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Jesus’ School of the Logical Dilemma (Part 2)

The Pharisees’ First Dilemma:
Whether or Not to Pay Caesar’s Head-Tax

Matthew 22:15-22
[15] Then the Pharisees, {as they} proceeded, took mutual counsel how they might entrap Him in {His} discourse [\word]. [16] So they sent their disciples, along with the Herodians, on a mission to Him, saying, “Teacher, we have come to know {by experience} that †you are true [/faithful], and so †you teach the way of God in truthfulness, and neither is anyone’s {reputation} a concern of †yours, for †you do not pay special regard for the personal reputation [\look into the face] of men. [17] Therefore, tell† us what seems {lawful} to †You? Is it lawful to pay a head tax to Caesar, or {is it} not {lawful}?” [18] But when Jesus perceived their moral depravity [/wickedness], He said, “Why are ‡you putting Me to the test of truthfulness, {‡you} hypocrites? [19] Display for me the {official} currency for {paying} the head tax.” So they brought before Him a denarius. [20] Then He said to them, “{Just} whose {is} this likeness and inscription?” [21] They told Him, “{It is} Caesar’s.” So He told them, “Therefore, give Caesar’s properties [\things] back‡ to Caesar, and {give} God’s properties [\things] {back} to God.” [22] And when {they} heard {His answer}, they were stunned, and leaving Him {where He was}, they went away.

Since Jesus had been very successful in using the dilemma, the Pharisees thought they would play the same game. Their dilemma was built upon the assumption that if Jesus answered that it was lawful to pay head-taxes to Caesar, then the people would reject Him; but if Jesus said that it was unlawful, then the Romans would seize Him. Jesus perceived their moral depravity in the form of hypocrisy: first they declared that they knew He was truthful, but then they put Him to a test of truthfulness. Having identified their hypocritical mask, Jesus proceeded to turn their dilemma against them. He asked them to display for Him the official currency for paying the head tax. Caesar would only accept payment of the head-tax in his own coin. The rabbinic teaching was that their nation was enslaved to whoever’s coin was currency. If they held their own currency, then they were free. When the Pharisees readily displayed Caesar’s coin, the Pharisees also gave evidence to the fact that they possessed and used the currency which belonged to Caesar. These Pharisees held in their own hands the chief evidence of their own enslavement. To the extent that Caesar was their master, to that extent they must return to Caesar the required portion of Caesar’s currency of occupation. To the extent that God was their master, to that extent they must return to God the required portion of God’s currency of reality. Their hypocrisy gave evidence to the fact that they did not return to God the currency of truthfulness required by God, even though they, at least in form, carried about His likeness and superscription – created in God’s image (in Adam) and called by His name (Judah = God praiser; Israel = prince with God).

Recognize Jesus’ method of argument: Jesus reduced the dilemma to the principal question: What is legitimately Caesar’s, and what is legitimately God’s? The Pharisees knew that they would get into trouble if they pursued that question any further. Jesus’ argument amazed them. Ironically, the Romans finally laid siege to Jerusalem in response to the attempt of the Jews to return to coining their own currency.

The Sadducees’ Dilemma:
Seven Husbands and Only One Wife in the Resurrection

Matthew 22:23-33
[23] On that {same} day, the Sadducees (who {continually} say {that there is} not going to be a resurrection) approached Him and put forward a question to Him, [24] saying: “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If ever anyone should die, without having children, {then} his brother shall marry his {(that is, the brother’s)} wife as next of kin, and he shall raise up an offspring [/descendant \seed] for his brother.’ [25] Now there were with us seven brothers, and the first one, having married, came to an end, and having no offspring [/descendant \seed], he left his wife to his brother. [26] Likewise also the second one and the third one, until the {full} seven {had married, had left no offspring, and had come to an end}. [27] So last of all, the woman also died. [28] Therefore, from among these seven {brothers}, whose wife shall she be in the resurrection? For all {seven} had her {for a wife}.” [29] So Jesus told them in response, “‡You are {continually} being led astray [/mistaken /deceived], not having come to know the Scriptures nor even the power of God {by personal experience}, [30] for in the resurrection they neither marry nor are they given in marriage, but rather they are as angels of God in heaven. [31] Now concerning the resurrection of those dead, have ‡you not read what was spoken to ‡you by God, saying, [32] ‘I Myself am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not {the} God of {those who are} dead, but rather {He is the God} of {those who are} living.” [33] And as the {various} crowds heard {this answer being passed along by word of mouth}, they were {repeatedly} being stunned [/astounded] at His teaching.

