The precepts of religious tradition are so manifold and so laborious that trying to research the works of critics and scholars who have researched the works of other critics and scholars concerning their own concepts of the kingdom of God is not unlike being lost in a labyrinth of caverns with no lights.
Some think the kingdom of God is a sentiment within a human being. Others believe it was the ancient Roman Empire finally "Christianized" by the Roman Catholic Church. Hitler thought he was going to set it up. Some believe it is here now, but only "ruling in the hearts of men" in some nebulous spiritual sense, meaning that collective feeling of "pervasive goodness" alleged to live in the hearts of Christians universally, be they Catholic or any of the hundreds of Protestant denominations. (of course according to "mainstream" evangelical theologians, this would almost certainly exclude any members of the alleged "sects" no matter how sincere or Bible-believing they may appear to be, simply because they are not one of the more "respected" or "established" theological bodies.)
A simple perusal of what Jesus plainly said would clear up the matter for any questing mind once and for all. But it is necessary to go to the source , armed with the idea that he, after all, ought to know. Since He was the advance emissary of the kingdom of God; the very Son of that God who sent Him to this earth, and the King of the coming kingdom, perhaps, after all, the one human individual more qualified than any other to know just precisely what is the kingdom of God.
Jesus continually preached about the kingdom of God (Matthew's gospel calls it "kingdom of heaven") He continually tells what the kingdom of God is like. On one occasion He said it was like leaven, using this example in the 13th chapter of Matthew where leavening is a type of righteousness. This analogy shows the all-pervasiveness of the kingdom which will finally spread over the entirety of the earth at the second coming of Christ.On another occasion, He talks about the kingdom being of such value it is like a "Pearl of great price," or a great treasure a man found in a field which, once he had discovered it, leads him to sell every other earthly possession to purchase that one field.
There are three major parables, all involving money, that Jesus gives about the kingdom of God.
The first parable (in Matthew 20) is about the householder who hired laborers at different times during a day, yet paid them all the same wage at the end of the day.
The second parable (in Matthew 25) is about a man who travels to a far country and entrusts differing sums of money ("talents") to his servants in proportion to their different abilities.
The third parable (in Luke 19) is about a nobleman who went into a far country to receive a kingdom and gave each of his servants one "pound" asking them to gain as much as possible before he returned.
Each of these parables conveys a different aspect of the kingdom of God as its primary point, as well as some interesting secondary points.
Let us now discuss each of these parables in detail, looking for practical information about human business, politics, financial affairs, labor relations, etc., as well as for the primary illustrations regarding the kingdom of God and its judgments.
We find that Jesus' concepts of fairness would not be palatable to the labor unions and blue-collar workers of today. We begin by quoting each. Matthew 20:1-16:
"For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the market-place, and said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He said unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.
"So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.
"But he answered one of them and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first , and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen."
On this occasion, Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like a man who is a householder or home owner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.
When he had agreed with the laborers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard to go to work. He went out again about 9:00 A.M. and saw others standing in the marketplace jobless and idle, and he said, "You can also go to work in the vineyard, and whatever is right, whatever is a fair wage, I will give you." The account says these jobless idlers were willing enough and went their way.
Again Jesus said the landowner went out about noon and 3:00 P.M. and did likewise. Again about 5:00 P.M. (or apparently an hour before quitting time) he went out and found others standing and he said to them, "Why do you stand here all day idle?" They answered, "Because no one has given us a job." He said, "Then go to work in my vineyard."
That evening, Jesus said that the master of the property called his foreman or his steward and said, "Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning from the last to the first." The account goes on to relate that all the laborers received exactly the same wages - even those who were hired at the very last moment; they all received a "penny" (the old King James English changes the Greek term denarios into a comparable sum in 1611). But when the first group came in - those who had been laboring all day long - they supposed they should receive more.
Rumors had by now traversed the line of laborers waiting for their pay that those at the head of the line, who had only worked for one hour, were receiving a full wage. As a result there is no doubt that the ones who had gone to work early in the morning were expecting they would receive three to five times as much. However, astonishingly, they all received "every man a penny"?
Jesus went on to explain that "when they received it, they murmured at the householder, 'These last have spent only an hour working in the field, and yet you made their wages equal to ours even though we have had to bear the burden of the day in this scorching heat.'"
The landowner then said, "Friend, I do you no harm or wrong: Didn't you agree with me to work for a penny? Take that which is yours, and go your way; for it is my determination to give to the last ones I hired, these that came into my vineyard at the eleventh hour, the same wages as I gave to you. Isn't it lawful for me to do what I want with that which is mine? Or is your eye evil - are you thinking malicious - thoughts because I am good to others?"
Jesus' example here is laden with important principles concerning the kingdom of God; and at the same time would be almost impossible for the average wager-earner in a socialized society to accept. He went on to conclude in this lesson given to His own disciples as well as to those who were standing, by saying, "The last shall be first and the first last."
The obvious spiritual meaning of the parable is that those who walk this earth today at the eleventh hour of man's experience are like those who labored in the vineyard for only the eleventh hour, while perhaps other individuals who have lived and died long ago could be compared to those who labored longer.
To students of eschatology, the immediate reference would be to the stated sequence of events in biblical prophecy which illustrate Jesus' final famous statement that the "last shall be first, and the first last."
The miraculous conversion, explained in Revelation 7, of a vast number from nations all over the world called "an innumerable multitude," plus the miraculous conversion at the very last moment prior to Christ's arrival on this earth of 144,000, representing 12,000 from every tribe of Israel except Dan, with a double portion going to Joseph, would obviously be inferred from this story.
It illustrates the fact that while many will have been "enduring unto the end" and earning their righteousness "tried in the fire of tribulation" and will have been living lives of privation, hardship. persecution. and even martyrdom, there will, nevertheless, be hundreds of thousands of individuals who, within perhaps only a few weeks or even days of their conversion, will be inducted into God's kingdom.
