It’s a showdown. In this corner… the God of the universe in human form… Jesus Christ! In that corner… the jealous power brokers…Religious Leaders! They go several rounds at each other. Jesus has knocked them out once again. From here on the religious leaders will plan to fight dirty. They will scheme to take Jesus down no matter what it cost them, even their souls.
Religious Leaders Challenge Jesus’ Authority / 20:1-8
20:1-2 Soon after Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple, Jesus returned to the Temple to teach and preach. While he was there, a delegation of leading priests, teachers of religious law, and other leaders stopped Jesus. These were representative of the three groups that made up the Jewish ruling council (Jesus already had predicted that the Jewish religious authorities would reject him, see 9:22). Apparently the council had met after the clearing of the Temple, enraged by Jesus’ actions, but unable to decide how to handle him. They then sent this representative group to question Jesus regarding his actions, hoping he would say something treasonous or blasphemous. They demanded to know by whose authority he had thrown out the merchants from the Temple.
- LIFE APPLICATION – WHOSE AUTHORITY?
- In an individualistic and self-centered society such as our own, the individual has become increasingly his or her own authority. People are encouraged to look within themselves for religious direction. Just as Jesus confronted the arrogant religious authorities of Israel two thousand years ago, Jesus confronts today’s arrogance and hypocrisy. Will you reject his authority and hate him? Or will you accept his authority and live by his commands?
20:3-4 Jesus countered the Jewish religious teachers’ question with a question. Jesus knew that the religious leaders’ attitude toward John the Baptist would reveal their attitude toward him. With this question, Jesus was implying that his authority came from the same source as John the Baptist’s. John had called the people to repentance, and the people had expressed their repentance through baptism, a symbol of the cleansing of one’s sins. So Jesus asked these religious leaders what they thought: Did John’s baptism come from heaven, from God, or was it merely human?
20:5-8 These leaders weren’t interested in Jesus’ authority or in the truth. They really didn’t want an answer; instead, they wanted to trap Jesus. But they found themselves looking completely foolish. If they answered that John’s baptism had come from heaven (with God’s authority), then they would be incriminating themselves for not listening to John. On the other hand, if they rejected John as having any divine authority and said that his baptism was merely human, they would infuriate the crowd. So they remained silent, but their silence spoke volumes. Because they refused to answer, Jesus said that he too would refuse to answer their question. By his silence, Jesus had already answered. His authority was the same as John the Baptist’s. John was clearly a prophet of God, and Jesus also was commissioned by God to call all who would listen to him.
- LIFE APPLICATION – A TIME FOR SILENCE
- In this argument, Jesus refused to answer the leaders’ question (20:8). When you engage someone in a discussion of matters of faith, you will find out fairly quickly whether that person is truly interested in what you have to say or only interested in arguing. If the person is interested, take as much time and effort as you can in giving him or her answers and information. If the person merely wants a debate, don’t oblige. It is pointless to give intellectual responses to issues of the heart. The real battleground for that person is not in the mind but in the heart. Until the person has an open heart, as well as an open mind, intellectual discussions will likely only serve to harden his or her disbelief. Save your breath . . . and wait until God prepares the heart.
Jesus Tells the Parable of the Evil Tenants / 20:9-19
After his confrontation of the Jewish religious leaders, Jesus told a parable that revealed the spiritual realities behind his conflict with them. The parable indirectly answered their question about his authority, showed them that he knew about their plan to kill him, and revealed the judgment that awaited them.
20:9 The characters in this story are easy to identify. The owner of the vineyard is God; the vineyard is Israel; the tenant farmers are the religious leaders; the servants are the prophets and priests God sent to Israel; the son is the Messiah, Jesus; the others are the Gentiles. The comparison of Israel to a vineyard is common in the Old Testament (Psalm 80:8-13; Isaiah 5:1-7; Jeremiah 12:10; Hosea 10:1). It pictures God’s work (someone has to plant a vineyard) and patient care in tending and caring for his people.
Jesus described a common business method of the time—an absentee owner who hired tenant farmers to care for the fields and crops. The tenant farmers paid their “rent” by giving a portion of the crop to the landowner, who would send servants at harvest time to collect it. Tensions often arose; records exist of bitter disputes between landowners and their tenants.
