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The Religious Leaders Confront Jesus (Week 4, Day 3)

Matthew 21:23-37, 22:15-46 (Click to read passage)

The tension between Jesus and the Pharisees reach a whole new level during Passion Week.  The Apostle John tells us that the Pharisees were concerned that the Romans would be provoked and destroy the country because of Jesus.  Jesus’ accusations of the Pharisees’ hypocrisy, his constant breaking of the Sabbath rules and the ever-increasing number of followers were really starting to get to the religious leaders.  It was no longer a matter of just letting agreeing to disagree.  To the Pharisees, Jesus was someone dangerous and he needed to be stopped. 

Often people reading the Gospels think that the religious leaders were all one group- the Pharisees.  But there were actually different groups.  One group called the Sadducees believed in a more physical version of Judaism that didn’t talk about spirits, angels or the afterlife.  They were more concerned about ideas.  On the other hand, the Pharisees were more interested in practical.  They were more concerned about applying the Old Testament law in the everyday things of life and they were closer to the population.  The Scribes were the ones who copied manuscripts and could speak about the teachings of Moses with authority.  They were the more bookish folks.

Each of these groups disagreed with one another.  But they came together for one purpose.  They all thought Jesus was dangerous and needed to be stopped.  And so, each group tried to confront Jesus in debate hoping to trip Jesus up. 

First, the Chief Priests questioned Jesus authority (Matt. 21:23-27).  Jesus asked them where did John the Baptist’s authority come from.  They were unable to answer and Jesus demonstrated that the Chief Priests did not have any authority because they were more concerned about what people thought of them than about God’s authority. 

Second, were the Pharisees (Matt. 22:15-22).  They asked Jesus if it was right to pay taxes to Caesar.  If Jesus said yes, then he could be accused of being a Roman sympathizer and lose some of his following.  If he said no, then he could be accused of trying to lead a rebellion.  Jesus knowing their plan, answered wisely, “Give to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what is God’s”.  The crowds marveled at Jesus’ answer.

Next, the Sadducees (who didn’t believe in the Resurrection) asked a question about the resurrection and what would happen if people married more than one person (Matt. 22:23-33).  Jesus came back and told the Sadducees were wrong, “because you neither know the Scriptures nor the

power of God (22:29).”  People will no longer give or be given in marriage.  The Bible also talks about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as if they are still alive.

Lastly, an expert in the law asked Jesus which is the greatest commandment.  Jesus answered to love God and to love one’s neighbor (Matt. 22:34-40).

When it came to Jesus’ turn to ask, Jesus asked how could the Messiah be a descendant of David and also David’s lord (Matt. 22:41-45)?  No one was able to answer or say a word. 

What do we learn about Jesus from this passage?  Clearly Jesus was someone wise, a good debater, and learned in the Scriptures.  But there was more to this.  Jesus was not only a good and wise teacher, trained in rhetoric and quick with words.  Jesus had an insight and an authority to his teaching that was not of human origin.  If it was, he would cite other people, or have been intimidated by the crowds.  Jesus’ insight into the Scriptures was because he was part of the Trinity.  Jesus was intimately familiar with the main author- the Holy Spirit.  Jesus had wisdom because he is God.  By contrast, the teachers of the law demonstrated their fear of the crowds, the limited of their logic, misunderstanding of passages and inability to understand God.  Jesus’ ability to challenge and question them was because he knew what was in people’s hearts and could expose them.

The religious leaders would not take Jesus’ victory well.  They will carry out their plan to try and kill Jesus.  And they will do it with help from inside Jesus’ inner circle.

Questions for Meditation:

  1. What was the tone of the religious leader’s questions?  Have you ever been asked questions like this with that kind of tone?  Have you ever asked questions in this tone?  What does it reveal about the state of your heart when you ask questions with a testing tone?
  2. After Jesus answered the questions, do you think the religious leaders were satisfied and put their faith in Jesus?  Does faith necessarily come when a person’s questions are answered?
  3. Do you feel inadequate sometimes to answer other people’s doubts and questions?  How does the passage help you when trying to share the gospel?