By including a king’s son, Jesus raises the listeners’ interest even more. If common weddings call for a week’s celebration (Judges 14:17), a royal wedding calls for a national celebration of several weeks perhaps. Furthermore, invitations to such a royal event are highly coveted. If one is fortunate enough to be invited, he dares not miss for trivial reasons. In ancient times, guests are often invited to stay with the groom’s parents. In this case, the parent would be the king, and the guests’ stay would bring them the enviable fortune of palace comforts.

This parable reveals what the kingdom of heaven is like. The king represents God, whose invitation to the Messianic banquet is first extended to the Jews. The king’s son represents Jesus. Initially, it might not seem as if the son plays much of a role in the story; however, this is the son’s wedding. While the celebration is orchestrated by the father, any refusal to attend scorns both father and son. The son is the reason for all the father does, both in giving the party and punishing those who ungraciously refuse to come. This parable is similar to the parable of the Wicked Tenants (21:33). In that parable, Jesus describes Israel as God’s vineyard and paints Himself as the rejected Owner’s Son. Now He describes Israel as subjects of the King of heaven who refuse the King’s Son.

Verse 3

And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come.

And sent forth his servants: As in the parable of the Wicked Tenants, the king sends out his slaves (doulos) to call those who have been invited to the feast. In keeping with Jewish custom, the king will extend two invitations: the first will be sent many months before the wedding and a second will be sent when the banquet is actually ready (Esther 5:8; Esther 6:14). In Jesus’ story, the first invitation is implied but not mentioned.

It is difficult to determine who the servants in this verse actually represent. Obviously, they are faithful ministers of God, but apparently they are not the first to be sent out. The first sent are those who deliver the pre-invitation (see above). Now a second group is sent at banquet time. A third group will follow in verse 4. In the parable of the Wicked Tenants, the servants obviously represent Old Testament prophets who called Israel to bear fruit for God (21:34– 36). The interpretation of this parable is more difficult. If any group represents Old Testament prophets, it seems to be the "first," which the story implies but does not specifically mention. The King gives these servants the job of pre-inviting and pre-preparing Israel for a future Messianic kingdom. In this verse, however, the banquet is

now! All things are ready: it is time to enter and enjoy. Given the eminence of the banquet, these servants may correspond to John the Baptist, Jesus, and the twelve whose message is, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (3:2; 10:7; Mark 1:15). Lenski disagrees that these include John and Jesus because the king’s son is pictured as a servant (slave) sent to call people to his own wedding party? Lenski suggests they are "the apostles and their ringing call on Pentecost and throughout the years following" (849). Either way, the point is the same. The Messianic kingdom has come "upon them" (12:28), and the Jews reject the call.

to call them that were bidden to the wedding: This phrase (kalesai tous keklemenous) is probably a play on words meaning "to call the called" (Robertson 173). In other words, the guests have already been invited and should be ready to come immediately when the king’s messengers arrive. Schedules should already be cleared, appropriate wedding attire arranged, gifts purchased, and personal matters attended to. The king has given them ample notice. It is time for the festivities to begin!

and they would not come: Jesus does not tell us how those who were invited act when they receive the king’s initial invitation, but probably they are joyous and perhaps even boastful to friends and neighbors about their good fortune and status. When the day actually arrives for them to go, however, they refuse to attend. Literally, they "willed not to come." Such reaction accurately depicts the attitude of the Jews when, at long last, the Messiah arrives. Israel has boasted in the fact that someday she will enjoy the Messiah and the attendant Messianic banquet, yet she clearly enjoys the anticipation of the wait more than His arrival. Having grown accustomed to doing things her way, Israel wants no part of a feast, however lavish, where she is not in charge.

This parable places emphasis on the call to come. Jesus uses some form of the Greek word "call" six times in this section. He does not mean a simple summons to a party, but rather He means the relationship God sustains with Israel. God calls as far back as Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3)! Fowler correctly notes that the entire history of Israel is the outworking of that call (176). Given her history, Israel’s ears should have been tuned to hear and heed the

voice of the Almighty. But as Isaiah prophesied, this people’s ears are "dull of hearing" (13:15). Israel willfully refuses to participate in the spiritual feast God has so long prepared for her.

Verse 4

Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage.

The king has sent servants twice. Now, for the third and final time, the king summons those who were invited. Here we catch a glimpse of the grace and longsuffering of God who summons the Jews repeatedly. Whereas in real life most monarchs will be justifiably furious at being rejected, this king sends other servants to strengthen his invitation. Clearly, he longs for his chosen guests to fellowship with him and to enter into his joys. Not only does he invite them again, he entices them with all that awaits. The words "oxen and fatlings" depict the finest meat. These are not just ordinary field animals but are those of the royal herd that are hand chosen and grain fed. In biblical times, people butcher these animals only on special occasions (2 Samuel 6:13; 1 Kings 1:9; Luke 16:23).

Verse 5

But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise:

Verses 5 and 6 show two distinct groups of subjects. This first group is less aggressive than those of verse 6, but both are equally evil and ungrateful. This first group refuses the royal invitation with total disregard for their king. To call their reaction an insult would be an understatement. One person goes to his own farm instead of to the king’s palace. The other goes to his business instead of to the king’s banquet. Both show blatant contempt and disregard for the king’s gracious wishes and care only for their own affairs.

The irony is in what these people reject. The king does not request something difficult or painful. He invites them into the bliss of his presence to enjoy his finest provisions. Likewise, the Jews are invited into the splendor of the Messianic kingdom where they can enjoy fellowship around the Son’s table. But instead of accepting Jesus with open arms, they nail Him to a cross and forfeit those banquet seats reserved for them.

Verse 6

And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them.

This second class of people is more vicious than those of verse 5. They seize the king’s servants, shamefully treat them, and kill them. These servants are personal representatives of the king and carry his authority and approval. To murder them in such a premeditated fashion can bring only one response!

Who are these evil men in relation to those who have simply gone their way and ignored the invitation? Do those of verse 5 depict the common Jews and those of this verse their leaders?

In the previous parable, Jesus depicts the leaders of Israel as brutalizing God’s messengers (21:35). Is this what Jesus illustrates again here? Fowler says, "While the farmers and tradesmen merely ignored God’s men, the persecuting spirit of the self-righteous religionists and those who used them for a smokescreen mercilessly slew them" (179). Jesus does not say who the martyrs are, but they would surely include men like Stephen (Acts 7).

Verse 7

But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.

The king could have punished the offenders the first time they refused his invitation, but instead he gives them another opportunity. Nevertheless, even a gracious king has his limits. Once he hears his servants are murdered, his sense of justice is awakened. He dispatches his "armies" or "troops" (strateuma) to mete out punishment.

The description Jesus gives is too much like the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70 to be a mere coincidence. Commentators agree this is a clear prediction of the Roman Legions under Vespasian and Titus whom God uses as instruments against those guilty of murdering His messengers and His Son (Fowler 180). During that awful siege, an estimated 1,100,000 Jews are killed, their bodies thrown over the wall, and their city burned. But even so, God is not unfair or unmerciful. Fowler notes:

In retrospect, the historical reality alluded to here reveals the magnanimous patience of God the King! In fact, He gave these Jewish leaders 40 more years’ respite after they murdered His Son and began to persecute His Church. Some priests did repent (Acts 6:7) and some Pharisees believed (Acts 15:5), but tragically few in contrast to the majority. Finally, in 70 A.D. He punished those murderers and burned their city (180).

Verse 8

Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy.

With food on the table and all things prepared, the king now calls his servants and informs them of the problem. Those who reject Jesus are not unworthy because they lack some inherent quality they themselves are hopeless to attain. They are unworthy because they refuse to accept Him who can make them worthy. Because these people judge the Messiah (Jesus) and His attendant banquet (kingdom) unworthy of their time, God decides they are unworthy of His. As they have judged, so will they be judged (7:2). The banquet will be given to others. Paul tells the Jews, "It was necessary that the Word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles" (Acts 13:46).

