040814Mark 12:13–27—The traps of the Pharisees and Sadducees

13 The leaders sent some Pharisees and supporters of Herod to try to trap Jesus into saying something for which he could be arrested. 14 “Teacher,” these men said, “we know how honest you are. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. You sincerely teach the ways of God. Now tell us—is it right to pay taxes to the Roman government or not? 15 Should we pay them, or should we not?” Jesus saw through their hypocrisy and said, “Whom are you trying to fool with your trick questions? Show me a Roman coin, and I’ll tell you.” 16 When they handed it to him, he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. 17 “Well, then,” Jesus said, “give to Caesar what belongs to him. But everything that belongs to God must be given to God.” This reply completely amazed them. 18 Then the Sadducees stepped forward—a group of Jews who say there is no resurrection after death. They posed this question:
19 “Teacher, Moses gave us a law that if a man dies, leaving a wife without children, his brother should marry the widow and have a child who will be the brother’s heir. 20 Well, there were seven brothers. The oldest of them married and then died without children. 21 So the second brother married the widow, but soon he too died and left no children. Then the next brother married her and died without children. 22 This continued until all the brothers had married her and died, and still there were no children. Last of all, the woman died, too. 23 So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven were married to her.” 24 Jesus replied, “Your problem is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God. 25 For when the dead rise, they won’t be married. They will be like the angels in heaven. 26 But now, as to whether the dead will be raised—haven’t you ever read about this in the writings of Moses, in the story of the burning bush? Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, God said to Moses, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ 27 So he is the God of the living, not the dead. You have made a serious error.”

Points of Interest:

  • ‘we know how honest you are’—again, the leaders are ironically truthful. They are intending to flatter Jesus, but they are actually telling the truth: he is indeed honest, sincere, and impartial. Meanwhile, in these very words they are being deceitful, partial, and insincere.
  • ‘is it right to pay taxes?’—The leaders think that they have given Jesus a political puzzle on a par with the one he gave them the day before. Taxes are always a tricky political issue. If Jesus says it is wrong to pay taxes, he will be in trouble with the Romans. And it’s always unpopular with the crowds to endorse taxes.
  • ‘Whose picture and title are on it?’—Jesus’ answer is disarming and profound. Obviously, if the coin has Caesar’s name and picture on it, it belongs to him. How can anyone argue with that? His addition, ‘everything that belongs to God must be given to him,’ is where his answer becomes profound. How do we know what belongs to God? In the same way we can tell that the coin belongs to Caesar: whatever bears his name and picture belong to God. This would apply to the temple. It would also apply to Jesus, God’s son; ironically, the priests are about to hand Jesus, who belongs to God, over to Caesar. Finally, all people belong to God. In the book of Genesis, at the creation of human beings, it is said that we are made in God’s likeness; we all bear his picture. Since we bear his picture, we belong to him. To Jesus, the question of taxes is insignificant in light of this profound insight.
  • ‘the Sadducees’—The Pharisees, who we’ve seen a lot of, and the Sadducees, who we first meet here, are the two major political/religious parties of the Jews. The Pharisees are upper middle class and religiously conservative, as we’ve seen. They are the dominant party among the teachers of the law. The Sadducees are much more urbane and liberal. They are the upper class, heavily influenced by Greek philosophy, and, therefore, suspicious of the supernatural. They are the dominant party among the priests. The Pharisees and Sadducees are naturally enemies (as both are with the Herodians), but they are brought together in a common desire to get rid of Jesus, who threatens the popularity and power of all of them.
  • ‘For all seven were married to her’—Once the Pharisees have tried their best and been thwarted, the Sadducees step up to bat. They bring Jesus their best stumper, the one they use in their arguments with the Pharisees all the time. The idea is, of course, that the idea of rising from the dead is illogical because this hypothetical woman cannot be married to seven different men at the same time. While the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus, the Sadducees are trying to make him look like a fool.
  • ‘You have made a serious error ‘—although they may not even be aware of it, they are bringing up an issue in which Jesus has large personal stakes: he knows he is going to die within days, and he is depending on the reality of the resurrection. He has also promised all of his followers that if they die for his sake they will receive new life. Therefore, Jesus responds quite strongly.
  • ‘they won’t be married’—In their supposedly air-tight argument against the resurrection, they make a very big, and mistaken, assumption in Jesus’ estimation: they have assumed that heaven is just like earth. It is just the sort of assumption that someone who does not believe in the supernatural would be prone to make. But if that assumption is untrue, their whole argument unravels.
  • ‘you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God’—these so-called religious leaders are making such basic errors that it’s clear they don’t know God’s power or his words at all. Knowing God’s words and his power are two powerful ingredients to being able to know God. God’s words can teach us about God’s power and God’s power helps us to interpret God’s words for our situation and make real contact with God. When both are together, they provide a strong, living connection to God. With neither, it is difficult not to seriously misunderstand God.
  • ‘haven’t you ever read about the burning bush’—Jesus is making fun of them a little here. Of course they know the story about the burning bush: it’s one of the most famous moments in Jewish history. They’ve read it plenty of times, but they’ve never really understood its significance.

Taking it Home:

  • For you: Jesus is staking his life on the resurrection from the dead, and he asks his followers to do the same. Do you, like the Sadducees, have doubts that the resurrection from the dead is true? If so, bring those doubts to Jesus in prayer. Unless he assures you of the resurrection, it is impossible to truly follow him. Ask him to point you to his words and to meet you with his power to give you the understanding you need.
  • For your 6: What are the questions that keep your 6 from faith in Jesus? Do you think they need to know more of God’s word, more of his power, or both? Are there stories from the Bible you could tell them that might address their question in a surprising way? Pray for them that God’s power would give them insight into their questions.
  • For our church: If we continue to follow in Jesus’ footsteps as a church, we—like him—will gain enemies that want to trap us. Ask the Holy Spirit to give us surprising, provocative, insightful answers like the Spirit gave to Jesus.