What Is the Answer to the Riddle of Matthew 22?

What is the answer to the riddle Jesus presented to the Pharisees in Matthew 22:41-46?


The paradox, of course, was in David calling his son “lord.”  (A son in the Ancient Near East might call his father “sir” or “lord,” but a father would never call his son “sir” or “lord.”  Even in our day, it still goes without saying that the father is the authority figure.)  The solution to the riddle was that messiah would be raised from the dead, which meant, of course, that the messiah had to die in order to become lord.  That is, Jesus was the son of David according to the flesh and the son of God according to the spirit (through the resurrection – Psalm 2:7 cf. Acts 13:33).  Thus Jesus could be a son to David in the flesh, but a lord to him in the spirit.  Paul recites this riddle solution in Romans 1:3-4 and it is echoed in 2 Timothy 2:8.  This formulation was probably a common confession of the early church, stemming likely from the interaction we see recorded in Matthew 22.

Like all good riddles, it is utterly enigmatic unless one knows the solution, and then completely obvious once one knows it.  Not only is the answer obvious once revealed, it is the only possible explanation.  All other answers are ruled out.  Thus the centrality of Christ’s resurrection to the gospel message (1 Corinthians 15:16-19).

We can also see resurrection as the answer to the riddle of Psalm 118:22.  Before Christ’s passion, that verse would have been a real brain buster:  “How can a rejected stone be accepted as the corner stone of a building?”  Of course, we today can look back and see the answer: the messiah was rejected by men but accepted by God.

The riddles of Samson are thus not merely a sidelight in scripture, but a foreshadowing of the way so much of messianic prophecy worked.  In biblical terms these are “mysteries” that are “revealed.”  But it’s not wrong for us to also say that they are riddles that are solved.

(These thoughts first appeared in a comment exchange on Andrew Perriman’s P.OST blog.)

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