Mat_22:15 to Mat_25:46; Mar_12:13 to Mar_13:37; Luk_20:20 to Luk_21:38
The next day, being Wednesday, our Lord went over as usual to Jerusalem.
This was eminently a day of questions.
The Pharisees had meanwhile held a council, and invited the co-operation of the parties to whom they were most adverse, under ordinary circumstances, but with whom they were inclined to unite in the presence of a common danger. These were the Sadducees and the Herodians, both influential, but not very popular parties. The former denied the authority of the Pharisaic traditions, and stuck to the simple letter of the law—so far they were likely to be pleased, rather than otherwise, at the denunciation of those traditions, and of the Pharisaic practices founded upon them, which our Lord so often delivered. But they also disbelieved in the resurrection of the dead, and in the existence of angels, both of which the Pharisees maintained; and respecting which the teaching of our Lord was in accordance with the views of the latter. The Herodians seem to have been those who were inclined, from interest and policy, to support what remained of the power of the Herodian family in the north and east, as upon the whole the best and least dependent form of government that could be hoped for, under the existing circumstances of the country. This family, it was true, was not popular in Judea, but the co-operation of the Herodians being desired, it would not be difficult to show that if Jesus succeeded in the objects ascribed to Him, the Herodian family must soon lose all power and influence in Palestine. However much the views of those parties differed in general, they could easily be brought to apprehend that the alleged pretensions of Jesus, sanctioned by a popular movement, which seemed to be on the eve of breaking out, must be ruinous to their authority if He succeeded; and if He failed—as fail He must, sooner or later—would bring down upon them the power of the Romans, to the utter destruction of their civil rights and their hierarchy, and perhaps to the subversion of their nationality itself. The destruction of Jesus had already been determined on, but how it was to be accomplished, was still as much a question as it had ever been. Surrounded as He still was by admiring crowds, quite ready to hail Him as their king, any attempt to seize Him openly would only hasten the crisis that seemed to them impending, and which they were so anxious to avert; and to seize Him privately, his practice of leaving the city in the evening rendered difficult. It was concluded, then, to pursue the course of asking Him ensnaring questions; his answers to which might either shake the confidence of the people in Him, or afford some grounds on which he might be denounced to the Roman governor, as an enemy of the state. The latter alternative was the most desirable, because then the odium of all ulterior measures would rest with the Romans; and because the Jews had not themselves the power of inflicting death, and it was doubtful whether these Pagans would inflict it on their representation, for merely a religious offence.
Hence their first question struck deep into the sore of the nation’s heart—“Was it lawful or not to pay tribute to Caesar?” If He answered this insidious question in the negative, He would indeed gratify the popular feeling, but would at the same time furnish ground on which to denounce Him to Pilate, as a preacher of sedition, whose command over the popular mind made Him a most dangerous enemy to the government. But if He said “Yes,” He would cool or offend the multitude by pronouncing against that view of their position which the great body of the nation cherished in their hearts, and which many openly avowed. But our Lord saw the snare thus laid for Him, and avoided it with the same admirable address which had confounded them yesterday. He asked them to show Him a piece of money; and, on a Roman coin being put into his hands, He looked at it, and asked to whom pertained the effigy and inscription that it bore. They answered, to Caesar; and He then rejoined quickly, “Render, therefore, unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s”—alluding perhaps in the latter clause, to the temple tribute, which He had himself formerly paid, and which was usually paid in Jewish coin, as the other was in Roman. Those who put this question were probably the Herodians. Their allies seem to have been somewhat daunted by this palpable defeat; nevertheless they were not driven from their purpose, and the Sadducees advanced to the attack. Their question was framed to put Him between the horns of what seemed an insurmountable dilemma, leveled at the views He was known to entertain, and which was not the less pleasant to them in that it aimed a side blow, at the same time, at their old enemies the Pharisees. They proposed the case of a woman having seven brothers for husbands in succession, and all of them dying before her; and asked, whose wife she should be of the seven “in the resurrection,” seeing that they were all equally her husbands? The question seems to imply that, since Jesus had upheld the doctrine of the resurrection, his views on the subject were the same as were then generally current, and which ascribed a considerably carnal character to the beatitude of the future life. Our Lord’s answer both corrected their misconception and broke through their dilemma, by informing them that they erred, “not understanding the Scriptures, nor the power of God,” for that in the future life no such relations as that of husband and wife existed, but a higher and more perfect nature would be taken, assimilated to that of “the angels of God.” But He went beyond their question, and gave them an unanswerable proof, even from that portion of the Old Scripture, on which they most relied, from the words which God himself uttered from the bush, that there is a future life, and that those who are dead to man are still alive to God.
The Pharisees enjoyed this discomfiture of their old antagonists exceedingly. This was especially the case of the man who was to try Jesus on their behalf; and it was not entirely with an invidious feeling that he delivered himself of his problem. It was, Which was the greatest of all the commandments?
