Temporarily improving the political equation in Palestine in the first century was not the solution to Israel’s current problem of Roman occupation. God had already provided the solution to this problem to Israel hundreds of years before in the book of Judges. The solution was to turn to God with all of their hearts. This was the mission of Jesus (Lk. 4:18-19), not to lead a military revolt against the Romans to remove the burden of taxes paid to Caesar.
The Pharisees and Herodians attempted a strategy of verbal entrapment with Jesus, trying to publicly catch Him in misspoken words. What they got instead from Jesus the eternal Word of God was a brilliantly concise response of such universal scope and wisdom that the opponents of Jesus eventually recognized their attempts to outwit Jesus in pubic were embarrassingly counterproductive (Mt. 22:46).
But the splitting up of this question by the Pharisees and Herodians, into two distinct parts by Jesus, goes infinitely deeper than being merely a clever, temporary evasion of this thorny issue.
Jesus is not talking out of both sides of His mouth like modern-day professional politicians. Behind the insincerity of the motivation to attempt to trap Jesus…lies a profound question that goes to the heart of our faith and relationship with God in this broken and often confusing world. The answer of Jesus to render to God the things that are God’s…soars far above all practical worldly considerations.
In a God-composed and orchestrated adventure of faith, everything in our lives is managed and guided by God’s will and way…even the paying of taxes to support the government of an occupying foreign nation (Mt. 17:27).
This attitude of faith and trust in God, within the ups and downs of life in a journey of faith, only successfully works through elevated vision focused on the one true living God.
In Matthew 16:21-23, Peter strongly voices his objection to the idea that Jesus might fall into the wrong hands and suffer personal injury. This would otherwise normally be an admirable and commendable reaction from the worldly horizontal viewpoint. But in this one singularly unique instance, Peter’s proposed physical protection for Jesus is about as far off-target as is humanly possible.
The upcoming event of the crucifixion of Jesus for the redemption of mankind was planned from the foundation of the world. Peter’s spiritual vision, along with the vision of everyone else at that time, was horizontally flat regarding the impending trial, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Peter goes out and weeps bitterly after failing so miserably in the courtyard of Caiaphas, revealing his total lack of understanding regarding the big-picture direction of events that must occur, culminating in the resurrection that forever defeats death and hell (Rev. 1:18).
Likewise, the other disciples scatter for safety at the arrest of Jesus in Gethsemane. This also reveals a horizontal misunderstanding of the temporary safety of their position as mere disciples. The security of this position is based in the historic miscalculation by the religious authorities that focusing exclusively upon the removal of the leader Jesus would quickly stamp out His movement.
Because of the conventional thinking of the religious leaders, the disciples had little to fear for their safety during the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus.
The horizontally flat vision of not understanding the true situation is also clearly evidenced by Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus by the wrapping of the body of Jesus with linen strips of cloth according to Jewish customs for permanent burial.
This is evidenced a second time by the women coming early Sunday morning to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus with spices, again in anticipation of permanent interment and not at all in expectation of an imminent bodily resurrection.
A large enough group of people heard and understood the sayings by Jesus that He would rise the third day, to the point of motivating the chief priests and Pharisees to take the extraordinary step of coming to Pilate the day after the crucifixion saying: “Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again” (Mt. 27:63). They then asked permission to place a group of guards and to seal the stone at the tomb of Jesus.
It is ironic that the deadly opponents of Jesus are the one group that expresses the possibility of Jesus rising from the tomb.
Albeit, in this case, their thinking is not based upon faith in Jesus but on the totally cynical notion that the disciples would attempt to steal the dead body of Jesus, and then falsely claim He rose from the dead. Their vision is about as worldly horizontal as can be. This explains their nervous precaution of placing a group of guards at the tomb to prevent the removal of the body.
The actions taken by everyone involved in the events surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection betrays their horizontal mindset.
Peter, the other disciples, Joseph and Nicodemus, the women at the tomb, and the opponents of Jesus all are stuck in the understandably commonplace notion that people simply do not raise themselves from the dead.
It takes the one-time, supernatural intervention of God the Father to raise Jesus the Son of God from these seemingly impossible circumstances, validating and establishing Jesus as Savior.
That God the Father supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead is the fuel that propels forward the world-changing gospel message and testimony of the early church, and is the foundation for the Christian church to this day.