Still, there is more to the analogy since each human individual is limited by his own life span, when he or she was called to God, the vastly differing trials of life, etc.
Therefore, in any normal life span, there will be some whose lives will be filled with enormous trials to take place over 70 or more years, while others will be converted in a very short period of time. Both groups will be fully born into God's Family and become eternal spirit beings and Sons of God, and although some will have understood God's truth and will have received the real Jesus Christ of Nazareth as their Savior for only weeks or even days, they will be just as much Sons of God with just as long eternal life.
First, let's understand from this analogy that Jesus ratifies and supports the principle of private ownership of property, of success gained from one's own skills and effort, of the determination to set wages based upon mutually agreeable circumstances, and the right of a landowner to settle individual disputes on his own property, privately, between himself and his laborers.
Furthermore, notwithstanding the obvious prophetic port of this analogy, there is a great deal which can be gleaned about the personality of Jesus as well as the character of the kingdom over which He says He will rule. Old Testament laws and judgments, coupled with New Testament teaching and his own example, uphold hard, honest work, and remuneration for that work. Also supported and upheld are the private ownership of property and sole control over such property according to law; the enjoyment of the fruits of one's own labors; and the ability to "lay up for one's children," meaning leaving an inheritance to come without governmental restrictions which would deprive legal heirs of the substance of their father's and grandfather's labors. Notice that there was no standardized wage forced upon employers and employees. Each made a private, separate agreement; each was paid exactly according to the stipulations of his own original agreement.
Can't you imagine the placards and signs of those who would picket a modern-day vineyard where a winemaker had followed such a practice? Screams of outrage, the hurling of epithets, and the possible destruction of his property would surely result.
The whole concept goes totally against the grain of our own beliefs that it is simply "not fair" for one person to receive exactly the same wage for working for 11 or 12 hours as does another person for working only one hour.
Yet, Jesus makes the point that the vineyard owner had a perfect right to make different agreements with different people. He was in charge. The vineyard was his. The fruit of his own labor was his own home, lands, and crop.
The householder had the perfect right to make private and exclusive agreements with each group of laborers for a specific wage. The householder was therefore his own employment agency, union, and arbiter in the cast of disputes. Will there be unions, collective bargaining, etc, under the rule of Jesus Christ? This parable, at least, suggests not!
Anyone who dares to pick up the unembellished gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and simply read them as they would any other textbook, though in modern, understandable English, could probably grow quite angry at the personality they discovered there. Especially anyone attempting to apply sociological principles reverted by Jesus Christ to the federalized, socialized, unionized welfare states of this modern world would soon find ample room for conflict.
Jesus' concept of fairness is utterly different from our own; that what a person has earned by his own honest work is perfectly proper in God's sight; that what one can accomplish through one's own acquired skills need not be subjected to the rules and regulations of others. Certainly, this parable, while surely primarily applicable to explaining the kingdom of God, upholds some of the fundamental values of the capitalistic system of private ownership and individual initiative.
"For the kingdom of heaven is as a man traveling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise, he that had received two, he also gained other two. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money. After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
"He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou had not strawed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou has that is thine. His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
"Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
This second important parable has been called "the parable of the talents."
A talent was a great deal of money; it represented an ancient Greek unit of weight - the heaviest in both for monetary purposes and for commodities. (It is understood that our English-language use of the word "talent" to imply the general capacity for knowledge or ability came about directly as a result of Jesus' use of the term.)
As the heaviest unit of monetary weight, Jesus' example obviously means that the benefactor of the servants was investing a great deal of his own money.
In this case, the property owner appears as a person who is about to move into a different nation, and who calls his own servants and delivers into their hands much of his wealth. Jesus said, "to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one; to each person, he gave according to his different abilities; and the property owner went on his journey" (paraphrased, and so throughout parable).
According to the analogy, the one who received the five talents went and traded with them, using the principle of making money with money, and increased his bankroll by five talents; this means he achieved a 100 percent rate of return on his investment and eventually accumulated ten talents altogether.
Though starting with a lesser amount, two talents, and therefore representing by analogy an individual with somewhat less ability or "natural talent," the second servant also bartered with the money he, had received and also increased his estate 100 per cent, ending up with a total of four.
But the individual who began with the least ability was both fearful and security-minded. He was taking no chances. Jesus said, "But he that received the one went away and dug in the earth, and hid his lord's money." As he related the story, in due time the master returned home and asked for a reckoning. He add, "And he that received the five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, Lord, you delivered unto me five talents; look - I have gained five more talents!" He said the householder said to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant: you have been faithful over a few things, I will set you over many things; enter into the joy of your Lord."
This scripture has been used in hundreds of sermons to illustrate that ultimate statement which is the most prized to any human individual who is truly and sincerely seeking entry into God's kingdom. To be told, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant," no matter the degree of inherent, beginning ability, is the most priceless pronouncement any person could ever hear. (Notice, as the account proceeds, that the householder said the identical words to the one who reported he also had doubled his talents - starting with two he ended up with four - even though this man had only 40 percent of the first servants sum.)
Finally, Jesus said, "And he also that had received the one talent came and said, 'Lord I knew you were a very stern man; reaping where you do not sow and gathering where you did not scatter - taking what is not even yours - and I was afraid; so I went away and hid your sum of money in the earth. Here is what you gave me; I did not lose it.' "
But, Jesus said, the householder said to him, "You wicked and lazy servant - you understood that I am an investor; that I have used my money to increase my fortunes, and not always through my own human physical labor; at the very least, knowing this, you should have invested my money in the bank (for at least they know how to properly reinvest it), so that at my coming I could have received back that which was my own with interest."
Note that, contrary to some super-righteous attitudes, there is no condemnation whatsoever of the wealthy homeowner who first gave private loans and then expected a reckoning, fully planning both to reward and punish accordingly. Notice also the obvious approval given for a financial system of money and banking much as we know it today.
