The Pharisees ask a question about the greatest law but Jesus' answer was generally accepted by the Jews. He asks them a question about the divinity of the son of David which they cannot answer.
The Pharisees ask a question about the greatest law but Jesus' answer was generally accepted by the Jews. He asks them a question about the divinity of the son of David which they cannot answer.
Hello, welcome to Series 11 and Episode 11, entitled ‘Questions about Scripture’. We're going to take, as our main text Matthew 22: 34 - 46, and you'll find parallel accounts of this in Mark and Luke's Gospels as well.
Introduction and Recap
We're coming towards the end of Series 11, which describes some of the events that take place in the first half of the week which Jesus spends in Jerusalem, just prior to his crucifixion. If we take his crucifixion to be on the Friday, then the events of Series 11 are taking place on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and possibly into Wednesday of that week. It's a very short period of time, into which a lot of action is packed, a lot of discussion, a lot of teaching, and indeed a lot of conflict. If you've been following Series 11, you'll see the picture developing and you'll have a pattern in your mind of the sort of things that are happening. I'm going to go back a little to make sure that all the context is clear for us, before we actually move on to two major discussions about particular themes of Scripture, that are very important at this stage of Jesus' ministry.
Series 10 took us on a significant part of the journey that Jesus was taking south to Jerusalem, a very premeditated decision to head to Jerusalem for a final confrontation with the religious authorities. As I've said on many occasions, they had already decided that they were opposed to Jesus and were going to resist his claims to be the Messiah of Israel, the Saviour of the world, the Son of God. They were going to try and undermine his popular appeal to the Jewish nation. It becomes clear, later on, that they were going to try and get rid of him; try to get him executed and removed from the country. However, the authorities - the Sanhedrin - the ruling council based in the Temple and in Jerusalem, and all their associates in the different factions of the Jewish leadership, have been on the defensive, in the recent events that we've described in Series 11. This is because of the popular appeal of Jesus at the time. It's notable that his raising from the dead of Lazarus out of his tomb, in the village of Bethany just a few kilometres from Jerusalem, had a big impact on public perception amongst the people who lived in the area. They were in awe of Jesus' amazing, miraculous power. It's also notable that a crowd was travelling with him as he came to Jerusalem from Jericho, people expecting him to do something remarkable during the Passover feast, which he was attending in Jerusalem at this time. That expectation was raised even further by his Triumphal Entry, on what we call Palm Sunday, as described in Matthew 21 and parallel passages, which we looked at, at the beginning of this series. There was a tremendous moment of popular acclaim and support and excitement amongst the people. This was, of course, followed quickly, the following day, by Jesus cleansing the Temple and challenging the priesthood, in all their corrupt financial practices in the Temple. That really caused a sensation.
Then, here we are on the Tuesday, which has been an extended day of debate and discussion between Jesus and his opponents: the elders of the people, the chief priests, the Sadducees, the Herodians, the Pharisees - they all make an appearance on this day in some part of that confrontation. Luke describes these days in a helpful way in Luke 21: 37 - 38, which I've mentioned on a number of occasions before but it's a good summary:
‘37Each day Jesus was teaching at the Temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, 38and all the people came early in the morning to hear him in the Temple.’Luke 21:37-38, NIV
Here he is in the Temple again, on this Tuesday, and much has happened. There've been a number of different questions asked about his authority, and about paying taxes to Caesar, and the Sadducees have just asked a question about the resurrection and the afterlife - lots of trick questions. Jesus has not been tripped up by any of them. He's outmanoeuvred his questioners and he's also delivered three, powerful parables, which speak against the religious establishment and their attitude towards him; the parable of the two sons, the parable of the tenants, and the parable of the wedding banquet. If you've followed earlier episodes in this series, you'll remember those three questions, and those three parables that have formed a significant part of what we've been looking at.
