Can there be a resurrection when our relationships are so messy? (Matthew 22:23-33)

What’s permanent? At best, I have a couple of decades left to understand what Jesus meant by the kingdom of God. Life is brief. What’s beyond?

Nothing, according to some. It’s over when we die. That’s what Sadducees believed back in Jesus’ day. They were aware that others were dying to meet their loved ones in the afterlife, but even in this life relationships are complicated. We lose friends when they break up with us or move away. Even the most treasured and stable relationships end when death takes someone. People remarry. So, what relationships survive into the afterlife?

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Should Christians pay tax?

Should Christians pay tax? Short answer: Yes, even though it isn’t God’s ideal for us.

When Jesus said, Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s (Matthew 22:21), he was not promoting two kingdoms. Jesus did not believe the physical world should be run by humans, with the spiritual world run by God. God’s Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18).

So, if we’re giving him our allegiance, should we be paying tribute to other rulers also?

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That taxing question (Matthew 22:17-22)

No, Jesus wasn’t promoting two kingdoms with divided loyalties.

Matthew already told us this was a trap. Pharisees and Herodians buttered Jesus up to ask this:

Matthew 22:17-22 (my translation, compare NIV)
17 “So, tell us what you think: should we pay tribute to Caesar or not?”
18 Aware of their evil intent, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you play actors? 19 Show me the tribute coin.” They offered him a denarius. 20 He says to them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
21 “Caesar’s” they replied.
Then he said to them, “Return Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.”
22 His response astounded them. They took their leave and departed.

If you don’t understand what this question meant in his culture, you might misunderstand Jesus’ answer. We often separate life into two domains: the physical world includes the country where you pay taxes to your rulers, and the spiritual world includes the church where you pay tithes to God. This separation of the physical and spiritual worlds (church and state) has been so common in recent centuries that it has a name: the “two kingdoms” view.

That’s not the Bible’s framework. Earth is not divided into two domains, with God ruling part of life and humans ruling the other. God is sovereign over everything, and the problem with the world is humans resisting his commands, controlling each other through violence, taking power into our own hands (Genesis 1 – 11). God did not tell the Hebrews, “You’re to live in two kingdoms, serving Pharaoh and me.” He told Pharaoh, “Release my people so they may serve me.”

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Personal identity and social influence (Matthew 22:15-18)

Are you your own person, or what people want you to be? How did Jesus navigate this struggle?

How do you balance remaining true to yourself with pleasing and influencing others? Few questions are more relevant today. It’s not a big issue in the Bible, but there was this time when Jesus overtly faced this struggle.

Matthew 22:15-18 (my translation, compare NIV)
15 Then the Pharisees put their heads together to trap him with his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians to say, “Teacher, we know you’re authentic, and you teach God’s way with authenticity. You don’t care what anyone thinks or look for people’s approval. 17 So, tell us what you think: should we pay tribute to Caesar or not?”
18 Aware of their evil intent, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you play actors?”

Just wow! Reading this, I feel like I could learn more from Jesus than from years of psychological research. Sure, Matthew has summarized a longer conversation, but how did Jesus gain such anthropological insight?

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Is Israel God’s kingdom today? (Matthew 23:40-46)

How does the nation of Israel fit into God’s plans today?

They were God’s chosen people in Old Testament times. Now gentiles (non-Jews) are included in God’s people, for the Jewish Messiah is God’s anointed ruler for the world. So, what about the Jews: do they still have a special place, a special future?

For 2000 years, Christians have disagreed over this question. Some say the church has replaced Israel as the people of God, treating Jews as now irrelevant … or worse. Anti-Semitism reached its peak under Hitler, in a country that claimed to be Christian.

The holocaust tipped public opinion in favour of re-establishing Israel as a nation. After 1800 years with no homeland (2500 under foreign rule), some viewed this return as the fulfilment of God’s promise through Ezekiel when they first went into exile:

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Tenants in God’s vineyard (Matthew 21:33-44)

Look through the window of Jesus’ stories, and you see the world framed as God’s kingdom:

Matthew 21 33“Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.” (NIV)

The earth is the Lord’s. We don’t own it. We rent a space for a few years, but ownership remains with the one who lives forever. That’s our security, our meaning. It’s where we belong, our hope.

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Who’s the obedient son? (Matthew 21:28-32)

Our stories frame the world we live in. Jesus’ stories reframe our reality as a kingdom of God, a realm under God’s governance.

Perhaps we want control because we fear what others will do to us, or perhaps it’s a penchant for power. Jesus’ story says that evil isn’t in control, and neither are we. We’re in the hands of a Father who loves the human family. Our Father gives his children genuine responsibility to partner with him in looking after his farm. That’s the meaning of life.