Jesus illustrates that it is not wrong for money to "earn interest," notwithstanding the attitudes of some to the contrary; at the same time He gives divine approval to the principle of "making money with money," by providing the capital for would be entrepreneurs whose successes are then shared by the investor or capitalist.
Again, notice how totally cross-grained is the statement of the individual who, terribly security-minded, thought to hide his money in a can underneath the chicken coop.
Jesus said that the householder said, "Take away the talent from him, and give it to him that has the ten! For to everyone who has shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but to him who has not [has earned nothing; increased nothing, overcome not at all] even that which he has [which wasn't his own in the beginning] shall be taken away."
Jesus then gave the antithesis of His statement, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant" spoken to the other two by saying, "Cast out the unprofitable servant into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Then follows the account of the "sheep and the goats" with Jesus' statements concerning rewards and payments in the kingdom - which has led many individuals to assume the judgment scene is like a great courtroom in the sky, with a magic lever automatically plunging the unfortunate "wicked servant" down into an ever-burning hell, and with a super catapult poised toward heaven ready to spring the "good and faithful servant" into the beatific vision!
It seems lost on many that Judgment is a process of separation; that the Bible plainly says, "Judgment must begin today" on the Church of God (those who are converted and baptized), and that the "Great White Throne Judgment" pictured in the Bible takes place over at least one lengthy lifespan, and is as much a "process" as any other lengthy assessment.
Unfortunately, few seem to realize that God's "Judgment" is not a summary execution of punishments following an angelic indictment over dozens of filthy deeds done in this human life. God's righteous judgment is carried out throughout the span of life following repentance, the receiving of knowledge of God's truth and the begetting of His Holy Spirit.
You can forget the childish horror story of a harsh God who sits in long robes with white hair and beard, and with a huge gavel in His hand, waiting for that one moment of sadistic delight when He can crash His gavel down on the judgment bench, looking almost through you with piercing, ice-blue eyes, and say, "Guilty!"
These two examples - the laborers in the vineyard and the investor of large sums of money - illustrate very clearly that "the kingdom of heaven is like" both of these pragmatic analogies. Therefore, Jesus illustrates the fact that human individuals are judged according to their natural abilities; according to the exact degree of knowledge and understanding they possess, according, to use the vernacular, to "what they did with what they had to do with."
"He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, occupy till I come. But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds.
And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities. And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds. And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities. And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin: For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow. And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow: Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury? And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds. (And they said unto him, Lord, he hath ten pounds.)
For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him. But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me."
Some consider this final parable concerning money to be perhaps the most important of all. The reason Jesus gave it was that many of His disciples were making the mistake tens of thousands of others have made all the way down through history, and are still making to some extent today: they thought the kingdom of God would immediately appear (Luke 19:11).
When He gave this parable to His disciples, Jesus was very close to Jerusalem; He was in Jericho, a short distance from the Jordan River valley, and was staying at the home of a very wealthy man named Zacchias who was the chief publican or tax-collector, but apparently a fair one.
Even though Zacchias had the reputation of being "a sinner" (the general populace remained terribly suspicious of, and virtually hated, all publicans), he was able to tell Jesus that he had actually given half his goods to the poor, never wrongfully extracted money from anyone, and would restore fourfold if and when a mistake was made. Because they were close to Jerusalem, he wanted to straighten the disciples out, on the matter of whether He intended to go to Jerusalem in triumphal entry to bring about an earthly "kingdom" at that time. He told them about a certain nobleman who went away into a far country to receive a kingdom for himself and return. Jesus said, "He called his ten servants, gave each of them ten pounds, and instructed them each to conduct appropriate business with his investment until he returns" (paraphrased, and so throughout parable)
Jesus is obviously the "certain nobleman" who went away into a far country (the throne of His Father in heaven) and His servants are, by analogy, individual Christians on this earth who, though varying in basic talent and ability as well as individual responsibilities, are each given challenging commissions and responsibilities in this life. In this case the British pound is the unit of money that is used by the King James translators. He said that the servants were given the money (a pound sterling) to "trade with" until He returned.
The analogy continued, "But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man reign over us." Jesus' analogy said, "And it came to pass, when he returned home, having received the kingdom, that he commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know that they had gained by trading. And the first came before him, saying, Lord, your pound has made ten pounds more."
The man had increased 1000 percent! Again, the same wonderful words as were recorded in Matthew's account of the parable of the talents are said. The nobleman proclaimed, "Well. Done, you good and faithful servant; because you were faithful in a very little, you are to have authority over ten cities."
The second servant came saying, "Your pound, Lord, has made five pounds." And he heard the identical words, though his reward was in exact proportion to the amount of increase, which in this case was 500 percent: "Be also over five cities." Again, the reward was exactly commensurate with the degree of increase.
Inevitably, here came "Mr. Cautious" with his debilitating admixture of ignorance of "the system," fear and suspicion of those who were wealthy, and an unhealthy desire for security. All of this resulted in his saying, "Lord, here is your pound which I kept laid up in a napkin because I was afraid of you. I knew you were an austere person; you pick up that which you didn't lay down, and reap what you did not sow." (Almost the identical words, though in a slightly different analogy than Jesus used in the parable of the talents.)
Jesus said that the nobleman replied, "Out of your own mouth will I judge you, you wicked servant. You knew that I am an austere man, picking up that which I did not lay down, and reaping that which I did not sow; then why didn't you at least put my money into the bank, so that at my return I could have at least received back what was mine with interest." He said, "Take the pound away from him, and give it to him who already has the ten pounds." If this sounds strange to us today, it also sounded strange to those in the story he related. Those standing by, who now had been charged with this unpleasant task, said, "Lord he already has ten pound! He doesn't need another one! Jesus answered, "I am telling you that to he that has shall be given [and the only reason he "has" is because he has diligently overcome, grown, developed. improved and increased; because he has followed every principle of success and endurance including sweating out the hardships which would always exist in such a success story], but from him that has not [has not increased, not overcome, not grown or developed at all], even that which he has (precious little, if any of his own) shall be taken away from him. But as for these enemies of mine who would not have me rule over them, fetch them here, and execute them in my presence."
