Jesus’ enemies often tried to trap him with ‘clever’ theological questions, such as the one about marriage and the resurrection in Mark 12:18-27.
‘Then some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to [Jesus]; and they asked him, saying: Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man’s brother dies, and leaves his wife behind, and leaves no children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother.
‘Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife; and dying, he left no offspring. And the second took her, and he died; nor did he leave any offspring. And the third likewise. So the seven had her and left no offspring. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection, when they rise, whose wife will she be? For all seven had her as wife’.
These Sadducees were the intellectual sceptics of their day and adept in constructing imagined scenarios which ridiculed biblical truth. In the above encounter they rejected the resurrection and constructed their question in order to ridicule that truth.
I suppose we too can get questions like these, for example, from Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses, as they seek to oppose the idea of the Trinity or the deity of Christ; ‘Who was Jesus praying to, when he prayed to his Father?’ ‘Where does Jesus say, “I am God, worship Me?”’
But we can answer them in the words of the Saviour himself: ‘Jesus answered and said to them, Are you not therefore mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God?’ (Mark 12:24).
He goes on to refute their error from the Scriptures themselves: ‘But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living’ (Mark 12:26-27).
As with those Sadducees, today many ridicule the Bible because they hold their understanding and intellect to be the rule: if they can’t understand it, then it can’t be true! Yet we can challenge such people, by saying something like, ‘I don’t understand it, but it is clearly taught in the Scriptures’, and then show them some simple examples of what the Bible teaches about Christ’s person.
With Jehovah’s Witnesses, it may be helpful to explain to them John 1:23 from their own New World Translation (highly flawed though it is): ‘He said: I am a voice of someone crying out in the wilderness; make the way of Jehovah straight, just as Isaiah the prophet said’.
John is talking about Jesus, who is here called ‘Jehovah’. This ties in with Isaiah 40:3, ‘A voice of one calling out in the wilderness: Clear up the way of Jehovah! Make a straight highway through the desert for our God’. This shows that Jesus is Jehovah.
Jesus also was asked questions by sincere seekers, for example, in Matthew 22:35-40: ‘Then one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, testing him, and saying, Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?
‘Jesus said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: you shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets’.
Although this man was a scribe, he was more open than the others and clearly wanted to know the truth. Although Matthew’s account said that he was sent to test Jesus, it is likely that he was simply put up as a spokesman by the others, who didn’t realise that he was sincere.
Here is a lesson: don’t prejudge questioners because of their associates. We see this often on the streets, that one out of a group of otherwise uninterested students will be really interested and will deserve some answers.
Need of Jesus
Sincere seekers are just that. This man appreciated spiritual truths and valued the Lord Jesus as a true teacher. Many are like this. They have not yet arrived at the truth but they are on the way.
Jesus acknowledges this of this man: ‘Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, You are not far from the kingdom of God. But after that no one dared question him’ (Mark 12:34).
What was missing in all these cases though, it would seem, was a conviction of sin and an understanding of their need for a Saviour. So, having dealt with their questions, Christ points them to himself.
It is worth reading Matthew’s rather fuller account: ‘While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying, What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is he? They said to him, The Son of David.
‘He said to them, How then does David in the Spirit call him Lord, saying: The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool? If David then calls him Lord, how is he his Son?
‘And no one was able to answer him a word; nor from that day on did anyone dare question him any more’ (Matthew 22:41–46).
Surely this is the aim of all our witnessing and why we should be wise in listening to people and answering their questions? We wish to point them to the Saviour. Mere intellectual and theological debate is insufficient; we need to focus on Christ.
He deals with their misunderstandings and shows them the truth. Let us seek to copy our Saviour, who is our example and guide. We will still get the opposition, but we will be handling it in a God-honouring way.
Geoff Cox is a retired evangelist and associate with the Open-Air Mission