Luke 21:1-4

The truth about generosity

Discussion Question

What is the smallest coin that you would stop and pick up off the ground as you past by? This question opens up the discussion of wealth and value if some say that anything below, say, 20c (or $1) is not worth picking up.

Background

When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem in Chapter 19 he was surrounded by a crowd who praised God for him. The Pharisees and teachers of the law were not happy with the crowd’s reception of him nor the way that Jesus rebuked the practices in the temple. The Jewish leaders wanted Jesus gone but feared the many who loved and respected him.

The church leaders approached Jesus three times in Chapter 19 to challenge him, trap him or mock his theology. Jesus responded to each confrontation with wisdom that was not refuted. He closed Chapter 20 with a description of the teachers of the law as those who like to strut like beautiful birds, loved and praised and respected by all and yet they devour widows’ houses. They are not to be trusted.

Read Luke 20:45-21:4

45 While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 47 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

 

21 As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

What did you see?

Structure

  • Jesus describes the evil of the teachers of the law (20:45-47)
  • What Jesus saw (21:1-2)
  • What Jesus said about it (21:3-4)

Jesus describes the evil of the teachers of the law (20:45-47)

See the notes from the previous section which both concludes the challenges to Jesus of Chapter 20 and connects us directly to the topic of Luke 21:1-4. Note especially Jesus’ description of their flowing robes and of devouring widows’ houses. Exodus 39 describes the detail of the clothing that was to be worn by those who ministered in the sanctuary, and the robe is mentioned in Verses 22-26. Exodus 35:4-29 describes the instruction for all of Israel who are willing to give, to bring an offering for the construction (and maintenance) of the tabernacle and priestly garments. What the teachers of the law wore, was the byproduct of the free-will gifts of faithful believers.

What ought the teachers of Israel be like? The opposite of course! Their prayers ought to be genuine, an act of faith rather than for show. They ought to be an example of godliness for others to imitate and follow. They ought to love and take care of the widows rather than devouring the vulnerable.

The reason for including these verses are to provide the context for the next 4 Verses. It is not a story in isolation and therefore we need to examine what we are being taught in its context.

What Jesus saw (21:1-2)

“As Jesus looked up, he saw…” It is significant that what follows in these verses is not a parable that Jesus told in order to make a point, but a narrative description of what Jesus actually saw following his dark description of the teachers of the law.

“…he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury.” The first question might be, what was the temple treasury and what were the guidelines for giving to it. What was the giving spent on? Luke and the other gospel writers do not expand much on details of the giving. In the earliest years of Israel, taxes or tithes were required for the upkeep of the temple (or tabernacle) and for the Levites since they did not have a land inheritance but were dependant on the produce of the 11 other tribes of Israel. See Deut 18:1-5; 14:22-27, also Neh 10:32-39. We should conclude as little as the text suggests for us to come away with. There was a receptacle (perhaps 13 according to Josephus the Jewish historian) intended for free will offerings going into the temple funds. See Exodus 35 and 39 as mentioned in the previous section. The gifts were meant to be free-will gifts.

What we should not miss is the continuing theme of paying tribute which began in Luke 20:9-16, continued in Luke 20:21 and completes its journey in this passage. God the Father has sent his son who is being rejected by the teachers of the law. These teachers are not working for God’s kingdom but are walking around with flowing robes and devouring widows. While a poor widow is giving all that she has to God.

Note that Jesus is not condemning the rich for giving gifts. They will simply be used as a comparison to the poor widow’s giving later. The fact that the gifts are going into the temple treasury is significant and we’ll reflect more on that later.

“He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins.” The key features of this sentence is the emphasis on poor and the very small amount of money that was offered. It is plain to see in the english but ought to be emphasised. They are two lekma which, guess what, are two very small insignificant coins.

So, before we move to what Jesus has to say about this, let’s consider the THREE things that Jesus has seen. 1) a poor widow giving money to the temple treasury, 2) rich people also giving to the same account and 3) the teachers of the law (the priests) strutting around in flowing robes, looking praiseworthy but all the while ripping off widows.

What Jesus said about it (21:3-4)

“Truly I tell you…” Whenever Jesus starts a sentence like this, he means something like, ‘I kid you not’ or ‘let me be quite frank about this.’ He really means for us to listen to what he says and pay attention.