A rather chilling ending to an otherwise pleasant enough, though difficult to understand, analogy.
Christ is clearly the "young nobleman" who went away into a far country to be crowned king and return. The "citizens" do not embody any members of any particular race; but represent, collectively, that group of individuals who simply cannot stomach the thought of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Boss, Ruler and Master who dares to expect faithful obedience of His followers. Modern people want to believe in a comfortable household god they can kick into a comer at will; a "Jesus" made in their own image who is a spiritual tranquilizer for their problems.
In this last parable, these people represent those individuals who, by their combination of life-styles, attitudes, approaches and religious precepts, are constantly sending a "message" to Jesus saying, "We are not about to submit to any arbitrary spiritual dictatorship!"
In these three major "money" parables, Jesus is obviously the one, who is proportioning the reward: to the laborers in the vineyard, those who were given the heaviest unit of Greek money to invest, or those who were required to invest their pounds.
Human beings. all of whom are different in some way, and who have varying degrees of knowledge, understanding and some skill, are represented by those who began equally, yet overcame and developed to different degrees according to their own "several abilities."
The rewards, at the time of Christ's arrival in the power of His kingdom, are plainly stated to be rulership over "cities." Practically no professing Christian really understands the full scope of these simple truths today. The plain scriptures on the subject, especially Revelation 2:26, 3:21 and 5:10, plainly state that co-rulership with Christ over the nations on earth is the reward of the saved. What's wrong with this physical earth, after all? That's where all the problems and opportunities are!
Jesus confronts religious leaders
Spiritual awareness brings spiritual comparisons. The Pharisees and Sadducees were rival religious organizations. Though normally deeply divided, they could find temporary alliance in their hatred of Jesus. His popularity with the common folk - made poignantly obvious by their own unpopularity - and the sensational size and growing scope of His ministry made him a significant rival for the affections and admirations of the people.
These religious leaders, like most religious leaders in all religious groups from time immemorial, inspired more superstitious fear than sincere loyalty in their followers. The religious situation in first-century Palestine was not that different from the way it is today.
Most people were not members of a religious group. The average Jew back then was like the average American, Briton, German, Frenchman now. He probably had a certain form of piety, attended the temple very occasionally at one of the festivals, and perhaps even tithed in a good year. But the average Jew was not a Pharisee, Sadducee, or Essene any more than the average Israeli is ultra Orthodox.
This point becomes obvious when we compare the population of the country with the membership in the different religious groups.
A conservative estimate of the population of Palestine at the time is about half a million. According to Josephus there were approximately 4,000 Essenes for one period and about 6,000 Pharisees for another. We have no figures for the Sadducees, but being a priestly group they probably had fewer. If we are generous, we still come up with probably quite a few short of 20,000 for all the religious groups put together. This would make only about one out of 25 a member of a formal religious organization. This is conservative; it could have easily been one out of 30 or 40. This means only about 4 percent or less of the population had any specific affiliation with a religious group.
A certain amount of respect was paid to the priests and the religious teachers. But this respect was no different from that of the average layman today. They told jokes about the Pharisee with the bloody nose because he so averted his eyes from looking at an attractive girl that he didn't see the wall until too late. They thought it was funny when the young bull got away and had to be wrestled down by the priests in their robes before they could sacrifice it. And the many street-corner preachers were considered as much wild-eyed fanatics a they are today.
It has been a standard myth that the Pharisees were an overwhelmingly dominant force in Palestine in Jesus' time. This erroneous view is based on late rabbinic literature, but recent studies - especially those by the well-known scholar Jacob Neusner - have shown that the situation was quite different after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 from what it was before. Rabbinic Judaism was a post A.D. 70 phenomenon which descended directly from the Pharisees and therefore tended to exaggerate their historical significance.
In the decades following the destruction of Jerusalem, rabbinic Judaism was hammered out and became the dominant religious influence on Jews (though again the average Jew was still the am ha'arets who basically ignored the detailed regulations proclaimed by the rabbis). Later rabbinic Judaism was Torah centered. Study of the lay and legal disputations were common activities of the rabbis and their disciples.
But Pharisaism differed in many ways from the later rabbinic Judaism. The Pharisees were not a group formed to study the Torah. They were an organization of laymen who agreed to observe certain purity laws so that they could imitate the priests in the temple. In other words they tried to make their home into a model of the temple and their table into a model of the altar. They were a table fellowship group. Even though they were concerned about such things as Sabbath observance, the bulk of their concern was with laws relating to eating.
They washed pots and pans because that was necessary for ritual purity. They criticized the disciples of Jesus for eating with "unwashed" hands (Mark 7) because the disciples had not followed the purity regulations (regulations nowhere required in the Old Testament except for the priests in the temple). They were scrupulous about tithing, not because they were concerned about the priests, but because they could not eat something unless it had been properly tithed!
The Sadducees were a group associated mainly with the priests (Acts 4:1). Their activities centered mainly around the temple, and this is why their influence on Judaism was totally finished when the temple was destroyed. The main appeal of the Sadducees was to the upper classes. Consequently, they had less popular appeal than the Pharisees and others.
Yet many of the professional scribes were Sadducees. The scribes were a professional class roughly corresponding to the civil servant or bureaucrat of today. They were trained in the law (the term "scribe" is basically interchangeable with "lawyer") and the literature of the Jews. They held various administrative and educational posts. They were respected much as are the legal and medical professions today. So when Jesus said, "The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses' seat," he was recognizing their prestige and authority as teachers. (But then He went on to condemn many of their practices and examples! - Matthew 23).