20:10-12 When the grape harvest came, the landowner sent one of his servants to collect the “rent”—namely his share of the crop. The “servants” represented the prophets and priests whom God had sent over the years to the nation of Israel. The picture of angry farmers beating the landowner’s servants and sending them on their way without any “rent” pictured the religious leaders who were entrusted with the care of the vineyard. Instead of listening to the prophets, they had treated them shamefully and sent them away, stubbornly refusing to listen. Some had been beaten (Jeremiah 26:7-11; 38:1-28), and some had been killed (tradition says that Isaiah was killed; John the Baptist had been killed, Matthew 14:1-12), and some had been stoned (2 Chronicles 24:21). Jesus was reminding the religious leaders that God’s prophets often had been ridiculed and persecuted by God’s people.
- LIFE APPLICATION – GIVE BACK TO GOD
- Have you ever given a child a gift—a toy, perhaps, or a stuffed animal—and then asked to have it back just for a moment? If so, you may have met with a less-than-positive response. In fact, the child may have become downright nasty: “Mine! My toy!” The fact that you gave it to her means nothing to her. All she cares about is her own immediate desire to have the thing she wants. Everyone can see what is wrong with acting that way; hopefully, most people outgrow such behavior. And yet how childish people can be when God is the giver and they are the recipients of his benevolence! Like the ungrateful farmers in this parable, they selfishly cling to those things he has given them and resent it when they are asked to give back to him some measure of his gifts. God, like the owner, expects a return. Has God given you a gift—money, abilities, opportunities—that you are clutching tightly to yourself, refusing to use for his purposes? Learn a lesson from a bunch of agricultural ingrates: give back to God freely and gratefully.
20:13 The fact that this landowner had not already punished the farmers for their treatment of his servants shows a man of great patience. This pictures God, who has been very patient with his people over the centuries, even when they stubbornly refused to listen to his messages through the prophets. So the landowner sent his son to collect the fruit of the vineyard in hopes that the farmers would give him due honor and respect. This “son” refers to Jesus (see also 3:22; 9:35). With these words, Jesus implicitly answered the religious leaders’ question regarding the source of his authority (20:2). Like the son in this parable, Jesus had been sent on behalf of the Father. He was acting with God the Father’s authority. The son had been sent to the stubborn and rebellious nation of Israel to win them back to God.
20:14-16 The historical situation behind this section reflects the law that property would go to anyone in possession of it when the master died. The tenants probably thought that the arrival of the son (the heir) meant that his father had died. They reasoned, therefore, that if they killed the son, they could claim the property (the estate) as their own. So they murdered the son. With these words, Jesus was revealing to the religious leaders his knowledge of their desire to kill him.
- LIFE APPLICATION-SEIZE THE INHERITANCE?
- What person in his right mind would think that he could kill someone and then ask to have the victim’s inheritance given to him? Yet that is precisely the situation described by Jesus in the parable of the vineyard owner and the tenants. Jesus said that the vicious, unruly tenants actually went so far as to kill the owner’s son, thinking they could then seize the inheritance. Jesus’ listeners must have been shocked. But, ironically, Jesus was referring to how Israel had treated God’s prophets and how they would treat God’s Son yet still thought they could have God’s inheritance.
- American culture today is also guilty of benefiting from a Christian heritage—the “inheritance”—while people try to kill off any connection to Jesus. Society wants the positive results without crediting the cause of them. What else explains the universal celebration of Christmas while trying to outlaw public displays of manger scenes? That’s like having a birthday party and telling the guest of honor he’s not welcome. Where did the notion of love, peace, and family unity come from? The Bible teaches that people reap what they sow. Make sure you aren’t benefiting from our Christian legacy while your life denies Christ.
Jesus asked his listeners what they thought the owner would do to his tenant farmers when he found out that they had killed his son. The answer: He will come and kill those tenants. Over hundreds of years, Israel’s kings and religious leaders had rejected God’s prophets—beating, humiliating, and killing them. Most recently, John the Baptist had been rejected as a prophet by Israel’s leaders. Finally Jesus, the beloved Son of God, already rejected by the religious leaders, would be killed. Jesus explained that the Jewish leaders would be punished for his death because in rejecting the messengers and the Son, they were rejecting God himself.