“…this poor widow has put in more than all the others…she [gave] out of her poverty…” This statement from Jesus leads many to conclude that the point of this passage is to encourage generous giving. Giving is not about the actual amount but about the sacrifice made by the giver. This lady represents someone who puts more value in the kingdom of God than she does in her own stomach. In this case, she certainly stands as a mascot for sacrificial giving. In support of this conclusion we recall the teaching of Jesus to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him. We can see that she is denying herself.

In contrast, we see, not only the rich who are giving (and presumably only enough to still be referred to as rich), but those who are walking around in their flowing robes because of the generosity of people like this widow. Where is the kingdom heart of the teachers of the law? Jesus has accused them of devouring widows. Is this what he has in mind? Exodus 22:22; Deut 10:18; 14:29; 24:17, 19-21; 26:12-13 – these verses highlight the importance of looking after widows at the same time as looking after the Levites. This widow ought not to have only two mites to her name. The Law of Moses does not prescribe a system where the poor give their last money to the temple. This is the perfect illustration of how the teachers of the law had no right to be in such positions of power. They were not seeking the kingdom of God and ought to look at that poor widow with shame. She has done infinitely better than any of them.

What did we learn?

The teachers of the law had seen Jesus of Nazareth and made every attempt to derail him, rather than give him the honour he is due. The poor widow demonstrates how corrupt the whole system had become, how unlike the kingdom of God the leaders were behaving and how hypocritical they were for happily taking from the rich and oppressed alike while failing to do their task in humility and justice – especially the task of seeing Jesus as Lord.

Now what?

Topic A: Why do we give? Surely we give because we see a need and believe it to be worth supporting. If it is not something that the world needs, unless by law you are required to give anyway, then perhaps we ought not give to it. In the Old Testament, God instructed Israel to build the tabernacle and described how it would be furnished and how the ministers would be clothed. The centre of the Old Testament faith was obeying God when he knew where and how the forgiveness of sins would take place. The Levites had no means for self-funding and so the community were to provide for them. Widows and orphans and foreigners lacked any land ownership and so they were to be provided for also. The New Testament teaches us that we no longer require a specially furnished place or priests for the forgiveness of sins since Christ is the Temple and the sacrifice! In Galatians 6:1-10, Paul describes the importance of carrying your own load as well as helping others with their load. He draws together the burden of sin and of the cost of living as if it is all part of the same bucket. We are in it together. But not like a commune where everybody shares the wealth. More like an other-person-centred community where we honestly care about one another’s spiritual walk and daily needs. If you see something necessary in this world which does not have the means to support itself, then get behind it.

Topic B: How much should we give? Putting a figure on this is a-kin to declaring that your money is yours except for the bit that you give to God. 1 Timothy 6:6-7 says, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.” These two verses go hand in hand. Living for God and being content with that decision is great gain – we surrender everything knowing that the kingdom of God is greater than anything we have acquired on this earth between cradle and grave.

Topic C: Are we the poor or the wealthy? With so much ‘stuff’ we have all around us, it is easy to feel the weight of money-trouble. We can feel poor because we have debt! Perhaps we gather and own so much because we a) worry about tomorrow as if God is not really in control of it or b) we do not have the resurrection hope in our minds when we live day to day. Luke 21:1-4 does not teach us how much we ought to give but it does illustrate a woman who invested in the kingdom of God over her own kingdom. Jesus spoke clearly about choosing which kingdom to live for in Matthew 6:19-24. The widow may not have seen herself as poor in kingdom currency.

Luke 20:27-47

The Lord who lives

Discussion Question

What would you do if convinced that there was no resurrection?

Background

Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem and has been in conflict with the Jewish leaders. He hadn’t even reached the gates of the city before being approached by the religious leaders and questioned (Luke 19:39). And his first act on arriving, according to Luke, was to disrupt the corrupt behaviour in the Temple (Luke 19:45). In Chapter 20, the authority of Jesus was questioned but Jesus silenced the people wanting to trap him.

While the mouths of the teachers of Israel have been silenced (Luke 20:26), a sub-group within the Jewish leadership, known as the Sadducees, sought to prove themselves right before Jesus. Luke tells us in Verse 27 (see also Acts 23:8) that they do not believe in the resurrection from the dead – that is, that there is no afterlife. They also denied the existence of angels, and they adhered only to the Torah (meaning ‘the law’), being the first five books of the Bible (AKA the Pentateuch).

