Sunday, June 4th, 2023
Pett's Commentary on the Bible Pett's Commentary
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Matthew 22". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ pet/ matthew-22.html. 2013.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Matthew 22". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
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‘And Jesus answered and again spoke in parables to them, saying,’
The use of ‘answered’ in this vague way is a characteristic of Matthew’s Gospel. If it has any significance other than as a literary device it is in suggesting that by these words Jesus is answering His opponents. The ‘again’ connects back to the previous two parables. ‘Spoke in parables’ is simply a colloquialism for ‘spoke parabolically’.
The Parable Of The Wedding Feast (22:1-14).
The emphasis in this parable is on people’s attitude towards the king’s son, and in the final analysis on their attitude to Jesus, the true King’s Son. The tenants in the vineyard had despised Him. Now all must consider their response to Him. It makes most sense if we see the situation as one where the king has, in view of his son’s forthcoming marriage, appointed his son to have authority over a part of his kingdom. Thus the idea is of those who are invited to the son’s wedding feast, to swear fealty to him and to do him honour, because they are to be his subjects. This would make sense of why only one city and its surrounding countryside are involved, and why the responses to the invitation are so virulent. Thus in the same way the Chief Priests, Scribes and Pharisees are called on to swear fealty to Jesus and do Him honour, (a claim that He has revealed by riding into Jerusalem on an asses colt), something which they are seen to reject out of hand with the same virulence.
The refusal of the invitees to come to the wedding feast, even to such an extent that it results in the mistreatment and murder of his messengers, is an indication of their absolute refusal to have His Son to reign over them (messengers were seen as dispensable), and the attitude of the man who comes in unsuitably dressed is similarly a deliberate affront to the King’s Son, as are the lives of all who profess to be loyal to Him but who do not reveal it by changed lives. The assumption is that he, along with the other guests, had been given time to dress themselves suitably for the wedding by putting on their ‘best clothes’, (or have even been provided with them), but that this man has deliberately chosen not to do so. Such an act was insulting to the King and His Son in the extreme. Any others who had deliberately come unsuitably dressed would no doubt have been treated in the same way. We are simply given the example of one.
This last part of the parable with its sudden switch of idea is in fact typical of Jesus who regularly suddenly enters a warning to those who might seem to think that they were all right. Compare Matthew 7:22-23; the elder brother in Luke 15:25-32; Luke 19:27.
The parable echoes many of the themes of the previous two parables with which it is connected by the use of the word ‘again’ (Matthew 2:1). Compare how the previous parable was connected by the phrase ‘another parable’ (Matthew 21:33). The anticipated honouring of the son compares with the hoped for reverencing of the son in Matthew 21:37. The treatment of the two sets of slaves parallels the similar treatment in Matthew 21:34-36. The destruction of the culprits parallels Matthew 21:41. The curt refusal to come was like the son who refused to go to the vineyard (Matthew 21:30). Those who did come on the basis of the resulting opportunity are like the son who finally did get to the vineyard (having first of all refused) (Matthew 21:29). The invitation to the ‘as many as you shall find’ parallels the ‘other vineyard workers’. In both cases they will replace the first (Matthew 21:41). All the parables are seen to have reference to the Kingly Rule of Heaven/God (Matthew 21:31; Matthew 21:43; Matthew 22:1). Thus the message is a united one, even though seen from different angles. And now there is no doubt as to Who the Son is.
It should be noted that in most of its details, and in the main idea behind it, this parable differs from that in Luke 14:15-24 at nearly every point. While the similarities are mainly superficial and inexact, the central thoughts and ideas are in fact very different. It is therefore surprising, in view of the multitude of parables that Jesus is said to have taught, that some scholars try to suggest that they are basically the same parable, with totally insufficient grounds.
a And Jesus answered and again spoke in parables to them, saying (Matthew 22:1).
b The kingly rule of heaven can be likened to a certain king, who made a marriage feast for his son (Matthew 22:2).
c And sent forth his servants to call those who were bidden to the marriage feast, and they would not come (Matthew 22:3).
d Again he sent forth other servants, saying, “Tell those who are bidden, Behold, I have made ready my dinner. My oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the marriage feast” (Matthew 22:4).
e But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his merchandise, and the remainder laid hold on his servants, and treated them shamefully, and killed them (Matthew 22:5-6).
f But the king was angry, and he sent his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned their city (Matthew 22:7).
e Then he says to his servants, “The wedding is ready, but those who were bidden were not worthy” (Matthew 22:8).
d “Go you therefore to the partings of the highways, and as many as you shall find, bid to the marriage feast” (Matthew 22:9).
c And those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good, and the wedding was filled with guests (Matthew 22:10).
b But when the king came in to survey the guests, he saw there a man who did not have on a wedding-garment, and he says to him, “Friend, how did you come in here not having a wedding-garment?” And he was speechless (Matthew 22:11-12).
a Then the king said to the servants, “Bind him hand and foot, and cast him out into the outer darkness. There will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few chosen (Matthew 22:13-14).
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus answers His opponents and in the parallel we have His answer. In ‘b’ the king makes a marriage feast for his son. This will be intended to include expressions of fealty, and recognition of the son’s position. But in the parallel the man refuses to wear suitable clothing, thus dishonouring the son and refusing to recognise his position. In ‘c’ the servants were sent to those who out of loyalty and status should have come to the wedding, but they refused to come, and in the parallel they were sent out to the riffraff and the common people and they came in droves. In ‘d’ the ‘proper guests’ were bidden to the marriage feast, and in the parallel those at the partings of the highways were bidden to the wedding. In ‘e’ the invitees proved their unworthiness, and in the parallel they are declared unworthy. Centrally in ‘f’ is the declaration of what will happen to those who refuse the king’s invitation to pay due honour to his son.
The Question Of Jesus’ Authority (21:37-22:46).
While, as we have seen above, the section from Matthew 19:3 to Matthew 22:46 forms a complete section in itself, enclosed within a dissertation on true leadership (Matthew 21:18) and a dissertation on false leadership (Matthew 21:23), this sub-section on authority also forms a unit. It commences with a challenge by the leadership concerning His authority (Matthew 21:23-27) and finishes with a challenge by Jesus concerning His authority (Matthew 22:41-45). Within these two inclusios are three parables concerning the authority of the Kingly Rule of Heaven which John and He have introduced, followed by three attempts to expose His inability to deal with the questions of the day, in all of which He puts his opponents to rout and reveals His own religious authority. Thus His and John’s authority are revealed in seven ways. They proceed as follows;
Jesus is questioned as to His authority (Matthew 21:23-27).
The parable of the two sons in which He establishes John’s authority (Matthew 21:28-32).
The parable of the unfaithful tenants in which He establishes His own Sonship and authority (Matthew 21:33-46).
The parable of the marriage feast of the King’s Son in which He confirms His Sonship and authority (Matthew 22:1-14).
The test concerning tribute money on which He stamps His authority (Matthew 22:15-22).
The test concerning the resurrection on which He again stamps His authority (Matthew 22:23-33).
The test concerning what is the greatest commandment in the Law which is further evidence of His authority (Matthew 22:34-40).
Jesus then confirms His supreme authority from Scripture (Matthew 22:41-46).
