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“And they asked Him, saying, Master, we know that Thou sayest and teachest rightly, neither acceptest Thou the person of any, but teachest the way of God truly: Is it lawful for us to give tribute unto Caesar, or no? But He perceived their craftiness, and said unto them, Why tempt ye Me? Show Me a penny. Whose image and superscription hath it? They answered and said, Caesar’s. And He said unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s. And they could not take hold of His words before the people: and they marvelled at His answer, and held their peace. Then came to Him certain of the Sadducees, which deny that there is any resurrection; and they asked Him, saying, Master, Moses wrote unto us, If any man’s brother die, having a wife, and he die without children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. There were therefore seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and died without children. And the second took her to wife, and he died childless. And the third took her; and in like manner the seven also: and they left no children, and died. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore in the resurrection whose wife of them is she? for seven had her to wife. And Jesus answering said unto them, The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage: but they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from die dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection. Now that die dead are raised, even Moses showed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and die God of Jacob. For He is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto Him. Then certain of the scribes answering said, Master, Thou hast well said. And after that they durst not ask Him any question at all. And He said unto them, How say they that Christ is David’s son? And David himself saith in the book of Psalms, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou on My right hand, till I make Thine enemies Thy footstool. David therefore calleth Him Lord, how is He then his son? Then in the audience of all the people He said unto His disciples, Beware of the scribes, which desire to walk in long robes, and love greetings in the markets, and the highest seats in the synagogues, and die chief rooms at feasts; which devour widow’s houses, and for a show make long prayers: the same shall receive greater damnation”—Luke 20:21-47.
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In this section we have our Lord Jesus Christ in controversy with His enemies. Two questions were raised by the leaders of the Jews; and one by the Lord Himself, and a very solemn warning added.
The first question had to do with the tribute money. We are told in verse 19, “And the chief priests and the scribes the same hour sought to lay hands on Him.” They were watching Him. They sent men as spies, and they wanted to find some fault in Him for which they might arrest Him. This was the reason for their questions, which were put to Him by men who desired to entrap Him. In the first instance they endeavored to get Him to say something that would put Him in opposition to the Roman Government. They themselves hated that government, and they would have been delighted if it had been overthrown and the Jews liberated as a nation. But they took this opportunity to try to put the Lord Jesus in apparent opposition to the representatives of that government: “And they asked Him, saying, Master, we know that Thou sayest and teachest rightly, neither acceptest Thou the person of any, but teachest the way of God truly.” This was mere flattery. If they believed what they said they would have given heed to His words. They approached Him in this way in order to get Him to commit Himself, “We know that Thou sayest and teachest rightly, neither acceptest Thou the person of any, but teachest the way of God truly.” Then they put the question, “Is it lawful for us to give tribute unto Caesar, or no?” In other words, they were saying, “This is the land of Israel! We know God gave this land to Abraham, our father, and to us, his descendants. Have the Romans the right to bear authority over us and to collect tribute from us? Is it lawful for us to meet their demands and pay taxes, to give tribute to Caesar?” “But He perceived their craftiness, and said unto them, Why tempt ye Me? Show Me a penny. Whose image and superscription hath it? They answered and said, Caesar’s.” The word translated “penny” refers to a much more valuable coin than either our penny, or an English penny, which is worth twice as much as ours. The word is “denarius.” A denarius was a little smaller than our twenty-five cent piece but had far more purchasing value in those days. “Show Me a denarius,” and someone handed Him one. Did He have none Himself? Probably not. He deigned to become poorer than the poorest in order to enrich us. You remember on another occasion a denarius was needed to pay the temple tax; so He sent Peter down to the seaside and commanded him to cast in his line and bring up a fish. He told him when he had taken the fish and opened his mouth he would find a denarius. When Peter obeyed, by casting in his line he drew up the fish and found the denarius. Evidently somebody had lost that coin overboard, and this fish, seeing it sinking in the water, darted over and swallowed it, and it lodged in the gullet of the fish; and there it was ready to pay the Lord’s tax when the time came. He seems to have been without a penny this time, and He said, “Show Me a penny,” and they handed Him one. He looked it over and asked, “Whose image and superscription hath it?” Many of those ancient Roman denarii, with the likeness of one of the Emperors upon them, are found today in different collections in our great museums. “They answered and said, Caesar’s.” He said, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s.” They were willing to use Caesar’s money; they were ready to profit thereby. Then they should pay such taxes to Caesar as he demanded. They were to recognize that “the powers that be are ordained of God.”
The principle which the Lord set forth applies today. We as Christians know that it is God who puts up one ruler and puts down another; it is He who permits any particular government to exist. We are therefore to pay taxes as commanded by the rulers of the land in which we live. We are also to remember that we are heavenly citizens, that we are linked up with the God of heaven. We are to render unto Caesar the things that belong to Caesar, and we are to render unto God the things that belong to Him. Jesus knew well that these scribes were trying to get Him to commit Himself so that they might accuse Him, but His words silenced them. “They could not take hold ,of His words before the people: and they marvelled at His answer, and held their peace.”