The test seems to have here lain in the fact that, by singling out one of the commandments as the chiefest and most important, our Lord would seem to cast disrespect on the others—it being the general opinion, that all the commandments, even as traced out to their most remote and trivial issues, were of equal importance. But our Lord disposed of all this by giving a summary of the whole of the religious part of the law in a few words—“Thou shalt love the Lord with all thy soul.” This was the primary commandment; and that this, however undeniable, might not be construed into disrespect for the obligations of social law, He added—“And the second is like unto it; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” The lawyer (for such he was) was struck with admiration at this answer; and, with the sincerity of honest conviction, said as much—declaring that he believed obedience to these two laws to be “more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” On hearing this, the Pharisees were dismayed, and saw that they had lost their champion, while Jesus looked approvingly upon him, and said—“Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” Let us hope that he reached it. To be “not far from the kingdom of God,” and yet not to enter therein, is one of the most unhappy dooms that can befall a man.
Before they had time to recover from this discomfiture, Jesus, in his turn, proposed a question to them. Whose son was the Messiah? The ready answer was, “The Son of David.” Then, said He, quoting one of the Messianic Psalms (Psa_110:1), “How doth David in the Spirit call Him Lord? If David then call Him Lord, how is He his son?” We can answer this, but they could not. They held down their heads in confusion; and from that day forward no one was hardy enough to ask Him any more questions.
Jesus then turned to the people, pronouncing a terrible denunciation of the Pharisees, and a keen exposure of their hypocritical pretences, concluding with the same lamentation over Jerusalem, stained with the blood of the prophets, which He had delivered on approaching Jericho, and declaring that all this blood would be required of the existing generation.
This and other declarations of the day must have had some effect in disabusing the crowd as to his intention of setting up a temporal Messianic kingdom, and of making Jerusalem once more the glory of the earth, and lady of the kingdoms. They had waited from day to day; and it had now become clear that He did not contemplate any such demonstration as they expected, and were ready to uphold. Many still wavered—many were still willing to adhere to Him on any terms; but, taking the people in the mass, it is here we would place the commencement of that re-action of the public enthusiasm, which was soon to be attended with the most awful results.
There was a pause here: and Jesus being seated “over against the treasury,” which we formerly had occasion to mention, noticed the rich men ostentatiously casting in their liberal offerings, when presently a poor widow approached, and dropped in “two mites, which make a farthing,” or rather somewhat less; and He failed not to call attention to this circumstance, declaring that this gift of the poor woman was really greater, more acceptable to God, than those of the others—for they had only given some portion of their superabundance, whereas she offered all she had—even all her living. It was thus that our Lord was ever ready to seize any passing circumstance, which might be made instrumental to the instruction of his followers.
On leaving the temple for the day, the disciples called his attention to the size and beauty of the stones, and the magnificence of the building. And He then told them that the time was not distant when of all these stones not one should be left upon another. Afflicted at this intelligence, the disciples walked sadly on; and when they had reached the Mount of Olives, they paused and looked back upon the city, which lay spread out like a panorama before them. Jesus sat down, as if, in the calm sunset, to contemplate that scene so beautiful, but doomed so soon to utter ruin and overthrow. The disciples, respecting his contemplative mood, drew apart; but presently four of them (Peter, James, John, and Andrew) drew near, and privately asked Him for more full information respecting these things. “Tell us when shall these things be. And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?”—three points on which they had already received various intimations, which had occasioned much speculation among them, and of which they now desired to be more explicitly informed. They wished to know, first, when those terrible things He had spoken against Jerusalem would be accomplished? What would be the signs of his coming? “Coming” implies previous absence; so that it would seem these chosen disciples at least had concluded, from his repeated intimations, that He was about to leave them (how, they were afraid to think), but that He would come again soon—before that generation passed away—to confound his enemies, and establish his kingdom in righteousness. And, What would be signs of the end of the world? How nearly or remotely they connected this last question with the preceding, we do not know; and probably their ideas on the subject, and, indeed, on all these subjects, were as indistinct as is our own apprehension of their meaning. Our Lord’s answer to these questions was framed to afford them all the information needful to them, or useful for their guidance, but little to gratify a vague curiosity. Neither did He answer their questions categorically, but so intermingled his replies on each hand, that it required after-knowledge and spiritual experience to discriminate more than what was actually needful for their safety and warning to know. We can now distinguish that He spoke of his coming, not personally, but by the fulfillment of his predictions concerning Jerusalem, and for the final uprooting of that theocracy which had become obstructive to the progress of the Gospel; and again of his final coming to judge the world, of which also they inquired. Much that our Lord said might be applicable to both these great events—both these “comings,” both being in fact comings to judgment; but towards the close, his language grew more distinctly applicable to his final coming to judge the world. He declined, however, to give information respecting times, on the ground that these were secrets of God, and that it was more for their profit that they should be kept in a state of wakeful expectancy at all times, than that they should know the days and the hours.
The general subject, and the considerations connected with it, our Lord then proceeded to illustrate by the parables of the Talents and the Ten Virgins, and closed with a vivid description of the scenes of the last judgment.