When I was in school, I used to hate tests. Usually, that was because I had either forgotten to study for it, or I was too preoccupied with sports or other activities to study for it. So consequently, when the teacher would say, “now put away everything off your desk and take out a pencil and a blank sheet of paper for your test,” I would get this horrible sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, and look around in a panic at my classmates all calmly putting away their books, in hopes that somehow this was all some great misunderstanding.
But teachers give tests in school not usually to cause extreme heart palpitations in their students, but rather to gage their knowledge and understanding. And likewise, students ask questions of their teachers in order that they might gain knowledge and understanding.
However, as we look at the passage before us today, we see three sets of people who ask questions of the Lord Jesus in order to test Him, but not so that they might gain understanding or knowledge, but so that they can trap Him in something that He said in order to use it against Him. Their ultimate goal is to put Him to death, so they are looking for some sort of justification in order to do that.
What’s also interesting is that Jesus has managed in three short years of teaching to invoke such hatred against Him, that His enemies, who were also enemies of one another, have unified in their common cause to have Him killed, and so they set aside their differences to try to accomplish their common goal.
We see that particularly in the first incident in which the Pharisees team up with the Herodians to try to test Him, or trick Him into making a statement they can use against Him. All of you are probably aware of who the Pharisees were; strict, sanctimonious religious teachers who prided themselves on keeping the law. The Herodians though are less known; they were Hellenists, lovers of Greek culture, people who were about as wordy as you could be and still be a Jew. These folks normally could not stand one another. But they come together in their common hatred of Jesus and what He represented. There is an ancient saying which predates Christ by some 400 years which states “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” That is especially true in the case of the enemies of Christ. In a minute we will look at another group here which is the Sadducees, and they and the Pharisees were like Democrats and Republicans. So there is a bipartisan effort here to eliminate Jesus and the gospel He is teaching.
Now in true political style, they come to Jesus with lofty titles and sly flattery in order to try to disarm Him in hopes of tripping Him up. They start off with calling Him Teacher, and yet they themselves claimed to be teachers. Jesus called the Pharisees the blind leading the blind. They fawningly say “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth.”
Wow, that’s laying it on heavy isn’t it? Especially when we know that they were plotting to kill Him at that very moment. If they really believed what they were saying, then they would have recognized that He who isn’t partial to anyone, but tells the truth regardless, would not be fooled by crass flattery. So all of that simply tells us that their question was not sincere. As Mark said in vs 12, they were buttering Jesus up “in order to trap Him in a statement.”
So the test they proposed to Him was “is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” Now to understand the full significance of this question, you need to understand a couple of things. First, a poll tax was the annual capitation tax, or per capita tax on every adult in Judea, and it was imposed by the Romans upon the Jews.
The other important thing to consider is that the Jews were in a constant state of rebellion over this tax, because they hated the Roman oppression, and furthermore, the devoutly patriotic Jews considered it a sacrilege to give the Emperor honor, because he claimed to be deity. So some of the most fastidious considered it an affront to God.
So the question put to Jesus was very clever. If He said that you should pay the tax, then He risked alienating many devout, patriotic Jews. And if He said that you should not pay the tax, then He was possibly guilty of sedition against Rome. So they thought that they had Him, no matter which way He answered the question.
But notice the response of Jesus. Remember, God sees the heart; vs 15, But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to look at.” A denarius was the common coin of Rome. It was equal to a laborer’s wage for a day’s work. And it was also the amount due for the poll tax.
They give Jesus a denarius and He asks, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” And they said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
I am told that such a denarius has been found, and that on the obverse is a picture of the head of Tiberius, and on the reverse he is shown sitting on a throne. But the really interesting thing is the inscription, which reads; Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus, Highest Priest.