The issue of Israel’s unworthiness applies not only to the Jews of Jesus’ generation but is inherently tied to those prophetic doctrines popular among those bent on making the faithless, modern Israel the fulfillment of God’s redemptive workings. Fowler comments:

This judgment by the Lord of all the earth should become the working philosophy of all prophecy students. Modern Israel,

i.e. the unbelieving, unrepentant nation, is too often exalted in prophecy schemes, as if she were the precious jewel of God or as if nothing had ever been revealed that would compromise her privileged position in the determinate counsel of God. But how can men continue to argue, by implication if not overtly, that "Israel is worthy" when the King gives this sentence: "They that were bidden were NOT WORTHY!" (181).

Verse 9

Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. The servants are given orders about whom to invite now and where to look for them. Those brought in are not elite socialites like the first groups but are country commoners, far below the expected quality of a king’s guest list.

Go ye therefore into the highways: This comment literally refers to the partings of the highways. In other words, guests are to be found at the forks of the roads or where the road leading out of the city branches out into two or more roads. Broadus says, "There the country people coming in from different directions could all be seen and invited" (447).

and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage: The king offers an indiscriminant invitation. He begins his celebration by carefully selecting people to invite and has invitations hand delivered. Now he bids anyone to come in.

We find another facet of salvation’s jewel: all who are willing to come are "worthy" to come. This is the "calling of the Gentiles," the "whosoever will." We have the king saying to those who are not his people, "Thou art my people" (Hosea 2:23). We have the giving of the vineyard to others who will render the fruits in their seasons (21:41). The limited commission is over, and the great commission begins (28:18–19). Because the Jews flatly reject the gospel call and will not come into the Messianic banquet, the doors are thrown wide open, and Gentiles are invited to come. And come they did, as Acts and the epistles beautifully demonstrate (Acts 13:46; Galatians 3:26-29; Ephesians 1:10-13; Ephesians 2:11-22; Ephesians 3:16).

Verse 10

So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests.

In humble submission to the king’s bidding, his servants now go forth to carry out his command. In the process of furnishing the wedding (that is, banquet hall or bridal chamber) with guests (literally, "those who reclined," as was custom at Oriental feasts), both the "good" and the "bad" are brought in. This description reminds us of Jesus’ previous parable of The Great Supper (Luke 14:21) where the poor, maimed, and blind are given entrance.

What is the significance of Jesus’ discriminating between these two types? Consider the following:

1. Perhaps by stating "good" and "bad," Jesus is simply showing that the kingdom is indiscriminate about who is invited. All, regardless of background, are welcome in the kingdom, provided they accept the king’s invitation and afterwards his authority. What stark contrast this notion is to Jewish thinking. In one short breath, Jesus destroys the myth that only national Israel has reservations for the Messianic banquet.

2. Jesus does not, however, define "good" and "bad" in His parable. By whose standard then are they "good" or "bad"? Is this the objective evaluation of an omniscient King or is it perceived goodness as determined by His servants? If by "good" we mean absolute "good," then what of Romans 3:23? In at least one sense, none are "good"! Thus, Jesus might be challenging the Jewish notion of what righteousness and goodness are all about. It is human tendency to judge those we perceive as decent, moral, respectable people as being "good" while judging sinners as being "bad." In the case of the Jews, the orthodox self-righteous are judged as "good" while the prostitutes, publicans, and Gentiles are judged as "bad." But lest we miss the kingdom, as those did who were first invited, let us reevaluate ourselves in light of God’s goodness. May we understand that any entrance we may have into the feast is a result of His grace. The King is not obligated to open the doors to anyone!

3. Perhaps Jesus is also challenging the notion that His kingdom, while on earth, will be a utopia where only the pure and perfect dine. Naturally, this situation will be the case at the consummation of the age. As seen in verse 11, however, Jesus is obviously speaking of a time prior to the final judgment when both bad and good exist simultaneously (see Jesus’ parable of the dragnet in 13:47–50).

Verse 11

And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment:

And when the king came in to see the guests: The parable reaches its climax in the scene that follows. The king comes to the banquet hall to rejoice with his subjects. His guests are present only because of his gracious invitation (22:9), and yet he demonstrates even more kindness by mingling with them. Although his heart is gracious, his eye is discerning. His good will does not preclude condemnation of rebellion—an attitude one guest demonstrates. Because grace and justice are not mutually exclusive, this king can graciously invite yet justly expel.

he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: It is just to call the man without a proper wedding garment rebellious. Everyone listening to Jesus’ parable knows custom requires appropriate dress, especially for a royal wedding. A king’s son does not get married every day. This is a major kingdom event. And accepting the invitation means agreeing to comply with the appropriate customs. Refusing to follow custom mocks the king and disrespects his son.

We should not think the man is improperly dressed for reasons beyond his control. When the king questions him, he has no excuse (verse 12). The man is not too poor or disadvantaged to wear the proper garments, and he is surely no worse off than his peers who attend and are dressed in proper clothing.

This situation poses an interesting question. Because of the haste of the last minute invitation, the apparent lack of time to return home or to purchase garments, and the obvious lower social-economic status, where do the guests get their clothing? The most logical conclusion is the king provides them Himself out of his royal storehouse. Commentators have long suggested that ancient kings did this very thing for their guests. It is likely that all this man has to do is accept the responsibility of wearing that which the king graciously provides (compare Genesis 45:22; Judges 14:12; Judges 14:19; 2 Kings 5:5; 2 Kings 5:22; 2 Kings 10:22). There is no excuse for the guest’s unsuitable appearance. Apparently this man walks in, refuses to change, and says, "I look fine. My own clothes are good enough!"

How are we to interpret "wedding clothes"? If John’s description of the Lamb’s marriage in Revelation is applicable here, then proper wedding attire is fine linen, clean and bright, which is "the righteous acts of the saints" (Revelation 19:7-8). These are not works of self-righteousness but are those produced in response to God’s revealed will. Salvation is an act of God’s grace. Had God not graciously revealed His will, we would have no way of knowing what to do to please Him. While perhaps difficult to grasp, and far too often twisted by denominational doctrines, a wonderful balance exists between man’s responsibility and God’s gift of salvation. God asks man to accept His Son by faith, an obedient faith that produces works (James 2:22).

In the parable, the king orchestrates the entire process. He not only prepares the feast and invites the guests but also provides the garments for each guest to wear. So it is with salvation. God prepares the Messianic banquet by sending Jesus, inviting sinners through the gospel, and providing acts of obedience whereby man is clothed with righteousness. Salvation is by the grace of God; but man must obey, for God cannot save those who rebel against Him.

The poorly dressed man in the parable wants to do things his own way. He wants to devise his own terms of obedience, which is no obedience at all. This man does not have the requisite acts of righteousness. Furthermore, his guilt is multiplied by the fact that the king makes it easy to enjoy the feast. All this man has to do is graciously accept the king’s terms. He refuses and is thrown out, thus demonstrating that salvation is conditional. God provides the clothes, but we must put them on. Not only that, but we must first discard our old clothes (Colossians 3:5-9; Ephesians 4:22). Fowler sums up the thought:

This story, therefore, is a lesson on receiving the grace of God. We do not have to prepare the feast, but we must submit to the spirit of His kind offer and be fitted for participation by His grace. We do not pretend to be worthy of the gift by our wearing the prescribed garments, but we must enter into His feast outfitted according to His expectations. This illustrates the place of commandments in grace: they are a part of the gift of grace, not a series of deeds whereby we earn our place at His table (187).

Verse 12

And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless.

And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment: We see the gracious attitude of the king in addressing the man as "friend" or "comrade." Even so, the king demands accountability: "How did you get in here looking like this?" The question implies the king has probably offered the necessary clothing.

How does this intruder get into the banquet? Does he crowd in among other guests who pay little attention to him as they throng into the banquet hall? Does he come in by another entrance? Is it possible that, for whatever reason, only the king has an eye discerning enough to notice the man? Does the man intend to deceive the king but gets caught? Jesus does not say and, because this is a parable, we must not stretch the story beyond reasonable limits. The point is the man is inappropriately there! The king’s question is not designed to gain information as much as to underscore the man’s rebellion. In the parable, no response is necessary, and in reality, none is possible because there is no excuse.

