When Jesus told the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, the scribes and priests realized Jesus was condemning them. They were the wicked tenants. They were angry and wanted to remove him so that their authority would not be challenged. (19)
They were afraid to punish him themselves, though, because the people loved to hear him teach. Also, the Jews could not impose the death penalty. Only the Romans could do that.
The alternative the priests came up with was to follow Jesus and listen to him teach, hoping to get him to say something that would allow them to turn him over to the Romans for violating Roman law. When it says they wanted to deliver him to the governor, that meant the Roman governor. The governor at that time was Pontius Pilate.
In order to trap Jesus, they asked him, after a bit of flattery, if it was lawful to give tribute, or taxes, to Caesar. (22) By “lawful”, they meant the Jewish law, the Law of Moses. The Jews really hated being under Roman rule, so the question would interest all of the crowd. Plus, some Jews believed paying tribute to Caesar was denying loyalty to God as their lord and king. If Jesus said to pay the tax, some would think of him as a traitor, just as they regarded the tax collectors as traitors.
On the other hand, if Jesus said it was not lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, he would violate Roman law and they could have him arrested and punished by the Romans.
Jesus perceived the trap. Luke says he perceived their “craftiness”. (23) The Greek word for “craftiness” is the same word Paul later used for Satan’s “cunning” in 2 Corinthians 11:3. And, being the great teacher he was, he not only gave the right answer, he gave them a visual aid.
Jesus asked for a denarius. That is a Roman coin that was about one day’s age for a laborer. The coin bears the image of Caesar. It was inscribed with the name Tiberius Caesar. It showed that the Jews used Roman money and that they were part of the Roman Empire. He used this to say they, as Caesar’s subjects, should render to Caesar what is his, and render to God the things that are God’s.
Jesus acknowledged the authority of government. He did not seek to overthrow the Romans. Taxes are the realm of government, so we should pay our taxes.
In the United States, groups periodically pop up and say they will not pay taxes because the government does not honor God, or for other reasons. But God instructs us to be subject to the authority of those who govern us.
For example, Romans 13:1 says “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities”. The Jews did not have a voice in the government. Some of you who read this do not either. Some do, but are unhappy with those who govern them. But God tells us to be subject to them.
Why does God instruct us to be subject to the authorities? The Romans passage gives us the answer. It is because all authority flows from God and those that have it have been instituted by God. If you resist it, you will incur judgment. Specifically, Paul wrote that you must pay taxes and you must give respect.
We must also pray for those who govern, that we may lead peaceful lives. (1 Timothy 2:1) Paul said it is pleasing in the sight of God.
All of these things are part of rendering to Caesar.
Sometimes government will come into conflict with the loyalty we owe to God. In that case, we must obey God. We cannot stop worshipping or proclaiming because a government says to do so. We may be required to say, as Peter said to the Sanhedrin, we must obey God rather than men. Otherwise, though, we must respect the authority of the government and those who govern us.
But we must render to God that which is his. Worship belongs to God. That is why early Christians died rather than worship Caesar. We must obey God’s commands to us even if the government prohibits it. That is rendering to God. As the denarius bore the image of Caesar, we bear the image of God both from creation and from re-creation (salvation). We must give ourselves to the Lord in worship, obedience and service.
There is no rebuttal to Jesus’ instruction, or teaching, and the priests had none.
Rebutting the Sadducees or
One Bride for Seven Brothers
Although we mostly see the Pharisees oppose Jesus, this event involves the Sadducees. The Sadducees accepted only the first five books of the Old Testament, the books of Moses. They did not accept the prophets or wisdom writings as canon. They did not believe in resurrection or eternal life.
The Pharisees were generally wealthy and powerful Jews. The High Priest was a Sadducee. The Sanhedrin was dominated by Sadducees. They may be involved at this point because the parable Jesus taught directly attacked the priests.
Since the Pharisees did not believe in the resurrection, they challenged Jesus at this point. They concocted a convoluted scenario where one of seven brothers died, the next brother took her as a wife according to Jewish law. (Deuteronomy 25:5-6) The brothers died one by one with each taking her as a wife until she was married to all seven. The question then was “in the resurrection, whose wife will the woman be”. (33)
It is a technique of debate to attack an opponent by taking their position to the extreme to ridicule it. It is called “reductio ad absurdum”.
Jesus believed in resurrection, of course. He was in Jerusalem to die and be raised. So, he taught them the reality of the resurrection from Scripture, First, though, he showed they had a misunderstanding about the nature of the resurrected person.