‘The kingly rule of heaven can be likened to a certain king, who made a marriage feast for his son,’
The parable is to be an illustration of the Kingly Rule of Heaven. Compare for this Matthew 13:24; Matthew 18:23; Matthew 25:1; and see also Matthew 13:31; Matthew 13:33; Matthew 13:44-45; Matthew 13:47; Matthew 13:52; Matthew 20:1. Like those parables it will indicate present activity in the Kingly Rule of Heaven, leading up to the final everlasting Kingly Rule. It refers to God’s doings and God’s offer and men’s response to them. They are being called to come under His Son’s Kingly Rule.
In this case the parable is of a King Who makes a marriage for His Son. On such an occasion a king would often, in honour of the occasion, promote his son to a position of authority over a part of his realm. That would seem to be the case here. Thus those who are bidden to the wedding were to be future subjects of His Son.
We must beware of just attributing this to what is called ‘the Messianic Banquet (as in Matthew 8:11). That is never described as a marriage feast. The marriage feast indicates rather a celebration of joy and gladness, a feast of ‘good things’, pertaining to this life (compare John 4:10-14; John 6:35; John 7:37; Ephesians 5:25-27). It was portrayed at Cana as offering the wine of the new age that Jesus had bought (John 2:1-11). It was such ‘good things’ that Jesus had come to bring men so that they might be immediately enjoyed (John 5:3-9; John 7:11; compare John 9:15 where the wedding is on the point of taking place but is interrupted by Jesus’ death, although that sadness will not last for long). This was not an invitation to some distant eschatological event as in Matthew 25:10; Revelation 19:6-9, but to present rejoicing along with the King’s Son Who was soon to be enthroned, and with Whom they would feast at His table, as some had already done (John 14:13-21; John 15:27; John 16:32-33), and then faithfully serve Him. The whole point is that the Chief Priests and Pharisees were turning down the present offer to eat at His table.
For to feast at His table was to believe on Him Whom God had sent and to partake of Him (John 6:32-40). It was an invitation which could be refused on the very verge of the wedding resulting in the earthly consequences that followed for those who did refuse (which was not the same as the later final judgement - Matthew 22:13). Others would then come later to enjoy the same feast, and at least one of these would be ejected because he had come improperly prepared. Thus it is not the heavenly banquet of Matthew 8:11 where all was final and all were secure. It is the time of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit which are basic elements of being under the Kingly Rule of God now (Romans 14:17). It is the current Messianic Banquet, currently enjoyed by Messiah’s people, as they receive good things from Him. It was to this Banquet that Jesus was calling men and women, to the music and dancing enjoyed by the returned prodigal (Luke 15:25). They were being called to eat and drink with their Lord.
‘And sent forth his servants to call those who were bidden to the marriage feast, and they would not come.’
The king then sends out the original invitations. It was quite normal in those days for a general invitation to be issued, which would be followed by a later invitation indicating date and time when the guests would often accompany the messenger back (compare Esther 5:11 with Matthew 6:14). Important people had to be given the opportunity to prepare themselves for such an occasion. However, in this case the invitees reply immediately with a curt refusal. They might acknowledge the king but they are not prepared to acknowledge his son as their ruler. It was an indication to the king that he should change his mind about appointing His Son. Note that these first messengers were not ill-treated in any way. The invitees were still hoping to keep on good terms with the king. We can compare this first refusal with the initial refusal of the son in Matthew 21:29. The king does not react immediately. Time was to be given for repentance.
We may see in these messengers the prophets who pointed forward to the Coming One (the King’s Son), and indeed all whom God uses to call men to come under His Kingly Rule.
‘Again he sent forth other servants, saying, “Tell those who are bidden, Behold, I have made ready my dinner. My oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the marriage feast.’
When all was ready the patient king, expecting that they might well have had second thoughts when they had had time to realise the seriousness of what they were doing, sent further slaves. He was prepared to forgive them and give them another chance. This time his message was more urgent and demanding, and brooked no refusal. His mind was made up. The first meal of the feast (the word indicates the morning meal) was already in process of preparation (the marriage would as normal be at least a seven day event). The oxen and fatlings had already been killed. And everything else was prepared. They had no choice therefore but to come, or else to insult Him unforgivably.
We should note here that this was not just an invitation to a ‘party’ as in Luke’s parallel parable (Matthew 14:15-22), it was the demand of a king, who had the right to instant obedience from his subjects. They had to come to make submission to his son. To disobey would be treason.
‘But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his merchandise, and the remainder laid hold on his servants, and treated them shamefully, and killed them.’
Some of his messengers who made their way back reported that on receiving the invitation, instead of preparing to set off for the wedding, some of the invitees ostentatiously went off to see to their farms and others to their businesses. It was a clear further refusal and intended to be a deliberate and open affront to the king in each case. Others sent the slaves back shamefully treated, indicating to the king what he could do with his son. Compare for this 2 Samuel 10:4-5, and see Jeremiah 20:2; Jeremiah 37:15. The ill-treatment and humiliation of messengers was a regular way of rejecting an overlord’s invitation. It indicated what they thought of him and his messengers, and that they no longer accepted his authority over them. Others killed the messengers, possibly sending back a body part in order to indicate what they had done. Josephus tells of how when Hezekiah issued invitations to the Israelites to come to the feast of the Passover, many of those who received them killed his messengers. So these have been common ways throughout history whereby men have indicated disdainfully that they were no longer prepared to accept an overlord. (It was always dangerous to be a messenger to such people). The varying responses also indicate the varying way that people reject God’s invitation to come to Him, some more violently than others. Again the prophets are in mind in the servants, including especially John the Baptist, the latest prophet to be martyred. And they were already planning to do the same thing to Jesus.
‘But the king was angry, and he sent his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.’
Understandably the king, recognising open rebellion, was angry. He knew that he was given no alternative. Thus he did what kings do in such circumstances, he sent his armies and destroyed the rebels, and burned their city. The burning of a city was a regular way of treating rebels (Deuteronomy 13:16; see also Jeremiah 21:10 and seven other similar references in Jeremiah). The giving of such orders preparatory to his son’s wedding (if it was so) would cost him not a moment of thought. It was what kings do in such circumstances. It would have been seen as another kind of wedding present to his son. (But the probability is that this retaliation would not have occurred until the wedding was over. The verses are not necessarily to be seen as in strict time sequence).
Jesus may well have had Jerusalem in mind here, for this was where the chief rebels were situated, and He was well aware of the coming destruction of the Temple. It was always ironic that Jerusalem was such a religious city that it had no place for God’s Son because it was too tied up in its own interests. But this was not intended to be a literal description of the coming destruction of Jerusalem, even though Jesus knew that that was to happen. And indeed Jerusalem was not burned with fire, it was torn down stone by stone. The words He used are rather very much based on Old Testament ideas about the punishing of the wicked, with the future literal destruction of Jerusalem only in the background of His thinking. He was rather depicting the judgment of God on the rebels in the recognised way.
‘Then he says to his servants, “The wedding is ready, but those who were bidden were not worthy.” ’
However, the king was determined that the wedding should go ahead and the marriage feast be a success. The original invitees had proved to be not worthy. They had proved to be rebels and not deserving of his son. Thus he would make other provision.
“Go you therefore to the partings of the highways, and as many as you shall find, bid to the marriage feast.”
