And they watched him, and sent forth spies, which should feign themselves just men, that they might take hold of his words…
We have seen in the last section how our Lord told a parable whose bearing was unmistakably against the Jewish rulers. They are determined, in consequence, to so entrap him in discussion as, if possible, to bring him within the grasp of the Roman governor. But in entering the doubtful field of debate with a base purpose such as this, it was, as the sequel shows, only to be vanquished. Jesus proves more than a match for the two batches of artful men who try to entrap him. Let us look at the victories separately, and then at Jesus remaining Master of the field.
I. HIS VICTORY OVER THE REVOLUTIONARY PARTY. (Vers. 21-26.) This party was composed mainly of Pharisees. They corresponded to the modern revolutionary party in settled or conquered states. They were constantly fomenting sedition, plotting against the Roman power, the sworn enemies of Caesar. They come, then, with their difficulty about tribute. But notice:
1. Their real tribute to Christ's character in their pretended flattery. (Ver. 21.) They own to his face that he was too brave to make distinctions among men or to accept their persons. In other words, their testimony clearly is that, like God his Father, Jesus was "no respecter of persons." No one is fit to be a teacher of truth who panders to men's tastes or respects their persons. Only the impartial mood and mind can deal with truth truthfully. In the hollow flattery of the Pharisees we find rich testimony to the excellency of Jesus.
2. Notice their scruple about paying tribute. (Ver. 22.) The law of the nation might possibly be made to teach the duty of being tributary to none. It was this they wished to elicit from him, and so hand him over to the governor as seditious. They wished a pretext for revolution, and if he furnished them with one and perished for it, so much the better, they imagined. The baseness of the plot is evident. Their hearts are hostile to Caesar, but they are ready to become "informers" against him for the sake of getting rid of him.
3. Notice how simply he secured a victory. Showing them at once that he knew their designs, he asks them to show him a penny. In his poverty he hardly possessed at this time a spare penny to point his teaching. Having got the penny, he asks about the image on the currency, and receiving for answer that it was Caesar's, he simply instructs them to give both Caesar and God their due. Caesar has his domain, as the currency shows. He regulates the outward relations of men, their barter and their citizenship, and by his laws he makes them keep the peace. But beyond this civil sphere, there is the moral and the religious, where God alone is King. Let God get his rights as well as Caesar, and all shall be well. These words of Christ sounded the death-knell of the Jewish theocracy. They point out two mutually independent spheres. They call upon men to be at once loyal citizens and real saints. We may do our duty by the state, while at the same time we are conscious citizens of heaven, and serve our unseen Master in all things.
II. HIS VICTORY OVER THE SADDUCEES. (Vers. 27-38.) The Pharisees having been confounded by his subtle power, he is next beset by the rival party, the party of sceptical and worldly tendencies. They have given over another world as a no-man's land, the region of undoubted difficulty and puzzle. Especially do they think it impossible to settle the complicated relations into which men and women enter here in any hereafter. Accordingly they state a case where, by direction of the Mosaic Law, a poor woman became successively the wife of seven brothers. In the other life, ask they, whose wife shall she be? Christ's answer is again triumphant through its simplicity. In the immortal life to which resurrection leads there shall be no marrying or giving in marriage. All shall be like. the angels. No distinction in sex shall continue. All are to be "sons of God, being sons of the resurrection" (Revised Version). The complicated earthly relations shall give place to the simplicity of sonship. God's family shall embrace all others. His Fatherhood shall absorb all the descending affections which on earth illustrate feebly his surpassing love, and our sonship to him will embrace all the ascending affection which his descending love demands. The Simplicity of a holy family, in which God is Father and all are brethren, and the angels are our highborn elder brethren, will take the place of those complex relationships which sometimes sweeten and sometimes sadden human love. But, in addition, our Lord renders Sadducceism ridiculous by showing from the Scriptures these sceptics revered that the patriarchs had not ceased to be, but were still living in the bosom of God. For God, in claiming from the burning bush to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, revealed the reality of life beyond death. It was a demonstration of the resurrection. The patriarchs must have been living worshippers when God was still their God, and this life unto him demands for its perfection the resurrection. The plenitude of life is guaranteed in the continued and worshipful life beyond the grave. In this simple and perfect fashion Jesus silences the Sadducees.
III. HE REMAINS COMPLETE MASTER OF THE FIELD. (Vers. 39, 40.) They are beaten in the field of debate. Jesus is Victor. There is no question now which they can ask him. All is over on the plane of intellectual and moral argument. Not even a Parthian arrow can be shot against him. But treachery and brute force remain, and they can have him betrayed and crucified whom they cannot refute. Resort to weapons like these is always proof of weakness. Victory has always been really with the persecuted party. Persecution on the part of any cause or organization demonstrates its inherent weakness. Hence we hail the Christ in the temple as the supreme Master and Conqueror of men. The very men who put unholy hands upon him must have felt that they were doing the coward's part after ignominious defeat. The weapons of our warfare should always be spiritual; with carnal weapons we only confess defeat and court everlasting shame. - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: And they watched him, and sent forth spies, which should feign themselves just men, that they might take hold of his words, that so they might deliver him unto the power and authority of the governor.