In our Bible studies, we encourage people to ask questions. This increases understanding, as people explore the passage or subject under discussion. Hopefully, they learn how to put the teaching into effect in their way of life. We ought to always remember that the teaching of the word is not simply to gain factual knowledge, but to increase wisdom and the personal application of the Word to our lives. We also should remember that doing is much more important than knowing. But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves (James 1:22 CSB). It is good to memorize Matthew six, but it is better not to worry and to trust God.
In our text, Jesus received three questions from people whose motives were evil. They spoke evil from the evil in their hearts (Matthew 12:34). None of them wanted to learn, so that they could repent (change their minds) and then live for the glory of God and good of others. Their goal was to make trouble for Jesus. Let’s look at each.
The first group tried to cause political problems for Jesus (22:15-22). The question concerned paying taxes to the Roman emperor. They attempted to soften him up with flattery. It seemed that either way that Jesus answered, he would have serious problems. If he said yes, the Jewish zealots could condemn him as traitorous, and he would lose the support of the crowds. If he said no, the Romans could condemn him as rebellious, and the Romans had a habit of crucifying Jewish rebels. Jesus’ answer put the burden on them. Would they fulfill their duty as Caesar’s subjects? More importantly, would they give themselves to God?
The second group tried to embarrass Jesus with a question that seemed that any answer would make him look ridiculous (22:23-33). They presented an improbable scenario from the inheritance laws of the law covenant to make the idea of a resurrection appear unbelievable. (The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, 22:23.) Jesus responded that they were the ones with two serious problems. First, they didn’t know the power of God to resurrect people and to provide them with a higher level of life. Second, they didn’t know the Scriptures. Jesus took them to the account of the burning bush, in which God said I am (not was) the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (though all had died hundreds of years previously.) How could they be religious leaders if they did not believe in God’s power and word?
The third group tried to drag Jesus into religious controversy (22:34-40). That the Pharisee had an evil intent is made known by the word “test” (22:35). The rabbis held a variety of opinions about the greatest command in the Torah. Whatever answer Jesus gave might entangle him in debates with the other rabbis and their followers, causing Jesus to be discredited as a prophet in the eyes of the people. This time Jesus answered in a way that exposed them to discreditation. If they denied the first great command, they would be denying God’s supremacy. If they denied the second, well, Jesus had already taught them a few lessons on their need to love their neighbors and show mercy to them.
It is good to ask questions, if we desire to know and love God, his word, and people better. It is evil to ask questions that attempt to show up the teacher or to entrap him. And let’s ask ourselves, “Why do I want this question answered? Do I want to see Biblical change occur in my life? Do I want to walk in love? Do I have a teachable spirit, or am I trying to show off?”
Grace and peace, David