So He told His servants to go to those who were outside the rebellious city, to those who would be found at the parting of the highways, the road intersections, where men presumably gathered, men who had received no invitation. And whoever they found there they were to bid to the marriage feast. The city authorities, with their cronies, may reject the king’s son, but there would be many who would not (as His welcome into Jerusalem by the pilgrims had demonstrated). And by eating at His table they were indicating their loyalty to Him.
The disciples would have been in no doubt that this was to be their responsibility. They were to go to the very same kind of people as Jesus had gone to in Galilee, the poor, and the needy, and the lame, and the blind.
‘And those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good, and the wedding was filled with guests.’
And so the servants went out into the highways, and they gathered all whom they found, without distinction, until the wedding was filled with guests. ‘The bad’ probably signifies the public servants and prostitutes (Matthew 21:31-32), ‘the good’ the ordinary Jewish people who in contrast lived what were seen as ‘good’ lives. But as the next verse demonstrates, all these invitees were given time to attire themselves suitably for the wedding as best they could. Jesus expects us to assume it from what follows. This was important for it would reveal the genuineness of their appreciation and acceptance of the status of the Son. For as we shall soon discover those who came with the wrong attitude would not be welcome. This should be noted. Those only would be welcomed who had responded to the king’s invitation in the right manner. It was not to be a question of what they had been. It was to be a question of whether they were prepared to reveal their submission to the king’s son, and to honour His presence, something which would be revealed by the way that they presented themselves.
Here was an offer for men of all kind to come into the Kingly Rule of Heaven, as they had with John the Baptist (Matthew 21:31-32). But it required response, repentance (compare Isaiah 1:16-18), a ‘change of clothes’ and the commencement of a new life (compare Zechariah 3:3-5; Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-10). They had to be clothed with ‘wedding-garments’. It was that fact that proved that they were genuine responders to His invitation. In Revelation 19:8 those are ‘the righteousnesses of the saints (people of God)’ which were the evidence of the true bride.
‘But when the king came in to survey the guests, he saw there a man who did not have on a wedding-garment.’
This is now brought out in that when the king came in to survey his guests it was his requirement and expectation that they be clothed in wedding-garments in honour of his son’s marriage and status. To come to a wedding without putting on their best garments would be seen as a studied insult to those who had invited them, and especially when he was a king and the wedding was his son’s. There can be no doubt that Jesus’ listeners would have been horrified to think that anyone would commit such a social lapse. And they would know that it was deliberate. They would know that this man was not there like that by accident. He was showing his contempt for the king’s son. It was not something that could possibly happen without thought. It was against their whole culture.
There are no known examples where wedding-garments were actually provided for guests, so it is unlikely that it was so in this case. But there are many examples which indicate that men would be expected to wear their ‘best clothes’ at a wedding or other state occasion, and would be expelled if they did not. In one Rabbinic parable where a king summoned guests to a banquet it was said that ‘the wise entered adorned while the fools entered soiled’, the latter being excluded on this basis.
‘When the king came in to survey the guests.’ We may see this as indicating the time of the last judgment. Until then the man in question was allowed to mock at the Son, as men are allowed to mock today. But we must not press that too hard. The king’s judgment was in this world as well as in the next (Matthew 22:7). Like the Kingly Rule of Heaven it had both present and future aspects. God does sometimes call some to account in this life.
‘Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might ensnare him in his talk.’
‘Took counsel.’ This may signify that the Scribes of the Pharisees and the other leading Pharisees came together to discuss the matter, or it may even have included the Herodians and others in the discussions. Whichever way it was the Pharisees were prominent in the matter. Their purpose, Matthew tells us, was in order to ensnare Him by making Him say what could only condemn Him.
The Test Concerning the Tribute Money: Jesus Contrasts Men’s Attitudes Towards The Kingly Rule Of Men and the Kingly Rule of God (22:15-22).
In the light of His establishment of His new congregation on earth, and His new Kingly Rule, the question is now raised as to what men’s attitudes are to be towards human authorities and towards God. Matthew answers this question in terms which are connected with further belligerence revealed by the Pharisees. Gathered in Jerusalem for Passover the Pharisees have come together to discuss how they can ensnare Jesus, and in the course of this, because Jesus as a Galilean was subject to Herod’s jurisdiction, they have entered into discussions with the Herodians who had connections with Herod’s court and supported Herod (unlike the majority of the people of Galilee and Peraea who simmered under his rule). They now think that they have at last discovered how they can trap Him.
The Pharisees disliked the Herodians intensely, and the feeling was no doubt mutual, for they were religiously and politically at opposite extremes, the former seeing their duty as owed to God, and the latter as owed to Herod. But the Herodians would be necessary for the trap that they aimed to set for Jesus just in case His answer was to suggest the refusal of tribute, which they probably suspected that it would be. If He did so the Pharisees could hardly accuse Him before the civil authorities themselves, for to do such a thing would have degraded them before the people, but that was something that Herodians could be expected to do. On the other hand if He agreed that tribute should be paid to Caesar then the Pharisees would be in a position to discredit Him totally before the people as a prophet who supported Rome. Thus they were a formidable combination.
The Jews as a nation saw themselves as the people of God, and therefore found their subjection to the Romans extremely trying. It went against all that they believed. And they found particularly aggravating the taxes that they had to pay to Rome, especially the poll tax. These were on top of the taxes which they much more willingly paid to their own national leadership and to the Temple. They thus paid the Roman taxes very grudgingly, and considered that they were the equivalent of extortion, and therefore immoral. Indeed they saw it as questionable whether in God’s eyes they were even ‘lawful’. They themselves believed that they only owed such ‘duties’ towards God. So this taxation by Rome was something that caused much bitterness in their hearts, and especially the tribute per head that was payable directly to Caesar. That almost became a question of an offering to a foreign god. Thus for anyone to have suggested that it was right for them to have to pay such tribute would have been looked on as the equivalent of blasphemy. As far as they were concerned such taxes suggested that the Romans were usurping the place of God. Any such person, therefore, would have found himself immediately ostracised as the equivalent of a ‘public servant’ and a traitor. And for a prophet to do so would have filled them with horror, and would have rendered him a false prophet, and therefore totally unacceptable to almost all the people.
On the other hand the Roman authorities demanded these taxes, and they would have looked on anyone who said that they should not be paid as a rebel and an insurgent. If anyone openly and authoritatively declared that the tribute should not be paid they would immediately have been arrested, and even executed. Thus the whole subject was one that no one spoke about, with all grudgingly paying their tribute (apart from the few obstinate rebels) but with all muttering under their breaths that it was not right that they should have to do so.
And herein the Pharisees realised that they had the unanswerable question, for whichever reply Jesus gave to it He would be finished. He would either be despised by the people, or executed by the Romans. There was no way out. At last they knew that they had got Him.
a Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might ensnare him in his talk. And they send to him their disciples, with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God in truth, and care not for any one, for you do not regard the person of men” (Matthew 22:15-16).
b “Tell us therefore, What do you think? Is it right to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:17).
c But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the tribute money” (18-19a)
d And they brought to him a denarius (Matthew 22:19 b).
c And he says to them, “Whose is this image and superscription?” They say to him, “Caesar’s” (20-21a).
b Then he says to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21 b).
a And when they heard it, they marvelled, and left him, and went away (Matthew 22:22).