Read Luke 20:27-47

27 Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. 28 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. 30 The second 31 and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. 32 Finally, the woman died too. 33 Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

34 Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, 36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. 37 But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’d 38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

39 Some of the teachers of the law responded, “Well said, teacher!” 40 And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

41 Then Jesus said to them, “Why is it said that the Messiah is the son of David? 42 David himself declares in the Book of Psalms:

“ ‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
43 until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.” ’g

44 David calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”

45 While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 47 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

What did you see?

Structure

  • The Sadducees raise a good question (27-33)
  • Jesus corrects the Sadducees (34-38)
  • Jesus teaches us to read (39-44)
  • Jesus warns us of the real issue here (45-47)

The Sadducees raise a good question (27-33)

“Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection…” See the Background above. Acts 23:6-10 gives us some insight into how firmly the Sadducees refuted the resurrection (of anybody) and how opposed the Pharisees were to this point of view. This story opens with an internal doctrinal dispute. We will see how this story shows Jesus interact with the dispute, not to take sides, but to show that both groups allow their passionate points of view to get in the way of just good reading of the Scriptures.

“…came to Jesus with a question.” We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Jesus was a person worth knowing. Even though he will be rejected by most of these leaders and crucified, he was not a nobody. Quite the contrary, he was a threat and person to investigate. The Pharisees and Sadducees had established credibility as “teachers of the law” etc. They were coming to Jesus with questions. If Jesus was just a weirdo, crazy want-to-be-messiah or prophet figure, then they could just ignore him and get on with the business of Jewish leadership. But Jesus had something to say and they knew it. It is apparent that they wanted either Jesus to support their point of view or say something that would discredit himself – either way they win – but Jesus shows himself to be impartial (Luke 20:21).

“Teacher”, they said…” See the last point on how they viewed Jesus! He was not obviously a crazy person or someone rambling some new cult. The people knew that he taught the things of God. He was a player.

“Moses wrote for us…” Remember that the Sadducees only regarded the writings of Moses as worth anything. Beautifully, Jesus will use the text of Moses to answer their question!

“…if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.” See Deut 25:5ff; Ruth 4:1-12. This was the duty of a brother-in-law in the Old Testament.  It can be hard in our Western culture of individuality to swallow a command like this. It might be hard in any culture. One narrative of the bible is the story of family, of first-borns, of inheritance and of duty to something greater than yourself. I don’t wish to justify the laws of Moses as if they each have a pragmatic reason lying behind them. The unmarried brother-in-law can carry on the name of his brother through that woman. This was the law, which had an out-clause which resulted in shame for the brother-in-law. But it was the law and the Sadducees see this as creating a great problem in the theology of the resurrection. This was their slam down argument for winning the dispute.

Application note: when division happens in the Christian church over doctrine, it is often because the greater picture of God’s grace is misunderstood or misapplied. The greatest unity in the church comes when we celebrate the absolute truths of the gospel and carry with us an epistemological humility (or remaining humble in our knowledge of things).

“…now there were seven brothers…finally the woman died too…at the resurrection whose wife will she be…?” The Sadducees lay out their argument. Sounds like 9 seasons of ‘Married without children!’ This lady either married into the wrong family or she should have her house checked for arsenic! Anyway, this is the scenario played out for Jesus to reflect on. Even though it is a very specific kind of scenario, it does play out as a legit question. We can find a similar type of question asked in relation to the gospel: “If you’re saying I can be forgiven for any sin then I’ll just keep sinning and Jesus will just forgive me! Brilliant! Makes no sense.” But Paul tackles that problem in Romans 6. And his answer is something similar to Jesus: you don’t really get the point if you’re asking that question.

Jesus corrects the Sadducees (34-38)

“Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage.” Jesus decides to respond to their question rather than push back (see his response to a previous challenge in Luke 20:3). The phrase ‘this age’ can mean this generation or people this side of the cross or people of the world or people who are not part of the kingdom of God or simply people on this side of death! As always, it is context that gives us the meaning. Surely Jesus is referring to people who are still alive. We may wonder what he means by ‘those who are considered worthy’, but it will become clear that Jesus is referring to those who enter eternal life. The first point of Jesus is to say that marriage is a thing for this age. Just because marriage happens here does not mean that it has the same meaning in the next life.