Perhaps the Sadducees thought they could succeed where the Pharisees had failed. They did not accept any Scripture as authoritative except the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch); and they claimed that the resurrection is never taught in these five books.

The Sadducees certainly knew the Scriptures in a formal sense. Nevertheless, Jesus said that the Sadducees were continually being misled because of the blindness of the hearts which keeps them from experiencing the Scriptures in their spiritual power which opens up their full meaning. If they had truly known the Scriptures, then they would not have been misled. But their presuppositions blinded them.

The Sadducees seemed to choose words which communicated their denial of the resurrection. The brother did not “raise up” offspring. The word for “raise up” was the same word used for resurrection, which implied that the brother could only live on by “raising up” a posterity. When the brother died he “came to an end.” This expression implied that his death would forever end his existence.

Jesus may have taken His cue from the Sadducees’ method of word choice, for He corrected them with one choice word. The Sadducees expressly stated that the resurrection could not be proven out of the five books of Moses. So Jesus chose a text from that portion of Scripture (Exodus 3:6), then constructed His argument around one word in that text. God did not say, “I was the God of Abraham,” but “I am the God of Abraham.” If God was the God of Abraham, then Abraham “came to an end” and exists no longer. If this is true, then God could only be the God of the posterity whom Abraham had “raised up.” But God is the God of Abraham, which can only mean that Abraham still exists. God is not the God of “the dead” by the Sadducees understanding of the term. Though to us, Abraham is dead, nevertheless to God, Abraham is still alive. The Sadducees could not see the clear implications of this text because of the blindness of their hearts which created presuppositions which veiled its full meaning. (They probably came out the next year with a new translation of the Pentateuch, The Old World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, based on some recently discovered scroll which happened to read “was” in place of “is.”)

Recognize Jesus’ method of argument: Jesus turned the blindness of the Sadducees against them. First, He showed them that there was no foundation for their presupposition that marital bonds must extend into the resurrection. Then He defeated all of their reasoning against the resurrection by offering one clear counter-example. No matter how good a system of explanations which we may develop in order to explain Scripture in accordance with our special theories, it only takes one clear contradictory fact to disprove all of our fabrications. With one swift broad stroke, Jesus silenced – literally “muzzled” the Sadducees.

What was so stunning about Jesus reasoning? It was simple, straightforward, and irrefutable. It stopped the Sadducees dead in their tracks. Because the Pharisees believed in the resurrection, no doubt they were kicking themselves because they had overlooked this simple argument which they could have used against the Sadducees who denied the resurrection. “Yea, why didn’t we think of that?”

The Pharisees’ Second Dilemma:
Which is the Great Commandment?

Matthew 22:34-40
[34] Now when the Pharisees had heard that He had silenced [\muzzled] the Sadducees, they were caused to gather together at the same {place in the temple}. [35] Then one from among them {who was} learned in the law put forward a question, putting Him to the test of truthfulness by saying, [36] “Teacher, what sort {of commandment} in the law {is} a great commandment?” [37] So Jesus told him, “‘†You shall love {the} Lord †your God with †your whole heart, and with †your whole soul, and with †your whole mind.’ [38] This is {the} foremost [\first] and {the} great commandment. [39] Yet a second {commandment is} like it: ‘†You shall love †your neighbor as †yourself .’ [40] The whole Law, along with the Prophets, depend [/hinge \hang] on these two commandments.”

The Pharisees had to get in one last at bat, but they wanted to save themselves from a third embarrassment, so they put forward one man to take the glory or shame for defeating or being defeated by Jesus.

The Jews commonly regarded:

The oral law to be greater than the written law.
The first four of the ten commandments to be greater than the last six.
The 248 positive commands to be greater than the 365 negative commands.
The ceremonial law to be greater than the moral law.

Some Jews considered the Sabbath commandment to be the greatest, others considered circumcision the greatest because it took precedence over the Sabbath, and still others considered the commandment to wear blue borders – phylacteries – on their garments to be the greatest of all.

