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Saturday
Jan182014

Luke 20:20-47

As we enter Luke 20:20, we are continuing the account of Jesus is in Jerusalem. Luke is in the process of giving clear evidence of Jesus’ innocence of the charges that would leveled against Him. Luke is also illustrating how the Jewish leadership is proceeding in order to get rid of Jesus but also avoid the blame for doing so. As they proceed, they are in a difficult position because of Jesus’ popularity with the people.

The paying of taxes to Rome was a touchy issue with the Jewish people. Although most Jews paid the tax, some groups such as the Zealots, advocating refusal to pay the tax on the basis that doing so amounted to slavery. Two groups that normally would be fierce enemies, the Pharisees and Herodians, now join together to send spies to hopefully trap Jesus (their affiliations are not specified in Luke but are provided in the accounts of Matthew and Mark) by trying to force Him to take a side in this debate. By asking Him whether the paying of the tax is the right thing to do, they feel that He must either support the tax and disappoint the Jewish people are anxious for a revolution, or reject the tax and thus give cause for the Romans to arrest Him. Even without the ability to reference New Testament passages such as Romans 13 which speak specifically to civic obedience where possible, Jesus could easily have reference Old Testament passages such as Proverbs 8:15-16 that support the same. However, knowing their true motive, Jesus recognizes the chance to illustrate the hypocrisy of His interlocutors and teach an even broader lesson. Roman law did not require the tax to be paid in Roman currency, but that was still common practice at the time. When Jesus asks them who is on their own coins, and they reveal that it is Caesar, they are also acknowledging that have made a tacit acceptance of Roman rule, even as they are hoping to turn the crowd against Jesus if he supports the tax. By instructing the people to “give to Caesar what is Caesar and to God what is God’s,” Jesus is supporting the authority of Rome in the matter of tax, while making clear that Rome should not be given the worship that is owed only to God.
            This answer may have quelled the challenges from those groups for the time being, but now representatives the Sadducees are ready to mount their own challenge. They distinguished themselves religiously by accepting only the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, as Scripture and rejecting the existence of angels and any existence after death. Although the latter is not commonly referenced in the Old Testament, texts such as Isaiah 26:19 and Daniel 12:2 (neither being in the Pentateuch) are clear on it. Eager to look for a way to disprove resurrection, the Sadducees had developed an outlandish scenario in which one women is married to seven men during her life (a theoretically possible but unrealistic example) which they liked to pose to the Pharisees and now brought to Jesus. If the resurrection is real, then there must be an answer to the question of to whom she would be married in the resurrection, but the Pharisees could never answer it. Jesus not only sees through the scenario to point out an erroneous assumption behind the challenge (that marriage in the resurrection would be similar to marriage in this life) that renders it useless, but even goes a step further to point out that even Exodus 3:2-6 (a passage from the Pentateuch) gives evidence to the reality of the resurrection, but they have ignored what it was teaching.

The recently embarrassed Pharisees may have been happy to see the tables turned on the Sadducees, but their mirth is short lived when Jesus puts a challenge back to them. They are unwilling to accept Jesus as the Messiah because His teaching does not coincide with their expectation of a man who would come to deliver the political victory they desired and would support the traditions that they had built up. Instead, Jesus forgives sin and claims spiritual authority that contradicts and supersedes theirs. Ironically, the title that they preferred to use for the expected Messiah was “Son of David,” recognizing that the Messiah would be a descendant of David. Yet Jesus points out that in Psalm 110, David himself refers to the Messiah as his Lord, which would not be appropriate in Jewish tradition. That contradiction can only be resolved if the Messiah is both God and man. The arrogance of the leaders blinds them to the teaching of Scripture, just as it leads to the hypocrisy and abuses that Jesus condemns and warns the people against in the following verses.

The section ends with a condemnation of pride, the very thing that set these events in order. Just as the pride of the religious leaders backfired on them, Jesus warns of similar pride for others. Such pride takes honor away from God, overshadows other people, and can even end up causing harm to others. The effects, however, are also felt personally. Each of these groups approached Jesus with a misunderstanding of theology and doctrine, yet eager to demonstrate what they felt was their superior knowledge. In each case, their misunderstanding was in spite of scriptural evidence that should have pointed them to the truth. Sadly, their pride prevented their understanding and led to their embarrassment and disgrace on this day, and far more dire consequences later on. It is also a reminder to us to approach God’s Word with humility and diligence. It can be a daunting task to understand all of what Scripture is teaching us, yet we are instructed to spend our lives dedicated to that very task – constantly approaching the Bible with a desire to learn more and a heart that is receptive to the guiding of the Holy Spirit toward greater understanding and knowledge.

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