Episode 121 - Passion Week: Tuesday, part 3
Hey everyone, Josh Hawkins here, welcome to episode 121 of Opening Up the Gospels. I’ve been developing the events of Tuesday of Passion Week in Episodes 119 and 120, and today I want to keep looking at them with you. We began the day with Peter seeing the withered fig tree that Jesus had cursed on Monday morning. Just as the fig tree had no fruit on it, Israel had not borne the fruits of repentance and therefore would continue to be under the covenantal curses of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. After Jesus entered into the city and the Temple, He began teaching and was confronted by the chief priests and the elders about His authority. Jesus refused to answer them and went on to tell several confrontational parables that addressed the leadership’s lack of repentance and fruit - one was about two sons being asked by their father to work in the vineyard, and the other was about wicked tenants that beat and killed the servants sent by the landlord. In both instances, Jesus continued to show that those Jews who thought themselves perfectly righteous and thus worthy to inherit God’s promises would not, and the Jews who thought themselves unworthy and who bore the fruits of repentance would actually receive them. Today I want to continue looking at Tuesday’s events. Jesus is going to continue to confront and confound the Jewish authorities on this final day of His public ministry before His crucifixion.
At the beginning of Matthew 22 we see Jesus telling yet another story to make the same point He’s made already several times on Tuesday. In fact, all three of the parables we’ve looked at so far on this day of Passion Week paint a similar picture and are communicating the same message. This time, the parable is about a king who is giving a wedding feast for his son. He sends servants to call the ones who he had invited, but they refused. He sent more servants, and the ones who were invited ignored the call to come, treated them badly, and even killed them. So the king sends his troops to destroy the murderers and burn their city. Then the king sends out the servants again and tells them to invite as many people as they can find. So they did, and brought back many who were both good and bad. But in the wedding hall was a man who was not wearing wedding clothes. The king was angered and told the attendants to bind him and cast him out.
So just like the last parable of the vineyard and the tenants, those who were invited to the wedding in this story ignored, mistreated, and killed the king’s servants who were sent to them. As Jesus says elsewhere, Jerusalem kills the prophets and those sent to her. Just as in the days of old, the leadership of the nation continued to refuse the messengers God was sending and the message He was speaking. So the invitation to repent and inherit the kingdom went out loudly and clearly to those in Israel who were thought to be sinners and thus unworthy of participating in God’s promises. Again, this is what we’ve seen throughout the last 2 years of Jesus’ ministry. Tax collectors and sinners in Israel were coming to repentance. Through their continued assurance and confidence in who Jesus was as the Jewish messiah and through their reliance upon the words of the Law and the Prophets, they would participate in all of God’s promises to the nation. Now look at what Matthew 22 says right at the end of this story:
"“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”"
(Matthew 22:11–14 ESV)
I think that Jesus is alluding to a passage from the prophets that these learned Jews would have known, Zephaniah chapter 1:
"Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is near; the Lord has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests. And on the day of the Lord’s sacrifice— “I will punish the officials and the king’s sons and all who array themselves in foreign attire. On that day I will punish everyone who leaps over the threshold, and those who fill their master’s house with violence and fraud… For all the traders are no more; all who weigh out silver are cut off. At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the men who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, ‘The Lord will not do good, nor will he do ill.’"
(Zephaniah 1:7–12 ESV)
So in this parable, just as in so many of His other parables, I think Jesus is making reference to His future kingdom, clarifying once again who will inherit it and who will not. The phrase right at the end, “many are called but few are chosen”, in my opinion has been often misunderstood and used to support theological frameworks that are foreign to a first century understanding of Jesus’ words. The parable has not suddenly changed from being an indictment against the Jewish authorities to a general statement about who goes to heaven and who doesn’t. Again, we must not forget the historical and narrative context here. Jesus is speaking to the Jewish authorities on the final day of His public ministry. He’s not trying to help the Gentile church form doctrinal statements about being clothed with the imputed righteousness of Christ or about a modern, Platonically influenced understanding of free will and sovereignty and predestination. We must not read “the doctrine of election” as the modern church defines it into this passage. If we are true to the context, Jesus is talking about the Jews who were invited to the wedding feast, or “called”. And the reason why the man without a wedding garment was kicked out is because few are “chosen”. Jesus is not making a general statement about how God saves people and if it is His responsibility alone or if man plays a role at all. Hebrew and Aramaic don’t have comparative forms of the adjective, like “large” and “small” or “many” and “few”. What Jesus is saying here, as the point of His parable to the Jews, is that not all those invited to the wedding will participate in it. And this exactly what He and John the Baptist have been saying so often throughout the Gospels. Well, let’s look at the next event of Tuesday in Matthew 22:
"Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away."
