THE GOSPEL OF LUKE

THE PASSION NARRATIVE
Luke 19:11-24:53

Conflict in the Temple
Luke 20:1-47

. INTRODUCTION

I once had a friend named Sally, now deceased, who had a son named Kent. She would tell me about Kent's best friend, Jill. She would proudly tell me that Jill loved Kent so much that in Jill's eyes, Kent could do no wrong. I remarked that I was not sure that was friendship; rather it smacked of idolatry. Why? If I am somebody's friend, I am going to warn them against doing something destructive, even if my friend wants to do it, even if it means costing me my friendship with that person. Friends don't let friends drive drunk. Love many times risks a relationship with a friend for the sake of that friend.

In Luke 20 Jesus risks His relationship with the Jewish religious leaders by confronting them. He is not trying to harm them; He is not trying to condemn them in a self-righteous manner. Rather Jesus knows that the religious leaders are on a path to eternal destruction, not only for themselves but also for the vast majority of the Jews. As a result it is necessary to bring them to repentance.

But how can Jesus bring them to repentance? By exposing them for who they really are. They think of themselves as masters of the universe. They have built for themselves in Israel kingdoms of power and vast wealth. Jesus threatens their kingdoms; He must be crushed. Jesus has to show them that they are not viable spiritual leaders over God's people. Rather they are frauds, counterfeits, posing as men of God. Through their debates with Jesus the Jewish religious leaders will be exposed for what they are. Only then will they have the chance to wake up and repent.

(It is a fact of life that most people follow their leaders, for good or for ill. As a result it is not only for the sake of the Jewish religious leaders that Jesus takes them on; it is for the sake of the people themselves. A heavy responsibility lies upon the shoulders of any leader, especially a religious leader.)


THE SOURCE OF JESUS' AUTHORITY (20:1-8)

Jesus has just entered Jerusalem triumphantly as Israel's Messiah and has just cleansed the temple courtyard. This last event especially irked the religious authorities. The merchants in the courtyards were not renegade business men; their business had been sanctioned by the religious authorities. An attack on the merchants in the temple was nothing less than an attack on the authority of the religious leaders. Moreover, this act was an act that only the Messiah could perform (Malachi 3:3). The religious leaders now turn the tables on Jesus and ask Him where He got this authority from.

Jesus though counters their question with a question of His own. Jesus asks if John the Baptist received His authority from heaven or from men. This question caught the Jewish leaders off guard. They are facing a serious dilemma right now. They have chosen to take on Jesus in full view of the public. They are wanting to discredit Him in the eyes of the people because the only thing standing between Jesus and certain death is the people. Once He loses their support, they will feel free to kill Him. The people though are going to determine the way the religious leaders respond to Jesus. Instead of Jesus feeling threatened by the people, the Jewish religious leaders are feeling threatened by the people.

The dilemma facing the religious leaders is this. If they claim that John's authority came from earth, then they are going to feel the wrath of the people. Since the time of Malachi 300+ years earlier, God had not spoken to Israel. With the ministry of John God has once more begun speaking to Israel. Many of them had actually gone out into the wilderness to be baptized by John. If the religious leaders claim that John's authority was only from men and not from God, they would be invalidating the people's religious experiences at the hands of John, something the people would take unkindly. On the other hand, if they cower before the people and claim that John's authority came from heaven, then Jesus has won. Why? When John baptized people, he did so in order to prepare them for the coming of the Messiah. Not only did John claim that the Messiah had come, he claimed that Jesus was that Messiah. As the Messiah Jesus would have every right to cleanse the temple and to lay claim to the obedience of the religious leaders. This was something the religious leaders would never admit. Their only response then could be that they did not know where John's authority came from.

This response though thoroughly discredited them as Israel's religious leaders. If they did not know where John's authority came from, then surely they were too incompetent to be the religious leaders of God's people. Jesus has won a decisive victory over the chief priests and other religious leaders, and they know it. They are going to have to approach Jesus a little differently now if they are going to be able to discredit Him in the eyes of the people.


THE PARABLE OF THE TENANTS (20:9-18)

At this point Jesus relates a parable which basically describes what is really going on in His conflict with the Jewish religious leaders. Jesus will show that the conflict is not a new one; rather what is going on between Him and the Jews is nothing less than the climax of God's dealings with the Jews for the past 1700 years.

In this parable a Man plants a vineyard and then places some tenants over the vineyard to MANAGE the vineyard, not to OWN the vineyard, but to manage it. It is easy to identify the different elements in this parable. The Man refers to God, the tenants refer to the Jewish people represented by the Jewish religious leaders, and the vineyard represents the privileges and status enjoyed by the Jewish people, especially the privilege of being the instruments God would use to reveal Himself and salvation to the world.

