The God of the Living

A woman married to (and in turn widowed by) seven brothers! Whose wife will she be in heaven? The Sadducees use this strange story found in Matthew 22:22–33 to try to trick Jesus.

There is life after marriage! The Sadducees came to Jesus with a problematic question. The Sadducees denied the resurrection. They came to Jesus in the context of increasing opposition to him. The Sadducees held that only the books of Moses were authoritative. They denied the resurrection and the existence of angels. They asked Jesus the question about marriage. They had seen the Pharisees (their rivals) fail with their trick question about taxes. Now they are going to try to trap Jesus. The background for their question (see verse 24) is the practice of levirate marriage, Deuteronomy 25:5,6 (though there is question as to whether it was still being practiced in Jesus’ day). See Genesis 38 and Ruth 4. The story is probably too strange to be true. Their hope is to embroil Jesus in an error and to discredit the idea of the resurrection. The view of marriage reflected in the presentation is superficial and deeply problematic. It focuses simply on the physical relationship (all seven had her).

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Living As God’s People in a Hostile World

Jesus, in Matthew 22:15–22, used the image and inscription on a silver coin to respond to a trick question about taxes. But his answer deals with much deeper issues than paying taxes. How do you relate to governing authorities and a culture that is antagonistic to the kingdom of God?

Give to Caesar what belongs to him. How should you, as a citizen of the kingdom of God, relate to civil government? The Pharisees combined with the Herodians to trick Jesus with a question. Their flattery helps to bait the trap. The very language of “give money to Caesar” may imply that they “gave” money, but did not acknowledge that they owed it to him. Although their motives were false, and were recognized by Christ as such, the question as to what is owed to civil government, particularly an ungodly civil government is a legitimate question. Josephus, the historian, records a rebellion against the Roman poll tax, led by a Galilean named Judas. Christians ask similar questions: Is it right to pay taxes that are used for sinful purposes (such as funding abortions)? How do you as a Christian, relate to the government? When do you submit? When do you have to obey God rather than man?

Christ commands you to obey the government. Jesus, after rebuking their insincerity, asks for a coin, the coin used for paying taxes. Interestingly, Jesus (in his poverty) did not have such a coin on him. But the questioners were able to produce one, despite their objection to the image and engraving on it. They bring a denarius, a coin with an image of the emperor, and an inscription describing him as divine. Jesus asks whose image (portrait) and inscription is on it. They answer, “Caesar’s.” Jesus commands you to render or pay to Caesar what is his. The very use of the emperor’s coin indicated at least a de facto submission to his authority. The money was issued by Caesar, and as his subjects, taxes were owed to him. The government does have a legitimate authority. It has the power of the sword, and is owed taxes and honor, Romans 13. You owe the king submission, 1 Peter 2:13,14. Pray for those in authority, 1 Timothy 2:1,2. Christians are not anarchists. Nor are they tribalists. Keep priorities straight. “Tribalism thrives on fear: the fear of losing our freedom, our safety, or our country. But the gospel reminds us that our true freedom is not freedom from persecution (2 Tim. 3:12), but freedom from the guilt of sin and the fear of death (1 Cor. 15:55–57). Our true safety is not found in the things we hold in our hands, but in the reality that we are held in the hands that hung the stars (John 10:28–29). Our true country is not even our beloved nation, but rather the new creation (Rev. 21–22).” (Jeremiah W. Montgomery, “Christianity and Tribalism,” “New Horizons” October 2021, p. 17)

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Come to the Banquet!

Extending wedding invitations can become complicated. Jesus put that into a parable. Matthew 22:1–14, he told.

Beware of refusing God’s invitation. God graciously invites you into his kingdom. This parable is similar in some respects to one that Jesus told in Luke 14:16–24. Here he compares the kingdom of heaven to a king giving a great wedding feast. The Lord reveals himself as the great King in the Old Testament (Psalm 97). The imagery of a feast, to which the nations are invited, is used to describe the kingdom, Isaiah 25:6–8.

Double invitations were common for celebrations in the ancient Middle East.

