Answering Like Jesus

Ryan Goodwin


How does Jesus answer questions? Indeed, how we respond to our enemies is one of the most important methods of evangelism – to have an appropriate answer for every rebuke, criticism, and question is a command from God (1 Peter 3:15). Is there anybody better than Jesus when it comes to answering tough questions? Let us consider a few examples in the Gospel, making application to our own efforts in argumentation, hermeneutics, and debate. First, we will consider the question asked in Matthew 21 regarding the authority of Christ. In another text, Christ comes into contact with the Sadducees, who claim that there is no resurrection because of the terminality of human life. In response to the question, regarding marriage and the afterlife, Jesus exposes their hypocrisy and explains the resurrection to them. Next, He is confronted by one of the Pharisees, a lawyer, who asks Him which of the commandments in the Law are the greatest. To love God first and foremost is the greatest, and the love of one’s fellow man is the second. After answering these questions, our Lord propounds a question to them about their perceptions of the Christ. Using the scriptures, He refutes their fallacies.

Matthew 21:23-27

“By what authority do you do these things, or who is the one who gave you this authority?” (Luke 20:2).

The question posed seems to have been a legitimate one in the eyes of the Jewish leaders. Not only do they ask the question, but they ask it in force – this is not just one or two cantankerous elders approaching, but supposedly all of the chief priests and the scribes and the elders! The name of Jesus had become so well known at this point that His very presence in the city of Jerusalem brought out the best and worst in the Jews. On the one hand, the common citizens flocked to hear Him preach, and had laid out palm branches and garments only two days before when He entered city! On the other hand, of course, the Jewish leaders could find nothing better to do but plot the Lord’s death. Having no response to offer Jesus after all of His sermons, questions, and undeniable miracles, they finally resort to the basest of all ends, murder.

In response, Jesus calmly says, “I will also ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things…” (Matthew 21:24). To answer a question with a question is one the most practical and powerful ways of responding to attacks. It is interesting to see that Jesus made people work for their answers – He did not just hand out free knowledge, but required some independent, logical thinking on the part of listeners. Do we follow the same methods of evangelism? When people attack our faith, do we just give in and expend all of our energy answering? Rather than always answering questions, we need to take the offensive and ask questions. It is not our faith that is wrong, but the faith of false teachers and ignorant unbelievers. Also consider that Jesus believed the chief priests, scribes, and elders had the ability to answer His question. He was not going to pose a question that was too difficult, but one that would spur consideration and, eventually, the assumption of a logical conclusion. His question was, “The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?” (Matthew 21:25) Inherent in the answer to this question was the answer to the elders’ question. If John’s baptism was by the authority of God, and since John preached about Jesus very clearly, then the authority of Jesus was also from God. By asking this question, Jesus is forcing the elders to face the answer to their own question!

Naturally, some deliberation takes place before the elders are willing to offer an answer. “And they began reasoning among themselves, saying…” (Matthew 21:25). Truly, this is where problems first begin – reasoning among ourselves! When we do not rely on God’s Word for reason, and begin to look within the minds of men, we will never truly have an understanding of the truth. “‘If we say, “From heaven,” then He will say to us, “Then why did you not believe him?” But if we say, “From men,” we fear the multitudes, for they all regard John as a prophet’” (21:26). Their primary concern is for their own well-being, whether simply saving face or preventing their demise at the hands of an angry mob. But this is all evidence of how little they understand about Jesus and John. If John, indeed, had been sent from heaven, then it is seems clear what the appropriate response would be! But even if they answered the opposite, it is also clear that they did not know how the people would respond. Disciples of John or Jesus would never cause a riot and murder the elders in the street! Instead of choosing one or the other, they simply respond that they do not know (21:27). “‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things’” (21:27). This is the kind of toughness that many people do not understand in their evangelistic efforts. If people who question our faith are not willing to be questioned themselves, and if they know the answer already and will not admit it, then there is very little that can be done. These elders knew the answer, and Jesus was not going to allow Himself to be trapped by them!

Luke 20:27

“Now there came to Him some of the Sadducees (who claim that there is no resurrection)” (Luke 20:27). The Sadducees were the competing group of Jewish leaders to the Pharisees. They disagreed on many points of the Law, most notably the idea of the resurrection of the dead. While the Pharisees accepted the fact that all people would one day be raised from the grave and judged, the Sadducees refuted this and claimed that existence ended at the cessation of human life. Therefore, there is no soul and there is no resurrection of the dead according to their assertion. “And they questioned Him…” (20:28-33). Their question is one that involves what they believed was an obvious inconsistency with the doctrine of the resurrection. By asking the question, perhaps the Sadducees hope they will be able to catch Jesus in the same trap that had always tripped up their Pharisaic counterparts. According to the Law, a man had to marry his brother’s wife if that brother died. But if seven brothers all die, and the woman marries each one successively, which man would she be married to in the resurrection? To the Sadducees this was an obvious contradiction, because the woman could not be married to all of them in the resurrection, even though she had been wed to each of them in life.