After a long period of time the owner of the vineyard sends messengers to collect the profits generated by the vineyard. Over a period of time he will send 3 different messengers. The tenants rebuff each of the messengers, the treatment becoming harsher and harsher with each new messenger. Finally, the owner of the vineyard decides that He will send His Son to the tenants. The owner reasons that surely the tenants would not reject His Son. Little though did the owner realize how vicious the tenants were. They reason among themselves that if they kill the Son who is to inherit the vineyard, there will be no one else to inherit the vineyard. As a result the vineyard will go to them by default. When the Son arrives, the tenants drag Him outside the vineyard and put Him to death. (At this point the vineyard represents Jerusalem because Jesus was put to death outside the city walls.) The owner now has no other choice than to kill the tenants and entrust the vineyard to someone else.

The Jewish religious leaders correctly understand that Jesus has directed this parable against them. In just a few short sentences Jesus has outlined not only their attitude towards Jesus and God; He has also outlined the entire history of the Jewish response to God. The Jewish hatred for Jesus was not a mere blip on the screen of God's relationship with the Jewish people. It culminated centuries of the Jews constantly rejecting God and His messengers the prophets.

There was a difference though this time between the prophets and Jesus. The three messengers in the parables were the prophets, while the Son was none other than Jesus. For God this was the Jews' last chance. It was one thing for the Jews to reject the prophets; it was quite another for them to reject the Son. If they rejected the Son, there was no one left for them to accept, He being the highest of all beings. As a result whenever the Jews rejected Jesus the Son, God felt that there was no other recourse for Him than to take the vineyard away from the Jewish people.

What was the significance of God taking the vineyard away from the Jews? From that point on, although they were still God's people, they were no longer to be the instrument God would use to bring salvation to the earth. Rather He was now turning to the Gentiles, specifically the Gentile church, to be the instrument He would use to bring salvation to mankind. Now God's presence would be manifested in the Gentile church, not in the Jewish people. [This does not mean that God would not use the Jews later before Christ returned (Rom. 11:25-26). In the meantime though God would take His blessings away from the Jewish nation and bestow them upon the Gentile church.] This shows that whereas God is patient, he is not ETERNALLY patient.

The Jews are horrified at such a thought. They burst out: "May it never be!" (This is as close to cursing as it gets in the Bible.) They cannot fathom God taking the vineyard away from them. Jesus though replies that not only is this going to happen, but that the OT itself prophesied that this would occur. According to Psalm 118:22 the Messiah (Jesus) would be the major cornerstone in the building God was erecting. (The cornerstone was important because it stabilized the building.) According to this psalm the chief builders (the Jewish religious leaders) were going to reject the Messiah. They were going to stumble over Him in the sense that they were going to be offended at Him and His claims upon them. They would reject this precious cornerstone God had sent. The result was that God was going to drop this cornerstone upon them and pulverize them so that they would burst into tiny little particles which would be scattered to the four winds. Destruction is coming to Israel.


TRIBUTE TO CAESAR (20:19-26)

The Jewish religious leaders understand that they are getting thrashed in their confrontation with Jesus. They hated Jesus to such an extent that the Pharisees and Herodians* who were violently opposed to each other actually formed an alliance to destroy Jesus' credibility with the people. They devised a plan to put Jesus in a lose-lose situation. First, they ironically describe Jesus as being a righteous teacher from God who did not care what other people thought. He cared only for the truth. They then ask Him if it is lawful for the Jews to pay taxes to Caesar.

The Jewish leaders consider this a lose-lose situation for Jesus because if He says, "Yes," then He will lose favor with the people and if He says, "No," then the Romans will arrest Him for treason. Jesus though asks them to produce for Him a coin. When they do, He asks them whose image is on the coin. This question is so important because it correctly assumes that the coin belongs to Caesar whose image is on the coin. Caesar's government minted it; it's a part of his economy which the Jewish people are benefitting from. When they reply the image is that of Caesar, Jesus replies: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's." (Although the Jewish religious leaders hate Jesus, they are impressed with His response and His command of the situation.)

Unfortunately Jesus' response has been taken out of context to justify the most outrageous positions. For example, some would claim that this statement means that there is an inviolable wall separating the church from the state. That is not what Jesus said (neither is it what the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says). The entire Bible teaches that all of life falls beneath the umbrella of God's authority, even governments. God is going to hold all government leaders accountable for the way they have governed His nations. As a result, presidents and congress people need to vote their conscience before God and not pander to the whims of the U. S. populace. Others, such as Martin Luther, basically taught that a crime against the state was always a crime against God. As a result Lutheran Germany submitted to Nazi atrocities. German Lutherans assuaged their conscience regarding Hitler's atrocities by appealing to this principle.