So, how do people react to what our Father of humanity expects of his children?

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The authority of stories (Matthew 21)

Jesus’ authority isn’t forced; it’s experienced by living in his story.

The most joyful parade of King Jesus’ life was the day he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey with the crowd acclaiming him as their heaven-sent king: hosanna to the son of David, arriving in the name of the Lord (21:9).

But Jesus’ authority is so different to those who claim power in this world. Last time someone entered Jerusalem in the name of a superpower, it was a Roman general:

Pompey and his army besieged Jerusalem and the Temple, and in the ensuing siege, the city was badly damaged. Aristobulus’ faction was massacred inside the Temple precinct itself, and Pompey himself violated the sanctity of the Temple by entering the Holy of Holies.
— Adam Kolman Marshak, “From Pompey to Hadrian,” in Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 40.

Jesus also went to the temple — not to violate it, but to call the city to honour the seat of God’s reign over the nations. He confronted what was wrong, but Jesus doesn’t pummel the world into submission the way earthly rulers do. He warned his servants of the temptation: You know how the rulers of the nations lord it over them, and their high officials exercise power over them. 26 Not so with you! (Matthew 20:25-26).

Why? For Jesus, authority is God-given, not enforced on people. That’s why his authority arrives slowly: it’s received by revelation (Matthew 16:17). It grows like a little seed (13:31-33), as people discover the humble king coming in the name of the Lord (21:1-9). His authority challenges the existing order that is showy but fruitless (21:12-22). It depends on divine appointment, so he’s not desperate for human recognition (21:23-27).

So, Jesus confronted Jerusalem’s leaders not with swords but stories. Their authority is a fiction if God has given authority to his Christ.

By what authority are you doing these things? they demanded (21:23). Three stories overturn their authority:

  1. The parable of the two sons challenges their public persona of obedience to the Father, and their presentation of Jesus as the leader of the disobedient (21:28-32).
  2. The parable of the tenants challenges their claim to be God’s managers when they reject the heir (21:33-46).
  3. The parable of the wedding banquet challenges their restrictions on who belongs at the king’s table (22:1-14).

The content of these stories radically overturned their claims to divine authority, but pause to let Jesus’ method sink in. The pen is more powerful than the sword. Swords fall to stories. The word shapes the world. What is comes from God’s decree, Let there be …

God decrees the reign of his anointed, so no other claimants can countermand it. Not the false sons in the vineyard. Not the self-serving managers of the vineyard. Not the unresponsive guests of God’s Providence. The heavenly sovereign manages his earthly realm. He removes the servants who misrepresent him, and raises up his Son.

The good news of the kingdom is embodied in stories. It’s embodied in the incarnate Son. It’s embodied in the people who live in him (the body of Christ), the living stories of his restorative kingship.

Jesus knew. Matthew knew. The world knows through the people who live in his story. That could define everything the church is and does.

Who’s in charge? (Matthew 21:23-27)

Jesus’ authority is at the heart of the gospel.

If Jesus intended to confront Jerusalem’s leaders by overturning the temple, he succeeded. Priests claimed to be God’s representatives. Elders claimed authority over the people. They pushed back against God’s Anointed:

Matthew 21 23 Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?” (NIV)

In Israel, God’s authority was present in three main roles:

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The end of unfruitfulness (Matthew 21 :17-22)

Why did Jesus curse the fig tree? What did he mean by casting mountains into the sea?

WWJD (what would Jesus do)? Disciples do what the Master does, so do we curse fig trees and cast mountains? Why would Jesus do things like that? The meaning is in the context.

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Jesus in the Psalms? (Psalm 8)

Should we find Christ in the Psalms, or read them as Israel’s story?

Should we see Jesus in the Psalms?

The church fathers saw Jesus everywhere, but modern commentators focus on authorial intent — the meaning the author intended to convey. The Psalms were written to celebrate the reign of Israel’s God and to lament their struggles as his people. The authors didn’t intend to write about Jesus, so can the Psalms be about Jesus?

And yet, the New Testament writers do apply the Psalms to Jesus. Psalm 8 is applied to Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:27 and Hebrews 2:6-8, and even by Jesus himself in Matthew 21:16. Authorial intent matters, but it’s too limited a view. There’s a bigger story playing out across the canon of Scripture.

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How majestic! (Psalm 8)

Little voices make a world of difference.

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:1 ESV)

The Psalms proclaim heaven’s sovereignty over the earth. In effusive joy and struggling lament, they declare the reality of God’s reign over us all.