The third Judaic sect of the first century - the Essenes - is not mentioned in the New Testament. Most scholars feel the Qumran community - immortalized and popularized by the Dead Sea Scrolls - was a leading Essene center. Other writers indicate that Essenes also lived in various villages and cities throughout Palestine. They were very much a minor group, though, and probably kept somewhat separate because of their exclusive attitudes.
The popular press has long engaged in speculation about Jesus being an Essene or associated with the Qumran community. Such absurdities have been almost universally rejected by Qumran specialists. There is no evidence that he had anything to do with the Essenes and Qumran. As already mentioned, the Essenes are not even mentioned once in the entire New Testament.
The Pharisees in Jesus' time, obsessed with their own rules and traditions of religious ritual, were no better and no worse than any other religious group of any other time. It is a basic psychological trait of human beings that, as one becomes more convinced of his own spiritual purity, especially if it can be expressed through physical means, he simultaneously becomes less tolerant of others. In a word he becomes self-righteous.
Self-righteousness is the antithesis of Godly righteousness. It can in fact become the most insidious of sins because it is the most difficult to recognize. It is not particularly hard for a prostitute to know what she is, or for a murderer, drunk or thief to know what he is. Perhaps it becomes progressively more troublesome for a liar and a covetous person to recognize his sins. But the self-righteous person, one who thinks that he has not committed any sins, " knows " he is righteous and he " knows " that he knows it, is in the gravest danger of insidious self-delusion and ultimate self-destruction.
The Pharisees personified the concepts of spiritual rank, show, pecking order, and degree of sanctimoniousness. How all such self-righteous characters know how to hate! (Satan himself must become at least a little Jealous over their vituperative musings; their filthy, lying, carnal-minded plots.)
A "righteous posture" is always center stage; all the lights are on - it's opening night, and all the, critics are out there. Give it your best!
Consequently, to capitalize on and exploit the fact that the Jewish religious leaders were involved in the crucifixion and murder of Jesus in order to support even implicitly an anti-Semitic attitude is the height of historical absurdity, ludicrous in the extreme, and only serves to broadcast one's own ignorance. In fact, surely a far greater case could be made for a "pro-Semitic" attitude, based on the clear New Testament testimony that the leading apostles and disciples and the great majority of the early church in Judea, as well as the core members of the churches even in the Gentile world, were all Jewish!
An ultimate contradiction is to posture that one is wearing the cloak of "Christianity" (which says to resist not evil; turn the other cheek; pray for - and even love - your enemies) in order to persecute the Jews or, for that matter, any other group, creed, race, organization or individual).
After the miracles of the loaves and the fishes, a continual furor began in the towns and villages as leading Pharisees from Jerusalem began stirring up the crowds. The confrontation between these religious leaders and Jesus was easy to foretell, and His denunciation of them as "hypocrites," who honored Him with their lips but whose heart was far from Him, was stinging. Jesus said, "How beit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" - and thoroughly scolded them for their man-made traditions which He said made the Word of God of no effect.
Many falsely assume the religion of the Pharisees was the Old Testament religion, the religion of Moses. No way. Even though Jesus said that they sat "in Moses' seat," recognizing their inheritance of the authority of Moses (in administering the law), He warned against the doctrine of the Pharisees, which He specifically called their "leaven." The added corruptions; the repressive, restrictive, hyper-religious customs and traditions of these men were what Jesus attacked. They had made the Word of God, a way of life spelled out In the scriptures, of "no effect" by their traditions.
After all, very few even today figure their religion is any good to them if they can understand it, do they? Isn't it much better if it borders on the mysterious, the unknown, the obscure? Isn't it more effective to gaze in wonderment at bizarre, detailed, carefully arranged rituals performed by some person dressed in obvious "religious" garb, and vaguely "guess" this must be pleasing to some sort of divine being, than it is to observe and appreciate the practical, day-to-day way of life that God lays down in His Word?
The Pharisees decided it was holy to fast twice each week, as if on a righteously rigorous schedule. (You'd be a rich man if you could have a dollar for every day those pretending religious fanatics failed to really fast "twice in the week," even though they openly bragged about it.)
Jesus was well aware of the story about the Pharisee and the publican. He said,
"Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted" (Luke 18:10-14).
Here was the attitude of the Pharisees again: That of spiritual pride, vanity, ego, self-importance and hypocrisy!
The publican (normally suspected to be a cheat by the literate masses) knew what he was, and was repenting of it. The Pharisee was only interested in what the publican was, and had absolutely no doubt of his own "righteousness." He could not admit that he had any of his own sins, and bragged he was entirely righteous.
Unfortunately, the "leaven" of the Pharisees is very much alive and active in too many religious folk. Spiritual pride, vanity, pretense, hypocrisy - these are blatantly obvious in many a posing, pompous, pseudo-spiritual person today.
Jesus told of the martyrdom of men of God in times past, and then indicted the Pharisees because they admitted to being descendants of those who had done such things.
The implication of Christ's words are clear: if the Pharisees had lived during those earlier days, they would have perpetrated the same crimes! Not only this, but Jesus also implied that they were plotting His own murder, and that some of them would remain alive to be involved, no doubt, in the murder of James, Zebedee's son; of Steven; and the attempts on the life of Paul!
There were those, Jesus said, who "worshipped" Him. That is, they "revered", and "adored" His person; they "believed on Him"! But He said, " in vain do they worship me , teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9). Worship? How many who are professing Christians believe that today? After all, the very essence of "salvation" according to the way many look at it is to accept Christ as personal Savior, to believe on Him; to admit you are a sinner, and to worship him! If You believe - you shall be saved!" is the popular belief. But the demons believe, James said - and demons aren't "saved." Jesus said belief can flower into worship, and still be done in vain.
To those who believe "on" Jesus - how about believing what he said? It's possible to worship even the real Christ, and still do it in vain - remember, those Pharisees and others were facing him and blew it, where millions today only fantasize about a fake Jesus, a counterfeit, and so start off worse than the Pharisees! He become very angry at the Pharisees, but His anger was not self-oriented; He wasn't mad because His own ego was bruised.