Jesus is teaching that all things fall beneath the umbrella of God's authority; yet He has delegated certain rights, responsibililties, and functions to the government. Taxation is one of the functions and rights God has farmed out to governments. I may not like the degree to which I am taxed. I might even vote for politicians who will lower my taxes; however, I have no right at all to rail against this function of the government. (Paul elaborates on other responsibilities of governments in Rom. 13:1-7.)


THE WOMAN WITH 7 HUSBANDS AND THE RESURRECTION (20:27-40)

In one last desperate attempt the Sadducees attempt to discredit Jesus by opening Him up to ridicule. (A person has been totally neutralized if he becomes nothing more than a joke.) The Sadducees realize that Jesus stands in a conservatively religious tradition. They correctly assume that He believes in life after death and the resurrection of the dead. They, on the other hand, do not acknowledge either of these 2 beliefs because they are not explicitly taught in the Law of Moses. (They did not reject the rest of the OT; it's just that they interpreted the rest of the OT in light of Moses' Law. If it was not in Moses' Law, then it was not authoritative for them.)

The Sadducees combine the belief in the resurrection with the levirate law as they attack Jesus. The levirate law taught that if a woman's husband died and she was childless, it was up to his brother (or nearest of kin) to marry her and produce children by her. These children then would legally be the offspring of her first husband, not the children's biological father. In this particular case the first husband dies, leaving her childless. She marries her husband's oldest brother who also dies and leaves her childless. She eventually marries all 6 of her husband's brothers who all die and leave her childless. At last the woman dies. She goes to heaven where she meets all 7 of her husbands. The question the Sadducees ask is which brother will be her husband in heaven.

Jesus replies that their question indicates 2 problems with their reasoning. First of all heaven transforms human relationships. Marriage between men and women is an earthly phenomenon. The only marriage in heaven is that between Christ and the church. Instead each of us will be transformed so that sexual relations will be unnecessary since we shall experience the closest, most intimate relationships with people without sexual relationships. We shall be as the angels.

According to Jesus the Sadducees though have a much bigger problem to deal with--their denial of the resurrection. They claimed that since Moses did not specifically promote the doctrine of the resurrection, it was intellectually unsound to believe in it. Jesus then takes them on their own terms. Since the Sadducees claimed that Moses was the authority, Jesus would appeal to Moses. In the writings of Moses God says, "I AM the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob" (Exodus 3:6). The verb tense is what is critical here; it implies that God has a LIVING relationship with these 3 patriarchs. God does not say, "I WAS the God of Abraham . . . "; He says, "I AM the God of Abraham . . ." If Abraham were dead, then God would have said, "I WAS the God of Abraham . . ."; the fact that He says, "I Am . . ." means "I STILL AM the God of Abraham . . ." In other words, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are still alive. Their continued existence proves that there is life after death.


JESUS AS THE MESSIAH IS MORE THAN A MERE MAN (20:41-47)

At this point the religious leaders give up. Jesus has vanquished them at every point in the conflict. Why did Jesus outshine the Jewish religious leaders in their conflict? In agreement with what Jesus says in this next section, the conflict was not between a group of men and another man; it was between experts in the OT and the author of the OT; the conflict was between man and God.

In order to show the religious leaders who they are dealing with, Jesus points them to Psalm 110:1, a passage regarding the Messiah. The Jews basically believed 2 things about the Messiah: (1) he would be a mighty descendant of David who would free God's people and (2) though he was an awesome man, he was still going to be nothing more than a man. Jesus though by referring to this passage shows that the Messiah was more than a man. In this passage David refers to 2 people, the first person who is called "the Lord" and a second person who is also called "the Lord." Although both people are called "the Lord," they are not the same persons. The first person called "the Lord" is God Himself; the second person called "the Lord" was believed to be the Messiah, David's son.

Now it was customary in the ancient world to consider fathers greater than their sons and future descendants. Yet look at what David does here. David who writes this psalm calls his future descendant, the Messiah, "my Lord." In other words, David is claiming that the Messiah is greater than he. How can this be? It is a question Jesus wants the Jews to answer. How is it that Jesus who is claiming to be the Messiah is so much greater than David, to be much greater than them, the religious experts in Israel? It is because He is more than man; He is God Himself, God the Son.

____________________

Endnotes

*The Herodians and Pharisees could not have been further apart spiritually and politically. The Pharisees were highly religious, observing the Law of Moses and the multitude of oral laws they had added to Moses' law. The Herodians were primarily secular in their approach to life. They aligned themselves with the Herodian dynasty started by Herod the Great, the half-breed Jew whom the Jews detested.