The Bible and Culture

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It was mid-week by now, and Jesus continued to teach fearlessly in the Temple courts. On this morning the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of G-d in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by human beings, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

Jesus, knowing their intent, said “Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to G-d what is G-d’s.” When they heard this, they were nonplussed, and had no reply. So they left him and went away.

Latter that same morning the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and have children for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”

Jesus replied, “Your logic is faulty because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of G-d. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead–have you not read what G-d said to you, ‘I am the G-d of Abraham, the G-d of Isaac, and the G-d of Jacob’? He is not the G-d of the dead but of the living.” When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching, and they enjoyed seeing the authorities bested at their own word games.

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees decided to try once more to trap Jesus in his words. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

While the Pharisees were gathered together around him, Jesus said now let me ask you a question, “What do you think about the messiah? Whose son is he?”
“The son of David,” they replied.

He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,

‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
under your feet.” ‘

If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” No one could say a word in reply, and for the rest of the morning, no one dared to ask him any more questions. As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him,

“Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down. All this building by Herod and his successors will be wasted effort as it was not blessed by G-d, indeed not built by G-d and so they labored in vain.”

Jesus crossed over the Kidron brook and climbed up to his favorite spot on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the Temple precincts. As Jesus was sitting there opposite the temple, Simon, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”

Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.

“You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. And the good news must first be preached to all nations. Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.

“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All manner of people will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.

“When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ that Daniel foretold, standing where it does not belong then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the roof of his house go down or enter the house to take anything out. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that this will not take place in winter, because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when G-d created the world, until now–and never to be equaled again. If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect–if that were possible. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.

“But there will be a time following that distress when, as the Scriptures say
” ‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

“At that later time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these signs on the earth happening, you know that the judgment is near, right at the door. Amen I say to you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these signs upon the earth, concluding with the fall of the Temple will have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

“As for the things that will happen after those signs upon the earth, as for the time when the Son of Man will return, no one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.

“It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back–whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ “

The disciples took all this in, and realized Jesus was speaking about events both on the near and more distant horizons. But what was this about the Son of Man coming back? Was this another enigmatic reference to the resurrection of the Son of Man? So much was unclear to them. The walk back to Bethany was a short one from here on top of the ridge called the Mount of Olives. It was nearing time for dinner, and doubtless Jesus would use that occasion to say more, so they disciples refrained from asking questions at this point.