Note that in ‘a’ the aim is to trap Jesus while in the parallel they leave Him, filled with wonder. In ‘b’ comes the question about paying tribute to Caesar, and in the parallel comes Jesus’ reply to the question. In ‘c’ He asks to see the tribute money and in the parallel He is shown the tribute money. Central is the fact that they brought Him a denarius which demonstrated their hypocrisy, for it was Caesar’s coin.
‘And they send to him their disciples, with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God in truth, and care not for any one, for you do not regard the person of men.” ’
Their preparations were carefully laid. In order that Jesus might suspect nothing the Pharisees did not approach Him themselves, but sent along ‘their disciples’, that is the young men who were under their instruction, but were still not yet fully initiated Pharisees. Such men might well be seen by Jesus as ‘seekers after truth’ and their youthfulness would surely lull His suspicions. Along with them went the Herodians. They would be expected to be interested in a subject like this, and their hope might well have been that their presence would arouse Jesus to be intemperate. And Jesus would be caught between the two, the ‘innocent minded’ young fledgling Pharisees and the worldly Herodians. In this situation Jesus would surely feel that He had to make His position absolutely clear. And then on top of this they had prepared their introductory words carefully so as to encourage Him to speak boldly.
“Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God in truth, and care not for any one, for you do not regard the person of men.” Their opening words, given here, were subtle in the extreme. Firstly they flattered Him by calling His ‘Teacher’. And then they laid out how they expected Him to approach the question.
‘We know that you are true.’ That is that He teaches what is genuinely true and speaks it out honestly and without equivocation.
‘And teach the way of God in truth.’ That is that His message will be firmly and truly a proclamation of God’s way, and God’s way only, the ‘way of holiness’ of Isaiah 35:8, the ‘way of righteousness’ of John (Matthew 21:32; compare Matthew 7:13-14).
‘And care not for any one, for you do not regard the person of men.’ This proviso was added in order to encourage Him to be absolutely bold, and not to compromise. They wanted to make sure that He was indiscreet. ‘Care not for anyone’. That is, does not let what others think interfere with His speaking the truth. ‘Do not regard the person of men.’ That is, does not measure His words in terms of who are present or who will hear of them. This is, of course, a fair description of a true prophet, but they spelled it out with the intention of making sure that He spoke clearly and without inhibition. The whole purpose behind it was to compromise Jesus.
“Tell us therefore, What do you think? Is it right to give tribute to Caesar, or not?”
Then they introduced the crunch question. ‘Was it right (or ‘lawful’) to give tribute to Caesar or not?’ The word exestin can refer either to being ‘right in itself’, or alternatively to being ‘in accordance with the Law’. But the former was probably the main meaning in this context, as is indicated by the addition of ‘or not?’ They wanted a practical ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer that would result in His committing Himself to forbidding the payment of tribute, not just a legal decision which could be dismissed as being merely intended to be a theoretical interpretation of the Law.
‘But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you put me to the test, you hypocrites?”
Jesus was not for one moment deceived by their seeming innocence, nor moved by their flattery. He saw straight through them to the wickedness that lay at the heart of their question. And He made this quite plain in His reply. “Why do you put me to the test, you hypocrites?’ or in other words, ‘why are you trying to out Me on the spot in this hypocritical way? Have you no conscience? Do you not realise how wicked you are being?’
“Show me the tribute money.” And they brought to him a denarius.’
Then He bade them to show Him the tribute money, that is the coin in which they would pay the tribute. And as He anticipated they brought Him a denarius. Most religiously minded Jews sought to avoid carrying a denarius, firstly because it bore the graven image of the emperor, something forbidden by the ten commandments, and secondly because it had written on it certain superscriptions. On one side was engraved, ‘Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus’ and on the other side ‘Pontifex Maximus’ (high priest - of Roma and the Roman gods). Both would be seen as blasphemous. Thus they would grudgingly use it to pay their taxes, but would seek to avoid it on other occasions whenever they could.
‘They brought Him --.’ This may suggest that the particular questioners did not have one themselves but had to obtain one, probably from one of the Herodians, or from someone in the listening crowd. By this time the crowd would have recognised the importance of the question and would be paying great attention. They probably did not recognise that it was a trap and would therefore expect the prophet to violently denounce the paying of tribute.
a ‘And he says to them, “Whose is this image and superscription?” They say to him, “Caesar’s”.’
Jesus then turned to His questioners and, indicating the denarius, asked them, “Whose is this image and superscription?” There was only one reply to such a question, ‘Caesar’s’. The emperors were now known as Caesar, a title associated with the emperor’s as a result of Julius Caesar’s previous importance. It had been his family name.
‘Then he says to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Jesus’ reply was masterly, for it clearly answered the question, and yet did it in such a way that all, even the most fervent, had to acknowledge that He was right. “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” In other words He was saying, ‘this coin clearly belongs to Caesar, for it contains his image and superscription, so give it back to him, for you should not possess it anyway unless you acknowledge his overlordship. On the other hand you are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and God has designated His people as ‘holiness to the Lord’ in the superscription on the golden plate on the High Priest’s headpiece (Exodus 28:36; compare also Exodus 19:5-6; Isaiah 44:5). The consequence is that you should therefore live your lives wholly for God.’
The remarkable nature of the reply comes out in that the Zealots would have agreed with it wholeheartedly, considering that to own denarii was unpatriotic. If they could have done so, they would gladly have bundled up all the denarii and handed them back to Caesar. And the Romans would have found nothing amiss in it, for that is what they asked, the return of their denarii in taxes. All who came in between would also have had to agree, for they felt uneasy about holding denarii, and recognised that such were not of God, and yet they did so. Thus by holding them and using them they were thereby compromising with Rome and as a result putting themselves under an obligation to Rome, and at the same time, even if only theoretically, they fervently admitted that all that they had belonged to God. Each could therefore interpret Jesus’ words to speak to his own position and as in the end seeking to turn them back fully to God.
Nor was it an evasion. It was a recognised principle of the time that to use a ruler’s coins was to acknowledge his overlordship, that was one reason why they were issued. The use of them therefore indicated a recognition that the users accepted civil responsibilities. Thus Jesus was saying that those who did so also had to fulfil those civil responsibilities. And yet He was also emphasising that God must have the prior claim in all things, for all things belong to God. Thus when it comes to a choice between God and the state, God must be pre-eminent. These are the principles of the new Kingly Rule of Heaven.
The idea that men could owe allegiance to an earthly sovereign, even a foreign sovereign, was not new. The principle is enunciated in Jeremiah 27:5-22; Jeremiah 38:17-20. It is based on the fact that God is sovereign over men’s affairs, and that when He brings judgment on His people they must recognise their civil responsibilities even with regard to foreign overlords. The principle is confirmed by Paul in Romans 13:1-7.
But in contrast man is made in the image of God with the responsibility of watching over the world in His Name (Genesis 1:26-28; Psalms 7:5-8). His prime responsibility is thus to God, and to live before Him with the openness and responsiveness of little children (Matthew 19:13-15, compare Matthew 18:1-4). Had the Chief Priests, Scribes and Elders been living to God they would not have neglected God’s vineyard or have rejected His Cornerstone (Matthew 21:33-42). Had they been living to God they would have responded to the Kingly Rule of Heaven (Matthew 21:31-32). And thus for those under the Kingly Rule of Heaven all must be submitted to God, while at the same time recognising civil responsibility in its rightful place.
‘And when they heard it, they marvelled, and left him, and went away.’
