The Great Question

One day in the Temple in Jerusalem

Who was there?

Jesus, and some  or all of his close disciples (student followers).

Various other people (only Jewish) who came to the temple that day to worship or conduct temple business.

The temple guards and some of those who held the high priestly positions within the temple. They would mainly be Sadducees (also called Herodians) and Pharisees in their political and religious training.

Who or what are Sadducees and Pharisees?

Think of them as roughly the equivalent of the modern Democrats (Sadducees – Liberals and Progressives) and Republicans (Pharisees – Conservatives and Traditionalists) of today.

There would also be those whom the New Testament Bible writers often called the Scribes. They were men trained in copying and writing skills who would copied and studied the Jewish scripture texts.

Because they became very familiar with the Laws of Moses and the writings and teachings of the great Jewish teachers  they became the authorities on what those texts said. They are often described as the lawyers of their day because they knew what the Law said about things.

 

(The First Attempt to Trap Him by the Pharisees)

Paying Taxes to Caesar:

Tribute Penny shown to Jesus

Is it lawful to pay Caesar?

Show me the coin.

And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk.

And they came and said to him,

Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God.

Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?

Should we pay them, or should we not?”

But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them,

“Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.”

And they brought one.

And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?

They said to him, “Caesar’s.”

Jesus said to them,

Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

And they marveled at him.

 

(The Second Attempt to Trap Him – by the Sadducees)

The Sadducees Ask About the Resurrection:


And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection.

And they asked him a question, saying,

“Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.

There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring. And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise. And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died.

In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.”

Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?

For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.

And as  for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?

He is not God of the dead, but of the living.

You are quite wrong.”

 

Finally comes the last question, from a Scribe, a lawyer, a copier of the Law of Moses.

 

The Great Commandment Question:
(Asked by a Scribe – Was he sincere?)

 

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?

Jesus answered, “The most important is,

‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

The second is this:

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

There is no other commandment greater than these.”

And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him,

You are not far from the kingdom of God.

And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.

From Mark’s Gospel (Good News Story about Jesus) Chapter 12 (ESV)

 

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I love this passage of Scripture. For me it became life-altering one day in my sixth decade on Earth.

I had heard it preached and said several times that in the ancient days of Israel, in the days of Jesus and before, there were 613 commandments and rules that one would have to keep to be in “right relationship” with God Almighty. So said the wise men and teachers (rabbis) of the Law of Moses and its interpretation.

Six hundred and thirteen is a pretty large number of items. No wonder the people of Ancient Israel and today, the Orthodox Jews of the world, the Hasidim and others, live such a strenuously disciplined life of work and study of the Torah and other Jewish writings. It’s a lot to be responsible for if you want to live a righteous, good life.

Some Historical Background:

Israel of the days of Jesus had gone through many changes. Once a captive people in Egypt, they had been called out by God and had been brought to the land we now call modern Israel. They entered and subdued the land and became a nation unique among the other nations of the region. They became rich and powerful, but they eventually lost their place and their land to invading kings and armies. The ancient Jewish prophets prophesied their collapse and loss and declared that it was judgment from God for the hardness of their hearts and their pursuit of wicked ways.

Eventually, they recovered their land only to lose it again to invading Greeks (Alexander the Great) and later conquering Romans.

In the day of Jesus, they were a possession of Rome, governed by both, members of the family of Herod and the Romans themselves. The land (Israel) was divided up and a separate Herod family member (ruler), called a tetrarch, had governance over each region. This was after the death of the original Herod, Herod the Great, who ruled them as one combined nation. Overseeing everything, over the Herods and everyone, was a Roman prefect or governor who made sure that everyone followed and honored the Roman laws and paid proper respect to Rome and the Emperor. He was also responsible for making sure that taxes and tribute to Rome were paid, collected and delivered. Lastly, he was there to insure that there were no rebellions against Rome or the people that Rome put in place to govern for her.
That meant that Roman troops were stationed in Israel as a final safeguard against invasion and trouble.

Pontius Pilate was the Roman prefect in the days when Jesus was preaching his message and Pilate was the Roman prefect who eventually had Jesus crucified at the request of the Jewish authorities.

Among many of the Jewish people of the day of Jesus there was a strong dislike and resentment against the Romans who occupied their land. They tolerated the Romans because they had to but they longed for the day when Rome would leave or be cast down. There were promises in the Old Testament of a deliverer, a Messiah, who would come someday and put things right again for their nation. Many of them prayed for that day to come and looked forward to it. And several times there were those who claimed to be the Sent One, the Messiah, who would deliver the nation only to end up dead on a battlefield or executed upon a Roman cross along with his followers.

I love this passage because inn it, Jesus took 613 laws and commandments and distilled them down into two commandments. I cannot do, well for that matter, I don’t even know all of the six hundred and thirteen. I couldn’t possibly remember all of them, all of the time, to keep or complete each one. In this passage, Jesus acknowledges that obedience and obeying and being are important. But He sums everything into TWO statements which can easily be remembered.

1) Love God, with all of your heart , mind, soul and strength.

2) Love people.

If you will focus upon doing, being and acting upon those two things all of your life and being true to them, you will fulfill the moral and legal obligations of the six hundred and thirteen. That is what Jesus asks of us.

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Footnotes:

Being referred to as a Herodian by the New Testament writers was probably no compliment in that day. Herod the Great was a very strong and powerful ruler over the Jews. He was not a pure Jew in his family lineage. He was an Idumean from the southern region between Israel and Egypt. He was a great athlete and was trained as a military warrior at which he excelled. He had become a friend of the Caesar families in Rome and had much political support from them. He was capable, powerful, ruthless and at times very cruel. He was both, respected and hated by those whom he ruled over.

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