Yet in spite of this blasphemous inscription, Jesus acknowledges that this was Roman currency, and as the governing authority, it was issued by them, and as the governing authority it was due certain taxes for the blessings such government provided. Rome had achieved a measure of peace that the world had scarcely seen before. They had built roads and bridges and waterworks. They gave protection and liberty so that the people were able to live their lives in relative peace and prosperity. And for all that government provides, Jesus said you should render to Caesar that which is due to Caesar. Jesus is saying government has a right to exert taxes for the services it renders to it’s citizens.
For us that translates to pay your taxes. Give what is due to the government for it’s services. Paul makes this principle clear in Romans 13:1-2 saying, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” In other words, give the government it’s due, and if you do not, you will receive condemnation not only by the government, but also from God.
There is another principle though that Jesus makes which should be given equal attention. And that is “render unto God the things which are God’s.” What is due to God? Well, as we will see in a few verses later, our duty to God is to love Him above all, with all our being. Jesus said elsewhere that if you love Me you will keep My commandments. So we owe God our obedience. He is the origin of our life. So we are to render unto Him our very life. Considering all that He has done for us, how can we not give Him our all? So God has priority over government, but government has authority over us, as an extension of God’s authority.
Now there is much more we could say about that, but we have to move quickly as there is a lot yet to cover. So let’s look at the next test, the next question employed this time by the Sadducees to try to trap Him. Now who were the Sadducees? Mark tells us the defining characteristic of the Sadducees in vs18, they said there was no resurrection. So how ironic and hypocritical then is their question posed about the resurrection. But additionally, it should be noted that the Sadducees did not believe in angels, they only believed in the inspiration of the Pentateuch, that is the first 5 books of the OT written by Moses, and also that they were the party of the high priest. The high priests were selected from this party. Considering that Jesus had just the day before entered the temple which was the high priest’s domain and cleaned out the merchants and disrupted the money making scheme they were running there, there is no doubt that these guys were gunning for Jesus and hoping to catch Him in saying something that could be used against Him and at the very least they are trying to make Him lose favor among the people by sounding ridiculous.
Well, we’ve read the fictitious scenario that these guys have concocted concerning a woman who had seven husbands. I won’t take the time to reread it. But it was obviously a fictional situation which was designed to make the doctrine of the resurrection sound absurd. And here is the deal; the kingdom of God which Jesus was preaching was founded on the doctrine of the resurrection. They wanted a temporal kingdom of God, a physical, immediate kingdom in which they had the chief positions and which benefited them in this life. Jesus was preaching a spiritual kingdom which has it’s origin and culmination primarily in heaven, and so therefore is dependent upon the resurrection for it’s fulfillment. So in asking this absurd question they were trying to undermine the credibility of His gospel.
We have the same thing happen today in attacks from liberals on the gospel. They will try to show the absurdity of hell and the judgment to come. “God is really going to burn billions of people for eternity?” They will try to show the absurdity of heaven. “Who wants to live forever and ever with these right wing hypocrites anyway? What are you going to do, sing hymns for millions of years?” They try to show the absurdity of faith in God as Creator in contrast to the intellectualism of science.
But the answer Jesus gives the Sadducees contains the answer to the naysayers down through the ages. vs24, “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God?” It’s amazing to me that those who would deny the supernatural in regards to God will accept so many other ludicrous ideas. They would rather believe in space aliens than in a divine creator. They would rather believe in things like evolution which took billions and billions of years rather than believe in a literal creation. They would rather believe in the improbability that out of chaos could come a universe so precise and ordered that it follows exact mathematical equations.
Jesus says there are two areas in which you are mistaken and therefore without understanding. First is that you don’t understand the scriptures. In the case of the Sadducees, they said they believed the Pentateuch, but they didn’t really know the scriptures in the Pentateuch which clearly taught that there was life after death. The problem with the Sadducees is very similar to the problem with many critics today; they focus on scriptures that they like, that fit their agenda, but disregard those that they don’t like.