Jesus added that not only would the wicked tenant farmers be killed, but that the owner would lease the vineyard to others. God’s judgment on the Jewish people who rejected him would result in the transfer of the privileges of ownership “to others,” namely, the Gentiles. Jesus was speaking of the beginning of the Christian church among the Gentiles.
- LIFE APPLICATION – BROKEN OR CRUSHED?
- The word “broken” conjures up uniformly negative images: broken bones, broken hearts, broken toys. You don’t want something you value to be broken. Conversely, in God’s dictionary, brokenness is not only good but also essential. He uses only people whose hearts, volition, and pride have been broken. Jesus gives a double warning: those who “fall on that stone”—himself—will be broken to pieces, while those “on whom it falls” will be crushed. God offers a choice of “brokennesses.” Those who cast themselves on Jesus, submitting their wills and all that they are to him, will be broken by him of arrogance, hard-heartedness, self-centeredness. It is not a pleasant process but an absolutely necessary one. For those who do not submit to him, he will ultimately “fall on them,” an experience that can only be described as “crushing.” The choice is yours: broken before him, or crushed by him.
20:17-18 Quoting Psalm 118:22, Jesus showed the unbelieving leaders that even their rejection of the Messiah had been prophesied in Scripture. Psalm 118 was a key part of the Passover Service—all the pilgrims coming to Passover would recite 118:25-26 as they came to Jerusalem. The religious leaders had been reciting this passage for years without understanding or applying it (see John 5:39-40). In Jesus’ quotation, the “son” of the parable became the stone of this prophecy; the “tenant farmers” of the parable became the builders. Rejecting the cornerstone was dangerous. A person could be tripped or crushed (judged and punished).
Jesus used this metaphor to show that one stone can affect people different ways, depending on how they relate to it (see Isaiah 8:14-15; 28:16; Daniel 2:34, 44-45). Ideally they will build on it; many, however, will trip over it. Although Jesus had been rejected by many of his people, he would become the “cornerstone” of his new building, the church (see Acts 4:11 and 1 Peter 2:6-7).
20:19 This delegation that had been sent to demand answers from Jesus (20:1-2) realized that Jesus was pointing at them—they were the farmers in the story. They would have arrested Jesus on the spot, but he was still surrounded by crowds of eager listeners, and they were afraid there would be a riot. There was nothing to do but go away to gather new ideas and think of new questions to try to trap Jesus.
Religious Leaders Question Jesus about Paying Taxes / 20:20-26
Although the religious leaders had been outwitted by Jesus once (20:1-8), they did not give up. They returned with another carefully thought-out question to trap him. This new question related to taxation: to pay or not to pay taxes to Rome. If Jesus answered in the affirmative either way, he would be in a predicament. It was a perfect trap, or so the Pharisees thought.
20:20 The religious leaders continued their attempts to get Jesus to say something that could be reported to the authorities. They sent secret agents pretending to be honest men. These men addressed Jesus as if he were a mediator, inviting him to settle their dispute regarding whether or not to pay taxes to Caesar.
- LIFE APPLICATION – LISTENER OR CRITIC?
- There is a story about the comedian W. C. Fields (never noted for his Christian beliefs) reading the Bible on his deathbed. “Getting religious at the eleventh hour?” someone asked him. “No,” Fields replied. “Just checking for loopholes.” There are different reasons for investigating Jesus’ life and works. People can come to him openly and honestly, sincerely wanting to know what he is all about and what it means to be his follower. Or they can come to him like the spies, only looking for something to criticize. God knows everyone’s heart. He knows whether a person comes to him as a seeker or a cynic. Ask him to give you an open, receptive heart to hear his truth.
