How They Might Entangle Him

Jesus admonished His apostles to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). During the last week of His life, He had multiple opportunities to model this behavior, as a group of men tried to “catch him in his words” (Matthew 12:13).

1. Authority

After He cast the moneychangers out of the temple and healed many people, the chief priests challenged Him with this question: “By what authority doest thou these things?” Jesus knew that their own authority rested on an unstable combination of precedent and popular opinion, and He asked them a question which exposed their own tenuous position: “The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men?” They didn’t dare say heaven, because they had rejected John, but they couldn’t say men either, because the people believed in John. They were trapped by the conflicting sources of their own authority and were unable to answer Him. (See Matthew 21:23-27, Mark 11:27-33, Luke 20:1-8.)

Sometimes criticism is a reflection of the critic’s own insecurities. Recognizing this can help you respond appropriately.

2. Caesar

A group of Pharisees (who opposed Roman occupation of Israel) and Herodians (who supported King Herod) collaborated on the next question. “Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?” they asked. The question assumed a dichotomy between allegiance to God and to the government. But Jesus knew that this was an artificial conflict, and He illustrated this by showing them the inscription on the currency which they all used every day. “Render therefore unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s,” He said. (See Matthew 22:15-22, Mark 12:13-17, Luke 20:20-26.)

Sometimes, two ideas which appear to be in conflict are actually complementary. Instead of choosing between them, we can discover how they fit together.

3. Marriage

Next, the Sadducees, who didn’t believe in life after death, presented Jesus with a thorny question. Under the law of Moses, if a man died, it was his brother’s obligation to marry his wife. They presented the following scenario: seven brothers died, and the same woman was married to each of them in turn. Who will be her husband in the resurrection? Jesus replied, “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures nor the power of God.” These hypothetical characters, He said, wouldn’t be married at all in the next life, but would be “as the angels of God in heaven.” (See Doctrine and Covenants 132:15-16.) He then pointed out scriptural passages which testify of an afterlife, refuting their skepticism. (See Matthew 22:23-33, Mark 12:18-27, Luke 20:27-38.)

Sometimes our questions assume that we know more than we actually do. We need more context and understanding before the question can be adequately answered.

4. The Great Commandment

The Torah contains many commandments, 613 according to Jewish tradition. One of the Pharisees asked Jesus which of these commandments was the greatest. This might have seemed like a complicated or controversial question, but Jesus’ answer demonstrated both His knowledge of the law and His ability to prioritize. The first commandment, He said, was Deuteronomy 6:5: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” The second was Leviticus 19:18: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (See Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-34.)

They had studied the law, but He had internalized it. He understood its true meaning and was able to articulate its core message concisely and convincingly.

Sometimes an apparently complicated problem calls for a simple solution.

5. Son of David

Mark and Luke tell us that after those answers, his antagonists were done. “After that they durst not ask him any question at all” (Luke 20:40; see also Mark 12:34). But Jesus had another question for them. “Whose son is Christ?” He asked. As they provided the answer—David—they must have remembered the crowds who earlier that week had shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David” as Jesus entered Jerusalem (Matthew 21:9) and the children who had later shouted the same thing in the temple. (See Matthew 21:15.) Quoting from Psalm 110:1 where David calls Christ his “Lord,” Jesus asked, “If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?” (Matthew 22:41-46; see also Mark 12:35-37, Luke 20:41-44).

To me, this doesn’t seem like a hard question, but Matthew tells us, “No man was able to answer him a word” (Matthew 22:46). Similar to the Caesar question, they seem to have had a hard time understanding that David could be the Savior’s ancestor and also His disciple.

Rigid categorization can prevent us from seeing and accepting things as they really are.

Amulek: The Father and the Son

In the Book of Mormon, we read several stories of disciples of Christ answering difficult questions. In the city of Ammonihah, a lawyer named Zeezrom asked the missionary Amulek a series of questions intended to identify inconsistencies in his beliefs. “Who is he that shall come?” he asked, “Is it the Son of God?” to which Amulek answered, “Yea” (Alma 11:32-33). Zeezrom followed up with, “Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father?” (Alma 11:38). Amulek’s affirmative answer seems contradictory on the surface, How can the Son of God also be the Eternal Father?” Yet his testimony was so passionate and so sincere that it melted Zeezrom’s heart. (See Alma 11:39-45.) He “began to tremble” (Alma 11:46), and he subsequently tried to defend Amulek and his companion, Alma. (See Alma 14:6-7.)

Sometimes a sincere testimony is the wisest response. Apparent contradictions may not seem so important in the context of personal experience.


Today, I will strive to emulate the Savior’s responses to those who tried to trick Him. I will remember that criticism is often indicative of insecurity, that ideas which seem incompatible may be complementary, and that it’s important to recognize the limits of our own knowledge. I will strive to give answers which are simple and sincere. I will strive to open my mind to questions which challenge my categories and cause me to interpret my experiences in new ways.

2 thoughts on “How They Might Entangle Him

Add yours

  1. I really loved this article. It showed me how much of a ” Master Teacher ” the Savior was. Keep up the great posts.


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