But, marriage is for this age. God created men and women to leave their parents and to come together as one (Gen 1-2), the scriptures uphold marriage as a beautiful thing (Song of Songs) and as a great image or illustration for God’s uniting himself to his people. Marriage is about two ‘differents’ being united under a promise to be one with a mutual love and other-person centredness. Although that is the picture, it is very much not like that in reality. Sin (introduced after the marriage covenant of Genesis 1 and 2), means that men and women together in marriage will live in conflict (Gen 3:16). As we’ve seen in previous studies in 1 Corinthians 7, the curse of sin and the cure which is Christ makes the age that we live in unique. We live in the age of Christian mission when the message of the Spirit (which is the gospel) is to go to all nations. This is our mission. To make disciples of all nations. We are not commanded to settle down and make homes here but to have kingdom minds. However, we still live in the age where people of this world marry and are given in marriage.

“But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage.” In the age to come, at the resurrection, there will be no more marriage. That seems to be the clear teaching of our LORD here. Who is worthy of eternal life? That answer is clearly given elsewhere (Matt 19:29; Hebrews 9:15; James 2:5; Rev 21:7). That list of New Testament promises regarding eternal life give us the two sided coin of grace and perseverance. We are saved by no merit of our own but on Christ’s merit but we are saved because we cling to him as our only hope. We have heard the true gospel and responded from truly understanding the grace of God.

“…and they can no longer die…” Jesus has answered their question but he’s not done with them yet. To his audience who do not believe in the resurrection nor in angels, Jesus wants them to listen further and learn.

“…for they are like the angels.” I can imagine Jesus looking them in the eyes and simply stating that angels are real. The God who created all things, including the angels, has no issues setting the record straight. Angels, it appears, do not die because they are not suffering under the curse of mankind. Of course, the rebellious angels will receive their punishment in full at the end of time.

“They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.” Will that be your title one day: child of the resurrection? A description of the children of the resurrection can be read in Revelation 21:1-8 and also 7:13-17. Surely none of the Sadducees who deny the resurrection can take part in it? Entrance into the kingdom of God, as a norm, requires knowledge and belief whenever and wherever it is made available.

“…even Moses showed that the dead rise…” Jesus has moved from stating facts that only he would know to pointing now to the scriptures that even the Sadducees accept and showing from the text that the resurrection is taught even by Moses.

“…for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’” Exodus 3:6. In this part of the story, Jesus begins to use the Scriptures in a very technical way. What do the words say? What do they mean? Now, I’ll confess that I would have read that account in Exodus a thousand times before it would dawn on me that God is talking about being the God of the living. He doesn’t say that he was their God but that he is their God.

“…for to him all are alive.” The context would suggest that ‘all’ refers to all who have been worthy to take part in the age to come.

Jesus teaches us to read (39-44)

“Some of the teachers of the law responded, “Well said, teacher!” This lot are pleased that Jesus set the Sadducees straight. But look out for the way that Luke transitions now into a lesson from Jesus to the teachers of the law on how to read the scriptures too.

“Then Jesus said to them, “Why is it said that the Messiah is the son of David?” The teaching of the Messiah was well established by the arrival of Jesus. Some texts that were likely key to the Jew’s understanding included, 2 Samuel 7; Ps 89; Isa 9:5-7; 11:1-10; Jer 23:5-8; 33:14-26; Micah 5:2; Ezek 34:23-24. The theme that crosses most of these is that God will raise someone up who will be a righteous king of the line of David, Jesse’s boy from Bethlehem. We can, from Jesus’ words, conclude that the teachers taught that the Messiah would be a son of David (descendant) and this is fair theology given the texts above.

“David himself declares in the Book of Psalms:” Now, this may be a boring point for some but there are commentators who question whether the Psalms of David (as they say in the title of the Psalms) mean that David wrote them or that they are rather Psalms for David. The language can work like that but Jesus happily tributes the penwork to David.