Jesus directed His anger through an outgoing spirit of love , coupled with grief toward human beings who were so bigoted and pig-headed they could not see the simple truths before their eyes. For example, mad Mark's account of Jesus' healing of the man with the withered hand.
"Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. And they watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him" (Mark 3:1-2, RSV).
Notice, there was no doubt in these religious leaders' minds whether Jesus had the power to heal - they knew He had that power!
So why didn't they rejoice? As religious leaders whose primary job was to "feed the flock," and to be as gentle shepherds over the "little people" in their charge, why should they not have been deeply grateful for the miraculous power that Jesus exercised which brought such blessed relief from physical aches and pains, from blindness, deafness, dumbness, epilepsy, leprosy and all the other hideous diseases which afflicted a sick and poverty stricken generation?
Strangely, since these murder-plotting Pharisees postured themselves to be religious leaders and the proprietors of the Holy Scriptures, they should have at least had full knowledge of the terrible penalties God would impose on any such individuals who were guilty of forming various clandestine alliances with other religious and philosophical organizations with which they normally would have, had no relationship whatsoever.
Jews was in the synagogue, and these religious leaders watched Him to see whether He would heal on the Sabbath so they might accuse Him!
Thus, Jesus was being baited. They almost expected, indeed hoped and prayed, that he would heal on the Sabbath in order that they might have what they felt was tangible evidence that he had done something wrong! Just a few verses earlier, the Pharisees had tried to accuse him because His disciples were plucking ears of grain and eating them on the Sabbath day, and Jesus had to tell them of how David ate the shewbread, and remind them that the Sabbath was not a yoke of bondage and a burden, but "the Sabbath was made for man" not "man for the Sabbath; so the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath." (Strange, isn't the Sabbath the only day which is truly sanctified by God in the Bible?)
Jesus looked about Him and spied the man with the withered hand and said, "Come here." Then He said to the Pharisees, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to harm, to save life or to kill?"
Again, that ringing voice of authority and that level gaze of conviction combined with the logic of those words, were simply too much for these hypocritical charlatans. They simply had to shut their mouths in the face of such piercing logic. They couldn't answer either way. If they said, "Yes, it is lawful to do good," they would give full approval for Jesus' actions of healing on the Sabbath. If they said it was lawful to do harm, then this would be an obvious flagrant violation of the biblical principles for which they stood.
"And He looked around at them with anger." That's right - Jesus was mad. After all, doesn't the Bible say, "Be ye angry and sin not"? (Ephesians 4:26). The Spirit of God helps an individual control and direct these emotions, so that they an not motivated from vanity and ego.
Jesus' anger had nothing to do with the relationship between Himself and the Pharisees! He was not "mad at them in the way you or I might have been! Actually, He loved them - hoped the best for them, wanted to see as many of them as possible come to themselves and repent (though He knew according to the prophecies of the Old Testament this was exceedingly unlikely); Jesus expressed outgoing concern for them, all the while plainly calling the truth "true," labeling their attitudes and woeful lack of character for precisely what it was!
The Bible says, "And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, Stretch out your hand. He stretched it out, and his hand was restored" (Mark 3:5).
Notice, the Pharisees saw one of the most incredible miracles in all of history! it defied anything any human eye had ever seen before! They actually saw an emaciated, withered, shrunken limb, grotesque in its gnarled condition, extended out toward Jesus to gradually swell to individual fingers and assume full size with a normal, healthy skin color, able to grasp and reach and be utilized with the full capability of the marvelous human hand.
Instead of congratulating the man, receiving him joyously, clapping him on the back, and having the rewarding experiences of gathering around to give a good honest shake and grip to that newly restored hand, then turning to congratulate Jesus and thank Him for having so freed and healed a member of their own congregation, "the Pharisees went out, and immediately, held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him."
Such is the shameful account of religious bigotry. Unfortunately, such bigotry is alive and well in many a human heart to this day! The Sadducees and Pharisees, as true to form as all competing religious groups, were constantly battling one another. Religious arguments on all matters great and small constantly seesawed back and forth between them. They no doubt allowed their bitter hatred for each other to occasionally overwhelm their hatred for Jesus, and his record has been preserved as a witness to the abject futility of religious bickering for all generations down through history.
The occasion of Jesus' last public teaching in Jerusalem was particularly meaningful. The ruling Sanhedrin had formally challenged Jesus' authority, demanding to know whether He was an accredited teacher or not. Mark, Matthew and Luke all record the challenge of the Jewish leader who asks Jesus, "Just who in the world gave you the authority to do these things here in the temple, teaching the people and saying the things you are saying - where does your authority come from?"
Jesus said, "I will ask you one question - and if you can give me a straight answer, then I'll tell you the source of my authority. "The baptism of John, did it come from heaven, or originate with men? Answer me!"
Dozens of people heard this rapid-fire exchange in the temple. Nobody ever talked that way to the esteemed religious leaders. What were they going to do! In a hastily huddled caucus, the Sanhedrin reasoned among themselves.
In hurried and nervous whispers, and with the curious gaze of their constituents fixed on the backs of their heads, they came to the awfully embarrassing conclusion that they were stuck: if they were to admit the baptism of John had come from a heavenly source, they knew Jesus' answer would have probably been, "Then why didn't you believe him?"
On the other hand, if they should claim John's ministry and baptismal practice came from only a human source, the rulers of the Sanhedrin "feared the people"; because everyone surely held "John to be a prophet."
One of their number, chosen to be the spokesman, finally gathered himself to his full height, arrayed in his robes and great dignity, and gave Jesus their studied opinion.
Perhaps he put it this way, "The full question of John's authority has not yet been formally brought before the Sanhedrin, and such an egregiously complex question, considering its enormous implications and ramifications, would demand thorough consideration. We would therefore require a great deal of further study and deliberation before we could ever attempt to answer such an impromptu matter: consequently, we would wish to make no comment on John's ministry and baptism at this time." (Or he might have just said, "We don't know!")