And he was speechless: He stands before his king in silence (epsimothe, muzzled). Whatever excuse he might have considered giving dissipates in the presence of this discerning judge.

Verse 13

Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Then said the king to the servants: The punishment comes swiftly and surely. If the man thought he could deceive the king, he now realizes he was wrong. The king has entered, and now it is time to remove all that offends from the wedding. This man might have fooled other guests, but no man fools God. The king now calls his servants into action.

These servants differ from the "slaves" (doulos) who first issued the invitation. Here the word (diakonis) denotes "table waiters" or "attendants" at the feast (Fowler 189). As in chapter thirteen, verse 41, these are probably "angels" who play a role in the final judgment.

Bind him hand and foot, and take him away: This command denotes the man is a criminal. Lenski says it is an Oriental custom to bind criminals this way (858). Broadus notes this action will prevent him from returning to the feast (449).

And cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth: This expression surely finds its fulfillment in gehenna (hell fire). In the story, the reference is quite picturesque. No doubt the party begins while it is daylight. Now darkness has fallen; and inside the banquet hall, bright lights blaze as festivities ensue. On being discovered, the evil doer is cast from this glow and the warmth and presence of the king and his son into the darkness of night. If light represents hope, darkness represents hopelessness. Those who find themselves in such a condition will weep and gnash their teeth in anger and pain because all chances for salvation are gone.

Verse 14

For many are called, but few are chosen.

This verse presents the point of the parable. The Jews are called time and again to enter into the Messianic feast. At their refusal, God does not stop calling but instead throws open the banquet doors and calls the Gentiles. Nevertheless, Jesus says few are chosen. That is, relatively few are chosen in comparison to the number called.

Why are so few chosen? The answer is simple yet profound. Few are chosen because there are only a few who are willing to come to the King’s table. Having heard the invitation, most go their worldly way. Still others hear the call but refuse to put on the garments required for royal service. Ultimately, the real reason few are chosen is that the masses refuse to comply.

Verse 15

Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.

In the previous chapter, the chief priests and elders confront Jesus while He teaches in the Temple courts, and they challenge His authority (21:23). Rather than answering the leaders directly, Jesus levels three parables against them, exposing their blatant rejection of God’s Messianic kingdom (21:28–32; 21:33–42; 22:1–14). Having been outwitted at their own game and still reeling from the blow, these leaders now retreat momentarily to plot their next move. Their plan is to ask three difficult questions aimed at bringing Jesus into conflict with either Mosaic legislation or the Roman authorities. No doubt they prefer the latter, for if Jesus can be tricked into making subversive statements against Rome, they can deliver Him to the governor without harming Him themselves (Luke 20:20).

It seems obvious that the Pharisees are the leaders of the plot; but if they ever hope to be successful at discrediting this young Rabbi, they must solicit help. It is also likely the Sadducees are already involved (21:23, 45) (the chief priest is a Sadducee), but they will be called on again (22:23) as will the Herodians (22:16).

Verse 16

And they sent out 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.

And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians: The Pharisees do not return to confront Jesus directly, but instead send their young understudies. They probably hope Jesus will either not recognize them or be less critical to these men. Luke, simply calls them "spies which feigned themselves to be righteous" (20:20). The Pharisees are effective at training students to be just like themselves.

It is not surprising that these students join with the Herodians in light of the question they are about to ask. In fact, a similar alliance seems to be anticipated in Mark 3:6 (16:6; Mark 8:15) where the implication is that at least some of the Sadducees are Herodian sympathizers. In any event, the question, "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?" is of interest to both groups. It is interesting to the Pharisees because they are bitterly opposed to God’s people paying tribute to any foreign power. The Herodians are interested because, as the name suggests, they support the Roman puppet dynasty of Herod Antipas and the subsequent taxation on which he and his partisans depend. If either group can get Jesus to side with them, He will be trapped. If He answers, "No," to the question of paying taxes, He exposes Himself to the charge of treason against Rome (Luke 23:2). The situation is further exacerbated by the presence of Antipas in Jerusalem this week for the feast (Luke 23:7). If Jesus answers, "Yes," to the question, He risks alienating every devout and freedom-loving Jew. Although the Pharisees oppose Roman taxation, the Zealots’ bitter opposition toward Rome pushes them to use violence in defense of the principle (Hendriksen 801).

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: If we did not know better, we might mistake these inquisitors for honest truth seekers. Their address has all of the formalism of respect, and their assessment of Jesus is true. It is appropriate to call him "Master" (didaskalos, teacher), implying He is qualified to be a judge and a spiritual shepherd in Israel. It is true He teaches the way of God in truth. And it is also true that of all people, He is most qualified to judge impartially. The phrase "not regarding the person of men" (literally, "not regarding the face of men") is an idiom that denotes fairness. Why, then, do they think He will regard their flattery? We see the paradox of truth. Truth’s sword, when wielded by evil men, is a dagger in the heart of the unwary. Though their words have the ring of truth, they resound from hearts of malice and ill will. Jesus sees through this hypocritical dissonance (verse 18).

Verse 17

Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?

Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou: If Jesus is a teacher in Israel and if He teaches the way of God in truth, then His credentials oblige Him to respond. He will discredit Himself if He does not answer the question.

Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not: The question is simple enough but has profound consequences. Can Jews, then under the subjugation of Rome, honor such a pagan power with monetary tribute without dishonoring the King of heaven? It is an emotional issue. Broadus notes that among the easily excited crowds that fill the Temple courts, there are many who regard paying the poll-tax as the badge of slavery to heathen Rome as well as treason against Jehovah, the theocratic King of Israel (452). These spies think they have Jesus in an inescapable trap.

The tax in question is the "poll tax" (Greek: kensos; Latin: censere—head tax or census tax). This tax of a denarius per head is paid each year to the imperial treasury by the whole population and is collected by publicans. MacArthur notes that it is for the purpose of collecting the poll tax that Rome takes a periodic census, such as the one that requires Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem just before Jesus is born (Luke 2:1-14) (318).

In order to feed her greedy appetite for expansion and improvement, Rome has a variety of taxes. Jewish importers or exporters, for example, might expect to have their goods taxed at city gates, piers, or harbors. But while other kinds of taxes might be more expensive, none is more despised than the poll tax. Because it is levied against individuals, poor and rich alike, it is humiliating and symbolizes the very essence of Roman intrusion.

Verse 18

But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?

Being able to see into these men’s hearts, Jesus has no trouble discerning the intent of the question (John 2:25). The inquisitors are not interested in how taxation affects their allegiance to God as much as they are interested in entrapping Jesus. Thus, Jesus responds with His own question, "Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?" As in Matthew 6:5; Matthew 7:5, the word for "hypocrite" means an "actor on a stage." These men pretend they admire Jesus and desire some sort of an equitable balance between Caesar and God, but they are interested in only one thing: Jesus’ blood (Luke 23:2; John 19:15).

Verses 19-20

Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?

Shew me the tribute money: Jesus is undaunted by their question and asks to see the actual coin used in paying the tax.

And they brought unto him a penny: They bring Jesus a Roman penny. MacArthur notes that while many different coins, including Greek and Hebrew, are in circulation in Israel at the time, the poll tax can be paid only with the Roman denarius (320). A "denarius" or "denar" is a small silver coin usually stamped with the reigning emperor’s head and title. Lenski notes that while the Roman senate has the right to mint copper coins, only the emperor has the right to mint gold and silver (864). This is Caesar’s coin in more ways than one!

And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription: Herein lies the problem. Mosaic Law expressly forbids the Jews from making graven images (Exodus 20:4). The Jews’ obedience to the command is so strong that it not only controls Jewish coinage (Jewish coins include only designs and no human pictures) but also the use of Roman coins. Besides being a constant reminder of Rome’s dominance, coins bearing Caesar’s image are viewed by some as akin to idolatry. In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that as a concession to Jewish scruples, Roman coins intended for circulation in Palestine were minted without the emperor’s image.