In the tax-coin question, Jesus left the Pharisees holding the bag. This time they hoped to leave Jesus holding the bag. No matter how Jesus answered their question, they were sure He would offend someone. That’s what they thought! Instead, Jesus went to the most inclusive of all commandments, the root of every other commandment: Love God, then love your neighbor. On these two commandments hung all the duties contained in the Law and the Prophets. This was literally true! The Shema – the “Love God” commandment – was often written upon the phylacteries of the Pharisees. To these phylacteries they often attached other Scriptures. Hence the Law and the Prophets literally hung on this commandment. What an embarrassment this must have been, not only for the one law-teacher whom they put forward, but for them all! Many of them thought the phylactery commandment was the greatest, but Jesus pointed to their phylacteries and told them that the Shema they were wearing was the great commandment to which they themselves attached all of the Law and the Prophets. All day long on their very own clothing they graphically illustrated Jesus’ answer. They probably went straight from the temple to their tailor and ordered new garments with plain borders.

Recognize Jesus’ method of argument: Jesus simply exploited their inconsistency. Somewhere in their erroneous system of belief or practice, the opponents of the truth must actually acknowledge the very truth which they oppose. Once we have found that inconsistency, we can use it as a pry bar to open up the folly of their system for everyone to see. Since logic (or the lack of logic) is at the core of all humor, sometimes we can even pull an ironic joke out of the situation.

Jesus’ Final Dilemma of Dilemmas:
How is David’s Son also David’s Lord?

Matthew 22:41-46
[41] So while the Pharisees had {already} been gathered together, Jesus put forward a question to them, [42] saying, “How does it appear to ‡you {in the Law and the Prophets} concerning the Christ? {Just} Whose son is He?” They told Him, “The {son} of David.” [43] He said to them, “Then {just} how does David, by the Spirit, call Him ‘Lord,’ saying: [44] ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit† out at My right {side}, Until ever I should place [/appoint] †your enemies {as} a footstool for †your feet.”’? [45] Therefore, since David calls Him ‘Lord,’ {then just} how is He His son?” [46] Then no one was able to reply to Him with a word, nor from that day {forward} did anyone any longer dare to put forward a question to Him.

Having pitched a no-hit perfect game, striking out every batter, Jesus now hits a home run over the centerfield fence at His last at bat. So nobody wants to play with Jesus any more.

The Pharisees believed that the Christ would be a natural descendant of David. They also believed that Psalm 110, from which Jesus quotes, is speaking of the Christ. However, though an ordinary son would always be subordinate to his father, yet this text plainly describes David in subordination to the Christ. Hence the Christ cannot be an ordinary son. Jesus shows them that their concept of the Christ was too small and too low. The Christ must be more than merely a man. This is the dilemma of all dilemmas as far as the Pharisees are concerned, because they could not admit that the Christ was more than a man.

Though Jesus is the natural offspring of David, He is also the supernatural Creator Who is over all, including David (Romans 1:3-4; 9:5). Jesus is both the root and the offspring of David (Revelation 22:16). This is the great mystery of the incarnation. The charge which they laid against Jesus was blasphemy: that He, being a man, made Himself out to be God (John 5:18; 10:33; Matthew 26:63-66). The accusation was true – He did claim to be God (John 8:58) – but He was not guilty of blasphemy, because He was indeed what He claimed to be. So Jesus Himself was a dilemma for the Pharisees.

Recognize Jesus’ method of argument: Jesus confronted the Pharisees with an undeniable truth which nevertheless simply could not fit into their system. In other words, there must be something fundamentally wrong with their way of looking at things. Their whole perspective was too narrow and distorted. To prove that their perspective was all wrong, all that Jesus had to do was to show them another perspective – a true perspective. The Christ is David’s Lord.

The Final Argument

Having lost all of the verbal arguments, the Jews resorted to the argumentum ad baculum – the argument (by force) of the stick. Character assassination had failed. Literal assassination would seem to succeed. But three days later, Jesus won that argument as well. And if we follow Jesus, then we will win our verbal arguments and, in the end, we will conquer the stick as well. Our warfare is spiritual. Our weapons are arguments. Our victory is assured in Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5
[3] For while {we are always} walking around in {the} flesh, we are never waging war according to {the} flesh. [4] For the weapons of our warfare {are} not fleshly, but rather, {they are} powerfully enabled by God for {the} pulling down of strong defensive barriers: [5] {we are continually} pulling down reasonings [/logical arguments] and every high {barrier} {which is continually} raising itself up against the knowledge of God; and {we are continually} bringing every thought into captivity into the obedience which belongs to Christ. [6] {We are} also holding {ourselves} in {a continual state of} preparedness to avenge [/punish] every {form of} disobedience, once your obedience should become complete [/full].

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