Last Updated on : Saturday, October 11, 2014









by Robert Roberts



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sp chapter XLIX

Silences Pharisees and the Sadducees -- His Open Denunciation of Them as Blind Leaders.


The foregoing chapter conducted us to the last visit of Christ to Jerusalem. He did not spend many days in the city before the agonising scene that closed his work upon the earth. But during those few days, he said much that cannot be passed lightly over in an endeavour to thoroughly exhibit the incidents of his life. What he said was mostly said under circumstances of provocation; for the Scribes and Pharisees were now thoroughly roused, and resolved at all hazards to make away with him. "He taught daily in the temple," but his enemies "could not find what they might do; for all the people were very attentive to hear him." They were obliged to work warily. Opposition by open force would have placed their own position in danger. Diplomacy directed their tactics. They tried to entrap him into some utterance that would bring him within the meshes of the law. In this they failed, because Jesus know their object, and evaded them with the most admirable skill.
A band of them came to him as he was teaching one day in the courts of the temple, and said, "Tell us by what authority doest thou these things? Who is he that gave thee this authority?" Had he replied that God was his authority, they would have charged him with blasphemy and taken him into custody. The time had not come for this; therefore Jesus fenced their words. He said he would tell them his authority if they would first tell him what was to be thought of John the Baptist's work -- whether it was of divine origin or a merely human affair. This answer he made in the hearing of the people, who believed that John's work was of God, which put the Scribes and Pharisees in a great dilemma. If they said John's work was human, it would turn the people against them. If they said it was divine, they laid themselves open to the charge of having rejected and opposed a work of God. Neither answer suited them. Men concerned only for truth would have answered straight one way or other, but these were not men concerned for truth, but concerned only for the maintenance of their ascendancy which was threatened by the influence of Jesus, whom therefore they resolved to destroy. They took the middle ground of ignorance. "We cannot tell." This gave Jesus his escape -- with grace and power in the presence of the multitude. "Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things." He did not stop there. He spoke the parable of the two sons, and the parable of the householder, which we considered in chapter xxxii. "They perceived that he spake to them." This poured oil on the fire of their anger. They were incensed to the point of wishing to lay hands on him there and then; but the friendly attitude of the multitude towards Jesus restrained them. "They feared the multitude," we are told (Matt. xxi. 46), "who took Jesus for a prophet." Jesus knew that his day of opportunity was coming to a close. He made full use of the little remaining time. He spoke the parable of the marriage feast which will be found fully treated in chapter xxxiii.
The Pharisees and their colleagues in hostility appear to have been unable to stand any more. They left the crowd that were so attentively listening to Christ, and retired for consultation. The result of their consultation was another attempt to entrap Jesus in his speech. He had evaded them on the subject of his authority: but he could not easily escape a direct question as to whether it was a right thing for God's nation to pay tribute to a foreigner. At least, they thought not. The question was one that divided opinion among the Jews. The Pharisees maintained that the payment of tribute to the Romans was an infringement of the law of Moses which said, "Thou mayest not set a stranger over thee which is not thy brother" (Deut. xvii. 15). Another party contended (probably on the strength of Jeremiah's letter to the captives at Babylon -- Jer. xxxix.) -- that it was their duty to submit to the power having authority over them in the Providence of God. This latter party were called Herodians from loyalty to Herod, who was at that time the leading representative of Roman authority among them. The Pharisees sent a deputation to Christ composed equally of members of both factions with the calculation that an answer, "yes" or "no," would be sure to put him wrong with one or other of them, and lead to his arrest.
The deputation would be quite well instructed as to the object of their manoeuvre. They addressed themselves to the work in the style of supple flattery usually adopted by men with an evil object. They approached Jesus with the sweetest of speeches. They little knew that he saw through them. What they said was true, but was not spoken for its truth, but for its supposed effect in getting the answer they wanted: "Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth; neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, what thinkest thou? -- Is it lawful to give tribute to Cesar or not?" Having thus fired off their prepared words, they watch the effect. They fix their sinister and eager eyes on the grave and sad man who stands in the midst of the crowd. Jesus attempts no courtesy. He knows he is face to face with men who are aiming at his destruction under the pretence of desiring information: "Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money." This was an unexpected turn. They fumble for the coin and produce it. Jesus looks at it: "Whose is this image and superscription?" They answer readily enough, but feeling a little uncomfortable no doubt: "Cesar's." Now then what about the question? Straight the answer came like a volley from a thousand levelled muskets -- "Render unto Cesar the things which are Cesar's and unto God the things which are God's."