The coin they bring to Jesus is pagan because it has both the image and superscription of Caesar. On one side reads the words, "Tiberius Caesar Augustus, son of the deified Augustus." On the other side is an image with the words, "Highest Priest," meaning religious head of state (Hendriksen 803). Both sides repulse devout Jews.

Verse 21

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 that are God’s.

They say unto him, Caesar’s: The idea is not simply that this particular piece of metal personally belongs to the emperor, but rather that with his sovereignty comes the right to mint coinage and organize affairs of the state, including taxation. If the Jews are going to use the emperor’s coins as a medium of exchange in pursuit of their own economic prosperity, then it is inconsistent to refuse to pay that which makes this possible. It is hypocritical to think they can ignore Caesar when "Caesar" is in their pocket.

Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s: What are the implications of this statement?

1. When the "spies" initially come to Jesus, they ask if it is lawful to "give" (dounai) tribute to Caesar. Jesus tells them to "render" (apododidomi) to Caesar what is his. The subtle difference in language is important. Because the Pharisees do not accept the poll tax as legitimate, any payment will at best be a "gift"—and a reluctant one at that. They certainly do not view it as any kind of an ethical obligation. But Jesus turns their logic by telling them to "render" (pay back) to the emperor what is his. Thus, payment to Rome is not a "gift," it is the payment of a "debt" owed! It is not just a legal matter but a moral one. Not to pay is to defraud the government. If the Jews are going to enjoy the benefits of the Pax Romana such as stability, security of persons and property, and good roads, they must accept some responsibility to pay for them.

2. Jesus acknowledges the right of taxation by civil governments. In fact, Christians are duty bound to pay them. Jesus makes no exemptions or exceptions even under a regime that in a few days will nail Him to the cross. No matter how unfair, immoral, evil, idolatrous, or pagan the government might be, tax evasion is not an option. MacArthur is correct in saying, "The state has the divine right to assess taxes that are within its sphere of responsibility, and its citizens have the divine obligation to pay them" (321). Paul, who also lived under pagan Roman rule, commands Christians in Rome to be subject to the state. Reminding them that all authority comes from God and that rulers are God’s ministers, he goes on to say, "For for this cause pay ye tribute also… Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour" (Romans 13:1-7). Since rulers are ordained by God, refusing to pay taxes dishonors God.

3. Jesus limits the power of the state. By saying, "and unto God the things that are God’s," Jesus essentially denies the inscription imprinted on the denari in His hand. Caesar is not divine, and his power is a granted power. While the political leader has the right to govern in civil matters, he does not have the right to demand homage as a god. MacArthur notes that government’s realm is social and economic. To the extent that a ruler steps outside that realm, his authority ceases and so does men’s obligation toward him (322). When the Sanhedrin orders the apostles to cease teaching in Jesus’ name, for example, Peter replies, "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29; Acts 4:19). Nevertheless, while the Christian does have his citizenship in heaven, he is also a citizen of the earthly government (Philippians 3:20). The child of God, then, must act in harmony with God’s will even while serving the state (Fowler 209). This dual citizenship, when kept in proper balance, in no way detracts from what is God’s. The problem comes when the believer attempts to render to Caesar what is God’s.

Verse 22

When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.

The Jews understand that not only has Jesus skillfully avoided their trap, He has brilliantly solved the tax dilemma. One imagines these young students of the Pharisees stand in stunned silence. Never in all of their schooling under the wise Jewish sages of Israel have they encountered such clear, concise wisdom. The separateness they pursue under the careful watch and teaching of their elders does not allow for any obeisance to Rome. Yet Jesus, with one short object lesson, has balanced religion and politics, faith and practice. Likewise, the Herodians must have turned in amazement. In one sentence Jesus has taken the jewel of allegiance they so exclusively offer Herod and shares it with God.

Verse 23

The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked him,

The same day came to him the Sadducees: No doubt after hearing about Jesus’ response to the Pharisees and Herodians (verses 15–22), the Sadducees come the same day to try to ensnare Him. Even though these sects typically have little interaction with each other, it seems clear from verse 34 that at least during this Passover week, they are watching each other closely. Could they be playing a game with one another and with Jesus at the same time? When one group fails to catch Him, another is ready to try.

Previously, the Pharisees have joined with the Herodians in their attempt to trick Jesus (22:15–16). Now, probably because of the nature of their question, the Sadducees come by themselves. By this time Jesus’ position on the afterlife is well known (16:18; Luke 13:28; John 5:29). Like the Pharisees and most other Jews, Jesus fully accepts the truth of the resurrection. The Sadducees, on the other hand, find the doctrine wholly untenable. In fact, not only do the Sadducees reject the resurrection, they also deny the existence of spirits and angels (Acts 23:8). Thus, in spite of their political clout, they find themselves generally disrespected by a great percentage of their fellow countrymen and despised by other religious sects.

The Sadducees are the smallest of the major sects; yet they are the wealthiest and most influential. The high priest and chief priests are almost always Sadducees. Also, as noted in chapter twenty-one, verses 12–13, this sect runs the Temple with its concessions—a venture that surely amasses them a great deal of personal wealth. In addition, the Sadducees are pro-Roman. MacArthur notes that Rome delegates them limited authority, even to the extent of having their own police force in the form of the Temple guard (328).

which say that there is no resurrection, and asked him: While it might seem the Sadducees are more liberal than their peers, such is not necessarily the case. In some ways, the Sadducees are extreme fundamentalists—perhaps even more so than the Pharisees on some issues. Josephus notes that in rendering judgments against offenders, the Sadducees can be even more severe than others (Antiqities, XX, 9, 1). The limited scriptures the Sadducees do accept, they interpret with severe literalism. Whereas most Jews accept the entire Old Testament as inspired, the Sadducees give unique primacy to the Pentateuch—the first five books of the Bible. Moses is seen as the final authority with all other writings, including the latter prophets, more or less relegated to the level of oral tradition—and the Sadducees despise tradition. Because Moses does not specifically teach the doctrine of the resurrection, the Sadducees reject it.

As Jesus will note, however, had the Sadducees really known the scriptures, they would not have denied something in which Moses believed. The doctrine of the resurrection is implied in the Pentateuch, although it is not clearly stated or developed. The Sadducees apparently miss the clear implication of the resurrection as evidenced by the faith of Abraham (Genesis 22:1-18). If there is no resurrection, how could Abraham have reconciled God’s promise of his becoming a great nation through Isaac with the command to slay his son? (Hebrews 11:8-12).

Verse 24

Saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.

Saying, Master: These religious leaders do not accept Jesus as being a legitimate "master" (teacher) of Israel (22:16). While the Pharisees and Herodians approach Jesus with flattery, the Sadducees come with only a certain "polished scoff" (Broadus 454). As high-class aristocrats, these leaders obviously feel superior to Jesus. Their motive in addressing Him as "Teacher" is simply to show what a wretched one He is (Lenksi 898).

Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother: They begin their attack with, "Moses said." As noted in the previous verse, the Sadducees revere Moses as the ultimate authority in matters of doctrine even to the virtual exclusion of other Old Testament prophets and writers. Thus, in an attempt to establish their false doctrine, they appeal to Israel’s supreme lawgiver. Here they loosely summarize the "levirate law" as found in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. "Levirate" simply refers to the Latin word levir meaning "a husband’s brother" or "brother-in-law."

Because in Old Testament times family lineage and inheritance is so important, God gives provisions for instances when a man dies with no male heirs. According to Mosaic legislation, the deceased man’s brother (or the nearest kin—kinsman redeemer, as in Ruth 4:1-6) is to marry the widow in hopes that this new union will produce a male child to continue the lineage of the dead man (Deuteronomy 25:6). Disobedience to this law is greatly frowned upon and has humiliating consequences attached. If a man refuses to take his brother’s wife, she is to bring him publicly before the elders, remove his sandal from his foot, spit in his face, and curse him (Deuteronomy 25:7-10). Note that in the case of Onan, his selfish refusal to perform his duty brings the death penalty by God (Genesis 38:8-10). Apparently, the "levirate" practice actually predates Mosaic legislation.

Verses 25-26

Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother: Likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh. 27 And last of all the woman died also.

