Luke 20 Jesus vs. the religious establishment
The interaction between Jesus and his detractors on this occasion is very instructive. Not uncommonly, members and missionaries are confronted with a similar dilemma-a religious discussion has ensued, and someone, often a minister, has set a doctrinal trap. How do we answer difficult questions, especially those designed to make us look stupid? The Lord gives the answer in chapter 20.
"If you are a Latter-day Saint...[you will be confronted with] people asking questions about your beliefs. Most questions will be honest and sincere; others will be a sword that seeks to cut and slay. It is important that we answer honest questions well; the others are of little consequence. Yet even then we have that feeling that the gospel need not be embarrassed. No one can have all the answers, and for that matter, in many instances there may not be any one best answer. Still there are basic principles that can aid in obtaining the Spirit and in giving appropriate answers...[one of which is] Do Not Always Respond!" (Millet and McConkie, Sustaining and Defending the Faith, 107)
Let's examine how the Master deals with this problem. He is confronted with three questions specifically designed to get him into trouble: 1) by what authority doest these things? 2) is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar? 3) whose wife shall she be in the resurrection? The Master's responses teach us that we don't have to answer these questions directly. Since these detractors didn't care about the truth and were only trying to belittle him, the questions did not require a direct answer. Jesus didn't allow himself to fall into their trap.
His first response was to ask them a difficult question (v. 4). The second trap was answered with a question as well (v. 24). The third was not answered directly either (v. 33-38). Jesus could have gone into a lengthy discussion about the principle of eternal marriage and the sealing power, but they didn't understand these principles. Had he answered them with a full disclosure of the mysteries of godliness, he would have been ridiculed by the Sadducees. He wisely avoided the temptation to teach deep doctrine to a shallow crowd. Finally, he turned the tables on his detractors, asking them a question they couldn't possibly answer (v. 41-44). This is an easy and useful tactic since the restored gospel gives us so much doctrinal ammunition.
Boyd K. Packer
"Contrary to what you may suppose, the Lord generally did not answer questions-at least not in the usual way, particularly the questions that came from those who were tempting Him. Generally He did not answer them with a direct answer or an explanation. In fact, He almost always responded by asking a question of those who raised the question in the first place.
"Consider the occasion when the tempters asked Him if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. This was a loaded question. If He had answered, 'No, it is not lawful to pay taxes unto Caesar,' He would have been guilty of treason and subject to death. If He had answered, 'Yes, it is legal to pay taxes to Caesar,' He would have immediately incurred the wrath of the Jews, who had been conquered by the Romans and detested the heavy taxation. Neither a yes nor a no answer was safe.
"Notice how the Savior handled the question asked Him by the Pharisees and the Herodians...Notice that He is asking them a question; the initiative is with Him now...That brings us to the point: Who answered the question? Well, of course, His listeners answered their own question after some discussion and teaching. They answered their own question by answering His question." (Teach Ye Diligently, 66-68 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the New Testament: The Four Gospels, by Pinegar, Bassett, and Earl, p. 297)
Luke 20:7 they answered, that they could not tell whence it was
"[For the chief priests and scribes to say 'we don't know' whether John's baptism was of heaven or of men] was ignorance in a sphere wherein ignorance was for them inexcusable. They, the appointed explainers of the Law-they, the accepted teachers of the people-they, the acknowledged monopolizers of Scriptural learning and oral tradition-and yet to be compelled, against their real convictions, to say, and that before the multitude, that they could not tell whether a man of immense and sacred influence-a man who acknowledged the Scriptures which they explained, and carried into practice the customs which they reverenced-was a divinely inspired messenger or a deluding imposter! Were the lines of demarcation, then, between the inspired Prophet and the wicked seducer so dubious and indistinct? It was indeed a fearful humiliation, and one which they never either forgot or forgave. And yet how just was the retribution which they had thus brought on their own heads! The curses which they had intended for another had recoiled upon themselves; the pompous question which was to be an engine wherewith another should be crushed, had sprung with sudden rebound, to their own confusion and shame." (Farrar, p. 550. as quoted in Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, 3: 355.)
Luke 20:9-18 The Parable of the wicked husbandmen
Bruce R. McConkie
"God himself is the householder; his vineyard is the earth and its inhabitants; and the husbandmen appointed to work in the vineyard are the spiritual overseers of the people. Those who are stoned, beaten, persecuted, and killed are the prophets and seers sent to minister among men; and the Son and Heir, slain and cast out of the vineyard at the instigation of the wicked husband-men, is of course Jesus.