To refuse the invitation is insulting. The guests had apparently already been invited, and the implication is that they had agreed to come. Now, when the second invitation goes out, they ignore it and go about their ordinary business. This parable lacks the blatant excuses of Luke 14, but the insult is just a real. No emergency, just ordinary business, prevents the guests from attending. Beyond simply ignoring the invitation, they mistreat, and even murder some of the king’s messengers. Jesus looks back at the way his people had treated the prophets. Jesus had come as the ultimate fulfillment of the kingdom of heaven — and his people simply ignored him. The theme of this parable is not that different from the one which precedes it in Matthew 21:33–46. The refusal is even more insulting and surprising when you realize that this is a royal invitation that is being spurned. If you neglect God’s offer of grace in Jesus Christ, you reject, not just an earthly king, but the Lord of the universe.

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Vineyards, Palm Branches, and Capstones

“Investing? Hillside property, zoned agricultural, SW exposure, prime site for developing vineyard.” That’s not an ad for land in Yamhill County, Oregon’s wine country, but it might have been one if there had been a Judean Herald. In Matthew 21:33–46 Jesus tells a story about such an investment property.

Heed the warnings about the vineyard. The vineyard pictures the kingdom of God. You notice that this parable does not need to be interpreted. The hearers knew Isaiah 5, and got the point. The parable deals with a common scenario, of an absentee landlord and his tenants. Jesus modifies details in the parable to emphasize the terrible nature of sin and the longsuffering character of God. The imagery was not only relevant to the day, but it also reflected God’s earlier call to his people to live in covenantal faithfulness.

This story has a point. The Lord requires an obedient response. The owner repeatedly required obedience from his tenants. The Lord required obedience, and when it did not come, he responded with the curses of the covenant. Even Jesus listeners could predict the fate of the wicked tenants, verse 41. The demand for obedience is intensified by the arrival of the Son. To reject the Son brings ultimate judgment. Continue to beware of the curses of the covenant. Even the chief priests and Pharisees got the point of the parable, verse 45. “[S]onship involves a higher dignity and a closer relation to God than the highest and closest official status known in the Old Testament theocracy…. [T]he Son is the last, the final, ambassador, after the sending of whom nothing more can be done. The Lord of the vineyard has no further resources; the Son is the highest messenger of God conceivable.” (Geerhardus Vos, The Self-Disclosure of Jesus, p.161)

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Whose Authority?

“Says who?” “Ask why!” Some skepticism of authority can be helpful, but beware of questioning God’s authority, as Jesus points out in Matthew 21:23–32.

Submit to Christ’s authority. The chief priests and elders questioned Jesus’ authority. They seem to be focused on authority, particularly on anything happening or being taught without their say so. Certainly there are those today who not only question, but even object to any authority structure in the home or in the church. But beware of reacting against an erroneous view by simply emphasizing the opposite. Remember what Jesus said about authority in Matthew 20:24–28. The setting is the temple courts, where Jesus is busy teaching. The leaders of Israel interrupt with a demand that Jesus explain his authority for “doing these things.” “These things” may include the triumphal entry, the cleansing of the temple, the healings there, and the praise of the children, as well as his present teaching activity. The question arises in a culture that had a strong tradition of citing authorities. They think that the question puts Jesus in a box. If he tries to cite human authority, they are the current authorities in the temple. If he claims divine authority, they can charge him with blasphemy. Jesus challenges their question with one of his own: John’s baptism, was it from heaven, or from men? The priests and elders discuss the implications of either answer. To admit that John’s baptism had a heavenly origin, would invite the challenge: why didn’t you believe him? And the obvious alternative, that was merely human in origin, would be politically unacceptable, given the people’s respect for the martyred prophet. Thus they simply responded lamely, “We don’t know.” But Jesus does have authority. His teaching was different, Matthew 7:28,29. He spoke with the authority of his Father, not citing rabbis who might happen to agree with what he was saying. His authority is not only that of the God-man, but there is a specific messianic authority that belonged to Jesus. He exercised it while on earth, but it became most fully his upon his powerful resurrection. Thus he could claim that all authority in heaven and earth had been given to him, Matthew 28:18.

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