20:21-22 Pretending to be honest men (20:20), these spies flattered Jesus before asking him a question that was a hot topic in Palestine at the time, “Is it right to pay taxes to the Roman government or not?” Obviously it was lawful according to Caesar, but was it lawful according to God’s law? The Jews hated having to pay taxes to Rome. If Jesus said they should pay taxes, they would call him a traitor to their nation and their religion. But if he said they should not, the religious leaders could report him to Rome as a rebel. The crowd waited expectantly for Jesus’ answer. Jesus’ questioners thought they had him this time, but he outwitted them again.
20:23-25 Jesus asked someone in the crowd to show him a Roman coin. This would have been a silver coin with a picture of the reigning Caesar on it. The tax paid to Rome was paid in these coins. The title referred to Caesar as divine and as “chief priest.” The Caesars were worshiped as gods by the pagans, so the claim to divinity on the coin itself repulsed the Jews. In addition, Caesar’s image on the coins was a constant reminder of Israel’s subjection to Rome.
Jesus’ answer surprised everyone: “Give to Caesar what belongs to him. But everything that belongs to God must be given to God.” Having a coin meant being part of that country, so citizens should acknowledge the authority of Caesar and pay for the benefits accorded to them by his empire (for example, peace and an efficient road system). They would lose much and gain little if they refused to pay Caesar’s taxes (see Romans 13:1-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-6; 1 Peter 2:13-17).
Paying the taxes, however, did not have to mean submission to the divinity claimed by the emperor through the inscription on the coins. Caesar had the right to claim their tax money, but he had no claim on their souls. The Jews had a responsibility to give to God what was his. While they lived in the Roman world, the Jews had to face the dual reality of subjection to Rome and responsibility to God. Jesus explained that they could do both if they kept their priorities straight. The tax would be paid as long as Rome held sway over Judea, but God had rights on eternity and on their lives.
*We too must also give to God what is God’s. Our taxes today may be “taken” out of our check, but we still should willingly, lovingly and out of faith give God the tithe or 10% he asks for.
20:26 In his reply, Jesus did not show rebellion against Caesar, nor did he show any disloyalty to God and his law. This answer amazed and silenced Jesus’ questioners. Their amazement showed that Jesus had been victorious over his opponents. They had tried to trap him, but he stayed one step ahead of them (see also 20:39-40).
Religious Leaders Question Jesus about the Resurrection / 20:27-40
Jesus had already evaded two traps laid by the Jewish religious leaders—one involving his authority and then one on Roman taxation. They were determined to embarrass Jesus. The Sadducees used a standard theological question they had often used to discredit the idea of a resurrection, which was a belief of the Pharisees. Jesus rose to this occasion, as well, and he exposed the Sadducees’ ignorance of the Scripture and of God’s infinite power.
20:27 No sooner had one delegation withdrawn from Jesus in amazement than another appeared to take up the cause. The Sadducees were a group of conservative Jewish religious leaders who honored only the Pentateuch—Genesis through Deuteronomy—as Scripture. They did not believe in a resurrection of the dead because they could find no mention of it in those books.
20:28 In the law, Moses had written that if a man were to die without a son, his unmarried brother (or nearest male relative) should marry the widow and produce children. The first son of this marriage would be considered the heir of the dead man (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). The main purpose of the instruction was to produce an heir and guarantee that the family would not lose their land. The book of Ruth gives an example of this law in operation (Ruth 3:1–4:12; see also Genesis 38:1-26). This law, called “levirate” marriage, protected the widow (in that culture widows usually had no means to support themselves) and allowed the family line to continue.
20:29-33 In order to show what they perceived as the absurdity of believing in the resurrection, the Sadducees offered a hypothetical situation in which the same woman married and outlived seven brothers, but never had any children. This particular woman would have had a real problem because when she and her seven husbands would be resurrected, the Sadducees asked, “Whose wife will she be?” Their problem lay in their view of resurrection, and the God who, throughout Scripture, promised it. The Sadducees had brought God down to their level and decided that because they could not make sense out of resurrection life, God couldn’t raise the dead. They did not consider for a moment that God, Creator and Sustainer of all life, could not only raise the dead, but create entirely new lives that would be different from what people had on this earth.
