Updated: Apr 29, 2020
TEACHING IN THE TEMPLE: THE CONTEXT
"And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people sought to destroy him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people hung upon his words" (Luke 19:47,48).
The Gospels tell us that the scribes and the chief priests made several attempts to lay hands on Jesus. Every effort they made proved futile. The truth that Jesus taught and lived was a direct threat to the plush life the rulers had built for themselves. The compassionate and pointed teachings of Jesus spoke against their form of authority, self-focused power, and ill-gained wealth. The scribes and chief priest, by their chosen lifestyle and actions, ran the risk of inciting the people to revolt against their wickedness, as they did not serve God, but themselves.
Their attempts to entrap Jesus failed, as adoring crowds continually surrounded Him. The Bible tells us that the people "hung upon his words.” As there were undoubtedly other Jewish teachers expressing their teaching of the law, why was there such love for Jesus? Why did the people listen so intently? What set Jesus apart?
Jesus' mastery and authority in response, teaching, and action set Him apart and astounded those listening to Him teach. An excellent example of this is His teaching on paying taxes to Caesar. Imagine Jesus on the steps of — or inside — the temple teaching those crowded around Him. They were listening intently. The leaders trying to catch Jesus thought they had a plan that would trap Jesus into either offending Rome or the Jewish people. If their plan proved successful, this act would give the chief priests and their scribes the ammunition needed to accuse Jesus of wrong before the Jewish people or the Roman government.
"Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. So the spies questioned him: ‘Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ He saw through their duplicity and said to them, ‘Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. He said to them, ‘Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’ They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent” (Luke 20:20-26).
Luke states that people were "marveling." Mathew and Mark share a similar sentiment (Matthew 22:22; Mark 12:17). What was so marvelous? An explanation of this passage shows the immense brilliance of our Master.
Unpacking this interchange requires understanding as to how Jews in antiquity learned their biblical texts. Theirs was a culture of oral learning, not one of chapter and verse. The moment Jesus mentioned the word "image,” the minds of those listeners would have immediately bolted to Genesis 1:27, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."
Though it may bypass some of us today, those listening to Jesus would have immediately understood what He was saying. The message that silenced those trying to entrap Him was this: Give to God that which has His image, and Caesar, that which has his; essentially, give to God "you," and to Caesar the coin.
That we are made in the image of God allows a glimpse into the love God has for us. Repeatedly, Jesus reflects on the fact that we are created in the image of God, and therefore, we have great value. It is the core of His teaching in His tenure on earth. When we do not treat others made in His image with the same degree of value that He holds for us, we run the risk of allowing the controlling factors of power, backbiting, negative talk and lying to overcome our lives. The very point of the message of the coin gives credence and strength to the reason Jesus came to Earth and agreed to face death — all because we have value to our Father in heaven.
Do you allow borders to determine who is in and who is outside your view of the "image of God"? Do you see value in every human being? Is your relationship to others based on what they can do for you, or the care God has for them?
What can be meant for harm, God can use for good. The death Jesus was facing was premeditated, sought out in a conniving and logical way, to the point that the chief priests sought out Judas. The scribes and priests could not catch Jesus during the day. He was too popular. So, their option turned to night, and they needed help finding Him so that they could attempt the death of Jesus in secrecy.
Written by Amy Flattery, Director for the Center for Holy Lands Studies.
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