What could they do with such an answer? It completely shut them up. "They could not take hold on his word." The deputation must have looked very sheepish as they stood there for a moment. They did not stand long. "They left him and went their way," -- fairly vanquished. The rejoinder was a masterpiece. It appeared to answer the question with a crushing obviousness, and yet it did not deal with the question at all; for the real question was: what are the things that Caesar may claim? At the same time, it was no quibble. Though evading the particular question propounded, it affirmed a serious truth in laying it down as a principle that there are things that Cesar may claim and things that God claims over and above and sometimes in defiance of Cesar. To appreciate the splendour of the strategy, we must have in view the object of the questioners; and the fact that the time had not yet come (though very near) for Christ to surrender to the power of his enemies.
Hostile writers have used Christ's behaviour on this occasion against him. They complain that he did not deal frankly with a plain and important question, and that he put off his interrogators with a subterfuge. If they took the whole situation into account, they could not make this mistake. They would see that his escape from the tactics of malice, while apparently in a hopeless corner on a question of principle, was part of the superhuman subtlety which struck even his enemies dumb with admiration. There is a time for everything. It was not a time for frank answer when answer was sought as a weapon of murder.
The deputation having retired in discomfiture, the Sadducees, not displeased to see the Pharisees worsted, came to him with a friendly poser on the subject of resurrection, of which they were unbelievers. Their question related to the position of a woman in the resurrection who should have had several husbands during her mortal life. Jesus disposes of their difficulty by informing them that the marriage relation is abolished in the resurrection-state, and that "those who are accounted worthy" to enter that state "are as the angels." A woman and several husbands would therefore be like a sister having several brothers -- all equally near and intimate in the perfect state in which they "cannot die any more, for they are equal unto the angels, and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection." Marriage is a provisional institution whose object ceases with the imperfect and transitory state to which it belongs. To those who may in the present desolation find it the greenest spot upon earth at present, the prospect of its abolition may not seem welcome. Reason will come to their aid if they realise that in all the operations of nature, what has become obsolete, ceases to be desirable -- whether you take the transformations undergone by certain forms of insect and animal life, or the change that takes place in man between infancy and the grave.
The butterfly has no liking for caterpillar ways. The doll and the milk bottle are not to the old woman what they were in her childhood. The exclusive friendships of the animal state would be out of place in a state where all is love, purity, and light. Faith will come to our aid if we remember that it is the wisdom that devised nature in all its departments that has promised to bestow eternal life: and that if any good thing belonging to the present is taken from us, it is because a much better is to be given us in the perfect state, concerning which, it remains true, notwithstanding all that has been revealed, that "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive what God hath prepared for them that love him." Family life is beautiful, but it is narrow and partly barbarous, as a thing shut off from the kinship and communion of common man, between whom and itself it erects impassable barriers in the most important affairs of life. It cannot be otherwise than so shut in to itself in the degraded condition of life that prevails upon earth at the present time: yet as a thing so shut in, it is defective, and lacking in perfect beauty and goodness. In the perfect state of life that will dawn with the advent of an immortal and non-reproductive population upon the earth, the restrictions of family life will lose their beauty and their necessity. The earth will see a pure and everlasting communism, regulated only by such distinctions and institutions as the wisdom or God may see such a perfect social state to require.
Turning from the resurrection-state, Jesus had a word to say on resurrection itself, in which the Sadducees were unbelievers. His argument was that the Sadducees, as believers in Moses, were bound to believe in the resurrection, since in the writings of Moses, God described himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God, he said, was not the God of the dead; yet here he owned himself the God of three men who were in their graves. On what principle could this be explained except on the principle that he purposed to raise them from the dead? The Sadducees saw the force of the question and were silenced.