“David calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?” Psalm 110 describes a figure who David regards as his Lord being given the right handed seat to the Lord. That is, God is allowing this Lord of David’s to sit at his right hand. It seems that Jesus is drawing people’s attention to the idea that Psalm 110 is actually a Messianic Psalm. Who could be more important than the David, great King of Israel? This is a prophecy of Jesus, the descendant of David who is not just an ancestor but who is before David and Lord of him also. He is seated at the right hand of God until all enemies are subdued. 1 Corinthians 15 names the last enemy as death itself. Jesus wants the teachers of the Law to see what the scriptures actually say and to process it. The Messiah is someone greater than David, and who precedes David.

Jesus warns us of the real issue here (45-47)

“While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, “Beware of the teachers of the law.”” Jesus has been directly challenged by the teachers of the law, then challenged secretly by spies and then challenged by another party within the Jewish leadership and all of them have failed to trap, outsmart or trip Jesus in his ability to teach and know the word of God and the nature of the kingdom of God. Jesus concludes this whole chapter with a warning to watch out for such teachers who think, presume and act like they have all the answers and yet they are far from the kingdom themselves.

“They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at the banquets.” Nobody likes that guy. Some people, even me and you, can get misplaced in our need to be needed and our want to be wanted. One’s identity can get trapped inside a need to be important – to be called when a crisis happens, to be at the table when decisions are being made, and to be thanked whenever a function has gone well. No teacher of God’s word should get trapped in this. If a brilliant and well educated man or woman never writes a popular book, will they still not be known by God?

“They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers.” Such a person is all show and no glow. In the right culture and setting they can dominate others like bullies. Big words baffle others and can make the simple believe that they are closer to God. They look and sound like the know the bible well. They speak confidently about their belief and can sound as though the rest of the world do not understand the bible like they do. They are needed in other people’s lives if they are to be right with God! They take money, time and power from others in the name of God.

“These men will be punished most severely.” Forgiveness is available to all but if someone maintains a boastful knowledge of God and yet has not grasped the grace of God then they will be punished for their sin and severely punished for destroying others in their ministry.

What did we learn?

Some people will stand firmly on doctrine that they believe is true because they have been raised to believe it and are just absolutley sure that their arguments from the scriptures are true. Divisions arise from such hard headedness. Jesus has confidence in the scriptures too which point to God’s Messiah preceding David and reigning at his right hand until death itself is killed and has called all who have saluted the Messiah to the resurrection. Eternal life is surer than death for those who turn to Christ.

Now what?

Topic A: What are you living for? This world is passing by. Jesus has taught us here that the resurrection is real, and that those who have inherited eternal life will be called children of the resurrection – never again to die. It is difficult to imagine what exactly it will all look like, feel like and be like. But there will come a day when the day will not end (so to speak). The burdens and troubles of this world will be no more. To quote a preacher I heard recently, “just 15 minutes ‘there’ and anything we are going through now will be forgotten.” Come, Lord Jesus, come!

Topic B: Do you stand for things you think are true or do you stand for truth? The art of reading the bible begins with surrendering our assumptions and being ready to listen to the words in the book. Noticing small things in the bible can open up great revelations. So, reading great chunks of the bible will give us the benefit of context and understanding the overarching story of the bible, while reading slowly and meditating on every word will help us to see the glorious details that the bible has to offer. It really has been written by a genius.

Topic C: Seeking good teachers to lead. Jesus does not condemn all teachers but those he described as proud, seeking glory here on earth and misleading others by their own lies. What we need are good leaders who watch their life and doctrine closely. Who teach people to read the bible well for themselves. Bible teachers who fixate on particular doctrines that subdue the glory of God displayed through the gospel make me nervous.  Teachers who spend more time pulling down other people’s theology rather than teaching what is true, that too makes me nervous. However, a church that is keen to raise up leaders for the gospel for the glory of God and without the leadership feeling threatened by upcoming leaders – that sounds like a healthy church obeying the great commission.

Luke 20:20-26

The Truth About Tax

Discussion Question

Where would you be without a) tap water, b) road rules, c) God?

Background

At the end of Chapter 19, Jesus and his ever-growing crowd of followers entered Jerusalem on a journey that we have been following since Chapter 9. Even before entering the gates of Jerusalem, the Pharisees wanted to silence any idea that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah (Luke 19:39). As Chapter 20 began, Jesus spoke in a parable of a vineyard owner who sent his son to be respected by the farmers who were looking after the vineyard. The son was, of course, rejected and killed by the farmers. The topic of acknowledging and respecting the rightful ruler has come into focus. The teachers of the law and chief priests who heard that parable began to plot how to arrest Jesus without becoming hated by the multitude who loved Jesus.

