Theme: Old to New
Lesson Text: Matthew 22:15-33
Supplemental Texts: Romans 12:1-2; Colossians 3:1-3; Matthew 6:19-33; Jeremiah 31:34
Aim: Let Christ mold how you view life and what you value.
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By Mark Scott
Benjamin Franklin wrote, “But in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes” (in his letter to Jean-Baptiste LeRoy, 1789). Jesus was asked questions about taxes and death by the Pharisees and Sadducees on Tuesday during his final week. We know more about this particular day in Christ’s life than any other day. Three events preceded these questions (the triumphal entry, the cursing of the fig tree, and the cleansing of the temple).
These events prompted the religious leaders to ask, “By what authority are you doing these things?” (Matthew 21:23). Jesus eventually answered their question with three parables (Matthew 21:28–22:14). These parables were followed by three questions—one political, one doctrinal, and one hermeneutical (Matthew 22:15-40). In answering their questions about death and taxes, Jesus drew a bead on a new state of mind about those issues.
A Political Question Underlining Value
The Pharisees’ motives were clear. They tried to trap him in his words. Disciples of the Pharisees teamed up with the Herodians (strange bedfellows) to pose a political question to Jesus. It is unclear if their initial compliment was genuine or whether it was smoke and mirrors. Either way, their first assertions were true. Jesus was a man of integrity, taught the way of God, was not swayed by others, and paid no attention to who people were (literally, “did not regard the face of man”).
For a Jew, the imperial tax question was loaded. The Jews obviously were being oppressed by Roman occupation. If Jesus sided with Caesar, he would pit himself against the Jews. If he sided with the Jews, he would look like a political rebel—a charge they would later trump up with success (Luke 23:2). Jesus saw through their ploy; he knew their evil intent. He called them out—“Hypocrites” (play actors)—and drew attention to their deceitful motives. But he answered them directly.
Jesus called for a coin. By producing a denarius, the Pharisees indicated they had accepted Roman rule to some extent. More than one-third of their income went to pay taxes. But that fact was not as offensive as the coin itself; it read, “Tiberius Caesar, son of divine Augustus” on one side, and “The most high priest” on the other (Mark Moore, The Chronological Life of Christ, p. 517). Jesus drew attention to both the image and the inscription. They acknowledged that Caesar’s image was on the coin.
Jesus’ answer was “evasive, brilliant, and condemning” (Moore, p. 517). Give to Caesar and give to God. Jesus was not saying that these two competing governments were equal. In fact, John Ortberg (in Who Is This Man?) suggested that Jesus actually called for a limited government. But Christians pay taxes (normally on April 15) because citizens of the kingdom of God are the best citizens of the kingdom of men (Philippians 3:20; 1 Peter 2:17).
A Doctrinal Question Underlining Life
Having seen Jesus shut down the Pharisees, that same day the Sadducees stepped up to the plate. Even though they did not believe in the concept of resurrection (or angels or spirits—Acts 23:8), they posed a doctrinal question to Jesus. While the Pharisees’ question championed Caesar, the Sadducees’ question championed Moses. (The Sadducees, of course, accepted the books of Moses as authentic Scripture.)
Their question was clearly hypothetical. While having some basis in Deuteronomy 25:5 (which addressed raising up offspring for a deceased brother in the same household), their question was quite bizarre. A man died childless. The widow married through the family seven (literal or symbolic?) times. In the resurrection whose wife will she be?
Jesus called them out, offered a bit of insight into the resurrected life, and nailed their hide to the wall by using the texts they did accept as Scripture to prove them wrong. Their question showed their ignorance of Scripture and their lack of faith in the power of God. Resurrected life will be life lived at other levels. Marriage and intimacy will not be necessary in Heaven.
Our knowledge of Heaven is limited to what the Bible says. We should be careful about assuming this text teaches that husbands and wives will not know each other in Heaven. Finally, Jesus asserted that Heaven is filled with living people (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob)—not dead people.
The crowd was amazed (marveled) at Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees, and they were astonished at his answer to the Sadducees. Taxes and the future can cause us anxiety. But they can also display what we value and how we view life.