Secondly Jesus says that they don’t understand the power of God. If they truly understood the power of God, then the doctrine of the resurrection should not have been that difficult to accept. Certainly the God who made all life and everything in the universe by the word of His mouth could raise the dead. The secret to understanding and knowledge is studying the scriptures. It’s not through some vision, it’s not through some ecstatic experience, it’s through studying the scriptures. That is how we come to know God and how we are able to worship God in spirit and in truth. God is revealed in scripture.
Jesus then tells them the truth about the resurrection and marriage. vs 25, “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” First note that in heaven there will not be the need for marriage, because there will be no need for procreation. We will live forever. Secondly, marriage on earth is a picture of our relationship as the church with Jesus Christ. In the resurrection, our fidelity is to Christ. He is our bride groom and we are His bride.
I also want to point out that Jesus is declaring that there will be a resurrection. Many churches don’t really talk about our resurrection from the dead. The common doctrine that a lot of people are being taught is that when you die you go to heaven. The Bible however speaks of the dead being raised at the resurrection. And then after the resurrection the Lord will institute a new heaven and a new earth. Jesus spoke of the dead in the story of Lazarus and the rich man as being in the bowels of the earth in Hades. Lazarus was in Abraham’s bosom, a Jewish way of speaking of Paradise, and the rich man was in torment, that is in the flames of hell. And Jesus said between the two there was a great gulf which no one could cross. Now a lot of people want to dismiss all of that, because they don’t understand it, or it doesn’t fit their template. But that is what Jesus told us in Luke 16.
At the resurrection then those that are in Paradise will be resurrected with a new body. 1Thess. 4:16 “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.” Some have construed that to mean that our old physical bodies will be lifted from the graves. That may not be necessarily true. Consider what Paul said concerning the resurrection and this heavenly body in 1Cor. 15:36-44, 50, “That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own. All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. … Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”
Notice Paul said, it is sown, that is it dies and is put in the ground as a natural body, but it is raised a spiritual body. So then what Paul says is that what is put in the ground is natural, but what comes out of the ground is spiritual. What manner of beings are in Paradise? They are spirits, and they will be raised with spiritual bodies. And if you really want to start speculating what that looks like, then I will tell you that a oak seed doesn’t look anything like an oak tree. What will we look like? Consider what John says in 1John 3:2 “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” In our eternal bodies we will be like Christ. That’s good enough for me.
Then Jesus turns to the scriptures to refute the Sadducees, and He picks a scripture from the Pentateuch. He quotes from Exodus 3 in the passage about the burning bush. Vs26, “But regarding the fact that the dead rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken.”
What Jesus is saying is that God speaks of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as being still alive. The point is that they are alive awaiting the resurrection. In fact, going back to the story Jesus told in Luke 16, He said Lazarus was in Paradise being comforted by Abraham. Abraham had a dialogue with the rich man. So Abraham was obviously very much alive. At the transfiguration, Jesus appeared with Moses and Elijah, and they were talking about the things to come. They were alive and cognizant and able to have a conversation about what was going on in the world at that time. Jesus said in John 11:26 “and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” This is the hope of the Christian, ladies and gentlemen. This is how we face the future without fear. We will never die. At death we will be alive in spirit with those who have gone on before us. We will be with the Lord forever. And furthermore, at the last trumpet we will be resurrected from the dead with a new body, a glorified, spiritual body that is far beyond what we can imagine, but it will be like the Lord’s body. That’s a tremendous hope.
Well, there is yet one more test. This time it’s a lawyer who comes to test Jesus. Mark doesn’t make it clear that this was a set up as well, but Matthew does. The question asked by this lawyer is which of the commandments or laws was the foremost? Not the first, but the foremost in importance. Now there were much more than 10 commandments. The scribes and lawyers had determined that there were no less than 613 commandments, 248 of them positive, and 365 negative. One for every day, it would seem. The Pharisees seemed to focus on the negative. Jesus, however, is going to give the positive.