Read Luke 20:20-26

20 Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said, so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. 21 So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. 22 Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

23 He saw through their duplicity and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

25 He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

26 They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.

What did you see?

Structure

  • Pretending to be sincere (20)
  • It’s a trap! (21-25)
  • Keeping their trap shut (26)

Pretending to be sincere (20)

“Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies…” Who are the ‘they’? Verse 19 is the closest identity to match with the pronoun: The teachers of the law and the chief priests. They were looking for a way to arrest Jesus. They couldn’t just walk up and arrest him because he was so popular and they feared the people. These are folk in high positions when it comes to teaching the Laws of Moses and leading the people in the ways of the LORD but they were clearly at the mercy of the crowd. Their power was being threatened by Jesus since people were hanging on his every word. So, rather than stand up for the Law as they read it, they sent spies to seek to trap Jesus. Their plan was to be ready for Jesus to say or do the wrong thing so that they could strip him of his followers and remove him.

“…who pretended to be sincere.” You know, it’s very possible to blend into any crowd as long as you know how to mimic others. It would seem that most people following Jesus were sincere about their reasons for being with him. But these spies only pretended sincerity. Wolves in sheep’s clothing. See Acts 20:28-30.

“…so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor.” Reflect on that and see the irony. With their authority over the people of God (the Jews), they had to send in spies to pretend to be sincerely listening to Jesus so that they could catch him in his words and then – hand him over to the governor who had power to execute or imprison. They couldn’t catch him with any heresy and so they try to catch him saying something against the human authorities. If they had to resort to that, then why couldn’t they concede that this man speaks the words of God! It’s difficult at this point to work out who these Jewish leaders are actually serving! Are they even pretending to be sincere about serving Yahweh? Who do they wish to serve?

So, the scene is set and the characters introduced and the question is: how will they catch Jesus out? Will Jesus see through the trickery?

It’s a trap! (21-25)

“Teacher, we know…” Lies.

“…you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.” They lie about what they know but there is truth in the lie. Jesus was all that. But Jesus was more than that too. His teaching was not just the way of God but that he had the authority to forgive sins (Luke 5:17-26)! The spies, being insincere, do not realise who they are speaking with. They are likely to be buttering Jesus up. Flattery will get you everywhere – unless you are speaking with Jesus. But in their flattery they have mentioned that he speaks without partiality – or favouritism. Wouldn’t it follow that he will not respond to their flattery? They are hoping that Jesus will endorse an anti-government philosophy because he is an impartial speaker of following God! Caesar is not the true ruler of Israel. Only God is! This may have been their expected response. But God’s kingdom is not in competition with any rulers of this age. They are different categories of kingdoms!

“Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” They request a right or wrong answer – yes or no. Is it wrong to pay taxes to Caesar? Is it lawful for a Jew to pay taxes to Caesar? Should, by the command of God, a Jew rebel against a Gentile ruler? Who, after all, is this Caesar to God? This is the question they hope to trap Jesus with. The question is loaded because of their introduction to the question. “You are an immovable champion of God, Jesus. What do you want to say to Caesar?” It will only need a response like, “There is no ruler but Yahweh” for the spies to get what they came for. The commentator BOCK paraphrases their question and intent as “Is it right for us Jews to pay this tax to Caesar or not? 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?”

“He saw through their duplicity and said…” That is, Jesus knew that this was a trap. He perceived their trickery. They were pretending to be sincere in their question but were really trying to catch Jesus by his answer. There need not be any supernatural gift read into this but certainly we concede that Jesus was no fool.

“Show me a denarius.” This was a common coin often representing a single day’s wage. It included a picture of Caesar on it and words such as “Tiberius Caesar, Augustus, son of divine Augustus.” On the other side, according to BOCK, his mother Livia portrayed as an incarnation of the goddess of peace and the inscription “high priest.” These images and words may, to a devout Jew and even a devout keeper of the Laws of Moses, have been offensive.