There's some kind of a conspiracy going on amongst the authorities. They're working together, even though there are different factions amongst them, they all have a common goal, which is to eliminate Jesus. Consider, for example, the comparison of these verses in Matthew 22:15,
‘15Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians.’ Matthew 22:15-16, NIV
And then verse 23:
‘23That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question.’Matthew 22:23, NIV
And now verse 34, the beginning of our passage:
‘34Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:’Matthew 22:34-35, NIV
There's some kind of a common thread here. They're all trying to trip Jesus up and make him say something that would condemn him, or lead him to be handed over to the Romans. Luke 20: 20 describes this process:
‘20Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said, so they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor.’Luke 20:20, NIV
That's the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. The governor was in residence in Jerusalem at this time, even though his base was elsewhere in Caesarea. He always came during the religious festivals, and took up residence in the military fortress, which was situated right next to the Temple, in the centre of the city.
A Question About the Greatest Law
So, we come now to the first section of our passage today, which deals with the question that is being asked by some of the Pharisees. This is a testing question that they are seeking to ask him. Matthew 22: 35 - 40
‘35One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”’Matthew 22:35-40, NIV
It was often discussed amongst the religious leaders of the day, what the greatest commandments were in the Old Testament, and in the Law of Moses. There were, of course, the central commands known as the 10 Commandments. So, were these the greatest laws in the Law of Moses? The Law of Moses had over 600 laws. Which ones were to be the greatest? Which ones were to help us understand all the other laws? That was a question that the Jews loved to discuss. There's some evidence, outside the Bible, that many of the rabbis and teachers had a view of the law, very similar to what Jesus actually expressed in his answer. What he does is, he doesn't take any of the 10 Commandments to be the greatest laws, which is very interesting. The 10 Commandments are obviously very important, but he chooses two commands that have the central theme of love; the central theme of an inner heart attitude, rather than a specific action. Most laws in the Old Testament Mosaic Law, describe specific actions that people needed to take in particular circumstances.
Let's look at these two. The first one is a quotation from the book of Deuteronomy 6: 4 - 5:
‘4Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.’Deuteronomy 6:4-5, NIV
This was a well-known statement amongst the Jewish people of the time, and still is today amongst Orthodox Jews, who respect and revere the Law of Moses. This is a call to have a sincere devotion to Yahweh, the God of Israel, with your emotions, with your mind, with your strength, with your will, the whole of your being orientated towards him. This orientation towards God would lead you to obey his commands. Then, the second commandment, concerning neighbours, is taken from a more obscure part of the Old Testament Law, the book of Leviticus 19: 18. I'm going to read this statement in its context by reading the whole verse. Jesus quotes only half of it:
‘18“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.”’Leviticus 19:18, NIV
This is a law, as part of the social legislation of the Law of Moses, which helped the Jews to work out how they were to be together in community, in villages, in towns, and how they were going to collaborate together, how they were going to respect each other's families and marriages, what their sexual ethics were going to be, how they were going to deal with quarrels and disputes, with issues over land and with issues over arguments. All sorts of different things are discussed in the social legislation of the Law of Moses but this one is interesting.
“Don't seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people”Leviticus 19:18, NIV
This is speaking of Jewish neighbours. It's basically saying to the Jews how to get on with their neighbours, in their villages and towns. ‘Don't seek revenge or bear grudges’ - show genuine love, and compassion, and patience towards your neighbours, especially if they irritate you, or if they've done something wrong in your community, or in your village. That's the sort of force of that law. However, Jesus has already commented on this law, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’, when in discussion with a questioner, as described in Luke's gospel when he gave the parable of the Good Samaritan, Series 8 and Episode 8. What does ‘loving your neighbour’ really mean? At that point, Jesus expands the meaning of ‘loving your neighbour as yourself’, out of the purely neighbourly relationships of fellow Jews, people of the same ethnic background, living in the same community, by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, which describes loving somebody who is of a different ethnic group to you, who is far away from you socially, someone who you wouldn't necessarily relate to, when a Samaritan exercises compassion and love towards a Jew he sees stricken, on the side of the road.