On hearing His reply His opponents marvelled at the wisdom of His answer. Instead of having caught Him out and shown Him up, it was they who had been shown up for hypocrisy, the hypocrisy of pretending to live only for God, and yet at the same time kowtowing to Caesar by using his coinage and taking advantage of the opportunities that his rule presented for building up wealth, taking advantage of the atmosphere of world wide peace and communication.
‘On that day there came to him Sadducees, those who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him,’
Note the emphasis that it was ‘on the same day’. Thus the Pharisees, the Herodians and the Sadducees all approached Him to test Him on that day. All were out to bring Him down. We know little about the Sadducees for everything written about them was written by their opponents and therefore unreliable. But Matthew tells us that they did not believe in the resurrection. Josephus amplifies that by saying that they did not believe in the survival of either the soul or the body. It would seem that they also laid great emphasis on the Law of Moses (which was natural to a priestly party), although also recognising the prophets suitably interpreted. They did not believe in angels or spirits. Their emphasis was on the cult. The question that they approached Him with concerned the resurrection, and was probably a standard question with which they tripped up their opponents. It was based on the law of levirate marriage (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). Under that law if a man died childless his brother (or kinsman) was required to take his wife and produce children who would inherit the dead man’s name, and his property. It was certainly practised early on for we have examples in Genesis 38:8 and in Ruth 1:11-13; Ruth 4:1-22 (the Greek rendering of Genesis 38:8 is reflected in Matthew’ treatment of the subject), but we do not know how much it was actually practised in the time of Jesus. However, being in the Law it was certainly possible for it to be practised, and there is no reason to doubt that it was, especially if the wife was especially attractive or the inheritance large.
Jesus Confirms The Truth About The Resurrection And The Secondary Nature of Marriage (22:23-33).
Jesus was now faced with the Sadducees. The Sadducees were mainly of the ruling parties and included the Chief Priests, and many of the aristocratic Elders. But here the ones who were sent were probably deliberately chosen from among those who had previously been ‘con-combative’. As with the approach of ‘the disciples of the Pharisees’ it was an attempt to challenge Him at another level. Their approach underlined that He had been challenged by, and had answered, all the leading groups in Israel
The question that they approached Jesus with was probably a standard one used by the Sadducees in defence of one of their own main teachings, the fact that there would be no resurrection. They also did not believe in spirits and angels. They probably based their view (as did the Samaritans, who only accepted the Pentateuch) on the fact that there is no mention of the resurrection in the Law of Moses. Jesus’ reply was that they neither knew the Scriptures nor the power of God. For if they were but to consider these they would see things differently
a On that day there came to him Sadducees, those who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him, saying (Matthew 22:23).
b “Teacher, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed to his brother. Now there were with us seven brothers, and the first married and deceased, and having no seed left his wife to his brother, in like manner the second also, and the third, to the seventh, and after them all, the woman died” (Matthew 22:24-27).
c “In the resurrection therefore whose wife shall she be of the seven? For they all had her” (Matthew 22:28).
d But Jesus answered and said unto them, “You go astray, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29).
c “For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30).
b “But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’ God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:31-32).
a And when the crowds heard it, they were astonished at his teaching (Matthew 22:33).
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus was questioned about the resurrection, and in the parallel all were astonished at His reply. In ‘b’ seven brothers sought to ‘raise up’ seed, and all died. In the parallel concerning the raising up of the dead God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. In ‘c’ the question concerns the resurrection, and in the parallel Jesus’ answer is given. Centrally in ‘d’ the Sadducees are revealed as not knowing the Scriptures or the power of God.
‘Saying, “Teacher, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed to his brother.”
The Sadducees began by briefly outlining the law. Strictly the law said ‘a brother living in the same household’, but as the Book of Ruth demonstrates, it was sometimes applied on a wider basis. Note again the use of ‘Teacher’. They had earlier questioned His authority. Now they were pretending that they recognised His authority. There were no depths to which they would not stoop.
‘Raise up seed.’ The same word is used for ‘raise up’ as is used for the resurrection. The Samaritans believed that that was the way in which people were ‘raised up’, by living on in their children.
“Now there were with us seven brothers, and the first married and deceased, and having no seed left his wife to his brother, in like manner the second also, and the third, to the seventh, and after them all, the woman died.”
They then laid out the case where seven brothers died childless one after the other, each taking on the same wife in order to produce children for their brothers, after which the woman also died. Note the sad emphasis on a hopeless death. There was no resurrection here, not even on a Sadducean interpretation! All died and no life resulted.
The sevenfoldness was probably an exaggeration in order to emphasise the completeness of the argument, but it remained true, of course, if it occurred in cases of fewer brothers (three or more). ‘With us’ may indicate that an actual case was known. It would certainly not be impossible. But it was probably said more with the intention of emphasising the veracity of the argument.
“In the resurrection therefore whose wife shall she be of the seven? For they all had her.”
So the question now was as to whose wife she would be in the resurrection, for she had been married to all and had had sexual relations with them all. Whichever one was selected they would have had arguments which would have demonstrated why that suggestion was wrong, for each one married the wife of the one above so as to produce an heir for that one, and to perpetuate his name. It was a question that had never failed to bamboozle their opponents.
‘But Jesus answered and said unto them, “You go astray, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.” ’
Jesus, however, pointed out that they went astray in their thinking for two reasons. Firstly because they did not know the Scriptures, and secondly because they did not appreciate the power of God. He then deals with these ideas in the reverse order in a typical chiasmus.
“For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as angels in heaven.”
They failed to recognise the power of God because they limited Him to only being able to raise people in a way that would fit into earthly patterns. They did not accept the existence of ‘spirits’. But, Jesus points out, God was not so limited. For the truth is that in the resurrection men are ‘as angels in Heaven’, that is, like the angels they are ‘spirits’ (compare 1 Corinthians 15:44; 1 Corinthians 15:50-51. See Hebrews 1:7; Hebrews 1:14). They thus do not marry or engage in sexual practises. There is no need for reproduction in Haven, for none ever die. We saw at the commencement of this section that marriage was not to be seen as the sole basis on which men lived their lives (Matthew 19:12), and this is now being emphasised here. Marriage is to be seen as a secondary and earthly function, and while as such it is important here on earth, it will not be so in Heaven. Thus this immediately undercuts their whole argument, for it means that in Heaven she is not the wife of any. Note how this argument also emphasises the equality of men and women. The woman’s temporary submission to man will also cease in Heaven, being replaced for all by the need for submission to God.
“But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying,”
Having demonstrated the weakness of their argument Jesus then turned to what was ‘spoken by God’. Notice His emphasis on the fact that the Scriptures were ‘spoken by God’. Jesus constantly reveals His belief that the Scriptures reveal God’s words and God’s truth. But knowing their penchant for the Law He does not cite Isaiah 26:19 (or Daniel 12:2-3, although they may not have accepted Daniel as Scripture) for He knows that they will interpret such verses differently and will not accept their full force. He goes rather to the Law of Moses, and to a prominent saying regularly cited by all. He cites Exodus 3:6.
‘The resurrection of the dead’ is a phrase found only here (but see Romans 1:4 where it is similar but anarthrous). Usually it is the resurrection from (ek) the dead. But John tells us that Jesus did teach the resurrection of all the dead, some to life and some to judgment (John 5:28-29).
