NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Verse 33: When the people heard this, they were amazed at Jesus’ teaching.
In a campaign speech given in California by former US President William Jefferson Clinton, Investor’s Business Daily, October 25, 1996. quoted him as saying: “The last time I checked, the Constitution said, ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people.’ That’s what the Declaration of Independence says.” The truth is, that is not what the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution says. It is part of the “Gettysburg Address” by President Abraham Lincoln on Thursday, November 19, 1882. In the same fashion, the religious leaders who confronted Jesus often misquoted what the Law said and our Lord was always ready to point out their errors.
Likewise, the Sadducees came with what they considered a superior knowledge of the Scriptures than this carpenter’s son from Nazareth in Galilee. But the Word Himself quickly proved He knew the Scriptures better than they did. Since the Sadducees did not believe in life after death, when Jesus told them that they were misinterpreting the Scriptures, it wouldn’t surprise me if He had this prophecy from Daniel in mind, “There are many who are dead and buried. Some of them will wake up and live forever, but others will wake up to shame and disgrace forever. The wise people will shine as bright as the sky. Those who teach others to live right will shine like stars forever and ever.”1 And who could miss the famous words in Hosea: “I will save them from the grave. I will rescue them from death. O Death, where are your diseases? O Grave, where is your power?”2
Furthermore, by not believing in the resurrection they were also questioning God’s power. After all, what did the great prophet Jeremiah say, “LORD God, with your great power you made the earth and the sky. There is nothing too hard for you to do.”3 Our Lord answered the Sadducees by using the Scriptures which they could not dispute because they were considered holy writ. What really scolded their attitudes was that Jesus was more or less saying since God is the God of resurrection if you don’t believe in the resurrection you don’t believe in God.
Jesus could not accept that these so-called religious wise men did not know what Job said about the resurrection;4 and what Daniel had to say.5 When Jesus told them there would be no marriage in heaven because the risen saints would be like angels, this was coming from the Son of God who was the Word. Just think about this: Marriage on earth was established so that mankind could procreate and raise their offspring in the safety and knowledge of their parents. Heaven will not be populated by human procreation, no more than the angels are produced that way. God made each angel by His own power. Likewise, each person who is resurrected from death or changed in the rapture will be considered remade by God. They did not remake themselves by way of human reproduction.
To this, our Lord adds the words of His heavenly Father: “I am the God of your father. I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”6 By adding Moses’ father, Amram, to this list of names, one Jewish commentator says: “Amram, was honored by being mentioned first due to his humble son who had hidden his face from the spectacle, not feeling worthy of being addressed by God, even through an angel.”7 This statement quoted by Jesus is in the present tense, thereby indicating that God is still Isaac’s God. Predicated on that, we must conclude that since God is ever present yet never ending, then Isaac must also be such, otherwise, God would not be His God anymore.
Interesting to note here, if we place a comma after “I am,” making it the divine appellation, “I AM,” it still retains the same meaning, but adds to the eternal belief that Abraham’s God is the real living God that we all serve. No wonder the multitude was astonished to hear that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were alive and existed somewhere! Even though Jesus was discussing the resurrection, it appears that they were of the mind that only after the resurrection would these patriarchs once again be as alive as they were when they actually lived on earth. However, Jesus has given them a clear truth: once we are separated from our dead bodies our spirits still live on.
There has been a lot of debate about where human spirits will spend their time awaiting the resurrection where they will face the judgment seat of God. For the believer, we can be assured, whether we are alive in the body or separated from our body by death, we will all be changed, in a split second when the Messiah comes in the clouds to rapture us all away together at the same time. So, what does it matter where our spirits will rest until that day? The important thing is, that we will not be forgotten on resurrection day. But this debate still wasn’t over.
Verses 34-36: The Pharisees learned that Jesus had made the Sadducees look so foolish that they stopped trying to argue with Him. So the Pharisees called another meeting. Then one of them, an expert in the Law of Moses, asked Jesus a question to test Him. He said, “Teacher, which command in the law is the most important?”
In your mind’s eye, can you see the Pharisees going off to the side and huddling while they discuss their strategy on how to stump this prophet from Galilee? He always puts it back on them and leaves them standing with empty mouths because of their empty minds. To just walk away now would be to admit defeat. So they were determined to keep trying until they could point to some successful mastery over this non-certified teacher.
After discussing the matter, the Pharisees decide to make one more attempt. This is the last inquiry by the religious opponents of Jesus in this series. It started out with a religious question: “Tell us! What authority do you have to do these things you are doing? Who gave you this authority?”8 Then it proceeded to a political question: “So tell us what you think. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”9 This was followed by a theological question: “But all seven men had married her. So when people rise from death, whose wife will she be?”10 Now we have a legal question: “Teacher, which command in the law is the most important?”
