A Bible Lesson on Matthew 22:23-46

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This lesson covers most of a series of interchanges between Jesus and Jewish religious leaders the week of the crucifixion. Previous to where we start, He has silenced Pharisees who have come trying to trap Him with a question about the morality of paying taxes to civil authorities. Now a group of Sadducees comes to try its luck at embarrassing Him in a religious debate.

 Matthew 22:23 The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question,

These guys are the religious liberals of the time and place. They are wealthy and politically well-connected, quite willing to collaborate with Rome. They only accept as relevant the Pentateuch, the books of Moses, and they see those nothing promising life after death. They throw at Jesus what most commentators think is a hypothetical situation. This is in all probability an argument that they have often used in their debates with the (conservative and legalistic) Pharisees (who believed in life after death).

24 saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’

Moses they accepted, and they point to the provision of Deuteronomy 25:5-6. The Greek word rendered “marry” here is a technical one specific to this case of marriage for purposes of carrying on a family line.

25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother.

26 So too the second and third, down to the seventh.

27 After them all, the woman died.

28 In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.”

One can just see these fellows congratulating themselves on their cleverness. “Let’s see the carpenter from Galilee deal with this difficulty. How would God deal in eternity with the continuation of difficult circumstances related to mortal life?” But it’s an absurd irrelevant case they pose, nothing but a hypothetical that doesn’t relate to things as they really are. It’s just a debating device, and Jesus isn’t there playing games. He’s bringing the real Kingdom of God.

29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.

A proper understanding of who God is and His revelation of Himself in the Scriptures makes the whole high school debate motif of the Sadducees both sad and laughable. The wooden assumption that all will go on forever–more or less as it is now–fails to see God as big enough and fails to understand His redemption work throughout time as He makes and keeps eternal covenants and moves history toward a restoration of the perfection with which He created it. Doesn’t it seem obvious from the Old Testament that what is coming must be bigger than issues of property rights for families stricken by an untimely death in this mortal existence?

30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.

Human family life is a wonderful gift of God. Marriage and children are a huge blessing in this existence. But why should we expect that those institutions carry on in eternity? Do we really expect that our existence will forever be consumed with details of marrying, and keeping house, and raising kids? Human existence in eternity must surely be more like the existence of angels whose full time occupation is the praise and adoration of the I AM.

31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God:

And Sadducees, regarding the bigger issue of eternal life, if you must have a proof text rather than taking the whole flow of the Old Testament and the grandeur of an eternal permanent God who makes people in His image as clear testimony that we will be raised, here’s one from Exodus 3:6 (just a few verses before God reveals His name to Moses) a part of the Old Testament that you claim to believe.

32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”

As God speaks, He speaks of the patriarchs as alive. It’s not “I’m the One they worshipped when they were alive.” Rather it is “I am the One who presently is their God.” Calvin said, “As no man can be a father without children, nor a king without a people, so, strictly speaking, the Lord cannot be called the God of any but the living.” How could an eternal God make beings in His image, establish eternal promises with them, and then let then die and pass out of existence like dogs?

33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.

This is not debate. This is not cleverness on the part of Jesus. This is real God-breathed truth. The Sadducees aren’t silenced because Jesus has scored a point they didn’t see coming. Their mouths are shut in awe of the God who is and His Son who has spoken. Of course. This is obviously the way things are. They may not be willing to bow the knee, but further silly debate is out of the question.

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.

Pharisees and Sadducees didn’t get along. But they were united against this common “enemy” that was threatening their position as professional religious people. So they rejoin the disputing with Jesus. This time the question is the orthodoxy of Jesus. How good is He with God’s Law? They had identified 613 Old Testament laws. What was He going to say about them?

35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.

36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

In one sense this is another absurd question. If the Old Testament Law is “the set of rules to be kept in order to be righteous” there cannot be one that is “the one” that needs to be kept above all others. If any is violated, righteousness is completely ruined. The Pharisees thought the Law was exactly what defined righteousness before God. Their thinking was “Just tell me what I need to do.” One good commentator rightly said that what Jesus says in reply is most profoundly disturbing. Jesus didn’t allow it to be that simple. What’s the will of God? It’s not “just” that one does some things and doesn’t do others …

37 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.

Rather, it is that with all that one is, one is to be devoted to the Lord God. There is no relatively short list (really, only 613 !!???) of rules that can encode proper “being” as a human. Right being is constant and complete devotion to the One who made all, sustains all, and is Himself the very definition of righteousness. This in no way cancels the Old Testament Laws that help make clear to us what goodness looks like. And this statement destroys human hope of self-righteousness. There is no honest human being who can claim to have this kind of absolute and complete love for God.

38 This is the great and first commandment.

But this is the great commandment from Deuteronomy 6:5. This gets to the heart of the matter and to the motivation of one’s actions. What is required for righteousness? Constant and completely devotion to God, not only in external action, but in inward motivation. And if that’s not enough to undo us, Jesus gives a second answer to the question.

39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus now points to Leviticus 19:18. The whole business of righteousness is not simply something between a person and God, it of necessity involves the others that God made in His image. Selfishness is no more appropriate as an attitude toward other people than it would be toward the One who made us. None of us is in the center of the universe. God is. Our regard for Him has the natural corollary that we will value the ones He’s made and loves as He loves us. (And once more, except for the marvelous forgiving grace of God, we’re all of us undone by the truth of what Jesus says. We don’t love God with everything we are, and we are selfish to the core, not really caring for other people.)

40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Post-moderns often try to make Jesus’ statements here stand in opposition to the Old Testament Law, setting up a vaguely defined mushy “love” as the greater good, and right conduct (prescribed by the Old Testament) as inferior. Jesus doesn’t allow that. He plainly says here that the Old Testament Law turns on these basics. Want to know what love for God and others looks like? Then pay attention to how He told His people to live. The “depend” here is “turn as on a hinge.” These two commands are the “greatest” in the sense that they are what is at the core of things and the others give us clarity about what these two look like in practice. (They are not the “greatest” in the sense that the others are of no consequence.)

41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question,

Jesus and the Pharisees are getting near the essence of things. So He pushes them on what is ultimately the question of His real identity, nature, and authority. Remember that this is taking place the week of the crucifixion. They would have liked to have arrested Him already. He’s come into Jerusalem on the donkey to the shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David” and has condemned them publicly as the rebels who killed the son of the owner of the vineyard.

42 saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.”

So who is Messiah? They answer that He’s to be descended from David. He’s David’s “son” by descent and they effectively say that He’s of the nature of David. That is, “son of XXX” to the Jewish mind of the time was “of the kind/nature of XXX.”

43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,

In terms of physical descent, that’s an OK answer, indeed Matthew has been very careful to show Jesus to stand in David’s line of physical descent. But it is not a complete or even correct answer as regards the nature of God’s Messiah. Jesus points at Psalm 110:1.

44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”‘?

The Psalm says “The LORD says to my Lord …” David says that the I AM speaking to David’s Master says “Sit at my right hand, …” It must be Messiah under discussion here, and David calls this one “Master” and sees Him seated at the right hand of the Father. Does that sound like Messiah is no more than a human being descended from David?

45 If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”

Jesus is Messiah. Jesus is Master. He is David’s descendent, but He is also Son of Man per Daniel 7:13 and Son of God.

46 And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

These people have come face-to-face with the Son of God. Debate is not an option. They must either take Him at His word and worship Him or kill Him.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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