It is impossible to say whether the case the Sadducees cite actually occurred or is hypothetical. Though it seems impossible that seven brothers all married the same woman and all died within such a short period of time, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. The case is probably hypothetical with "seven" being used to underscore the

complete hopelessness in trying to produce an heir. Whether three, four, or seven, the same levirate law applies.

The story is carefully woven in an attempt to bring Mosaic legislation into direct conflict with the doctrine of a resurrection. If in this life seven have her as their wife, which brother will have her in the next life? The Sadducees, assuming an afterlife is no more than an extension of this life, wonder if God promotes some kind of heavenly polygamy? Such an idea seems absurd to the Sadducees!

Verse 27

Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her.

If there is a resurrection, this is a logical question. How could God act equitably in the case they present? If He gives the woman to the first husband, then what about the other six who also had her as their wife? Do they possess no eternal stake in the matter? Besides, how can one husband claim supremacy given the fact that she bears no offspring to any of them?

Furthermore, if in keeping with levirate law, God allows some kind of heavenly polygamy, how are they to interpret Genesis 2:18-24? What of the Creator’s original design of "one man, one woman"? Is this design somehow less binding in an afterlife? Jesus has Himself affirmed the Creator’s design (19:3–9). Would He now recant and contradict Himself to defend the doctrine of a resurrection?

Verse 28

Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.

Jesus answered and said unto them: There is no conflict between Moses’ Levirate law and the resurrection. The problem is with the Sadducees’ beliefs. Like the Pharisees, this sect cannot envision a future world any different from the present. To the Pharisees, the resurrection is just a reproduction of this life with all relations and conditions restored and made permanent. In fact, the twelfth-century Jewish scholar Maimonides taught that children will be produced in the next world (Broadus 455). While the Sadducees deny the reality of an afterlife, their question still carries the popular assumptions of the day. They argue from the wrong premise and apparently expect Jesus to do the same (Fowler 220). Instead, Jesus responds in a way that challenges their entire perspective, not only about their own scriptural expertise, but also about the nature of God.

Ye do err: The Greek word planao carries the idea of going astray, wandering off, or being deceived. As it appears here in the middle form, it might be better translated, "You are deceiving yourselves" (Lenski 871). But how do these religious leaders delude themselves? Jesus convicts them on two accounts.

not knowing the scriptures: First, they have no true knowledge of the scriptures in which they so pride themselves. Had they really been experts in the Law, they would have easily seen that Deuteronomy 25:5-6 makes no mention of the afterlife. Their assumption that the levirate law somehow contradicts the notion of a resurrection is incorrect. Their primary mistake is that they interpret scripture in light of their mistaken doctrine rather than allowing scripture to determine what true doctrine really is. Furthermore, they do not know the scriptures because they have rejected the very segments of the Old Testament where the resurrection is more fully revealed (Psalms 16:9-11 as interpreted by Peter in Acts 2:27-31; Daniel 12:2; Job 14:14; Job 19:25-27; Psalms 17:15; Psalms 73:24-26; Isaiah 26:19; Ezekiel 37:1-14).

nor the power of God: Second, they do not understand the nature and power of God. If God is really the God the Sadducees believe He is, then why do they find the notion of a bodily resurrection so amazing? If in the beginning God could form man from dust, then why can He not raise it up again from dust? If He has the power to raise the dead, then why should He not raise them to a state where marriage is no longer needed? McGarvey notes:

Had they known the Scripture doctrine of the resurrection they would have known that it did not involve the continuance of marriage; and had they known the power of God they would have known that he could raise the saints without those carnal propensities on which marriage is based (Commentary on Matthew 191).

In the next three verses, Jesus explains in reverse order how they misunderstand the word and power of God.

Verse 29

For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.

For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage: Even though the Sadducees deny the resurrection, they use it to further their hypothetical argument. The response Jesus gives leaves no room for doubt. The Sadducees can be assured that certain things will happen in the resurrection, but the resurrection does not demand that life’s temporal affairs continue unchanged. God has a new order in store. Their logic based on Deuteronomy 25:5 is in error. The proof text they cite does not even discuss immortality nor does it deny a future change in one’s existence brought about by a resurrection.

Deuteronomy 25:5 is predicated on God’s institution of marriage in the Garden of Eden. Foreseeing that man would sin and plague himself with death, God laid forth the primary design of marriage—be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28). While marriage serves more purposes than mere "reproduction" (companionship—Genesis 2:18; legitimate sexual pleasure—Song of Solomon 7:7-9; picturing Christ’s love for His bride—Ephesians 5:32), it is the command to multiply that underscores the subsequent Mosaic pronouncement regarding "levirate" marriages. While marriage is divinely ordained, it is entirely a temporal relationship. It is God’s provision for reproducing a species cursed by death.

Because the afterlife is unaffected by temporal death, there will be no necessity for marriage, sex, reproduction, or any of the natural laws pertaining to them. The Sadducees should understand this. Jesus says that in heaven they (namely men) neither "marry" nor are "given in marriage" (women who are given by their fathers) but "are as the angels in heaven."

but are as the angels of God in heaven: By mentioning "angels," Jesus again refutes the Sadducees who deny both the resurrection and heavenly beings (Acts 23:8). Jesus does not say humans become "angels" but rather "are as the angels of God in heaven." Luke 20:36 says, "They are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection" (NKJV). In other words, earthly relationships are exchanged for higher spiritual relationships, and the exclusivity between husband and wife will cease. In heaven, everyone will be perfectly and intimately related to everyone else (MacArthur 332). The institution of marriage will fade into that sweet communion all shall enjoy with the Father. Since angels are spiritual beings, they are not subject to death and have no need for marriage or reproduction. So it shall be for humans who, through the resurrection, have shed their skins of mortality.

While a Christ-centered marriage might be aptly described as "heavenly bliss on earth," it satisfies only mortal designs. There awaits for the redeemed a "bliss" more full and satisfying. In a world where death holds its scepter over sinful men, God gives marriage to bless the species, but in a realm where eternal life reigns, marriage is obsolete.

Although secondary to the verse, Jesus’ comment refutes any mythic theories about Genesis 6:1-3. Some conjecture the flood of Noah’s day is the result of God’s wrath after the "unnatural sexual union" of angels (sons of God) and women (daughters of men). Besides the fact that each brings forth "after its own kind" (Genesis 1:21), Jesus suggests that angels have no reproductive qualities. Obviously, the more viable interpretation is that "sons of God" refers to the "Godly" descendants of Seth while "the daughters of men" refers to the "worldly" offspring from the line of Cain.

Verses 30-31

But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, 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.

But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying: Having successfully demonstrated God’s power to raise a body exempt from the temporal relationships of earthly living (verse 29), Jesus proceeds to convict the Sadducees in their own court. They see themselves as experts on the Law of Moses, but clearly they are not the scholars they think they are because they fail to realize that even Moses shows that the dead are raised (Luke 20:37). If they will not accept later revelation as found in the prophets, then Jesus will accommodate them by quoting the lawgiver himself!

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: No passage expresses the idea of God’s eternal covenant with His people better than Exodus 3:6. As Moses stands in awe before the burning bush, God identifies Himself with the words Jesus quotes here. By Moses’ day, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have been dead hundreds of years, yet God still identifies Himself as being their God (present tense). So, these patriarchs must still exist in some form.

Jesus’ argument might go deeper than mere verb tense. When Israel contemplates Abraham, they immediately think of "covenant." Abraham is the first and foremost patriarch of "covenant" (Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 15:1; Genesis 17:1); therefore, the phrase "God of Abraham" in Exodus 3:6 obviously denotes God’s covenant with His people. But how could God meaningfully describe himself in Moses’ day as the "God of Abraham" if neither the patriarch nor the covenant God made with him remained? Certainly it is untenable to assume that God’s covenant promises were fully consummated during the patriarch’s lifetime. Hebrews 11:13 specifically says that Abraham, as well as others, died in faith "not having received the promises." Thus, in order for the words "I Am the God of Abraham" to have any real substantive meaning, Abraham must be alive in at least some sense and awaiting fulfillment of the covenant.