The more we recognize God’s regal authority, the more it develops us. Witness the word of praise expanding as ripples on a pond:

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Defective and immature people in God’s house? (Matthew 21:14-16)

Jesus’ answer for what’s wrong is not exclusion: it’s the radical inclusion that comes from restoring our brokenness to wholeness.

What does the son of David do for his people as he enters the capital? Matthew alone reports this:

Matthew 21 14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 15But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant. (NIV)

Jesus had healed the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others in Galilee, where the crowds recognized the God of Israel working through him (15:30-31). The reaction in Jerusalem is polarized.

The crowds ascribe salvation (Hosanna) to the Davidic descendant who saves his people, but those who hold the reigns of the city are put out. They feel threatened, just as Saul did when God’s anointing had moved to David and the people sang his praises as the one who would save them (1 Samuel 18:7-8; 21:11; 29:5).

This descendant of David is the saviour/king in the story of his regal ancestor.

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Why did Jesus overturn the temple? (Matthew 21:12-13)

Why was Jesus angry with the temple?

Why did Jesus overthrow the temple? Was he angry to find traders in the courtyard? Did he expect to find people in quiet meditation and prayer instead? What was the temple, and what was Jesus doing there?

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Who’s this? (Matthew 21:10-11)

Jesus’ kingship doesn’t match how people understand power.

The crowd certainly stirred up Jerusalem with their proclamation of Jesus as anointed king: Hosanna! The Son of David. Arriving in the name of the Lord, they proclaimed (21:9).

But these proclaimers were not residents of the city. They were country people who’d followed Jesus down the Jordan from Galilee to Jericho (20:29). There’s a twist.

The capital does not recognize her king. They ask, Who is this? (21:10).

A king? Seriously? He doesn’t look regal. It doesn’t help when they hear he’s a prophet from a place of no significance in Judah’s history, a town that wasn’t even part of Judah:

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Hosanna: the king who saves his realm (Matthew 21:6-9)

The Palm Sunday crowd declared the gospel: heaven and earth reconciled in “the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Jesus’ triumphal entry was the greatest recognition Jerusalem ever gave its king.

Matthew has been proclaiming Jesus’ kingship since the beginning: the son of David (1:1), born into their captivity (1:17), to save his people from their disobedience (1:21). Jesus has been announcing the good news of the kingdom and using his authority to release his people from their sufferings. Eventually his followers realized who was king (16:16), and others began to recognize him as the son of David (20:30-31).

A growing crowd streams into the capital from the east, accompanying the one they proclaim as the son of David, returning to reign in Jerusalem. They lay their garments on the road to honour their king, cutting branches to mark the festal celebration.

What they say is the most astounding declaration of the gospel. Matthew summarizes their joyful shouts with three statements that declare the reconciliation of heaven and earth in him:

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The king who comes in peace (Matthew 21:1-9)

God’s king has a different authority to what we’ve known.

The king of peace is so different. When the disciples first recognized Jesus as God’s anointed, he told them to keep it quiet (16:16-20). Now others have had their eyes opened to the son of David, and they cannot be silenced (20:30-34). This growing crowd forms a festal procession, celebrating the return of the son of David to the capital in the name of the Lord (21:9).

Yet, this son of David does not look like the kings who came before him. Solomon had 12,000 horses and 1,400 chariots to defend his kingdom (2 Chronicles 1:14). Jesus doesn’t even have a donkey. If he’s to be carried into Jerusalem, he must borrow a pack-animal for this occasion — the return of the king to Jerusalem after 600 years.

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Regaining the good news of Jesus’ kingship

Why did the early church de-emphasize the message of the kingdom of God, and how do we recover it?

As we saw, even blind people could see Jesus was the son of David (Matthew 20:30-31) as he made his way to the capital where people would recognize him as the Son of David … arriving in the name of the Lord (21:9, 15). He challenged Jerusalem’s rulers to recognize the son of David as their Lord (22:42-45). It’s blindingly obvious that Matthew presents Jesus as the restoration of the Davidic kingship, the ruler God has anointed (Christ).

When Paul wanted to summarize the gospel at the start of his letter to Rome, he described Jesus as the physical descendant of King David, raised up as the reigning Son of God by his resurrection. “Jesus Christ the Lord” names Jesus as God’s anointed and our ruler. This gospel transforms the world by bringing the nations to trust his leadership (faith) in obedience to his governance (Romans 1:3-5).

Yet the church moved away from this good news of Jesus’ kingship. The early fathers focused on Jesus’ divinity (Son of God) rather than his descendancy (Son of David). We are unbalanced and the gospel is diminished when we emphasize one truth at the expense of the other.

By the early 200s, Origen thought the crowd was right to silence the blind men who called Jesus such a contemptible name:

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