Jesus' summary of the Law is not particularly controversial. It's very similar to what many of the Jews may think, and they may have wanted to have asked him the trick question in case he produced something unorthodox, or strange, that they could then challenge. But he didn't. No, he gave a very simple and straightforward answer. The interesting thing is that, in Mark's account, we find out a bit more about the questioner. The questioner has two identities in the New Testament. According to Matthew he is an agent of the Pharisees, who is just the spokesman for their attempt to trip Jesus up with a difficult question, or a question that Jesus might answer in an unorthodox way, therefore leading to further difficulties for him. But in Mark's account, in Mark 12, the man who asked the question turns out also to be a spiritual seeker himself. In Mark 12: 32 - 34 we read, after Jesus has given his answer:
‘32“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God. ”And from then onwards no one dared ask him any more questions.’Mark 12:32-34, NIV
The questioner turns out to be a seeker. This is a problem for the religious authorities. They're trying to put a united front on, to challenge Jesus in every area, but even people in their own ranks are attracted to Jesus and they're spiritual seekers. We've already seen in John's Gospel (John 3) how one of the members of the ruling Jewish council, the Sanhedrin, called Nicodemus, was a secret seeker after Jesus who became a follower of him. Then another one followed on after that, a man by the name of Joseph of Arimathea. The difficulty for the religious authorities is that the attractive power of Jesus' teaching is undermining even some of their own people. Even this person who asked the question, which was supposed to be a trick question, was actually a seeker himself. That's a very telling incident. But no one dared to ask him any more questions, according to Mark 12. The questions of the day came to an end. There'd been several complicated questions going on during the day.
Jesus Asks a Question
But now, Jesus is going to turn the tables. He's going to become the questioner. Our last section in today's episode, sees Jesus asking a very difficult question to the Pharisees, who had gathered and were trying to trip him up. They'd failed to trip him up by asking about the greatest commandments. He's given them a good, straight answer with which they would have agreed. He didn't say anything they could claim was unorthodox, or unwise, or unbiblical. No, he gave a good, straight answer to their question. They haven't succeeded in tripping him up with any style of question that had been given during the day. The Herodians, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the chief priests, the elders of the people, are all named as questioners and they've all failed to make Jesus say something unwise, or foolish, or mistaken. But now their vulnerability, and their confusion is going to be revealed very powerfully, in these next verses, in this next question and answer. Matthew 22: 41 - 46:
41While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42“What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” “The son of David,” they replied. 43He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, 44’The Lord said to my Lord:’ Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’’ 45If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” 46No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.’Matthew 22:41-46, NIV
Jesus' question is, ‘Who do you think the Messiah is? What's the identity of the Messiah? In asking that question, he's going straight into the area of controversy, because whilst he has been claiming to be the Messiah, they have been denying that he is the Messiah. He's now searching into this question in a little more detail, by forcing them to reflect on what the Old Testament says about the Messiah, the Deliverer of Israel. So, he asked them the question, ‘Whose son is the Messiah?’ They give him the straightforward and much agreed answer, ‘“The son of David,” they replied.’
Son of David - Jesus' Human Ancestry
The expression, ‘the Son of David’ we've seen in the text on a number of occasions, and we've referred to those occasions and drawn attention to it. ‘The Son of David’ means a descendant of King David, the divinely appointed king of Israel, who founded a dynasty that God promised would continue, and have some permanent representative in the long-term future. It was common for Jews to describe the Messiah as ‘the Son of David’. David received an amazing prophecy at the time when he became king, from the prophet Nathan, as described in 2 Samuel 7. God promises, through Nathan, to ‘“establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”’, 2 Samuel 7:13, and 16
‘“16Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.”’2 Samuel 7:16, NIV
In this way God was declaring that his own divine Kingdom was going to be led by, and administered by, a biological descendant of David. When Jesus comes, bringing the Kingdom of God, the question we have to ask ourselves is, ‘Is he a biological descendant of David?’ We find from the genealogies, which we looked at the beginning, in Series 1, that yes, he is, through his mother Mary, and his stepfather Joseph also has direct blood connections to the Davidic line. So, here's a biological son of David.