If the Sadducees are correct in purporting that death brings annihilation (nothingness), God’s Words, "I am the God of Abraham" logically equates to "I Am the God of nothing." This conclusion is an absurdity even the materialistic Sadducees are unwilling to accept. How could God’s appeal to a "dead" Abraham inspire Moses to do anything (Fowler 236)? Moses must still be alive.

The Sadducees must be incorrect in their belief about the resurrection. God, whose very name connotes covenant and "existence" (YHVH from the ancient Semitic verb "to be"), sustains a personal and eternal relationship with those who have already departed this life. Jesus’ exegetical argument is a masterpiece. By reminding the Sadducees of the words God spoke from the flames, He reveals what they would not see: God is the God of the living—and this certainly includes the dead!

Verse 32

And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at his doctrine.

Matthew says they are "astonished" (literally, "struck out") at His teaching. Once again He has triumphed over His opponents. Luke reports some of the scribes are also impressed and say, "Master, thou hast well said" (20:39). Tragically, His words have little lasting impact, for "after that they dared not question Him anymore" (20:40, NKJV).

Verse 33

But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together.

This verse shows how the various religious factions scrutinize each other. After hearing that Jesus has silenced (phimoo, muzzled) the Sadducees, the Pharisees again come to test the Master. Doubtless they are thrilled that Jesus has vindicated them in their debate with the Sadducees about the resurrection. In fact, in one short statement the young Rabbi from Galilee has accomplished what the wisest of them has repeatedly failed to do—to show that Moses indeed taught the resurrection!

It is equally apparent that the Pharisees’ pleasure is tainted by the fact that Jesus has again cleverly eluded a snare. Lest Jesus gain even more popularity with the Passover crowds, the Pharisees assemble to test Him. In Matthew 21:23, an official body of Sanhedrists composed of Sadducees and Pharisees challenge Him. In Matthew 22:16, the Pharisees send their students. Now they amass all of their forces in one place to question Jesus.

Verse 34

Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,

Then one of them, which was a lawyer: Mark notes the questioner is a "scribe" (12:28). Scribes are the copyists of the law who know it in minute detail, causing others to consider them authorities in matters of Torah. Matthew specifically notes that the man is a "lawyer," perhaps indicating he is well known for his interpretations of the law. In any event, he is a suitable person to ask the question because he is qualified to judge the answer (McGarvey, Commentary on Matthew 192).

"Lawyers" in Israel differ from lawyers today. Because the Law of Moses unites both civil and religious matters, Israel is a theocratic state. God’s Word guides both secular and ecclesiastical affairs. Except for areas where Rome intervenes, religion and politics are essentially one. It might be appropriate to view the man who approaches Jesus as "half lawyer, half theologian" (Broadus 457).

asked him a question, tempting him, and saying: The question is designed to test Jesus’ expertise. This man clearly seems less antagonistic toward Jesus than others who have previously tested the Master. He certainly appears to be more fair-minded. The question he asks is a worthwhile one that Jesus does not rebuke him for asking. When Jesus answers, the man immediately acknowledges Jesus has "well said" (Mark 12:32). The lawyer even takes the opportunity first to repeat Jesus’ answer and then adds an appropriate commentary. When Jesus sees that the lawyer answers discreetly, He responds, "Thou art not far from the kingdom of God" (Mark 12:34).

Verse 35

Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

The lawyer addresses Jesus as "Teacher." Unlike the Sadducees’ sarcastic salutation (22:24), this man’s approach seems more genuine. Although his question is a test, because the man is a highly esteemed lawyer and scholar, he is probably genuinely interested in learning the correct answer.

To appreciate the question, one must first understand the Judaism of Jesus’ day. The rabbis devote themselves to hair-splitting legalism and are constantly involved in debates about which of God’s commandments is the greatest. All seem to agree the Law contains "heavy" and "light" precepts. Some think each particular law is to be judged as to the severity of the penalty attached (Lenski 897). Sabbath observance, for example, is "heavy" because violating it brings a severe penalty. Others suggest laws regarding circumcision, fasting, tithing, or certain washing are preeminent. In Matthew 23:23, Jesus seems to address the debate, showing that all of God’s laws are important—especially those dealing with mercy and justice.

The scribes have identified 613 separate laws. Of these, 248 (one for each part of the human body as they supposed) are positive; and 365 (one for each day of the year) are negative. MacArthur notes there are

613 laws because there are 613 separate letters in the Hebrew text of the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) as found in the book of Numbers. The question "Which specific commandment?" or as some scholars interpret, "What type or kind of commandment?" is a real issue in Jesus’ day. Plummer believes the lawyer’s question revolves around what sort of characteristics a commandment has to have in order to be considered great (308).

Why does the lawyer’s question need to be asked? Are not all of God’s commandments of equal importance? Is there one kind of commandment that pleases God more than others? Perhaps the answer is not a matter of "yea" or "nay" as much at it is a matter of motive. The motive of the individual asking the question determines whether it is legitimate. Consider the following:

1. If a person is attempting to limit obedience to "lesser" laws by placing God’s laws in a hierarchy, a spiritual problem exists. While the lawyer does not seem to have this motive, evidently others of Jesus’ day do. For some people, the "God in the box" syndrome has become a way of life. They want to determine the exact limits of God, His will, and its relationship to their lives. Once they do so, they can justify doing only the minimum. Service to God becomes not so much a matter of humble submission and adoration as it is a matter of slothful fear. How little can I do and still get by? This approach overlooks the fact that intentional omission of even one commandment is tantamount to violating the entire law (James 2:10).

2. If, on the other hand, a person asks the question to understand the overall structure of God’s will in an attempt to serve Him better, the question is legitimate. In such a case, motivation is profitable and pure. This person seeks to find the one law that gives sense, directional purpose, and strength for the keeping of the whole system (Fowler 250). This person seeks the great law because it includes the others. This is probably the lawyer’s motivation. Even Jesus uses this technique (23:23), which is in harmony with those places of the Old Testament that summarize God’s law (Deuteronomy 6:1-4; Deuteronomy 10:12-22; 1 Samuel 15:22; Amos 5:14-15; Micah 6:8; Habakkuk 2:4).

Verse 36

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.

Jesus said unto him: Without hesitating, Jesus answers the lawyer’s question. If this lawyer thinks he is testing the limits of Jesus’ expertise in the law, he is mistaken. Jesus is the essence of the law and is the communicative Logos of God, sent to earth to reveal what God wants man to do.

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind: This is one of the most famous of all Old Testament passages. Taken from Deuteronomy 6:4-9, it is known as the "Shema" (hear) because the section begins with "Hear O Israel!" (compare Mark 12:29). Every devout Jew knows the Shema by heart and recites it twice a day. It is the creed of Israel and is one of four passages (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Deuteronomy 11:13-21; Exodus 13:1-16) that is copied on small pieces of parchment and placed in the phylacteries that are worn on the foreheads and left arms of Jewish men during prayer (MacArthur 338). The practice of wearing phylacteries is a literal interpretation of Deuteronomy 11:18 where God tells the Jews to bind His laws as a sign on their hand and as frontlets between their eyes.

As Jesus stands in the midst of His Pharisaic inquisitors, no doubt most of whom brandish phylacteries, He must have been surrounded by a sea of bobbing, black-boxed heads. They certainly agree with His answer, yet His words serve as a gentle rebuke as well. The answer is literally "right in front of their eyes," yet somehow they miss it. Perhaps their rote recitation of the passage has obscured its meaning.

The essence of the passage Jesus quotes is something the Pharisees often overlook. The passage speaks of true inner commitment not the rote formalism of dry tradition. It sings the sweet music of a heart in tune with the Creator.

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God: The whole duty of man, the whole of his moral and spiritual responsibility, is love. The Greek word Matthew uses for love (agapaesis) corresponds to the Hebrew (aheb) of Deuteronomy 6:5 and refers to an act of the will (MacArthur 339). It is a love born of "intelligence and purpose" that seeks to do what pleases God. It is not a mere liking or affection like philein. Only "agape love" can be truly described by the phrases "all the heart, soul, and mind" (Lenski 880).