Jesus' conclusive statement twisted their consternation into knots, "Since you obviously can't answer me, neither will I answer you by what authority I am doing all these things."
Then followed three keenly incisive - and obvious parables in which Jesus exposed the hypocritical leadership of the religious leaders: the parable of the two sons, the parable of the wicked husbandman, and the parable of the marriage feast for the king's son.
Matthew's account begins with the parable of the man who had two sons (see Matthew 21:28-46).
Jesus said, "What do you think about this? There was a man who had two boys and he came to the first and said, 'Son, I want you to go to work today in my vineyard,' and the boy said, 'I won't do it.'" But afterward he repented and went to work.
The father came to the second lad and said the same thing. And the boy answered, 'Yes, sir, I am going," but he didn't go.
"Which of the two did the will of his father?" Jesus asked the leaders of the Sanhedrin.
They had to admit the obvious, which was "the first." Then Jesus, speaking directly to their leaders, in the audible presence of dozens upon dozens of people in the immediate environment of the temple, said, "I'm telling you the truth: petty crooks and whores will enter into the kingdom of God before you - because John came to you preaching and following the right way of the law of God, and you didn't believe him!
"But the petty crooks and harlots of our society believed him! When you saw that happen, you still didn't repent. Even when you saw John's ministry changing human lives, you never opened your mind so that you could believe John's preaching.
"But, before you leave, let me give you another parable [Matthew, Mark and Luke all record it]: There was a man, a homeowner, who had planted a vineyard and had grown a protective hedge around it; he also had set up a wine press and built a tower for the production of wine. He then became an absentee landlord as he was forced to go away to another country.
"When the harvest time was near, he sent some of his servants to collect the profits from his vineyard. But the renters willfully and maliciously ambushed his servants - beat one of them, murdered another, and stoned a third. The injured ones came back to the landowner, and so he sent another servant, only to find that they did the same thing to him. They injured him badly, and threw him out.
"Seeing that he was totally failing by sending his servants, the landowner decided to send his own son, reasoning that they would revere him because after all, 'he is from my own family.' But when the renters saw the son, they conspired among themselves saying, 'Now this is our real opportunity: he is the heir of the property - let's kill him, take away his inheritance and claim it for our own!' So they captured the son, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him in a nearby lot."
Jesus then turned to the leader of the Sanhedrin and asked, "When the lord of the vineyard shall return, what do you think he will do to those renters of his property!" The leaders answered, "No doubt he will utterly destroy such miserable creatures, and turn around and find some new renters who would give him the profits which are rightfully his when they are due."
They had trapped themselves. They could give no other logical answer in front of the crowd, despite their refusal to answer concerning John's baptism.
Jesus then asked, "Why, have you never read in the scriptures" (an acid-laden question, for they were supposed to be the most highly skilled in this business claiming to have known every minute aspect and understanding), "the stone which the builders rejected, that same stone is made the chief cornerstone. This was the doing of the Lord, and it is wonderful in our eyes"? (See Psalm 118:22,23.)
"Therefore, I'm telling you, the kingdom of God is going to be taken away from you, and will be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof And anyone who falls on that chief cornerstone is going to be smashed to pieces. But whoever it shall fall upon, will be scattered as dust." (A veiled reference to Isaiah 8:14-15.)
The chief priests and Pharisees did not need to be either especially learned or bright to perceive that Jesus was talking about them, and so in another whispered conspiracy, they frantically tried to find some method whereby they could arrest him. But the crowd of excited, enthusiastic people milling all around thought he was a prophet, and the religious leaders were smart enough to realize they were asking for big trouble - a potential riot in an occupied city is inviting disaster - if they continued with their plan to physically abuse him. Their time would come; but just now they feared the crowd - knowing that such a precipitous act would be illegal. They felt totally thwarted and frustrated; Jesus' popularity with the crowd, who obviously believed He was a spiritual leader and a prophet, was growing.
Matthew's gospel then includes the next parable where Jesus explained that the kingdom of heaven was "likened unto" a certain king who decided to throw a big wedding feast for his son who was the prince, and so sent all of his servants out to call the invited guests to the marriage.
Unfortunately, and for, whatever reason, all of those who had received formal announcements to the wedding refused to come. So the king sent other servants out telling those who had been invited, "Look, the feast is all ready, all the preparations are made, much hard work has been done, all the special foods and meats are here, the wines and drinks are the finest and have taken much time to order; the rooms are decorated and the musicians have been hired to entertain you - so won't you please come to the marriage feast for my son?"
But the guests ridiculed the king, his son, the marriage, the feast and especially the invitation. The last, in fact, became a common joke. Nobody would have shown up now, so they all scattered. One went to his own farm, another back to his business, while the remainder of them manhandled the servants, bruised, and injured some, even murdering others.
When word filtered back to the king, he was furious. "Angry" was in fact much too calm a word to describe his feelings. He wasted little time in sending his military units to destroy the murderers, and burn their city to the ground.
Then the king got back to the matter of the feast; he told some other servants, "The wedding is ready and those whom I had invited earlier have proved unworthy to attend, so I want you to go out into the county roads and highways and collect as many people as you can find - I don't care who they are - and tell them that I want them to come to my son's wedding feast."
So the servants went out into all the towns, villages, highways and byways, gathering together as many as they could find, without respect to economic standing, social status or personal reputation; bad and good, the servants were not to discriminate or make value judgments as to who should, or should not, come to the king's feast. All were now to be invited, and finally the palace banquet table was filled with guests.
When the king entered and looked them over, he noticed one man who had not bothered to dress up in wedding attire. Apparently he did not appreciate or respect the magnificent opportunity he was being given. The king then went up to him and asked him, "Friend, how is it that you came in here not having a wedding garment on?"
The man was struck speechless; he couldn't answer. The king turned to his servants and said, "Tie him up hand and foot and cast him out into outer darkness for there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth - because many are called, or invited, but only very few are chosen!" (Matthew 22:1-14).