This was by far the hardest one. After all, there were all the written laws, followed by the verbal laws. However, it seems as though these Pharisees were looking for an answer regarding the Laws of Moses because the verbal laws were established by Rabbis, many of whom they disagreed with. But the Laws of Moses were given by God, and they covered legal, moral, and ceremonial issues. Knowing and following these laws were very important.
Early church apologist Bishop Cyril had this to say: “After the humiliation of the Sadducees Jesus was highly regarded by the crowds. The Pharisees, filled with envy out of an immeasurable shamelessness, again were testing Him, hypocritically asking if He might deliver a ruling concerning the first commandment. By doing so, perhaps Jesus would amend the commandment in a manner that might lead to an accusation against Him. Now, Matthew and Luke call the person who asked the question a lawyer, while Mark calls him a teacher of the law. This does not indicate a disagreement.11 For they both represent the questioner as one learned in the law and as a teacher of the law who is an interpreter of the law to the people. But the Lord publicly reveals their evil. They were not coming to have Him interpret the law so that they might benefit but because they were seized by envy. So Jesus teaches that one should not measure out one’s devotion, loving God in part but also clinging in part to the concerns of this world. Through His teaching, Jesus said that His commandment was the summary of all the commandments. The lawyer thought He could cast Jesus into danger as one who makes Himself out to be God. Jesus failed to respond in the manner he expected, but he ends up praising Jesus, as Mark says.12”13
Early church scholar Origen gives us his commentary on this last question. He writes: “Now let us consider one argument of entrapment. He calls Jesus “teacher” trying to entrap Him since he offers his thoughts, not as a disciple of Christ. This, however, will be clearer from an example we now offer. Consider: The father of a son is indeed the father, and no one else is able to call him father except the son; the mother of a daughter is indeed her mother, and no one else can call her mother except her own daughter. And so the teacher of a disciple is indeed his teacher, and the disciple of a teacher is truly His disciple. As a result, no one is able to say “teacher” properly except a disciple. And see how, on account of this, that not all who call Him teacher do so appropriately but only those who have a desire to learn from Him. He said to His disciples, ‘You call me teacher and lord, and rightly so, for so I am.’14 Therefore disciples of Christ properly indeed address Him as teacher, and by this word from the Lord Himself His servants rightly call Him Lord.”15
Origen also makes a salient point by showing how this lawyer tried to disarm Jesus by flattering Him with the term Rabbi. Origen goes on to say this to his readers: “Thus the apostle spoke well when he said, ‘Yet for us, there is one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and for whom we exist.’16 And consider what he says, ‘It is enough for the disciple to be’ not simply like a teacher but ‘like his teacher.”17 Therefore, if anyone does not learn something from this word or surrender himself with his whole heart, in order to become his delightful dwelling place but still calls him ‘teacher,’ he is brother to the Pharisees attempting to entrap Christ while calling him ‘teacher.’ And so all who say ‘Our Father who art in heaven’ ought not to have ‘the spirit of slavery in fear but a spirit of the adoption of sons.’18 However, whoever does not have ‘the spirit of adoption of sons’ and yet says ‘Our Father who art in heaven’ is lying, since he is not a son of God while calling God his father.”19
How true this is even today. Not everyone who bows their head and begins reciting the Lord’s Prayer by saying, “Our Father,” is truly a child of God. For any person to walk up to a man and address him as “father”, they can only do so if they were born from that man’s seed. That’s why, anyone professing to be a believer who calls God, “Father,” can only do so if they have been born again by His grace, through His Son. Perhaps this can explain why so many who erroneously call God, “Father,” never get an answer.
1 Daniel 12:2-3
2 Hosea 13:14; Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:55
3 Jeremiah 32:17
4 Job 19:25-27
5 Daniel 12:1-2
6 Exodus 3:6
7 Tzror Hamor, op. cit., loc. cit. p. 872
8 Matthew 21:23
9 Ibid. 22:17
10 Ibid. 22:28
11 In telling the same story, the Gospel writers do as most do today, one may include some information the others left out. This does not constitute a contradiction. In this case, a “teacher of the law” and a “lawyer” mean simply that this lawyer was also a law professor.
12 Mark 12:32-33
13 Cyril of Alexandria: Commentary fragment 251
14 John 13:13
15 Origen: Commentary on Matthew, 2
16 1 Corinthians 8:6
17 Matthew 10:25
18 Romans 8:15
19 Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (pp. 156–157). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.