Many interesting points can be seen in Jesus’ response. “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Luke 20:34-35). He deals with their question by first establishing some facts that had been overlooked in the Sadducees’ attempts at foiling Jesus. Without losing His patience, He simply informs His listeners that their question is irrelevant because marriage is not even an issue with those who are dead. From Christ’s words, it becomes clear that marriage is an exclusively earthly relationship. We are given the opportunity in this life only to enjoy the benefits of a marriage, but when this life is over for one member of that relationship, it ceases and is not carried into the eternal dwellings. It is for this reason that there is no sin involved in marrying again after the passing of a spouse. If a man is dead, his wife is no longer bound to him (Romans 7:1-3). Let us always consider our Lord’s response in our own evangelism. When we are asked a tough question by a Bible critic, it is best not to speak too quickly (James 1:19). Rather, listen to the question carefully, consider it for as long as it takes to understand the real brunt of the inquiry, and then ask if the premise of the question is wrong. Jesus continues by saying, “For they cannot even die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection” (Luke 20:36). After we die, our form becomes similar to that of the angels. In what way this is literally applied, no one can be sure – the angels are spiritual beings, so it would be impossible to provide a physical description of them. How we will live and function in the eternal dwellings is also hard to say, because the “daily” activities of the angels are never outlined in the Bible. In any case, the point that Jesus is trying to make is that we will not be married in the afterlife because our form and function will be completely different from our earthly existence.

“But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in that passage about the burning bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now He is not the God of the dead but of the living; for all live to Him” (Luke 20:37-38).

Jesus employs an interpretative tool called necessary inference to disprove the theory of the Sadducees. From the verse quoted by Jesus, Exodus 3:6, it is necessarily implied that the dead continue to exist in some form because God says of Himself in the present tense that He is the God of three men who had been dead for many generations. If the dead no longer exist, and will not be raised, then God would have said, “I was the God of…” This would serve to intimate that when Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were alive, the Almighty was their God. It is amazing how only one word affects the entire meaning of a passage.

Mark 12:28-24

We ought to be impressed that in Mark 12:28-24 there was actually a scribe who was willing to sit down with Jesus and look at the scriptures with Him. Very few of the scribes and Pharisees were interested in serious discussion, only trickery, deceit, and even murder. But in our text, this teacher of the Law, first of all, recognized that Jesus was answering questions well, and desired to know more about His teaching. Perhaps the question that he proposes to our Lord was one that he used to test men who claimed to be from God. He is so pleased with Christ’s response that he says, “Right, Teacher, You have truly stated that…” (12:32-33).

Christ’s response to the question about which of the Laws was the greatest is so simple, yet so misunderstood by His contemporaries. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38). Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6:5. Why would this be the greatest commandment? What is it about the necessity of loving God that leads Christ to conclude that this is, above all else, the most important act of obedience? Indeed, everything else in the Law is contingent on our love of God. If we do not have love, after all, all the acts of righteousness mean nothing (1 Corinthians 13). If we love God, then we will have a desire to fulfill all the other aspects of the Law. If we have no love for God, then what would motivate us to be disciplined, righteous, pious people? “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:39). If we love God first, and love everybody else second, then the last person left to love is oneself. “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (22:40). It can be stated no more simply than that. There is not a command in the Bible that does not have to do with either loving God or loving our neighbor.

“And when Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God’” (12:34).

This lawyer fits into the category of people who know the truth but have not done all that is necessary to be right with God. They are completely aware of what must be done, and how it is to be done, but are either too distracted or too embarrassed and frightened to follow through with appropriate action. Being a teacher of the Law, this scribe was aware of what the scriptures spoke concerning the greatest commandments. He also adds that he understands the vital relationship between faith and works (“much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices”). Sadly, though, we are never given the ending to this man’s story. Did he ever obey the Gospel? Did he become a disciple? Or did the pressures of other scribes and Pharisees bend his will into submission?

Matthew 22:41-45

“Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question: ‘What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?’ they said to Him, ‘The son of David’” (Matthew 22:41-42).

Notice that Jesus is not afraid of confronting the Pharisees. Rather than always letting them come to Him with questions, He decides that it is time to go to them with a question. Of course, the answer that Jesus was looking for would have forced them to admit that He was the Christ, so it is no wonder that they responded by dismissing the Christ as the son of David, and therefore inferior to him.

“Then how does David, in the Spirit, call Him ‘Lord,’ saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, until I put Your enemies beneath Your feet”’? If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his son?” (22:43-45).

Again, we see Jesus using a hermeneutical method of approaching the scriptures called necessary inference. The assumption is based on only one word in the verse, but even on the basis of a single word Jesus believed in the authority of the scriptures. Some people argue that Christians are Bible worshipers, and that we take too much stock in the written Word. But even Jesus Himself considered the Bible carefully and made arguments from seemingly minute details. The point that He is trying to make is that even King David called the Christ “Lord,” so why did the Pharisees refuse to believe in Him?