This love is not a mere emotion because it is commanded to Israel. In other words, it can be taught and learned—sentiment does not necessarily play a role in the process. God never commands Israel to love Him on the basis of their feelings or else the rebellious nation might never love Him. The divine command is based on a process whereby one wills to love God and in the process secures the knowledge that he really does love Him. Love is not left to emotion or chance. Where this kind of love is, there is a readiness to do anything God requires (Fowler 252).

with all thy heart: The biblical concept of "heart" (Greek: kardia; Hebrew: leb) refers to one’s inner personal being—the center of one’s physical, emotional, or spiritual life. It is the mainspring of all his thoughts, words, and deeds and is the center of his personality. (Proverbs 4:23; Psalms 104:15; 1 Samuel 16:7)

and with all thy soul: Man is to love God with all of his "soul" (Greek: psuche; Hebrew: nephesh), referring to the "life that animates the body" (Lenski 880). Usually in scripture, "soul" refers to a combination of spirit and body called life (Fowler 253) (20:28; John 10:11; John 10:15; John 10:17). To love God with all of one’s soul, means being ready to sacrifice one’s life for God if faithfulness demands it.

and with all thy mind: "Mind" is the reason together with all of its functions, including thoughts, ideas, and convictions. (Lenski 880). Our faith in God is not the product of blind devotion but is that which stems from reasonably evaluated evidence. Fowler says that in Christianity there is no prize for intellectual shoddiness or lack of preparation. We are to use our critical faculties to learn everything we can about God (254).

Man is to love God with all of his heart, mind, and soul. There is no excuse for partial dedication to God. Partial dedication is really no dedication at all. "Not even the smallest corner is to be closed against God" (Lenski 881). We are to cleave to Him wholly in love.

Verse 37

This is the first and great commandment.

"This is the first and great commandment" because all other religious duties fall under its umbrella. This is the basis for the first four commandments of the Decalogue that outline the exclusivity and uniqueness of God and forbid atheism, polytheism, and idolatry. Unless one recognizes the absolute sovereignty of God and complies accordingly by loving Him with all of his "heart, soul, and mind," all other spiritual endeavors are fruitless.

Verse 38

And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

And the second is like unto it: The second is "like unto it" because it too deals with love and is an outgrowth of the first commandment. It also falls under the same moral category. The Old Testament passage Jesus refers to is Leviticus 19:18 where, after listing the moral duties Israelites have toward one another, God says, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I Am the Lord." (see also Deuteronomy 10:18). Jesus makes it clear that loving God and loving one’s fellow man are inseparable. One who "wills" to love God will not find it difficult to love his fellow man—even those he does not like. Love motivates a person to do what God’s law commands no matter what he feels about the matter (Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8).

Thou shalt love thy neighbour: Who is my "neighbor"? When the lawyer of Luke 10:25 asks this question, Jesus shows that our neighbor includes all of our fellow man. Jesus presents a parable where a Samaritan and Jew are neighbors—a concept contrary to conventional social wisdom. The idea that one’s neighbor is so inclusive should not surprise the Jews because even the Old Testament chapter Jesus uses teaches the same truth (Leviticus 19:34; Deuteronomy 10:19). Fowler notes that neighbor must include more than one’s own fellow citizens, his private family circle, or his co-religionists (256).

as thyself: As an extension of the first and great commandment, God stipulates the manner in which others are to be loved: as we love ourselves. In both instances, God’s commands are practical. To determine what one must do for others, we need only consider what we do for ourselves. Here we have the "golden rule," the principle that elevates others to the same status as self.

Inherent within the command is the biblical doctrine of "self-love." A person cannot love others unless he possesses a certain respect and love for himself. This love is not an elevated egotism that seeks self-actualization separate and apart from God. Neither is it an arrogance that elevates man to the position of God. It is simply an honest and healthy love for self that is based on the knowledge of who and what we are in God’s eyes. Fowler calls it "that genuine appreciation of our own dignity and worth as human beings, based on what the Bible considers man to be" (257).

There is no room in God’s scheme for self-hate or self-deprecation. God’s plan grants ample room for all to find purpose in Him. Nevertheless, there is no place for ungodly egotism. In God’s plan, man’s value is balanced in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). The unrepentant sinner cannot truly love himself because he has no solution for what plagues his self-image. Only God can provide that solution: forgiveness of sins through His Son, Jesus Christ. When the sinner comes to Christ and receives cleansing for his sins, then, as a new creation, he can truly lay claim to a proper "self-love." This realization then enables him to love others because he now understands the depth to which he himself is loved! He who appreciates now bestows.

Verse 39

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

To love God and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is the basis for all other scripture. Lenski says, "These two are the nail from which all else written in the Old Testament hangs suspended. Take away this nail, and everything else would fall in a heap. It would lose its true meaning, significance, and purpose" (Lenski 883).

All of the formalism and ritualism the Pharisees create are worthless apart from loving God and our fellow man. No doubt this lawyer understands the point all too well as evidenced by his response in Mark 12:33. He knows what others of his rank have yet to learn: unless the heart "loves," rote obedience even to the minutest law is really disobedience. God accepts action only when motivated by the proper spirit.

Jesus’ answer to the lawyer affirms that all of God’s commands are important. Each is somewhere delicately balanced on the scales of God’s command to love. Since the "whole law and the prophets" hang on the peg of love, everything is interwoven. To remove one strand or command or to attempt to observe one law without love is to damage the fabric of God’s law and bring the judgment of the entire tapestry down on one’s head.

Mark’s gospel records that the lawyer is impressed when he hears Jesus’ answer. He not only repeats Jesus’ words but also adds his own commentary, probably from 1 Samuel 15:22. When Jesus sees he has answered wisely, He responds, "Thou art not far from the kingdom of God" (Mark 12:34). We do not know if he gets any closer.

Verse 40

While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them,

While the Pharisees were gathered together: Having perfectly answered all of their questions, Jesus asks the Pharisees a question. The inquiry is a masterpiece about the identity and nature of the Messiah. This encounter occurs while the Pharisees are still assembled (verse 34) and in the vicinity of the Temple courts (Mark 12:35).

Although Jesus has avoided open public acclaim that He is the Messiah, a marked shift seems to occur during the final week of His ministry. Only a couple of days earlier the crowds shouted Messianic titles as He entered the city, and He made no attempt to quiet them. Youngsters in the Temple courts echoed the same cry; but much to the consternation of the religious leaders, Jesus defended their praise (21:15–16). Now, though phrased discreetly, objectively, and in the third person, His question about the Messiah’s identity seems intended to make these leaders reconsider His identity. The Pharisees know that this is not an academic or a theoretical inquiry, but the supreme question concerning His own person (Lenski 884). Broadus raises the interesting point that by asking this question, Jesus is actually defending Himself against charges that will be brought later in the week. Soon He will stand before the Sanhedrin for saying He is the "Christ, the Son of God." Thus, His question might be aimed at establishing the fact that the Messiah, though descended from David, cannot be a mere man (Broadus 459).

Jesus asked them: In His encounter with the lawyer, Jesus has effectively demonstrated that the preeminent command of Israel is to love. Why would God require love from a people whose hearts are so corrupted by sin so as to make true love virtually impossible? The answer is found in the fact that the God of Israel is a "covenant God." Inherent within Yahweh’s loving covenant is the promise of a Messiah. Through the grace of this Messiah, "Israel would, indeed, come to love the Lord their God with the whole heart, soul, and mind" (Lenski 885). The answer Jesus gives to the lawyer (verse 37) is ultimately and intimately connected to the question He now poses to the Pharisees. In fact, His question regarding David’s Son comes from Psalms 110—a Messianic psalm. The love God demands and the Messiah God promises are inseparably linked. Israel needs a "divine-human" Savior who can make them perfect and empower them to love (Fowler 268). Unless the Jews accept that the promised Messiah will be the "God-man" (both human and divine), they will not recognize Him when He comes. Sadly, divine humanity stands before them, the only One who can cleanse their hearts so that they may truly love, yet they reject Him.

Verse 41

Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The Son of David.

Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he: The question is from which Jewish family line will the Messiah come? The answer is just as simple as the question, or so the Pharisees first think. Every Jew knows that when Israel’s Redeemer comes, He will descend from the royal line of David (John 7:41-42). God made this promise to David (2 Samuel 7:12-16; Amos 9:11; Micah 5:2; Luke 1:32). The scribes teach the same (Mark 12:35).

They say unto him, The Son of David: The Pharisees immediately answer, "The Son of David" (9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30; 21:9).

How will Israel, then, know which of David’s descendants will be the Messiah? If God reveals no more than that the Messiah will be the fleshly "son of David," many men could qualify. There must be another distinguishing characteristic to make one of David’s sons stand out above all the others, even above Solomon or Hezekiah (Lenski 886).

As will be noted in the following verses, Jesus not only fulfills the human criteria for being the Messiah but also the divine. He is both "son of David" and "Son of God." Although the Pharisees reject Him as being the Messiah, they seem to accept His human lineage. It is His claim of divinity that angers them. Nonetheless, the physical Davidic genealogy of Jesus is vital in proving He is the Christ. In recording their gospel apologies, both Matthew and Luke devote considerable time to His ancestry, and both trace His lineage through David (1:1, 6; Luke 3:31). It is this incontestable lineage that distresses the Jewish authorities so much (MacArthur 347). Until Jerusalem is destroyed in A.D. 70, there are meticulous genealogical records of all the Jews in the Temple. This information is useful not only in establishing the credentials of Levitical priests and their families but also in ensuring that only those with the proper lineage hold leading positions in Israel. MacArthur says:

It is therefore certain that the authorities had carefully checked Jesus’ genealogy and discovered that His descent from David was legitimate. Otherwise, they would simply have exposed Him as having no claim to Davidic heritage and all discussion about His possible messiahship would have ended (347).

The Messiah has a claim to greatness that far exceeds His Davidic roots. Though His blood line is traced through the great monarch, in reality, His existence is from everlasting (Micah 5:2).

Verse 42

He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying,

If the Jews are correct that the Messiah is no more than "a human son of David," then what about David’s own words in Psalms 110? This is widely recognized as one of the clearest Messianic passages in the Old Testament. By inspiration ("in the Spirit"), David calls the Messiah his "Lord." Such language can only intimate one thing: David thinks the Messiah is greater than he! The question is, "How can the Messiah be both David’s descendant and David’s Lord at the same time?" How can the two possibly be compatible unless the Messiah is the "God-man"?

Verse 43

The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool?

The LORD said unto my Lord: This quote is from Psalms 110:1. Peter uses the same passage on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:34), and there is a similar reference in Hebrews 1:13. (see also 1 Corinthians 15:25 and Hebrews 10:12).

To the English reader, the argument Jesus makes from the double use of the word "Lord" may seem obscure. In the original Hebrew text, however, two different original words stand behind the terms "LORD" and "Lord." The first "LORD" is the Hebrew name for God (YHVH, Yahweh or Jehovah). The English Bible uses all capital letters to denote this word. Because Jews believe God’s name is too sacred to pronounce, they substitute the term "Lord" (Hebrew: Adonay; Greek: kurios) when reading or translating His name. The second time Psalms 110:1 uses the term "Lord," however, it uses the actual Hebrew word adonay (master, one who is above another) with no substitution or capitalization required. The original Hebrew helps to reveal the real meaning of the psalm. Here we have the covenant God of Israel (Yahweh) addressing "Someone" greater than David. In other words, God is speaking to the Messiah who is David’s "Lord." The question remains: "How could the Messiah be David’s son and yet be his Lord?" For a man to call his son, "Lord," in the sense of "master" or "superior," requires a good explanation, especially for one as important to the salvation and glory of Israel as David, Israel’s greatest king (Fowler 273).

Sit thou on my right hand: Clearly, this psalm pictures the Messiah as sharing in God’s glory and sovereignty (Acts 2:33; Acts 5:31; Acts 7:55; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 8:1;

10:12; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22). Such exaltation agrees with what Jesus has previously said in Matthew 20:21. Jesus says not only will the Messiah be superior to David but also He will be equal with God and will co-reign with Him.

till I make thine enemies thy footstool: God will exalt the Messiah, defeat all of His enemies, and put them under His feet. To put an enemy "under foot" is to humiliate or destroy him publicly (Joshua 10:24). "Footstool" matches the figure of the exalted Messiah "sitting" on the throne with the Father (Lenski 890). Jesus is to be the undisputed universal Ruler of everything (28:18). No enemy, not even death, will dethrone Him (1 Corinthians 15:26).

Verse 44

If David then calls him Lord, how is he his son?

There is only one possible explanation to the dilemma Jesus poses. Unless the Messiah is both human (son of David) and divine (Lord of David), then David’s prophecy contradicts other Old Testament prophets. Clearly, the Jews have overlooked something in their search! Rather than starting their quest from the reference point of a Messiah with heavenly lordship, they instead seek one with all of the attendant pomp and royalty of the earthly Davidic throne. Fowler says that having thus begun, the Jews "concluded only in the temporal, the material and mundane" (275). Any "Christ" that would not or could not provide material prosperity, peace, and protection as David did would not be their Messiah.

His final question. Jesus does not say, "How is the Messiah David’s Lord?" Instead, He asks, "How is the Messiah David’s Son?" In other words, Jesus returns to the "humanity" of the Messiah. The implications of this final question are phenomenal. In essence, Jesus challenges these Pharisees to reconsider what a "divine" Messiah would look like. Had the Pharisees ever considered the possibility that someday they could find themselves "confronted by the Great Lord of David, walking around in human flesh"? (Fowler 275). Jesus’ unpretentious humanity and lack of conventional majesty might have caused them to mistake Him for any normal man—at least until He spoke and revealed His divine credentials (Fowler 275). Furthermore, if these religious leaders think Jesus is blaspheming by claiming to be God’s Son, they should reconsider. Even David anticipates Israel’s Christ to be a "God-man." Naturally, God expects Israel to test the claims of prophets and would-be messiahs (Deuteronomy 13:4-5; Deuteronomy 18:20-22; Matthew 24:24), but to reject Jesus simply because He is too "human" (poor, common, without political power) shows their scriptural ignorance.

Verse 45

And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.

The silence must be deafening as Jesus finishes His teaching. Once again, with unexcelled exegetical profoundness, the young Rabbi from Galilee destroys every misconception the Pharisees have about Israel’s Messiah. Instead of submitting to the divine "Word" that stands gently in their midst, however, they retreat in silence. No one answers Him, and no one asks any more questions. Their own moral poverty has been exposed and their professional incompetence made manifest. It is time to go.

When truth is heard, there is a response that is more wretched than verbal rebuff. There is a rejection that screams louder than words. Sometimes silence says it all. The debate is over. Silence reigns. The Pharisees have lost—but not simply because they are wrong about who the Messiah would be. Ignorance is not their deepest woe. They are losers because their hearts are as hard as the limestone beneath their feet. They have tripped over Israel’s "cornerstone" and have been crushed. Truth stands beckoning with open arms, and yet they decidedly turn their backs, unwilling to hear more. What they learn serves only to fetter them. Had they stayed, the "Truth" could have set them free.

Jesus is not finished with the Scribes and Pharisees just yet. Chapter twenty-three will provide some of the most caustic condemnation of these hypocrites. While still in the Temple courts, Jesus exposes the Pharisees for what they really are. Like a skilled surgeon, He lays bare the cancer of their hearts. McGarvey notes that Matthew presents Jesus, not as a miracle worker and fulfiller of prophecy, but as a prophet Himself. Though some mighty miracles of power are wrought in Judea, most are confined to Galilee and Perea. In this, the intellectual center of the nation, however, Jesus demonstrates His divine knowledge of scripture, His ability to foretell the future as seen in the parables of this chapter, and His ability to discern the thoughts and intents of hearts as in chapter twenty-three. McGarvey lables these as "miracles of knowledge" (Commentary on Matthew 195).

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Matthew 22". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/matthew-22.html. 1993-2022.
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