YET IN THE precincts of the temple the Lord taught daily during this last week of His life, so it is not surprising that He came into conflict with them. The whole of this chapter is occupied with details of the conflict. The chief priest and scribes began the conflict, and at the end they were left silenced and unmasked.
They started by challenging His authority. They were the people in authority there, and to them He was but an upstart "Prophet" from Nazareth. Their question assumed that they had the ability to judge of the Lord's credentials, if He produced them; so He called upon them to settle the preliminary question as to the credentials of His forerunner, John. This at once put them in a quandary, for the answer they wished to give would have been resented by the people. They were time-servers, courting popularity, so they pleaded ignorance. To such men as these the Lord did not produce His authority. Instead He proceeded to speak with all the authority which omniscience gives, and they were very soon made to feel its power. There could be no doubt about His authority by the time the verbal conflict ceased.
In the parable, which occupies verses 9-16, He set forth with great clearness the exact position of things at that moment. It reads like a continuation of the historical statements made in 2 Chronicles 36: 15, 16. There it was God appealing by His "messengers, rising up betimes and sending;" but all were mocked and misused until "there was no remedy," and "He brought upon them the king of the Chaldees." Here the story is carried a step further and the "Beloved Son" is sent, only to be cast out and killed. Hence a worse chastisement than the Chaldeans was to come upon them. The Psalmist had prophesied that the rejected "Stone" should become the Head of the corner, and Jesus added that all, who fall upon that Stone, or upon whom it shall fall, would be destroyed. They were at that moment stumbling on the Stone, as Romans 9: 32 declares. The falling of the Stone upon them, and upon the Gentile powers, will take place at the Second Advent, as Daniel 2: 34 shows.
The chief priests and scribes felt the point and authority of His words, as we see in verse 19, but they were only thereby stirred up to more determined opposition; and they sent forth men of craft and deceit to entrap Him in His words, if possible. They came with the question as to paying tribute to Caesar; and in this both Pharisees and Herodians united, sinking their animosities in common hatred of the Lord.
The Lord's question, "Why tempt ye Me?" showed that He was thoroughly aware of their craft. His request for the penny reveals His own poverty. The superscription on the penny was a witness to their subjection to Caesar. His reply thus was that they must render to Caesar his rights, and yield to God the rights that were His. It was because they had not rendered to God the things that were His that Caesar had acquired the rights of conquest over them. All this was so indubitable, when pointed out, that these crafty questioners were silenced.
The question with which the Sadducees thought to entrap the Lord was founded upon ignorance. No doubt they had often perplexed the Pharisees with it, but then they had no more light than the Sadducees on the essential point which the Lord made so plain. He contrasted "this world" and "that world," using really the word which means "age." Now it will be the portion of some to "obtain that age" as living men on earth, without passing through death and resurrection; but those who "obtain that age and the resurrection" will enter upon altogether new conditions of life. They will be deathless as the angels, and marriage will have no application to them. The Lord was here beginning to bring "to light life and incorruptibility" (2 Tim. 1: 10. N.Tr.); and in result the Sadducees' question, which to their ignorance seemed so unanswerable, became merely ridiculous.
The Lord proceeded to prove the resurrection from Exodus 3: 6. If the patriarchs were alive to God, centuries after they were dead to this world, their ultimate resurrection was a certainty. Thus He answered not only the foolish question of the Sadducees, but the unbelief that lay behind their question. And He answered it with such authority that even a scribe was moved to admiration and approval, and they all feared to ask Him any more questions.
The Lord then asked them His great question, based upon Psalm 110. Matthew records that no man was able to answer Him a word. No answer was possible save to the faith that perceived the Divine glory of the Christ, and they had no faith. They were silent in stubborn unbelief. Answer His question they could not: ask Him any further question they dared not.
It only remained for the Lord to unmask these evil men, and this He did in few words, as recorded in the two verses which close the chapter. They were hypocrites of the most desperate type, using religion as a cloak to cover their self-seeking and rapacity. He unmasked them, and pronounced their doom. He did not speak of a longer damnation, as though judgment were bounded by time and not eternal. But He did speak of greater damnation, showing that judgment will differ as to its severity. They suffer "more abundant judgment" (N.Tr.).
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