That pretty much sums up the next story in our ongoing series on Luke’s Gospel, which you can read about in Luke 20:20-40. In the story, Jesus is in the final days of his life, and he has bunkered down in Jerusalem, spending each day teaching in the temple courts, and each evening in prayer outside the city. The religious leaders hate that not only is he on their turf, but he is doing their job leading the people, and the people adore him. They send two groups to try to take him down.
The first group the NIV calls “spies”. Jesus had wrapped the religious up in a lose-lose situation just before, so now they are hiding in embarrassment, and they hire secret agents to try to do their dirty work. These secret agents come up to Jesus while he is teaching in the temple courts, and after buttering him up (“You’re such an amazing teacher!”), they try to snag him with a political controversy. About taxes.
One scholar tells us that “The secret agents are in effect asking, ‘Are God’s people exempt from paying such a tax to a foreign power? Jesus, are you loyal to Israel, looking for its independence, or should we knuckle under to Rome?’”
Though the Romans did bring some benefits, the Jews hated being occupied. As any people would. So obviously the Jews were no fan of paying taxes to Rome. Imagine if China invades the USA and occupies our land. Then they start taxing us. And our taxes don’t stay here to help improve our land, our taxes go over to China to help improve theirs. How would you feel?
Paying taxes was as much an issue back then as it is now! So Jesus is in a really tough spot here. If he agrees with paying taxes, he could be perceived in a very negative light by the people who hated paying taxes (pretty much everyone). If he disagrees with paying taxes, he could be accused of sedition and charged with inciting insurrection, arrest by the Roman governor, and tried as a criminal.
There seems to be no right answer. It’s another lose-lose situation.
As we see in verses 23-26, Jesus asks for a coin, then asks them to tell him whose picture is on it. They say “Caesar” and Jesus responds with genius: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.”
Response by the secret agents? Astonished silence.
Then Luke tells us that the religious leaders come out of hiding. This second group, the Sadducees, try to trap him with a theological controversy.
What was their theological issue? Theology is the study of God. So a theological issue is an issue about the Bible or doctrine, in this case, resurrection and marriage. Luke tells us the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. They create what appears at first glance to be a bizarre case study thinking they could trap Jesus and hopefully discredit him in front of all the people.
Maybe it was a real story, a woman who outlived seven husbands. The theological issue? In heaven whose wife would she be?
It sounds outrageous, but their example is using something from the Old Testament Law called Levirate marriage. You can see from this passage in Deuteronomy 25:5-6 that if a husband died, his brother would marry his widowed sister-in-law to preserve his brother’s line. So the Sadducees ask Jesus to imagine a family with seven brothers. One gets married first, then dies. One by one the brothers marry their sister-in-law and one by one they die. Sound impossible?
My grandma outlived three husbands, which would have been enough to prove their point.
The Sadducees believe they have created a situation that clearly shows the ridiculousness of the doctrine of the resurrection. A woman in heaven with seven husbands? Who gets her? You can see them looking at Jesus saying “There, how are you going to respond to that, smart guy? Resurrection, which we have heard you talking about, is stupid! Our situation proves it.” Basically they are saying that Levirate marriage disproves resurrection.
But Jesus theologically outduels them. He says “Well gentlemen, you are wrong in many ways.”
- This life is not like the afterlife. They are different!
- Not everyone goes to heaven. Only those considered worthy.
- And what’s more, there is no marriage in heaven.
- Resurrection is TRUE. Want proof? Just open your Torah which you love so much. What do you read there? God is the living God, the God of the Living. Disproving your faulty disbelief of resurrection.
See what he does there? Another genius response that silences the religious leaders.
We can learn from Jesus’ Way. How did he handle people who tried to trap him?
Have you ever been confronted? I’m sure you have. The confrontation could be about what you believe. Could be about choices you’ve made. Could be about a great many things. How do you handle it when you are confronted?
Look at how Jesus handles himself:
- Remains self-controlled. He’s okay when people disagree with him. He doesn’t get offended, take it personally, or get angry. He shows us a calm confidence.
- Does not cave on the truth just because high-powered people are confronting him.
- Knows the Word.
- Speaks the truth in love.
In the end Jesus silences both groups. But not by force. Not by telling the crowd to attack them. He doesn’t use aggression or bully tactics.
Let us be people who respond to those who confront us in love.
That is true intelligence. Let us become like the one who was the most intelligent of all.
 Darrell L. Bock, Luke: 9:51–24:53, vol. 2, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1996), 1611.