20:34-36 Jesus pointed out that there are differences between life in this age and life in the age to come. The resurrection life in heaven will not be merely a continuation of life on this earth. Here in this world, people marry and are given in marriage. However, those who do get to heaven will find that their lives are not merely extended into eternity, but that everything is different. They won’t be marrying or being given in marriage (as per the Sadducees question). They will never die again. Believers anticipate a resurrection to a life of no more tears or sorrow (Revelation 21:4).
- LIFE APPLICATION- NO MARRIAGE IN HEAVEN?
- Many people are jolted at the prospect of eternal life without marriage with their partner on earth and the physical relationship that goes along with it because it is one of earth’s greatest pleasures. At first reading, Jesus seems to imply as much here.
- At its very best, sexual activity creates a great sense of oneness between lovers, a superb moment of intense intimacy, and wonderful physical feelings. Lovers wish their excitement would last and last, but too quickly life returns to normal.
- People who ponder eternity (and who doesn’t?) are right to hope that the freedom, intensity, and intimacy they experience now will be transformed, expanded, and made utterly glorious in new life with God in heaven, where joys last and last, and never grow old.
- Believers don’t know what God has planned, but they trust in his love. The beauty and excitement they feel now is not a trick but a foretaste of an even better experience.
- In the new heaven and new earth, the relationships among all Christian brothers and sisters will be so intense, so filled with love, that earthly marital bliss will seem shallow by comparison.
In the new heaven and new earth, marriage will no longer be needed. Inheritance laws and property rights will be irrelevant. It is important to human beings in this world, but it will not be a needed feature of the Kingdom. In addition, marriage is needed in this world in order to produce children and thereby continue the human race. This also will not be needed in the Kingdom because no one can die there. Death will have been banished and will not affect people in the Kingdom (Revelation 20:14).
Believers will be like angels regarding marriage. Having been raised to new life, those in heaven will no longer be governed by physical laws but will be like angels; that is, believers will share the immortal and exalted nature of angels, living above physical needs.
Jesus was not teaching that people will not recognize their spouses in heaven, thereby dissolving the eternal aspect of marriage. Nor was he doing away with sexual differences or teaching that people will be asexual beings after death. Nor was he teaching that the angels are asexual. Little can be learned about sex and marriage in heaven from this one statement by Jesus. His point was simply that people must not think of the next life as an extension of life as they now know it. Relationships in this life are limited by time, death, and sin; in the new heaven and new earth they will be different from here and now.
20:37-38 After addressing their question about marriage, Jesus answered the Sadducees’ assumption about the resurrection which was the real issue. Jesus based his answer on the writings of Moses, an authority the Sadducees respected. Even Moses proved that there is a resurrection for when he wrote about the burning bush, he wrote of the patriarchs as though they were still alive (Exodus 3:6). , from God’s perspective, they were alive. God had a continuing relationship with these men because of the truth of the resurrection. In Matthew and Mark, the entire quote from Exodus 3:6 is used, with God saying, “I am the God of . . .”—with the argument being that God, speaking in the present tense, was affirming his continuing relationship with these men. Therefore he is the God of the living, not the dead. God continues his relationship with them because they are all alive to him. Death separates people from their loved ones on earth, but it cannot separate believers from God.
20:39-40 The teachers of religious law (Pharisees), who also had been attempting to trick Jesus, had to congratulate Jesus on this answer to the Sadducees. This question had probably stumped the Pharisees for some time, and at last the Sadducees had been duly silenced. At this time, the questions ended, for no one dared to ask any more.
- LIFE APPLICATION – OFFENSE VS DEFENSE
- When discussing their faith with others, believers often find themselves on the defensive: answering objections, giving reasons for their beliefs, communicating what often seems incommunicable. No wonder many believers are uncomfortable witnessing to others. They may be able to give reasons for their faith (1 Peter 3:15), but there is also a place for putting the skeptic on the defensive. Sometimes it may be difficult to give answers for one’s faith, but it is even more difficult to defend a lack of belief or outright cynicism. Jesus turned the tables in such a fashion. After meeting the challenges of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the scribes, Jesus asked them some penetrating questions, designed to expose the shallowness of their unbelief. Defense, as any championship sports team will tell you, is crucial, but so is the ability to put the other team on the defensive. Are you knowledgeable enough about your beliefs to go on the offensive? If not, consider taking a class or reading a book in apologetics.
