Still stinging from Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple, the religious leaders questioned His authority (v.2). Their question was, “Who do you think you are, Jesus? Who put you in charge?” It was a dishonest question; they did not want to understand Him, they wanted to trap Him.
Jesus cleverly answered their question with a question. He reached back to the beginning of His ministry, asking where John the Baptist got His authority — from God or from man? It was a brilliant volley, and the ones trying to trap Jesus became trapped themselves. Jesus made His point: His authority came from the same place as John’s — God.
Jesus strengthened His point with a parable (v.9-18). I call it “Farmers Gone Wild.” The story is not about business ethics or debt collection or revenge. It is about the religious leaders of Israel who had rejected Jesus, the Cornerstone (v.17). Because of their rejection, they would fall under God’s judgment. Remember this: Jesus will either be your Savior or your Judge. He is shockingly gracious, but He is awesomely holy.
The next attack against Jesus came in the form of a devious question: “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar?” The reasoning of the religious leaders was that if Jesus answered “Yes” they could discredit Him as a Roman sympathizer and a traitor to His people. But if He answered “No” they could turn Him in for treason against Rome.
In His amazing wisdom, Jesus asked for a coin, pointed to Caesar’s image on it, and made the now-famous statement, “Give Caesar what is his, and give God what is His.” The Jewish leaders were silenced and, I am sure, quite embarrassed.
The Sadducees’ question in verses 27-33 presented an unlikely scenario regarding the resurrection of the dead — something in which they did not even believe. Jesus did not honor their ridiculous question with an answer, choosing instead to prove the resurrection from the words of Moses. That put an end to their trick questions, but Jesus was ready with one of His own (v.41). Again using the Hebrew Scriptures, He pointed out the deity of the Messiah.
Jesus’s scathing attack on the religious leaders is gratifying to me. It feels good to see Jesus “going off” on the bad guys…until I see myself reflected in their hypocrisy. They were concerned about their outward appearance, not the condition of their hearts. They loved getting preferential treatment, but they had no room in their hearts for mercy and justice.
As I read that, I have to evaluate my own life. Where have I allowed arrogance, hypocrisy, and greed to grow?