Unbelievers Dressed Up In Church Clothes
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 22:22a (Holman) When they heard this, they were amazed.
The Pharisees and Herodians were “amazed” at Jesus’ stunning response to what they considered an unanswerable question. The old King James Version archaic word used in the Old Testament might be appropriate here. They were “astonied”. Rightly so; no one ever beat Jesus at debating.
Jesus’ answer changed how we view church and state. Before Him, the two were usually united. For instance, Caesar was ruler and high priest, and Israel’s High Priest was political. Jesus taught us to separate the two realms.
Even after Jesus’ wise instructions, nations and leaders have made many mistakes. Some think church should be supreme. However, Jesus obviously taught us that no state should be subject to religious rule.
Others deem the state as supreme. This belief is extremely dangerous because governments have the guns. This is why the state has to have checks and balances put on it. The government has capability to force obedience.
The Church, on the other hand, is to leave conscience free; in the religious realm, obedience must always be voluntary, never enforced. People who wrongly believe churches should reign supreme in a given society start to withdraw from the surrounding culture if churches begin to lose sway.
Their disappointment can lead them to hang out only with Christian friends. They begin to explain away their salt and light responsibilities.
People who like secularism to reign supreme want God left totally out of the equation, and seek to squelch all religious talk in public forums. If this happens, the state has no accountability, no conscience, or restraining voice.
This is not healthy. USA Americans have learned checks and balances are good. We have three branches of government because we recognize people often prove untrustworthy. Built-in accountability is a good thing.
There always needs to be voices outside the government speaking to it with moral conviction and authority. Religious groups and the press should not boss the government, but should have free rein to boldly challenge it.
In Federalist Paper #51, James Madison wrote, “What is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”
Matt. 22:22b So they left Him and went away.
They should have followed Him, but left Him instead. My heart wants to shout, “No! Not that way, this way! Turn around now, before it’s too late!”
The religious leaders were amazed at Jesus’ knowledge, but did not know and love Him. To many, Christ is amazing, but not precious (Henry).
The leaders quit the field. Deciding they had been abused enough for one day, they forfeited, and left before Jesus made them look more foolish.
Matt. 22:23a The same day some Sadducees, . . .”
The Pharisees and Herodians gave up, but now the Sadducees decided to try. There were several sects in Israel. The Pharisees, the most numerous and most popular of the groups, exalted traditions over the Bible. Herodians were totally a political party. Zealots were terrorists. Essenes were recluses who copied much of the Old Testament, including the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Sadducees were the smallest but richest and most influential sect in Israel. They were aristocrats who ruled the Temple and Priesthood. They loved Rome. It protected them in exchange for their loyalty to Caesar.
The Sadducees loved money. Thus, when Jesus cleaned the Temple, the source of their lucrative, lavish income, He got their attention, not in a good way. The Sadducees embraced health and wealth theology. They were the ultimate materialists. They believed poverty proved God’s disfavor. They refused to help the poor, for benevolence interfered with God’s sovereignty.
The Sadducees did not value kindness. They were harsh men. Josephus, the Jewish historian, says they killed James, our Lord’s brother.
Matt. 22:23b . . . who say there is no resurrection, . . .
The Sadducees rejected the Old Testament, except for the first five books. They believed the other books were commentaries and opinions only.
Since they felt the writings of Moses did not make strong arguments for the existence of a resurrection, angels, or spirits, they did not believe in any of the three (Acts 23:8), even though almost all other Israelites did.
Sadducees were intellectuals, rationalists, and freethinkers, haughty skeptics who dabbled in paganism. Israel’s religious leaders were not very religious. The Sadducees were unbelievers dressed up in church clothes.
Their ilk remains with us in ministers who reject the Bible, and do not believe in a literal Hell or that Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died to save us from our sins, and bodily rose from death. Anyone who does not believe the Bible should be ashamed to hold it when they preach from it.
Deeming a resurrection illogical was a bizarre idea. Almost everyone in their day expected an afterlife of some sort. You would have been hard pressed to find anyone who did not believe in life after death. Immortality may still be the most commonly believed religious tenet in all of history.
Most would agree with James Dana, Yale professor in the 1800s, who said he did not believe God would create us, and then desert us at the grave. Even deists Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson believed in life after death.
Matt. 22:23c . . . came up to Him and questioned Him: . . .
Jesus’ humiliation of the Pharisees and Herodians would have made the Sadducees happy. They should have been content with that, but evil never lets up. It is not haphazard. It is orchestrated, always on the offensive.
People who commit sins think they are free agents, totally in charge of their own existence. They fail to realize they are being manipulated. They think they have learned the secrets to success: knowledge and independence.
People, driven by unseen forces behind the scene, still try to contradict Jesus. They rise and shine, but then falter and fade into the sunset. The Sadducees wanted to discredit and embarrass Jesus, but “no wisdom, no understanding, and no counsel will prevail against the Lord” (Prov. 21:30).