Having been silenced on this point they next came to Him with a doctrinal question: “Then came to Him certain of the Sadducees which deny that there is any resurrection.” There were at this time several different sects among the Jews; two of them are specifically mentioned in Scripture, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Pharisees were the most orthodox party in Israel. The Sadducees did not believe in angels or spirits, or in the resurrection of the body. The Pharisees confessed all these things. And so there was constant strife between them because of their different doctrinal positions. It was a group of these Sadducees who put to the Lord what they thought was a very perplexing question. “They asked Him, saying, Master, Moses wrote unto us, If any man’s brother die, having a wife, and he die without children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.” That was according to the law of Moses. If an Israelite married and he was taken away by death and left no children to inherit his estate, his brother, if free to do so, was responsible to marry the widow. If children were born as the result of that marriage, the first child would inherit the estate of the deceased husband as though the child were his own. The Sadducees supposed a case where seven brothers were married in turn to one woman and all died childless. Probably the whole story was fabricated in order to enable them to show, as they thought, the absurdity of a physical resurrection. So they put the question, “Therefore in the resurrection whose wife of them is she? for seven had her to wife.” The Lord Jesus was not perplexed; He was not troubled about that. He turned to them and said, “Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God” (Matt. 22:29). How often we err because we do not know the Scriptures and ignore the power of God! If we knew our Bibles better we would have fewer questions to ask. And if we recognized the power of God more definitely we would not be as confused as we often are. The Sadducees did not know the Scriptures, nor did they realize God’s omnipotence. Jesus added, “The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage, but they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.” When our Lord became Man He was made “a little lower than the angels.” Man under the present order is lower than the angels which are greater in power and might; but in the resurrection the redeemed will be equal unto the angels. We will no longer be inferior to them, because we will be the children of God in a manifest sense, even the children of the resurrection. All this the Sadducees denied. The Lord continued to answer by saying, “Now that the dead are raised, even Moses showed at the bush when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. For He is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto Him.” But where is there anything in that about resurrection? Well, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were not blotted out of existence; they had not become extinct through death; they are still living. God did not say to Moses that He was the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob when they were here in the world. He said, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Jesus explained this clearly. So our dear ones in Christ who have left us are not utterly unconscious: they are living unto God; He knows them well and they know Him, and they have blessed fellowship with Him. It is necessary that there be a resurrection for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, because God had made a promise to them which had not been fulfilled. He promised to give them the land of Canaan that they might possess it to the end of the time, and they never possessed it while on earth. They dwelt in the land as strangers, but the promise will be fulfilled when God brings them back from the dead. Thus the Lord silenced these Sadducees. “Then certain of the scribes answering said, Master, Thou hast well said. And after that they durst not ask Him any questions at all.”
He then put a question to them; one which they found it impossible to answer unless they were willing to bow before Him and accept Him as their Messiah and Saviour. “He said unto them, How say they that Christ is David’s Son?” Why did the scribes say the Messiah is David’s Son? Scripture says that in many places. In the 110th Psalm (ver. 1) we read, “The Lord said unto my Lord, sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool.” Now that passage admittedly referred to the Messiah, the coming Redeemer. David wrote it, and David there calls the Messiah his Lord. He says, “Jehovah said unto my Lord.” “David therefore calleth Him Lord, how is He then his Son?” If they had been able to answer that question intelligently, the whole truth of His Messiahship would have been settled. The answer is this: He is David’s Lord because He is the eternal God; He is David’s Son because He became Man, and He chose to come into this world as born of a daughter of David’s line, the blessed Virgin Mary. He is therefore both David’s Son and David’s Lord.
“Then in the audience of all the people He said unto His disciples, Beware of the scribes, which desire to walk in long robes, and love greetings in the markets, and the highest seats in the synagogues, and the chief rooms at feasts.” They took their places as the religious leaders of the people. The Lord knew that many of them were downright hypocrites: they devoured widows’ houses, and for a show they made long prayers. Many of them were money-lenders, who would take mortgages on the homes of widows at exorbitant interest, so that the poor women would have great difficulty in keeping up their payments; and then when they got in arrears these hypocrites would foreclose the mortgages and take everything from the helpless widows. Was not that legal? Yes; it was legal according to man’s laws. But many things were legal according to man’s law which were absolutely illegal according to the law of God, who had forbidden the very practices of which these hypocrites were guilty. Imagine one of these extortioners foreclosing on a widow’s home on Friday night, and on the Sabbath standing up in the synagogue and making a long prayer! It may well speak to us today. God give us to be consistent, that our lives may answer to our profession, that we may be real in public and in private, as real before God in our business as in the affairs of the Church of God. The Lord said, “The same shall receive greater damnation.” The day is coming when the Lord will deal with all hypocrites. Such hypocrites are found among those who profess Christianity, and many make this an excuse for rejecting Christ. But it does not alter the fact that if you are not saved at last you will have to answer for your .own sins in the day of judgment. How much better to get right with God now than to wait until that day when He will judge every man according to his works!