“I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”
He points out that God had stated to Moses that ‘I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’ (See Exodus 3:6; Exodus 3:15-16), and that as He is not the God of the dead but of the living, the corollary must be that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob must therefore have been alive at the time when He spoke.
This inference takes in a number of factors which different ones will see in different ways:
1). That God was citing their names as those with whom He was ‘in covenant’, and as those to whom He must fulfil His covenant. The argument is thus that as He could not have been ‘in covenant’ at the time of Moses with a dead person, and certainly could not fulfil a covenant, which is a two party relationship, with a dead person (compare for example Genesis 12:2-3 where Abraham’s effectiveness is to continue on), they must have all been alive at the time of speaking, that is at the time of Moses, when He was about to fulfil the covenant which He had made with them.
2). That He was declaring Himself to be ‘their God’. But He could not be the God of what was non-existent, because for Him to be their God they must be able to appreciate His Godhood, therefore for Him to be their God they must have been in existence at the time of speaking.
Or to put it another way. The dead do not praise God (Psalms 88:10; Psalms 115:7). He is not their God, and cannot be. So if God can declare Himself to be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob they must in some way be enjoying life, even though they have apparently died, in order to appreciate what He is doing. For He is the God only of the living. Indeed some of the Psalmists also actually revealed such a positive, if vaguely expressed, belief in an afterlife on the same basis, that they could not believe that their positive and glorious relationship with God, which was in such contrast with those whose minds were set on earthly things, could possibly cease on death (e.g. Psalms 16:9-11; Psalms 17:15; Psalms 23:6; Psalms 49:15; Psalms 73:24, see its whole context; Psalms 139:7-12; Psalms 139:24).
3). That no one in Jesus’ time ever said that God ‘was’ the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They always, even the Sadducees said, ‘God is --’. By this they thus implicitly recognised their continual existence in their hearts so that He could be their God.
4) That to suggest that the whole of the past is dead and done with is to contradict the nature of God who brings the past into the present, and bases His actions in the present on that past. How could the living God then allow those who had been so faithful to Him in the past to sink into non-existence? It was because He saw Himself as still accountable to them that He would act as He intended. Death had not ceased His obligation, for it was to be seen that He was still obliged to them.
5) Jesus’ argument is based on the faithfulness, reliability and fairness of God. Abraham had not received the promises. But how could a faithful God not ensure that at some point he did receive the promises in return for his faithfulness? And that meant that he must still be alive in order in some way to do so.
It is noteworthy that the Sadducees appear to have at least accepted that they had no reply to His argument. It appealed to men’s basic sense of the continuing presence of God, and of His fairness, His faithfulness and His unfailing goodness and loyalty, as well as to the idea that He would not forsake those whom He had so tenderly loved.
‘And when the crowds heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.’
It was the crowds who were impressed and astonished by His teaching. This indicates that the Sadducees were rather annoyed by being unable to reply, rather than being impressed. They were not willing to be convinced. they were merely silenced. For however strong the argument, those who do not want to hear, will not hear. It is also a reminder that the crowds were present throughout all these goings on.
‘But the Pharisees, when they heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, gathered themselves together.’
The Pharisees had no doubt heard with approval that Jesus had confuted the Sadducees on their favourite topic, but it only stirred them up the more to try to show Him up. So they came together again for that purpose (compare for ‘testing’ Jesus Matthew 16:1; Matthew 19:3).
‘Gathered themselves together.’ Compare Acts 4:26 citing Psalms 2:2. The idea is of gathering together in patent hostility.
The Question As To What Is The Greatest Commandment (22:34-40).
Jesus’ success over the Sadducees was seen as sufficiently impressive to cause rumours concerning it to spread around which came to the ears of the Pharisees. They also had failed to trap Him, but it gave them the idea that perhaps they could at least get Him involved in controversy. Then at least, in a nation which was full of people with fervent and fixed but differing views, some people would be disillusioned with Him. And they recognised that they had to hand such a question, a question which was hotly debated, and that was as to which law out of the over six hundred laws that they had identified from the Law of Moses was the most important to fulfil. This in itself could be a minefield. For whichever law He chose they would be able to suggest His lack of sympathy with other very important laws. And if He refrained from agreeing that one was more important than the other then they could accuse Him of folly in suggesting that looking after a mother bird when its eggs were taken (Deuteronomy 22:7) was of equal importance to preventing murder or adultery.
So they came to Him, and through one of their Scribes, put the question to Him. And in reply He referred them to Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 which He saw as covering them all, for it revealed that Jesus saw love for God and love for man as lying at the root of all the commandments. This would certainly not be the only time when He was faced with a question similar to this, for it was such a popular one that it was no doubt put to Him time and again. Indeed we learn of another example in Luke 10:25-28, which was when He was in Galilee, and there is no reason for not seeing that as a different incident. But Matthew puts it here as a kind of inclusio along with the Sermon on the Mount, which between them encompassed His ministry and revealed what lay at the very heart of it.
a But the Pharisees, when they heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, gathered themselves together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, testing him out. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:34-36).
b And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).
c “This is the great and first commandment” (Matthew 22:38).
b “And a second like to it is this, You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).
a “On these two commandments the whole law hangs, and the prophets” (Matthew 22:40).
Note that in ‘a’ the crunch question is as to which is the greatest commandment in the Law, and in the parallel are two commandments on which the whole of the Law and the prophets hang. In ‘b’ the first great commandment is stated, and in the parallel the second great commandment. Centrally in ‘c’ is the declaration of what is the first and great commandment.
‘And one of them, a teacher of the law, asked him a question, testing him out.’
This time there would be no pretence that the question came from innocent seekers. Rather they wanted to bring out their big guns against Him, and they approached Him through ‘a teacher of the Law’ (nomikos), with a question which was a much debated, and one on which there were many views.
The word for ‘teacher of the Law’ is nomikos (thus ‘law expert’), only found here in Matthew, but more often in Luke where it generally has in mind the Scribes. Matthew may have used it because the regular tradition of the church incorporated it into this story (but then it would be in contrast with Mark). Or more likely it was because a ‘nomikos’ was a higher grade of Scribe, a leading expert. If that is so the distinction would have been important here to Matthew’s Jewish Christian readers. Perhaps a top lawyer of high experience was selected so that once Jesus gave His answer, possibly citing one of the ten commandments, he could engage in controversy with Him on the matter, exposing His viewpoint as wrong, and hopefully entangling Him and showing Him up.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
His question was simply as to which was the greatest and most important commandment in the whole of the Law. Some of the Scribes and Pharisees did in fact class certain laws as being of greater and higher importance than other laws, and there was much debate about them about the importance of each and especially about which was the most important of all. Thus they attempted to differentiate the importance of different commandments, separating them into ‘great’ or ‘heavy’ and ‘little’ or ‘light’, and would often seek to trace them back to a general principle. Thus Hillel is said to have summed up the Law as ‘what you hate for yourself do not do to your neighbour. This is the whole Law. The remainder is commentary. Go and learn.’ We can compare here Jesus’ own words on the matter in Matthew 5:18-19; Matthew 23:23, where in general He at least partly agreed with them, and His own summary of the Law in Matthew 7:12.