It is notorious that the logic of his argument is very differently understood in our day. His words are actually used to sanction the idea that the dead are not dead, but alive in an intermediate state. It must be manifest that with such a meaning, they cannot prove the resurrection; for prove that the dead are alive, and you prove that there is no need for resurrection. It is evident that the Sadducees understood Christ to use the phrase "the dead" in the sense in which they used it; and all are aware what the Sadducean sense was. They had no belief in an intermediate state. They understood the dead to be really dead and gone -- never to re-appear. Jesus contended that God was not the God of such. According to the modern contention, there are none such. According to Christ, there are such, though all the dead do not belong to them. Christ and the Sadducees were agreed as to "the dead" -- who as the Scriptures declare, "know not anything" (Ecc. ix. 5). The issue was, should the dead rise again? Jesus proved the affirmative of this issue by the argument indicated above -- an argument which the Sadducees countersigned by retiring, and which the Pharisees rejoiced in as unanswerable; for "when the Pharisees heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together."
Jesus told the Sadducees they erred in their understanding of these matters "because they knew not the Scriptures, neither the power of God." This is the explanation of modern incompetences of all kinds in the same direction. The remark seemed to please one of the scribes who overheard the argument, and who seems to have been an intelligent and devout reader of the Scriptures, of which it was his business to make copies. He felt encouraged to put a question to Christ on his own account. "Master, which is the great commandment of the law?" Jesus answered without hesitation (for this was an honest question) "The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these." The answer pleased the scribe well. "Well, Master, thou hast said the truth, for there is one God and there is none other than He: and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the soul and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." Jesus commended this remark, and informed the maker of it that he was "not far from the Kingdom of God." It is pleasant to meet with a case like this in the midst of the general sterility and animosity of the priestly class. It was, however, but as a lily among the thorns.
The result of Christ's encounters with the thorny class was to make both Pharisees and Sadducees feel that it was dangerous work trying to confute him. The argument was always turned overwhelmingly on themselves. They concluded, therefore, to ask him no more questions. But before they had time to get away, Jesus proposed a question to them: "What think ye of Christ? Whose Son is he?" A simple question certainly, but one that went very deep. The question had no personal reference to himself, as the professed Messiah -- but to the "Christ," the Messiah of the prophets, in the abstract, for whom the Jews were looking. Their ideas on this subject were as wide of the mark as on most subjects, and Christ proposed to make this manifest. They thought the Messiah would be a mere descendant of David. They had not grasped the sense of his name, Emanuel, as intimating that he would be a manifestation of the Eternal Creator in a man begotten of the Holy Spirit of a virgin of the house of David, and therefore of higher rank than the very angels (Heb. i. 4). They were, therefore, incapable of harmonising all scriptural testimony on the subject, as Jesus quickly made manifest.
In answer to the question, whose Son the Messiah was, they promptly replied, "the son of David." Now came the difficulty: "How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, the Lord (Yahweh) said unto my lord, sit thou on my right hand till I make thine enemies thy footstool (Psa. cx.). If David call him Lord, how is he his son?" This was a great difficulty for those whose traditions compelled them to recognise a son as in all cases subordinate to his father, and whose view of the Messiah forbade them soaring higher than a Davidic sonship. The difficulty was insuperable. They could not answer the question. It has no difficulty for those who recognise the truth concerning the Messiah in its prophetic and apostolic breadth.
The divine origin of Christ, as expounded in the writings of the prophets and the apostles, supplies an explanation of every phase in which the gospel narratives exhibit the Lord Jesus Christ, and every utterance that came out of his mouth. They give the key that is beyond the reach alike of those who consider him to have been a mere man, and those whose theology compels them to describe him as eternal God. They account to us for what appear otherwise to be contradictions. They explain to us why in a man, the deportment of God is visible; why in sinful flesh, a sinless character was evolved; why in the impotent seed of Abraham, the power of Abraham's God should be shown; why a man born as a babe in Bethlehem should speak of having come down from heaven; why a man not forty years of age should speak as if he had been contemporary with Abraham; why a man should at once be David's son and David's lord; why a man of our own flesh and blood should assume the authority that belongs to God only, saying "Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well, for so I am;" why of a man it should be said that the world was made by him; that he dwelt in the bosom of the Father, and that he was the image of the invisible God, by whom and for whom all things had been created.