(Matthew 22:15–22 ESV)
So here the Pharisees have sent along a group of their disciples together with another group called the Herodians to try to trap Jesus and get him to take sides about having to pay taxes to Rome. This tax paid to Rome was different than the Temple tax that the Jews asked Jesus and Peter about back in Matthew 17. The Temple tax was commanded by the Jewish Law. Now the Pharisees resented having to pay taxes to Rome because they believed it infringed upon the Jewish Law. The Herodians were a group of Jews who were loyal to Herod and his family, and they believed that taxes were appropriate in order to help keep the peace between Rome and Israel. So no matter how Jesus answers the question of if it’s lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not, one group or the other will be upset. Both groups try to flatter Jesus by saying that He teaches the way of God truthfully, but Jesus sees right through their words. He truly is a man of integrity and never compromises that to flatter others, and that’s what these two groups are about to find out here.
Jesus responds by calling both groups “hypocrites”, and then asks for the coin to pay the tax so He could show them whose image or picture was on it. The coin was a denarius, which was a day’s wages for a common laborer at the time, and it was Caesar whose name and picture was on the coin. The Pharisees would have considered this blasphemous because the Roman emperor Tiberius had the words “God and High Priest” in Latin inscribed on the coin. So both groups are eagerly waiting for a response so they could prove each other wrong and exalt themselves, and Jesus avoids their trap and surprises everyone by affirming what both groups think should be done. He says “give to Caesar what is rightfully due him, and give to God what is rightfully due Him.” God is the one who rules over all the kingdoms of men, and as we read from passages like Romans 13 and Daniel 2, He uses governments for good. Because of that, governments should be honored. But governments and leaders are not righteous, and that’s why God has appointed a day when all who exalt themselves will be humbled, when the evil regimes will be crushed once and for all, and the government of the righteous king of Israel rules over the whole earth.
Now in the very next scene from Matthew 22 that we are told happens on the same day involves a group of Sadducees who ask Jesus a question about marriage and the resurrection. They were another Jewish party in Israel that didn’t believe anything except what was found in the first five books of the Old Testament. They didn’t find evidence of the resurrection of the body in any of those books, so they rejected that doctrine, something that the rest of the Jews held firmly. They’re also trying to trap Jesus and get him to contradict the other Jews with an absurd situation about a widow and children and marriage. Jesus responds by breaking down the Sadducees’ assumptions, saying that they don’t understand God’s power and they don’t understand the writings of Moses. There will be a resurrection, and the relationships that we will experience in the age to come are going to far surpass the pleasure of procreation in this age. The curse will be no more, and neither will be the sins of jealousy and exclusivity. Jesus appeals to Exodus 3:6, a scripture they must have known very well. If God had made personal promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob about a great inheritance in a land and a family such that all the rest of the nations would be blessed through them, surely He is able to raise them from the dead to fulfill that promise. I don’t think Jesus is trying to say that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were still alive in some way. He’s appealing to His covenant faithfulness and saying “If God promised something to those individuals directly that has not yet come to pass, surely He has the power to raise them from the dead and give them what they were promised.” Does that make sense?
Well, Jesus has left all the groups speechless through His words today. In the next episode, were going to continue our look at Tuesday with some more commonly known scenes. If you’ve missed the past episodes in this series, find them all on my website - www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. God bless, see you next time.