In our last essay we studied Luke 20:1-19. In this essay we are studying Luke 20:20-40. As Jesus continued teaching in the temple, another delegation of the religious leaders came and sought to persuade Jesus to say something that could be used against him with the Romans. According to Mark’s parallel, this delegation was made up of Pharisees and Herodians. The Herodians were close followers of the royal family, the Herods.
In verses 20-26 there are three statements about the delegation that I want to emphasize. The first statement is, “they watched him.” As verse 20 says, their purpose in watching Jesus was to trap him in something that they could use against him with the Romans.
The second statement is, “they asked him.” That is, as part of their plan, the Pharisees and Herodians asked Jesus a question that they thought would trip him up. And notice in verse 21 the flattery with which they approached Jesus. “We know you are right in what you say and teach.” “You show deference to no one.” And you “teach the way of God according to truth.” They apparently thought that their flattery would cause Jesus to let down his guard and more easily say something inappropriate.
The delegation asked a question in verse 22: “Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” The Jewish people hated paying taxes to the Romans; and so, the hope of the delegation was that if Jesus said it was lawful, he would lose support among the people. But if Jesus said it was not lawful, which was the answer the delegation was hoping for, then the delegation could report to the Romans that Jesus was a rebel.
Verses 23-24 indicate that Jesus was not taken in by the delegation’s flattery, nor was he knocked off balance by their question. He perceived their plan, and he answered them by asking to see a denarius, a Roman coin worth a day’s wages for a laborer. He asked whose picture was on it, and they replied “the emperor’s.” Then Jesus said, “give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Caesar’s image on the coin indicated that he was the ruler of the land. And Jewish tradition recognized that rulers were appointed by God (Pro. 8:15-16; Dan. 2:21). Rulers had the right to collect taxes, even if they were deeply resented. As you know the New Testament strongly teaches Christians to submit to political authority as long as it does not involve disobeying God (Rom. 13;1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17).
But notice that Jesus did not stop with his command to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. He went on to command then, and us, “to give God the things that are God’s. You see, we human beings are stamped with the image of God, just as the Roman coins were stamped with the image of Caesar. Therefore we must acknowledge his authority over us.
The third statement about the delegation comes at the very end of the paragraph in verse 26. First, “they watched him.” Second, “they asked him.” And third, “they became silent.” Jesus had foiled their plan with his answer. It was not a matter of God or Caesar; it was a matter of God and Caesar.
Next, in verses 27-40, we see that some Sadducees asked Jesus a question about the resurrection. The Sadducees were the priestly Jewish sect that focused their attention on the temple. Their theology was quite different from the Pharisees, who focused their attention on the law. The Sadducees were better known theologically for what they didn’t believe than what they believed. They didn’t believe that any Old Testament books, apart from the five books of Moses, are Scripture. They didn’t believe in the existence of angels and demons or in resurrection from the dead (Acts 23:8). The Pharisees believed all of these, as did Jesus.
The Sadducees’ question in verse 28 refers to what is called levirate marriage. The Old Testament scripture in question is Deut. 25:5-6.
When brothers reside together, and one of them has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go into her, taking her in marriage, and performing the duty of a husband’s brother to her, and the firstborn whom she bears shall succeed to the name of the deceased brother, so that his name may not be blotted out of Israel (Deut. 25:5-6).
The purpose of levirate marriage was to keep property in the family by raising up an heir for the deceased brother’s share. If you read on in Deuteronomy 25, a man could get out of the obligation if he was willing to endure public shame for his refusal to do it. But to refuse clearly was a serious breech of duty.
So, the Sadducees came to Jesus. And using the Old Testament law about levirate marriage, they tried to discredit the idea of resurrection by offering a rather ridiculous hypothetical case. The eldest of seven brothers died childless. Each of the remaining six brothers in turn married the widow but also died childless. Then in verse 33 the Sadducees asked Jesus, “In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”
In Mark and Matthew’s parallels, as Jesus responds, he accuses the Sadducees of knowing neither the scriptures nor the power of God (Mk. 12:24; Mt. 22:29). Then Jesus goes on to say, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.”
Now let’s unpack that a bit. Jesus says that there will be no marriage in the resurrection. And he gives a reason. Resurrected people “cannot die anymore because they are like angels.” So in the resurrection we will have immortality, a characteristic we will share with angels. The implication of that fact is this. There will be no need to have children. In this age, a major purpose of marriage is to bear children, because children are necessary to replace those who die. But in the resurrection, no one will die. Therefore the necessity for marriage and children is gone.
Some have interpreted this to mean that marriage relationships forged in this life will be dissolved in heaven. Jesus did not say that. He said that marriage as an institution is dissolved in heaven, because it no longer will be needed. But I believe the relationships will transcend to a new level and be even more meaningful than they are here.
Next, Jesus used an illustration from Exodus three to demonstrate that Moses did teach about the resurrection. When Moses saw a burning bush, he approached it, and God engaged him in conversation. During that conversation, God declared, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Ex. 3:6). Jesus says about that event, “Now he is God not of the dead but of the living; for to him [that is to God] all of them are alive.” Wow! Notice that we only get an indirect reaction from the Sadducees. It is in verse 40: “For they no longer dared to ask him another question.” In other words, like those interacting with Jesus on the issue of paying taxes to the emperor, “They became silent.” However we get a direct reaction from certain scribes who were in the audience. They were impressed with Jesus’ bible lesson and said so.
To summarize, Jesus affirmed what the Sadducees denied. He affirmed the existence of angels, the reality of life after death, and the reality of a future resurrection.