*For good apologetic or defense of the faith material, check out the writings Lee Strobel or Josh McDowell.
Religious Leaders Cannot Answer Jesus’ Question / 20:41-44
Jesus had already emerged victorious over his opponents on three separate occasions (20:1-8, 20-26, 27-40). Jesus took the offense, challenging his opponents with a question of his own: Who is the Son of David? With this question, Jesus identified the weakness of the religious teachers’ thinking. They had not sufficiently examined what the Scripture said about the coming Messiah.
20:41-44 Jesus asked the leaders a question about the Messiah’s identity. He turned to Psalm 110:1 and asked how the Messiah is said to be the son of David. Jesus quoted these words, explaining what the religious leaders should have understood. David wrote, “The Lord said to my Lord.” The first “Lord” is Yahweh, the Hebrew name for God the Father. The second “Lord” in Hebrew is Adonai and refers to David speaking of the coming Messiah as his “Lord.” The phrase, sit in honor at my right hand, means that the Messiah would sit at the right side of God’s throne, the place of highest honor and authority in God’s coming Kingdom. “Until I humble your enemies” describes the final conquering of sin and evil. There is an inherent problem in the prophecy because it makes no sense that David would call the Messiah “Lord” when the Lord was also his “son.” The only way to understand this is to see the Messiah as more than a mere human being (see Romans 1:2-4). David himself didn’t think the Messiah would be just one of his descendants; instead, David, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said that the Messiah would be God. The answer to Jesus’ question is that David was clearly saying the Messiah was his Lord. By this statement, Jesus was revealing his divine identity. The divine Messiah had, indeed, come in human form; he was standing among them.
Jesus Warns against the Religious Leaders / 20:45-47
Luke, like the other Synoptic writers (see Matthew 23:1-12; Mark 12:38-40), concluded this section, which describes the confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders (19:45–21:4), with Jesus’ severe condemnation of the teachers of religious law. Their concern for outward appearances over the condition of their own hearts, especially their total inattention to justice and mercy, was despicable in God’s eyes.
20:45-47 The teachers of religious law loved the benefits associated with their position, and they sometimes cheated the poor in order to get even more benefits. Jesus warned his followers to beware of them. They were supposed to be just what their title implied—teachers who led people into the truth of God; instead, they loved the “perks” of their position and did just the opposite. They led people away from God.
The reference to parading in flowing robes and being bowed to in the marketplaces pictured these religious leaders who went through the market in their long robes receiving bows of respect from everyone. These actions were motivated by vanity. They loved the seats of honor in the synagogues and at banquets because those seats were reserved for the most important people. The accusation of cheating widows out of their property pictured the teachers’ abuse of their trusted position. Because they received no pay for their services, they depended on the hospitality of devout Jews. It was considered an act of piety for people to help them. But some of these religious men were using their position to defraud the gullible. They were in a position to exploit people, cheating the poor out of everything they had, and taking advantage of the rich. How could they deserve anything but condemnation! Their lengthy public prayers, Jesus said, amounted to no more than a cover up. Their long prayers were not conversations with the Lord, but were merely ploys to make people think they were especially holy. Through their pious actions they hoped to gain status, recognition, and respect.
The punishment for these leaders would be especially severe because as teachers they were responsible for shaping the faith of the people. Jesus solemnly announced, “Their punishment will be the greater.”
How strange to think that the teachers of the law would receive the worst punishment. But behind their appearance of holiness and respectability, they were arrogant, crafty, selfish, and uncaring. Jesus exposed their evil hearts. He showed that despite their pious words, they were neglecting God’s laws and doing as they pleased. Religious deeds do not cancel sin. God will punish people who use their position of responsibility to cheat others. Whatever resources you have been given, use them to help others and not just yourself.
Until tomorrow, Darrell
Sources: Life Application Bible Commentary, Life Application Bible Notes, Life Application Concise New Testament Commentary
For more about The Ridge Fellowship see: www.ridgefellowship.com