The crowds have been increasingly using that title. When he performed one great and wonderful miracle, as recorded in Matthew 12, the crowd said, “Could this be the Son of David?” When blind Bartimaeus and his friend were sitting on the side of the road in Jericho, and Jesus passed by, they cried out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” When Jesus entered Jerusalem in the Triumphal Entry the crowd spontaneously acclaimed, “Hosanna! to the Son of David.” This theme comes up. Jesus is related to David biologically.
Son of God - Jesus' Divinity
That talks about his human ancestry, but then Jesus goes on to say, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’?” Then quotes Psalm 110: 1, which is written by David, and Jesus says David was inspired by the Holy Spirit. In other words, it's an authoritative, divinely given Scripture and David makes this mysterious statement, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ If you read Psalm 110, you'll see that it describes a royal figure of authority, whom the Lord Almighty appoints to rule for him on earth, from Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth. That is a description of the Messiah. That person turns out also to have divine status, to be actually the Son of God. As this verse says, “The Lord said to my Lord:” David says, the Lord God says, to the Messianic figure, who's also a Lord, divine,‘sit at my right hand ’. There are two divine figures in that verse; God of Israel and his Messianic Son.
Jesus is basically saying to the Pharisees, the Scriptures indicate that the Messiah will both be biologically the descendant of David, humanly speaking, and spiritually the Son of God, in an eternal relationship with the God of Israel, as the divine Son of God. In a sense, he's talking about himself and showing that his claims, to be the divine Son of God, and also to be a human descendant of David, make him the Messianic figure of Israel. If David calls him Lord, ‘how can he be his son?’ Only if the humanity and the divinity of Jesus come together, and he is the divine Son of God and the human Son of David at the same time. This was a huge challenge to them, because the Scriptures themselves indicated that their understanding of the Messiah was inadequate.
‘No one could say a word in reply.’ The questions had come to an end. Jesus had won the argument of the day. In fact, he'd won every argument that had taken place during that day, based on the questions that he had been asked. Jesus is controlling the agenda of these days, well and truly. He did it on Palm Sunday with the Triumphal Entry. He did it when he cleansed the Temple on the Monday. Throughout Tuesday, as we've seen, he's been winning the argument, and exposing the hypocrisy, and the weakness of his opponents.
What reflections can we make as we draw this episode to a conclusion? Loving God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, can only be done by loving Jesus as the Son of God, and worshipping him in his true identity. Then we can love our neighbour as ourselves in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Also, it's important to say that Christianity is based on two affirmations about Jesus. Jesus is the human Son of David, the fulfiller of Old Testament prophecies about the Davidic kingship, and he is also the divine Son of his heavenly Father, the Lord God, the God of Israel. The Early Church got hold of these realities very firmly, and I'm going to end with a quotation from Peter, on the day of Pentecost, who also quotes this amazing verse from Psalm 110. He proclaims to the Jews on that day, the following things about Jesus, in Acts 2: 32 - 36:
‘“32God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand 35until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’ 36Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”’Acts 2:32-36, NIV
This is an amazing statement, saying that Jesus, having died and been raised again from the dead, has been demonstrated to be the divine Son of God, the human Son of David, and the one who is going to establish a Kingdom that would spread across the world, over time. The invitation that he gives to us is that we can be part of that Kingdom. Maybe you are part of that Kingdom. Maybe you're just thinking about it. Can I encourage you to be part of that Kingdom and make Jesus your Lord and Messiah? It says in Acts 2:37,
‘37When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized,every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’Acts 2:37-38, NIV
Thanks for listening to this episode and I hope you can join us again for the last episode in Series 11, which comes up next.
The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.
- In this passage, we find the beliefs that Jesus is the Son of David and he is the Son of God. Look at the response to Peter’s declaration in Acts 2:37 - 38. What is your response to Jesus as the Son of God?
- How do you work out loving your neighbour as yourself?
- Read 2 Samuel 7: 13 - 16. What is the importance of this promise to David, to the Jews, and to you today?