They explain to us, at the same time, why such a man should say "Of mine own self I can do nothing:" "My Father is greater than I." "I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in His love." "My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" They show us that there is only one God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that whatever in Christ's sayings seemed to indicate another God, was referable to the Father in him, whose Son, and medium and power he was, and in no way inconsistent with the fact that Jesus was but His Son, in loving submission to all His commandments.
Both Pharisees and Sadducees stood speechless in the presence of Christ's incisive question. They could not get away from the 110th Psalm. They had not yet learnt the sophistry by which subsequent generations of Jews (in their attempts to justify the rejection of Jesus) have robbed that psalm of David's authorship, and turned it into the utterance of a courtier poet concerning David. By comparison with the Rabbinical quibblers of later times, they stood there honestly cornered in the presence of all the people. After a sufficient pause to give them the opportunity of answering if they could, Jesus proceeded to deliver words of terrible denunciation against them. They are words that many people have a difficulty in understanding from the mouth of one who is popularly identified with mercy and gentleness only.
The popular conception of the character of Christ is defective in this respect. That he is meek and lowly and loving is a joyful truth. His kindness and sympathy are a healing ocean in which the world will yet bathe to the curing of all their woes. But there is another side -- a stern side -- which is one of the chiefest glories of his character. How defective would that character be if it had not this other side. How lamentable if his kindness and sympathy were not counterpoised by the faithfulness and firmness essential to justice. Love without severity would be moral weakness, and would fail to constrain the adoration evoked by the perfect blending of all the excellencies. The attitude of Christ, when he was upon the earth in the days of his weakness and submission to evil, ought to be sufficient of itself to correct a one-sided idea of him. But when we go forward to the day of his appearing, how immeasurably is this consideration strengthened. Look at the judgment seat, before which are gathered the multitudes of responsible men and women of all generations, of whose destiny he is the sole appointed arbiter. Consider what is involved in his rejection of the bulk of them: "Depart from me ... I never knew you." What inflexible faithfulness! What indomitable firmness of purpose! What judicial vigour and stern executiveness implied in his sentence of a vast and wailing crowd to dismissal from his presence and everlasting death!
In the full understanding of these things, we instinctively feel it is no Strange Christ, but the true Christ that speaks in the temple as he thus harangues the people concerning their leaders: "Beware of the scribes which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the market places, and the chief seats in the Synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts, which devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation ... all their works they do to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries and enlarge the borders of their garments.... Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites: for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor. Ye fools and blind! Whether is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifieth the gold. And (ye say), whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing: but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. Ye fools, and blind! Whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? ... Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and platter, but within, they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee.... Ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones and of all uncleanness. Even so, ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.... Fill ye up the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell."
Here is a speech suggestive of strange reflections -- reflections made strange by the modern surroundings of the subject. This is the Christ of the New Testament -- not of pulpit sermonizings. Hark to the loud crack of the sudden thunder peals! Behold the blinding flash of the terrible lightning. What an intensity of divine indignation is expressed in these burning words. What an awful impression they convey of the divinity of the speaker. Who but God manifest in the flesh could thus hurl the thunderbolts of divine anger without the preface customary with the prophets? "Thus saith the Lord." We may be thankful that among the many words of Christ recorded, these were not omitted. They are necessary to give us a complete understanding of his character, which was perfect. He is an exact representation of the character of the eternal Father. He is love, but thunder sleeps in his love; and only those who are in harmony with the purity and truth and righteousness that underlie the love, will, in the end, find him altogether lovely.
We cannot marvel that the men against whom such scathing things were said in the hearing of a large and approving crowd, should be filled with a deadly animosity that could find no appeasement except in the blood of the speaker. Jesus knew that the hour was at hand when their enmity should prevail. He knew it was the last opportunity he should have of addressing them. He therefore bade them farewell in words which must have appeared to them the mere rant of fanaticism, but which the history of the next forty years (of apostolic activity and persecution, ending in the fearful destruction of all the land) was calculated to bring to their painful recollection: "Behold, I send unto you prophets and wise men and scribes, and some of them ye shall kill and crucify, and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city -- that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zecharias, son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, all these things shall come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not. Behold your house if left unto you desolate, for I say unto you, ye shall not see me henceforth till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord."


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