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Trick Questions and Brilliant Answers

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Matthew 22:15–33; Mark 12:13–27; Luke 20:20–40

Jesus never allowed Himself to become distracted from His mission and message. Even as He neared His arrest and crucifixion and was warding off attempts to discredit Him, He kept the focus on the call to follow Him and submit to God’s Word.Jesus never allowed Himself to become distracted from His mission and message. Even as He neared His arrest and crucifixion and was warding off attempts to discredit Him, He kept the focus on the call to follow Him and submit to God’s Word.


A book written some years ago had the bold title How to Argue and Win Every Time.[1] I haven’t read it, but I am sure the author knows a lot more on the subject than I do because I don’t win every argument. In fact, I can’t even convince my wife that chocolate-covered donuts are good for you. Maybe I ought to read that book.

Well, let me tell you, Jesus has been hounded and pursued by some really argumentative people throughout His entire ministry. We know some of them who were called Pharisees. As far as they were concerned, they believed they could win every argument and impress everybody with their knowledge. But as we have seen, they have been no match for the Lord Jesus.

Now in our chronological study through the Gospels, it is still Tuesday of Passover week, and Jesus is still teaching in the temple. We read here in Matthew 22:15, “Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words.” They keep trying to trap Jesus with some trick question—to try and get Him to say something or take a position that might alienate Him from the Jewish people or make Him liable to prosecution by the Roman authorities (see Luke 20:20).

What is interesting here is that the Pharisees have joined forces with the Herodians, mentioned in Matthew 22:16. Now we are pretty familiar with the Pharisees, these zealous keepers of man-made laws and traditions as a way to earn righteousness. They also despised the presence and rule of the Roman government.

The Herodians, on the other hand, were deeply involved with politics. Their support of King Herod and his royal family gave them the name Herodians. King Herod ruled by appointment from the Roman government, so the Herodians and the Roman government were supportive of one another.

I say all that to say that the Pharisees and the Herodians did not like each other—they never got along. But all of a sudden, they are best friends. Why? Because they all hated Jesus.

And as that old saying goes, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” And here they come together to try to trip up Jesus with this question: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (verse 17).

Okay, this is indeed a clever, tricky question. If Jesus says, “Yes, you ought to pay taxes to Rome” the people are going to start mumbling about this prophet of God. He might even be considered a traitor to the nation of Israel, in league with Rome.

But if Jesus says, “No, you don’t have to pay taxes,” He is going to be in trouble with the Roman Empire because empires do not usually put up with tax evaders.

So, how is Jesus going to get out of this trap? Well, before answering them, Jesus pulls off their masks and says here in verse 18, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?” In other words, “I know what you are doing, and you do not want an answer; you just want Me tripped up.”

Jesus then continues in verse 19, “Show me the coin for the tax.” When He’s shown a Roman denarius, He asks them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” (verse 20). And they answer, “Caesar’s.” So, Jesus says, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (verse 21).

In essence, He is saying, “If the coin bears Caesar’s image, it belongs to this world, and that means you are obligated to pay this world’s taxes.” But then Jesus goes to the heart of the problem by adding this phrase: “[But give] to God the things that are God’s.”

Their real problem is not a tax issue; it is a heart issue. They have never given to God what they owe Him; namely, their hearts and their lives!

I love the fact that there is no response from the Pharisees or Herodians. You could have heard crickets out there in the temple courtyard. Verse 22 says that those who heard Jesus’ words “marveled.” They were stunned with the depth and brilliance of His answer.

Up next to challenge Jesus are some Sadducees in verse 23. The Sadducees dominated the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of Israel, and the high priest came from the ranks of the Sadducees. They upheld only the law of Moses, the first five books of the Old Testament. And they did not believe in angels, or any kind of resurrection from the dead, or future, eternal life.

What trick question have the Sadducees come up with here? No surprise here—they have a trick question about the resurrection! They are obviously not interested in an answer; they just want to try to make Jesus’ belief in the resurrection seem silly and absurd.

Here is their question:

“Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.” (verses 24-28)

So, this woman had seven husbands, and they all died. I would have to say that I would be a little suspicious of this woman—marry her and you are dead. Well, back to the point: Whose wife will she be in heaven?

Jesus responds with a strong rebuke in verse 29: “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” Jesus is saying they don’t know anything about the Bible or the character of God. By the way, I believe Jesus would say the same thing to many religious leaders in our world today—they do not know the Bible, and they do not know anything about God.

Well, Jesus goes on to say to them, “In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven” (verse 30). In other words, marriage does not continue on forever. I think my wife might be encouraged by that—she is not going to be my wife forever. The institution of marriage no longer exists in heaven.

Then Jesus goes on to say to them in verse 31, “As for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God?” While they are scratching their heads, trying to figure out what verse that might be, Jesus quotes the words of God to Moses at the burning bush: “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (verse 32). Then Jesus comments, “He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”

What is Jesus’ point? God spoke to Moses hundreds of years after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died; but Jesus quotes God the Father speaking in the present tense: He is their God, not He was their God. Jesus is clearly explaining that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are still alive even though they have died.

Well, you can hear those crickets out there in the courtyard again. The Sadducees are completely shut down. Verse 33 says the people “were astonished at his teaching.” Who wouldn’t be? Jesus offers incredibly brilliant answers to these difficult questions.

Jesus takes them all back to school by turning their attention to the Scriptures. And isn’t that the real problem? Isn’t that the problem many people have today? They are trying to figure out life—and even life beyond the grave—while at the same time ignoring what God has said in the Bible.

Let’s believe His Word. Let’s not try to win an argument with God but believe Him, follow Him, and surrender our lives to Him today.

[1] Gerry Spence, How to Argue and Win Every Time (St. Martin’s Griffin, 1995).

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