"For rejecting the Stone of Israel, the Church and kingdom was to be taken from the Jews and given to the Gentiles. Those Jews who rejected and slew the Heir were to be destroyed, as was also later to be the case with the Gentiles in the day of their apostasy and rejection of the 'head of the corner.' Finally, 'in the last days,' the vineyard was to be let out to other husband-men preparatory to the return of the Lord to 'reign in his vineyard.'" (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1973], 1: 593-594.)
Luke 20:13 What shall I do? I will send my beloved son
Bruce R. McConkie
"'I will send my beloved son' are the words of the householder as Luke records them, 'This Is My Beloved Son' is the eternal testimony of the Father himself. 'I am the Son of God' is the witness Jesus has everywhere been bearing of himself. And now be it noted, according to the words of the parable, the husbandmen-the chief priests, scribes, Pharisees, elders, Rabbinists, lawyers, and rulers of the people-the husbandmen appointed in that day to labor in the vineyard...chose willfully to cast him out and slay him lest he disturb them in their petty Mosaic ministrations." (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979-1981], 3: 362.)
Luke 20:25 Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar's, and unto God the things which be God's
James E. Talmage
"Every human soul is stamped with the image and superscription of God, however blurred and indistinct the line may have become through the corrosion or attrition of sin; and as unto Caesar should be rendered the coins upon which his effigy appeared, so unto God should be given the souls that bear His image. Render unto the world the stamped pieces that are made legally current by the insignia of worldly powers, and give unto God and His service, yourselves-the divine mintage of His eternal realm." (Jesus the Christ, 546-47.)
Luke 20:28 Moses wrote unto us, If any man's brother die, having a wife
With the phrase, 'Moses wrote unto us,' we realize that the Sadducees are speaking of marriage under the Law of Moses. Obviously, eternal marriage, temple sealings, and the endowment were not a part of that law. This will affect the way the Lord answers the inquiry.
Luke 20:33 Therefore in the resurrection whose wife of them is she?
"To properly understand the scriptural text, we need only ask the standard question in interpretation: To whom is the message directed? The answer is the Sadducees, a Jewish religious sect that rejected Christ, his gospel, his priesthood, and even the doctrine of resurrection. In broader terms, the text applies to all others who reject the gospel of Jesus Christ or his saving and sealing powers. None such have any claim upon a sealing bond between marriage partners or in the family unit. The modern equivalent would be for a woman who does not believe in Christ, in his redemptive mission, or in resurrection, to ask a modern prophet which of the seven men to whom she had been married will be her husband in the world to come. The answer, obviously, is none of them. Because one unbeliever has been told that she has no claim on spouse or family in the world to come certainly is not to say that those who prove worthy of the full blessings of the Lord, including the blessings of eternal marriage, have no such promise. Thus the Doctrine and Covenants specifies that those who neither marry nor are given in marriage in the hereafter are those whose marriages are not performed by the sealing authority of the priesthood. (D&C 132:15-18.)" (Robert L. Millet, The Mormon Faith: Understanding Restored Christianity [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1998], 174 - 175.)
Bruce R. McConkie
"Now, these words were spoken to Jesus' detractors who did not believe in a resurrection; they were spoken about a question on marriage that had been asked as a ploy only, and not because information was being sought about how marriage and the family unit operated in the realms ahead." (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979-1981], 3: 378.)
Luke 20:34 The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage
Joseph Fielding Smith
"Throughout the so-called Christian world, divorce is a common thing, but people in other churches do not have the proper understanding in relation to the marriage union. To them marriage, is at best a temporary union, and the ceremony performed by a minister or a judge or other official who is legally authorized to marry emphatically and definitely states that the union shall be until death, and then the marriage comes to an end. Their doctrine concerning marriage is that it is an earthly ordinance or union and that it ends at death. This false doctrine is impressed upon their minds because of the statement of the Lord to the Sadducees who came to him with their problems concerning the woman who had seven husbands. I quote this conversation: (quotes Luke 20:28-38.)
"Let us remember that the first marriage on this earth, that of Adam and Eve, was performed before there was any death in the world; therefore it was intended to be forever. Marriage, if performed by divine authority, is to last forever. In the temples of the Lord men and women are married with an everlasting covenant. Children are born to them in this covenant to be theirs forever and therefore the family union was intended to endure forever.
