The one true and living God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is perfect. He alone deserves our full submission, allegiance, and trust as our good and perfect authority. Scripture is absolutely clear on this point, and the child of God should take great comfort in this truth. However, the idea of authority isn't a pleasant thought for everyone.
In verse 16 those sent by the Pharisees were trying to flatter Jesus. Meanwhile, they waited for the opportune time to trap Him in His words, which was precisely the point in their question about paying taxes to Caesar. If Jesus told them to pay taxes, then they could either make Jesus out to be idolatrous, given that Caesar's image was on the coin, or they could portray Him as upholding a tax system that many Jews vehemently resented. However, if Jesus had refused to pay taxes, there would surely be consequences for such insubordination to the Roman Empire. Jesus responded by saying that they should pay taxes (even to a pagan government like Rome's in the first century). God's kingdom is not of this world, and though we have certain responsibilities as earthly citizens, our entire lives should be devoted to His service. Paying taxes doesn't have to indicate one's ultimate allegiance.293
Of those who reject Jesus, some are power hungry and prideful, like the Pharisees in this account. The hypocrisy of the Pharisees is laid out in Matthew 23, as Jesus offers a blistering critique of these self-righteous rulers. They did not want to submit to Jesus because that would have meant losing power in the eyes of the people; their egos would have been crushed. This happens today as well, as some reject Jesus because they want to retain power over their lives and over the lives of others. They may claim to know God, but they are really two-faced hypocrites.
Not only are some who reject Jesus power hungry and prideful, but some are worldly and wannabes. Verse 16 says that it was the followers of the Pharisees who were sent to question Jesus—Pharisee wannabes, if you will. Along with these social climbers, the Herodians joined in to question Jesus (v. 16). In many ways, the Pharisees and Herodians would have been opposed to one another in economic and political matters, but they were united in their opposition to Jesus. These Jewish Herodians had a strong allegiance to Rome and the rule of Herod (hence the name Herodians). They too were wannabes—Herod wannabes. Love for the world and the things of this world led them to reject Jesus and His authority. This is a huge temptation for us as well today, as the American Dream is often chosen over Christ and biblical Christianity. We must guard against a love for anything that supersedes our love for God, His Son, and His kingdom.
In verses 23-33, we see of Jesus' rejecters that some are secularist and materialist. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection or the afterlife. They were the wealthiest members of the Jewish ruling body called the Sanhedrin. In a sense, we could say that they sought to have their "best life now" by living for the present. This background is important as we consider their question about a woman who had had seven husbands. This is a curious question from a group that didn't believe in the resurrection and the afterlife, a question clearly intended to trap Jesus. Jesus responds by telling them that earthly marriages are not eternal (v. 30). This may sound like bad news if you're in a good marriage, but we can be assured that the relationship we have with our Christian spouses now will be even better in the next life. In the resurrection we who know Christ will be joyful and fulfilled in the eternal presence of God. In that day there will be no sorrow or sadness (Rev 21:4), and all our relationships will be perfect.
In verse 31 Jesus continues His answer and proves the Sadducees wrong. He quotes from Exodus 3:6, which is significant since the294 Sadducees only believed that the first five books of the Old Testament—known as the Torah or the Pentateuch—were authoritative. When Moses wrote these words, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had been long dead. But God was still their God, and He is the God of the living. Therefore, Jesus makes clear that God was still in relationship with these patriarchs, and that these men would one day be resurrected as God had promised. Yet the Sadducees' secular and materialistic mind-set had blinded them to the truth of the resurrection and the truth of who Jesus is.
Finally, we see in verses 34-40 that some are deceived "experts" and cold-hearted "scholars." The man who approached Jesus was a supposed "expert in the law," but he had actually missed the One to whom the entire Bible was pointing, since Jesus was standing right in front of him. This lawyer was deceived, and though his head was full, his heart was cold. He sought to test Jesus by asking Him about the greatest commandment. Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, known to Jews as the Shema. Faithful Jews would have cited the Shema daily, and they also would have known the command in Leviticus 19:18 to love one's neighbor. Even though this lawyer knew these truths, he missed their application. Had he fully loved God with all his heart, he would have recognized Jesus and loved Him. Yet he was rejecting Jesus instead, attempting to trap Him with a question.
In the last section of Matthew 22, the tables are turned on the religious leaders. Jesus quoted Psalm 110:1 to show that the Messiah would not only be the son of David, which all good Jews would have recognized, but also the Son of God. He was forcing them to see that David himself spoke to this mysterious reality in Scripture. The Messiah would be both human (an heir of David) and divine (David's Lord). The Pharisees had no reply when Jesus put this truth before them. This Messiah who was both human and divine was standing before them, and His wisdom had confounded them. Three questions from Jesus arise here, questions that the Pharisees needed to answer, and questions that we need to answer:
After seeing the rejection of the Father and the Son, we see that some reject God the Holy Spirit and His authority. In verse 43 Jesus said that David was "inspired by the Spirit," referring to the Spirit's inspiration of these prophetic words by David in Psalm 110. In addition, the Pharisees had previously rejected John the Baptist's message. So His words through the prophets are rejected by some. Similarly, His words in the Bible are rejected by some today, for people continue to disbelieve the Spirit-inspired words of the Old and New Testaments.
In the end, we shouldn't be surprised by the rejection of the Jewish leadership in this passage. God the Son's final authority will always be rejected by some, a truth that will be played out through the end of Matthew's Gospel (see 27:1-2, 24-26). Jesus' authority will eventually be rejected both by leaders and by followers, including the chief priests, scribes, elders, experts in the law, Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, and even the Roman Governor Pilate. Those who followed these leaders, both Jews and Gentiles, also rejected Jesus and agreed to His crucifixion.
Despite the nearly universal rejection that we see in this passage, King Jesus' deity and authority was and will be finally proven (see 27:45-28:10). Though it may seem strange, Jesus' final vindication comes through divine rejection (27:45-50). All of us have experienced rejection before, whether by parents, siblings, friends, or certain groups of people. At a deeper level, we have all feared being rejected by God. Some are even haunted by that fear—a fear of dying and facing God, only to be rejected by Him. I sympathize with you, but even better, Jesus sympathizes with you. He knew what it was like to be rejected.
It may sound counter-intuitive, but Jesus' identity and His authority to forgive sins were proven when He was forsaken by God the Father on the cross. Jesus lived a perfect life and then died as a substitute for our sins. He was rejected on the cross, forsaken by God the Father (27:46),296 so that we don't have to be rejected by God the Father when we breathe our last breath. In Christ, we can be forgiven and received as children by God. We don't have to fear death, eternal darkness, eternal weeping, or the just judgment of God. Jesus was judged for us; He was rejected so that you and I could be accepted.
Jesus' deity and authority were decisively demonstrated through divine resurrection (28:1-10). Jesus is alive and He has defeated sin, death, the grave, Satan, and eternal judgment for you. Jesus' authority and deity will finally be proven through glorious restoration. Christ the King will return at some point in the future and make all things new (Rev 21:5). He will restore this broken creation.
In light of these truths, the question becomes, How will you respond to King Jesus today, His work and His authority? The one true and living God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is perfect. And He alone rightly deserves our full and ultimate submission, allegiance, and trust. He is our rightful, good, and perfect authority. Will you surrender to Him today?