The meaning of this parable was transparent to all who heard it. There was no doubt that the religious leaders were the first guests who had scornfully rejected their own king's generous invitation. Their reward was swift.
But the story had another point, a final twist. One of the guests who, though not deserving it, was fortunate enough to receive such a priceless opportunity did not appreciate it. His end, was the bitterest of all - he was so close, yet so far.
The Herodians and the Pharisees had conspired together to load each of Jesus' audience with a handful of spies who pretended they were believers, applauding his words, nodding and looking at Him with bright-eyed agreement, in order to trap Him in some error of speech, some illegal activity or some seditious plot. The whole idea was to be able to bring about his arrest and turn Him over to the authority of the governor (Luke 20:20).
Finally, this mixed group of Pharisees and Herodians had an opportunity to ask Him a question - so they gave their best shot: They wanted to force Jesus into a direct conflict with the Roman authorities. They sought to get Jesus to condemn Himself.
To the question they maliciously concocted, Jesus dared not give either a "Yes" or a "no" answer. "Master [Teacher or Rabbi], we know that you are true and what you teach is true, that you do not seem to be a respecter of persons or play any favorites among those of different social standing, and that you are indeed teaching the way of God - so we would really appreciate it if you would answer this question.
"Is it lawful to pay Caesar tribute money or not?" (In other words, "Why should we have to pay taxes to this pagan, heathen warrior?")
Jesus knew their collusion; He could immediately sense their vicious, sneaky maneuver. Jesus knew they were a pack of hypocrites (Mark 12:15) and bluntly called it straight: "Why are you trying to tempt me, you pack of hypocrites? Show me a penny."
Someone dug into the fold of his robe and produced a "Penny" (denarion in the Greek language, which was a coin of considerably more value than a "penny" of today.) Then Jesus, understanding how they would respond no matter which way He answered, said, "Whose image and superscription is on the coin?" They answered, "Caesar's," and He said, "Fine, since you say it is Caesar's, why don't you give it to him. Since Caesar's picture is on it, it's his coin. So you should give to Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and you should likewise give to God the things which are God's!"
Everyone absolutely marveled at Jesus' deft ability to turn a dangerous and potential trap - He could have been arrested - into such a beautiful example. And the words of this powerful verse, which have been immortalized in the King James English, are worth repeating, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar's, and unto God the things which be God's" (see Matthew 22:16-22).
There was no other possible answer. If Jesus had played it "safe" and said, "Yes, it is lawful to pay tribute," the religious leaders would have no doubt accused Him of rejecting all of the common hopes and teachings of the future kingdom of Israel, the total sanctity of the law of Moses plus the authority of the Sanhedrin, and claimed that He was giving public recognition to a Gentile government, approving its domineering occupation of their homeland, and indeed almost paying homage and obeisance to a pagan idol.
If Jesus had answered, "No,"' they could have accused Him of being an illegal insurrectionist who was trying to bring about an uprising against the Roman state: they could have reported Him to the governor, who had had his hands full with similar situations over the past several years, as one false teacher after another had tried to incite followers into bringing about a revolution and wresting the rich kingdom of Judea away from the Roman armies.
Later, first the Sadducees and then the Pharisees were again totally silenced when they brought their favorite trick questions to Jesus.
The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, and so, in order to confuse the Pharisee' dogmatic assertion of this doctrine, contrived an absurdly elaborate situation involving seven marriages to the same woman.
This never failed to befuddle and silence the Pharisees, much to the Sadducees delight. They took the same question to Jesus. "Rabbi, Moses writes to us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife behind him, yet leaves no child, that it is the obligation of his brother to marry his widowed wife, and to raise up seed unto his brother that their name be preserved in Israel. Now it so happens that there were seven brothers we know about, and the first married, then died, having left no child. The second son recognized his obligation and married his dead brothers wife, and they didn't have any children, and he finally died. The third did the same thing, and finally all of them did the same thing and married the woman, clear up to the seventh, all of the brothers successively dying, yet no one ever managing to have a child. Finally, still childless, the woman also died. The question is, In the resurrection whose wife will she be, because all seven had her to wife?"
It was important for the sake of this story that the Sadducees explain that each of the seven successive brothers had no children, because if any child had been produced, it would have meant there was no further obligation for the next brother, even upon the death of the elder one, to marry the woman - for an heir would be living and the name would be preserved.
The Pharisees habitually stumbled all over themselves in their ultra-legalistic approach to the Scriptures, trying to ask all sorts of counter- questions: they probably tried to find out how old the parties were, how long they lived together, whether or not their marriage was successful, whether there might have been some "unseemly thing" or other problem which could have nullified one or the other of the seven marriages, etc. But the whole futile exercise always ended up in hopeless confusion, with no one actually able to give the Sadducees a satisfactory answer.
Jesus turned this trick question into a positive lesson, not only against their hypocrisy, but as an opportunity to teach the truth about the nature of the Resurrection, which millions of people still refuse to believe today.
He said, "It's obvious you are making a big mistake, and don't even know the scriptures, or the power of God. Because when people rise from the dead, they will neither marry nor give away a daughter or son in marriage, but will be exactly as are the angels in heaven - not physical, but spirit beings - sons of God's, sons of the resurrection and therefore not subject to the laws of human marriage.
But concerning the dead, and the fact of the resurrection, haven't you ever read in the book of Moses in the place concerning the burning bush, how when God said, 'I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob'; that that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living? You have no idea how far afield you are from the truth of the scriptures!"
When the crowd around heard the incredible answer, they were absolutely astonished. Several of the scribes - most likely Sadducees themselves - then had the intellectual honesty to say, "Master, you have certainly answered well" - though perhaps not yet the courage to admit how wrong they were or to repent of it (see verses 23-33).
And Luke says that from that time on, the Sadducees dared not ask Him any further questions!