"Paul makes this perfectly clear in his writings to the Corinthian members of the Church when he declared unto them that 'Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.' (1 Cor. 11:11.) Again he said to the Ephesians:
Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,' (Eph. 3:13-15.)
"The prevalent idea in the world that marriage is a covenant for this life only is in contradiction to what is written in the scriptures." (Conference Report, April 1965, First Day-Morning Meeting 9-10.)
Luke 20:35 they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world...neither marry, nor are given in marriage
'Therefore, if a man marry him a wife in the world, and he marry her not by me nor by my word...when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding and an eternal weight of glory.' (DC 132:15-16)
"...(speaking of Luke 20:35) This expression little understood in the days of the Prophet, is repeatedly given today as scriptural evidence against the Latter-day Saint doctrine of eternal marriage. Joseph Smith's question concerning its meaning led to a modern revealed commentary upon the passage...
"From section 132 we learn that THEY who neither marry nor are given in marriage in eternity are they who choose not to enter in by the strait gate and partake of the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. Even persons who qualify in every other way for the glories of the celestial kingdom, but who for selfish reasons reject opportunities for celestial marriage, cannot attain unto the highest degree of the celestial glory (cf. D&C 131:1-4). Such persons are 'appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory.' The Lord continued: Because they did not abide by his law, 'they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever' (D&C 132:16-17). In commenting upon the status of angels, Joseph Smith said: 'Gods have an ascendency over the angels, who are ministering servants. In the resurrection, some are raised to be angels, others are raised to become Gods.' (Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson, eds., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 1: The Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989], 517.)
"A man must enter into an everlasting covenant with his wife in this world, or he will have no claim on her in the next.
"No man can obtain an eternal blessing unless the contract or covenant be made in view of eternity. All contracts in view of this life only terminate with this life. [Such is the] case of the woman and seven husbands. Those who keep no eternal law in this life or make no eternal contract are single and alone in the eternal world and are only made angels to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation, never becoming sons of God, having never kept the law of God, that is, eternal law." (Kent P. Jackson, comp. and ed., Joseph Smith's Commentary on the Bible [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1994], 125.)
See also: Was Jesus Married?
Joseph Fielding Smith
"So here we have the true understanding of the Savior's answer to the Sadducees. If by any chance, any who believed as they believed, and therefore were married for time only, proved worthy to obtain that world, that is the kingdom of God, they would have to enter there separate and singly to become servants-angels-to wait on those who were worthy of the exaltation. These Sadducees who might be worthy of a place in that kingdom would be in exactly the same condition that members of the Church of Jesus Christ will find themselves, if they likewise, have been content with a civil union only." (Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1957-1966], 2: 118)
Luke 20:38 he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him
The essence of the Sadducees' question revolved upon their doctrinal denial of the resurrection. Their question was designed to make this doctrine sound ridiculous. Jesus knew this was the essence of the inquiry and taught them the truth about the resurrection.
"Perhaps the most effective way to handle antagonistic, improper, or irrelevant questions is to use them as a springboard for answering the questions that should have been asked. Even if the questioner objects, you may have been able to plant good seeds in the mind of any listener who is honestly seeking the truth. Effective teachers learn to mold poor or irrelevant student questions into teaching moments." (Millet and McConkie, Sustaining and Defending the Faith, 115)
"The Savior, sensing that the real question was not whose wife she would be, but whether or not there was indeed a resurrection, answered their direct question but briefly...Then the Master dealt with the real substance of the question: 'But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living' (Matthew 22:30-32).
"The honest in heart who were present quickly recognized the unassailable logic used by the Savior: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had all died many years before-yet God still said he was their God and that he was God only of the living. Therefore, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must still be living! Certain of the scribes who were present exclaimed, 'Master, thou hast well said.' The logic silenced the Sadducees, 'and after that they durst not ask him any question at all' (Luke 20:39-40)." (Daniel H. Ludlow, Selected Writings of Daniel H. Ludlow: Gospel Scholars Series [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2000], 241.)
Bruce R. McConkie
"How can there be a God unless there is a resurrection? Why would God create men and then let them vanish into nothingness? To be God he must be the God of something, and the dead are nothing; hence, there are no dead, 'for all live unto him,' 'for he raiseth them up out of their graves.'" (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1973], 1: 608.)