Furthermore, in this exercise, there is a sense in which the entire law is being boiled down to it’s essence, synthesized, or summarized into one brief sentence. I wonder if you could very easily condense the gospel into one sentence. It’s not that easy. But Jesus does so readily, once again quoting from scripture. He quotes from Deut. 6:4, 5, ‘HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’
In the original Hebrew, the first word “hear” is from the original Shema. Today in Jewish synagogues, it is still called the Shema, and is recited at the beginning of their service. But what Jesus is teaching is that the whole law can be summed up with one word; love. The duty of man is to love God supremely above all things with all his being. The elements of this love is broken down into somewhat overlapping dimensions. The heart is a dimension of the soul, the mainspring of all thoughts, words and deeds. The soul encompasses the mind, will and emotions. The mind speaks of the intellect, another dimension of the soul. And strength I believe emphasizes the will of man. They are overlapping, as I said. I think that they all are various dimensions of what might be rightly called the heart or the soul; which encompasses the mind, emotions, and will.
And I like that because it shows that we don’t just love God emotionally, but also intellectually. And we don’t just love God with a dry intellectualism, but also emotionally. And that we don’t just love God with our intellectually, but with our will, which produces action and strength. I think further understanding comes from the fourfold use of the word “all.” Four times Jesus says “all.” God’s wholehearted love for us must not be answered in half hearted love from us. But we love Him above all, and with all our being. We love Him above all other love, even the love of family, even the love of ourselves. We put Him first above all things.
Secondly, Jesus said that this love not only must be directed towards God first, but that the second most important commandment is that we must love our neighbor as ourselves. Once again Jesus quotes scripture, this time from Lev. 19:18 “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.”
The second commandment resembles the first in this respect; they both require love. In the case of the second, it is love towards those who bear the image of God. When Jesus held up the denarius and asked whose image was there, He said “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” So by similar application, when we look at our fellow man, we need to see that he bears the likeness of God, man was made in the image of God. Gen 1:26 “Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” Gen 1:27, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
How do you love mankind who was made in God’s image? As you would love yourself. That is the measure by which you measure to another. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (Luke 6:31)
And who is my neighbor? According to Jesus’s parable in Luke 10:30, it is anyone who God places in your path for sympathy and help. Furthermore, in Matthew 5:43 Jesus even includes our enemies as those we should love.
Well, hearing this answer, the lawyer is so impressed by the wisdom of Christ that he cannot help but offer his praise, saying in vs32, ”Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that HE IS ONE, AND THERE IS NO ONE ELSE BESIDES HIM; AND TO LOVE HIM WITH ALL THE HEART AND WITH ALL THE UNDERSTANDING AND WITH ALL THE STRENGTH, AND TO LOVE ONE’S NEIGHBOR AS HIMSELF, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” His enthusiasm indicates that Jesus has just made one of His enemies into a possible disciple. And Jesus recognizing that says in return, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
Listen, what an answer to those today who would offer the sacrifices of praise and worship and not the sacrifice of obedience. What an answer to those who would offer lip service, but will not surrender their lives in service to the Lord. In our study of the life of David, we heard Samuel emphasize a similar point to Saul that this lawyer made to the Lord. Samuel says in 1Samuel 15:22, “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams.”
Love towards God cannot truly exist without obedience towards the Lord. There was just one more step needed by this lawyer to go from being not far from the kingdom of God to being in the kingdom of God. And that was believing in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Jesus said in John 6:40 “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”
In John 11:25-26 Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
I would close today in asking you the same question. Have you believed in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who came into the world to offer the complete sacrifice for your sins? And are you willing to obey Him and give your life to live for Him as your Lord and Savior? If you will but believe in Him and surrender your life to Him, He will give you life, He will supervise your resurrection and you will never die but live eternally with Him in glory. I pray that you have surrendered to Jesus today and will learn to love Him with all your heart and soul.