But others frowned at seeking to select out one Law in this way, and considered that all were equally important. They felt that there was none that could be omitted. And so important was this principle considered to be that the Laws from the book of Moses were listed so that they produced 365 prohibitions and 248 positive commands. But we must not overemphasise the difference. All believed that every law had to be treasured and obeyed (as did Jesus in Matthew 5:18-19), it was just that some felt that they could be graded in order of importance, while others gave them equal importance. Thus some thought that the greatest commandment must be the one (whichever it was) which would count the most when God weighed men up, for their continual concern was how to be approved before God. For they found it difficult to appreciate the Scriptural emphasis on the fact that approval before God came though faith in Him (Genesis 15:6), and response to Him (Habakkuk 2:4), and they therefore sought rather to build up merit before Him.
That these attitudes could lead on to a cold, stern obedience lacking in love is obvious, and the danger was that it had tended to take their eyes off God, and focus them on themselves (compare Luke 18:11-12). Keeping the Law had in fact become the be all and end all of many of their lives. This was, however, the very opposite of what Jesus felt that their attitudes should be.
‘And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
Jesus went right to the heart of the matter, citing Deuteronomy 6:5. This could hardly fail to meet with their approval for it was in fact a verse which was central to Jewish worship, and repeated by every good Jew each day. It was considered so important that it was carried around in the phylacteries worn by Pharisees on their heads and arms and fixed to their doors in small tubes (on the basis of Deuteronomy 6:8-9, interpreted literally). They would thus not have doubted its great importance. And this verse points out that the most important of God’s requirements is that we love Him ‘with heart and soul and mind’, in other words with the whole of our inward beings. (Mark also has ‘and mind’, and adds ‘and strength’ which is found in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy, however omits ‘mind’, although having said that, mind is included within the Old Testament idea of the ‘heart’. Thus all the descriptions intertwine, for where a man’s heart and soul and mind are involved, so also is his strength). So Jesus was saying that this love for God lies at the heart of all true worship, and of all true morality. But what are to understand by ‘loving God’. It indicates the kind of response that longs for God and continually owns His worth, and thus longs to please Him and do His will because of His total worthiness. But it also includes along with that the idea of trusting Him fully and serving Him truly And once this command is in place and observed all the rest truly is commentary, for it embraces all that God requires of us. Once a man or woman loves God like this their whole lives will be lived in order to please Him, and they will seek to be ‘perfect’ even as He is ‘perfect (Matthew 5:48).
Putting the idea of a heartfelt relationship with God as lying at the root of man’s behaviour is not a new concept. The idea can also be found in Deuteronomy 10:12; 1 Samuel 15:22; Isaiah 1:11-18; Isaiah 43:21-24; Isaiah 44:5; Jeremiah 31:33-34; Ezekiel 36:26-27; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8.
“This is the great and first commandment.”
Then Jesus emphasised the centrality of this commandment. This, He said, is the great commandment, and comes before all others. All else pales beside it. For if we truly love God then our behaviour will be God-like and all else will fall into place. It is also the first because it must come before all others in importance.
“And a second like to it is this, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
But Jesus then adds a second so as to ensure that love for each other is given its rightful place and not overlooked (for man can be guilty of such insensitivity that in his supposed love for God he neglects his neighbour), and that was ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’. This second, which is ‘like to the first’, also emphasises love, and is taken from Leviticus 19:18 (compare Matthew 5:42; Matthew 19:19). It especially has in mind there complete honesty, fair judgment, non-talebearing, and avoiding all hatred, vengeance, and the bearing of grudges (compare Matthew 5:21-48), while at the same time allowing for the rebuking of a neighbour in love (Matthew 7:1-5), although always without permanent rancour (Leviticus 19:13-18) Thus love for God, resulting also in love for one another, are to be seen as the two central features of the Law, paralleling and lying behind the two sections of the ten commandments, the Godward and the manward.
“On these two commandments the whole law hangs, and the prophets.”
That is why Jesus could say that the whole Law hangs on these two commandments, together with the prophets. For without this love neither the Law nor the prophets can be fulfilled. By this combination of the Law and the Prophets we are taken back to Matthew 5:17 and Matthew 7:12, and all that lies between, for God’s purpose for us in Jesus is that we, as far as it is possible for us, fulfil the Law and the prophets, combining this fulfilment with the idea of our love for our Father in Heaven as assumed in the Sermon on the Mount. Indeed these two commandments are to be seen as the very foundation for that Sermon, for while love for God is not specifically mentioned there it is everywhere assumed (Matthew 5:3-9; Matthew 5:45; Matthew 6:6; Matthew 6:24; Matthew 6:33; Matthew 7:22), and love for our neighbour is specifically required (Matthew 5:39-48). Without such love we could not possibly fulfil the Sermon on the Mount. Its demands would be too great.
It is true, of course, that the general idea of what Jesus said in this combination is found in the Testament of the Twelve patriarchs (1st century BC), where we read, ‘Love the Lord and love your neighbour, have compassion on the poor and weak’ (Issachar Matthew 5:2). ‘I loved the Lord, in the same way also every man with my whole heart’ (Issachar Matthew 7:6). ‘Love the Lord through all your life, and one another with a true heart’ (Daniel 5:3). But in these cases love for God and neighbour are not stated as being the fundamental basis of the Law. And in fact the ideas were not new there either, for they were found in the Law of Moses, as in the end they simply summarised the ten commandments, and the fundamental expressions of the Law.
Yet as far as we are aware Jesus was the first specifically to bring these two commandments together as one in this way as indicating the whole basis of the Law. The incident in Luke 10:25-37, where the Pharisee cites them leading up to the parable of the good Samaritan, may possibly indicate that the combination was well known, but it may equally be that he had them in mind there precisely because he had heard Jesus citing them. However, that is not of great importance, for Jesus’ genius lay not so much in having ideas that no one had thought of individually before, as in bringing them all together succintly and giving them a deeper meaning. He revealed in depth what others had made known fleetingly. Thus what is more important is that Jesus declared that they summed up the Law and the prophets, and that that meant that a man’s attitude of heart was more important than the details of the Law, although He did not by that invalidate the Law, but rather revealed that such love should be an attitude of heart that was determined to fulfil the Law and the Prophets.
In a sense this passage forms an inclusio, along with Matthew 5:17 in the Sermon on the Mount, enclosing within it the whole ministry of Jesus, and thus commencing and ending His general ministry with concentration on our behaviour towards God and our neighbour, and the necessity to obey the Law and the Prophets. This latter reference is then followed by the seven ‘woes’ on those who did fail to love God in this way, just as the love of God in the Sermon on the Mount began to be portrayed in the seven ‘blessings’ on those who had begun to love Him, for in the end we love Him because He first loved us.
‘Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying,’
For ‘gathered together’ compare Matthew 22:34 and its connection with Acts 4:26 citing Psalms 2:2. It indicated their hostility and there intention to bring Jesus crashing down. So Jesus, having dealt with their hostile questions, put to them His own question.
Jesus Is Not Just David’s Son, He Is David’s Lord (22:41-46).
Just as the Sermon on the Mount was preceded by a revelation of the glorious light that had burst on the world in Jesus (Matthew 4:16) so that the Kingly Rule of Heaven was seen to be at hand (Matthew 4:17; Matthew 4:23), so now this revelation concerning love for God and for our neighbour is followed by the revelation of the glory of the Christ, Who is to sit on God’s right hand with all His enemies submitting at His feet (compare Matthew 28:18; Matthew 26:64). All that has gone between has explained why this is.
a Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying (Matthew 22:41).
b “What do you think of the Messiah (Christ)? Whose son is he?” They say to him, “The son of David” (Matthew 22:42).
c He says to them, “How then does David in the Spirit call him Lord, saying, “The Lord said to my Lord, You sit on my right hand, until I put your enemies underneath your feet?” (Matthew 22:43-44).
b “If David then calls him Lord, how is he his son?” (Matthew 22:45).
a And no one was able to answer him a word, neither dared any man from that day forth to ask him any more questions (Matthew 22:46).