Jesus said those of this age marry. (34) This began with God giving Eve to Adam as his wife. But, in the next age, the age to come, those who are resurrected will not marry because they cannot die any more. One of the purposes of marriage is to have children to perpetuate the human race. That is why God commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. (27)
In the life of resurrected believers, there is no death. In that sense, we will be like the angels. (36) Since there is no death, there is no need to replenish the race with children. Therefore, there is no need for marriage. And, thus, the assumption that the Sadducees based their hypothetical on was false and irrelevant.
Jesus went on to show the Sadducees wrong by Scripture on the doctrine of resurrection. He referred to the story of Moses at the burning bush. (Exodus 3) In that event, God identified himself to Moses as the God of Moses’ father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. (Exodus 3:6)
Since God is the God of the living, and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had died a physical death, there must be a resurrection of the believing dead to life. God did not say he had been their God or was their God, but “I am” the God of those men.
Again, Jesus’ opponents had no answer for him. The Sadducees only accepted the writings of Moses as scripture and Jesus had used those very writings to prove them wrong
Interestingly, some of the scribes approved. We can assume they were Pharisees, since they believed in the resurrection.
David’s Son & David’s Lord
Jesus challenged the scribes’ understanding of the Messiah. He asked “how can they say the Christ is David’s son?”. In Matthew 22, Jesus began the conversation by asking whose son the Christ is.
Remember that the word “Christ” is a transliteration of the Greek word “anointed”. “Transliteration” means taking words from one language and alphabet and putting it into another language and alphabet. It creates a new word. “Translation” means finding an existing word in the second language with an equivalent meaning to the word in the first language.
The Hebrew word for the same title is “mashiyach”, which is transliterated to Messiah in English.
“Christ” is a title more than a name. It refers to the one the Father anointed to be the savior and king of his people.
Every Jew, and certainly these scribes, knew that the Anointed One\Christ would come from David’s line. He would be a descendant of David, or David’s “son”. They knew this because of the covenant God made with David recorded in 2 Samuel 7. Other verses in the Old Testament also refer to the Anointed One as David’s son or descendant, such as Isaiah 9:6-7.
If that is all the Anointed One is, he is just another human being. The Anointed One (or Chosen One), the Christ or Messiah, is more than that. He is God; he is divine. That is the point Jesus makes in this discussion.
Jesus said, How can the Christ be David’s son in light of Psalm 110:1. This verse was known to be about the Anointed One. It was, and is, called a “Messianic Psalm”.
Jesus quoted it to them: “the Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” Then Jesus asked if David called him Lord, how can he be his son? In effect, he asked how can he be only his son. It is a kind of riddle: how can Jesus be David’s son and David’s Lord?
Jesus was teaching that He, the Christ, is more than David’s descendant\son. He, the Christ, is an exalted one who is given a place of special honor, sitting at the right hand of the Father in heaven. This person, the Christ, is greater than David. David acknowledged that by calling him “my Lord”.
Jesus was likely quoting from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. In the Hebrew text, however, the two words for “Lord” are not the same. The Lord is Yahweh, God the Father. That name is usually shown in English texts as “LORD”. The second Lord, “my Lord”, is “adonai”, meaning lord in the sense of master, but here referring specifically to the Anointed One\Christ\Messiah. David was saying, in effect, “the Lord God says to my Lord the Anointed Messiah, sit next my throne to rule all creation”. To sit at God’s right hand would be to have God’s authority to rule.
David would only call someone greater than himself “Lord”. He would not call his son Lord. He would not call anyone other than a greater king Lord. But here he does and says that this person will be exalted to having all power and authority from God. He is David’s Lord because he is David’s God. As Jesus proved his divinity with his miracles, he now proves it with Scripture.
There is also a glimpse into the Trinity here. The Trinity is the existence of one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In this teaching, Jesus pointed to his deity, meaning that God exists in more than one person. Here it is Father and Son.
There is also here a prophecy of Jesus’ future exaltation. After Jesus dies, he will be resurrected and will ascend to heaven. Then Father will exalt him to his royal throne to rule the universe. He will rule this way until all his enemies are defeated.
The disciples came to understand Jesus’ teaching. After the coming of the Holy Spirit, Peter preached Christ from Psalm 110. The apostles cited it over 20 times in the New Testament. It is full of meaning for us as well, for we believe and confess that Jesus is Lord, ruling from the throne in heaven until the defeat of his enemies, at which time he will return and raise all believers to reign with him.
That is our hope and our joy!