“Whose image and inscription are on it?” This response from Jesus may have had the spies excited at first. To highlight that there is an image of Caesar with words that promoted him as something higher than a man – a god even! Wow! Jesus, who will not show favouritism and who speaks the true words of God may go Exodus 20:4 or 23 on them. But his request to present a coin will backfire on them…

“…give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” They were easily able to produce a coin out of their purse which represented fair trade in the Roman kingdom. The spies were quite happy to carry these coins on themselves and trade under that currency. If you make use of something, honour where it is from and respect what is expected in return. So, pay the tax if you carry the coin and if you breath oxygen, then use your lungs to praise God. More than that, it is not just the coin that carries an image on it – humans all have been created in the image of God (Gen 1:26). So, when Jesus says, ‘give back to … God what is God’s’ then surely it is a rebuke for all of the image-bearers of God to render their lives to Him!

Jesus says very little here to explore the difference between church and state or to create a thorough and conclusive doctrine of government and human authority. But he is certainly not teaching us to be politically insubordinate. Romans 13:1-7 gives us the words of Paul (and the Spirit) on this matter of paying taxes. Some will build a thorough model of a Godly society that establishes a government or monarchy that has been ordained by God. This does not mean that kings and queens and politicians are somehow unique in God’s view of the world. Good kings and evil kings are equally ordained to be in office. No law is given with respect to rebelling under evil government – only narratives in the books of Exodus and Daniel and so on. Paying taxes is not a mandatory law from God. The principal given in Luke 20 and Romans 13 is that we exist in community and we cannot enjoy the benefits of that community while rebelling at the same time.

The other side of this coin is the rebuke from Jesus that his hearers need to give to God what is God’s. What exactly is that? Respect? Honour? Praise? Thankfulness? Repentance? Sorrow? Humility? Micah 6:8. Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. We cannot do that naturally because of our love for rebellion (going it alone without giving to God what is God’s) and so Jesus has become our righteousness, humbling himself to die for us in the greatest act of mercy ever seen. Jesus describes later in Luke 20 how horribly the leaders of Israel act (Luke 20:46-47. They are hypocrites like the spies that they sent to trap Jesus. Honesty before God and responding to Jesus as the Son, the sacrificial Lamb of God – this is what God desires. We don’t come to God to trap him. We come to God to confess our rebelliousness. We come to God to surrender the throne of our lives to his rule.

Keeping their trap shut (26)

“They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public.” Mission failure for the spies who were sent to trap Jesus. They came to catch him, they heard his excellent and faultless answer and went away unchanged by him.

“And astonished by his answer, they became silent.” Having failed to trap Jesus they were left standing with their traps shut. We are told that they were astonished by his answer. They must have thought they would have him either way! If he promotes paying taxes then people will dislike this. If he gives and anti-Caesar answer, then they have him on treason! Win-win! But his answer remains impartial to Caesar and to these spies, remains true to God and challenges people to honour God with their lives. It certainly rebukes the trappers to think carefully about what they will do with the One Whom God has sent.

What did we learn?

Some will listen to the words of Jesus and no matter what he says will not respond with worship. These spies illustrate those who do not come to Jesus to learn but to close him down, shut him out and trap him into hypocrisy, heresy or anti-humanity. Jesus challenges us to see clearly who is really in charge and give honour due to the One who rules.

Now what?

Topic A: If Jesus spoke what is right, impartially, in accordance with the truth about God… then how ought we respond to this man from Nazareth? And if God has created us in his own image, how ought we respond to him? We are bound to God inherently because of the way we are created, and how much more ought we give back to God because he is an upright, holy, sincere, generous and impartial God! This is not just his world and so give to him because you must (like paying taxes) but give to him because he is good!

Topic B: Being conscious of wolves in sheep’s clothing. Not all who attend our Christian gatherings, sing with us or even serve alongside us are truthfully born again. It can be difficult to spot sometimes. But what should we do about this? Acts 20:28-30 warns us to keep watch and for leaders in the church particularly to stay alert as overseers. Jesus refuted these spies with exactly what they asked for, that is, truth without partiality. We are not to say what people want us to say but are to stick to the gospel truth and give to God what is God’s.

Topic C: Paying taxes. The point of this passage is not to declare a God ordained rule that taxes are a sure thing in life. The message from Jesus is to respect and honour those in authority. He does not endorse or expect a quiet rebellion from his sincere followers. On the contrary, we ought to be the first to give to the government what is expected of us as citizens in this land.