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus asks the Pharisees a question and in the parallel no one is able to answer Him or dares to ask Him an more questions. In ‘b’ Jesus asks them if the Messiah is David’s son, and in the parallel demonstrates that he cannot be because David calls him ‘Lord’. Centrally in ‘c’ we have the evidence as to why the Messiah is David’s Lord.
“What do you think of the Messiah (Christ)? Whose son is he?” They say to him, “The son of David.” ’
First He asked them what their view was about the Messiah. Whose son did they see him to be? In the light of the beliefs of the time that was not a difficult one and they promptly replied, ‘the son of David’. David was the glorious king of the past who had overshadowed all other kings. In their eyes he was the prototype of all that was good in kingship. And to see the Messiah as his son was to see Him as glorious indeed from an earthly point of view. But Jesus’ point here is that that is not enough.
Note that this is not strictly a use of the title ‘the Son of David’ but is more a statement of fact in line with Matthew 1:1; Matthew 1:17 and is thus emphasising lineage, that is, that He is the son of David. He is the One in the line of David Who was promised as coming (compare Isaiah 9:2-7; Isaiah 11:1-4; Jeremiah 23:5; Ezekiel 34:23-24; Ezekiel 37:24-25). It has a slightly different nuance to the title ‘the Son of David’ as used to refer to the One with royal healing powers (like Solomon), although the end result is the same for both connect Him with the house of David and with the Messiah.
‘He says to them, “How then does David in the Spirit call him Lord, saying,”
But Jesus then turns their minds to the Scriptures, and He refers them to Psalms 110:0. Psalms 110:0 was a psalm ‘of David’ and David was believed by all present, including Jesus, to be its author, something which He specifically implies. If we accept that Jesus infallibly knew the mind of God that would seem to settle the question of authorship. And indeed the only grounds for thinking otherwise would be the actual interpretation of the Psalm.
Some see it as the Psalmist signifying that the king of the house of David is his lord, regardless of when it was written, possibly as a coronation psalm. But there is in fact no reason why David should not himself, in a Psalm intended to be full of hope and to be for public use, have spoken of the future coming scion of his house in this way, having in mind especially the future son of David whom he had been told was coming to establish his kingdom ‘for ever’ (2 Samuel 7:12; 2 Samuel 7:16; Psalms 2:0), and the mention of the ‘everlasting’ Melchizedek priesthood might well be seen as confirming this. This last reference to the Melchizedek priesthood might well also be seen as indicating an early date for authorship, at a time when such a question was still seen as important in Jerusalem. Again this would go towards confirming Davidic authorship. Note that that priesthood is also, like the kingdom in 2 Samuel 7:16, proclaimed as ‘everlasting’. Thus David may here reasonably be seen as referring to how he himself sees the future of his house, with a supreme king appearing, and with ‘my Lord’ being a reverential reference forward to that great supreme coming King Who would establish the everlasting Kingly Rule and the everlasting priesthood of Melchizedek, and who would truly have ‘all things’ under His feet (as in Psalms 2:0), and would thus be far superior to even David, and thus his ‘Lord’.
Jesus’ view of the full inspiration of the Psalms is also brought out by His words, for He speaks of ‘David in the Spirit calling Him Lord’. Thus He sees David as having been divinely inspired by the Spirit in the writing of the Psalm, and on that basis, He says, ‘If the Messiah is only David’s son, why does David call Him Lord?’ The obvious answer can only be ‘because He is to be seen as a greater than David’.
It should further be noted that there are good grounds for considering that this Psalm was interpreted Messianically in the pre-Christian period. This is confirmed by the Midrash on Psalms 18:36 where Psalms 110:1 is quoted by way of illustration in a Messianic sense. It is true that later the interpretation was dropped by the Rabbis, but that was because the Christians had taken it over. It was, however, firm and strong at this period. Moreover it is also constantly quoted Messianically in the New Testament. See Acts 2:34, of His ascending the throne of God as both Lord and Messiah; Hebrews 10:12 where, after offering one sacrifice for sins for ever, He ‘sat down at the right hand of God’; and see its use with regard to the Melchizedek priesthood in Hebrews 6:20; Hebrews 7:17; Hebrews 7:21. Thus it would appear that this connection of the Psalm with the Messiah would have caused no problem to His listeners.
“The Lord said to my Lord, You sit on my right hand, until I put your enemies underneath your feet?”
He then amplifies that further by citing the Psalm. On Jesus’ interpretation the LORD (YHWH) had said to David’s Lord, “You sit on my right hand, until I put your enemies underneath your feet?” To be placed on the right hand was to be given supreme honour (compare Psalms 45:9; Psalms 80:17. See also Mark 16:19; Luke 22:69; Acts 7:56; Hebrews 1:3). It was a position regularly reserved for the King’s heir apparent or the prince regent, or failing him the highest ranking person at the court. The Messiah was thus to be supremely honoured by God and vested with His authority (compare Matthew 26:64 where the same Psalm is in mind, and see Matthew 28:18). To have all enemies put under His feet indicated total victory over all His enemies. Thus the Messiah was to be totally supreme enjoying the very authority of God Himself, and acting in His Name (Matthew 28:18-20).
“If David then calls him Lord, how is he his son?”
That all being so, how can he be called simply David’s son? The idea behind the title is therefore to be seen as insufficient for a description of the Messiah. ‘Calls Him Lord’ is here to be seen as indicating all that is included in the quotation in Matthew 22:44. Thus David is seen as declaring and proclaiming the supreme power and authority that will be the Messiah’s, setting Him far above himself (compare Romans 1:3-4), and we know from what is previously said that this title Messiah refers to Jesus. The supreme light (Matthew 4:16) is now shining before Israel.
This does not, of course indicate that the Messiah would not be the son of David lineally. It indicates rather that he could not be seen in the way that He was by the Pharisees, as inferior to or simply on a level with David, and as acting in the same way that David did. He must not be equated with David on the same terms. In Hebrew thought ‘son of --’ indicated not only relationship, but likeness in standing and behaviour. However, the point here is that there was no way in which David could be seen as the full archetype of the Messiah because the Messiah was so much greater than David. He operated in ways, and with a power, that David could never have dreamed of, in other words, as He Himself did.
‘And no one was able to answer him a word, neither dared any man from that day forth to ask him any more questions.’
Once again they could give Him no answer, for they had to mentally acknowledge the truth of what He said. But they were not willing to receive it into their hearts, and there is a sense in which at this moment they finally sealed their fate, as described in what follows in 23 onwards, because of the hardening of their hearts.
It was also the end of trying to test Jesus out. No one from that day on dared to ask Him any more questions. So they withdrew to lick their wounds, and began instead to plot His death. They now recognised that it was the only way in which they could defeat Him. It was the recognition of their intellectual and spiritual dishonesty in this that caused Jesus to speak as He does in chapter 23. They had as a body proved themselves to be beyond redemption.