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Pett's Commentary on the Bible Pett's Commentary
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Luke 20". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ pet/ luke-20.html. 2013.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Luke 20". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
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‘And it came about that, on one of the days, as he was teaching the people in the temple, and preaching the gospel, there came on him the chief priests and the scribes with the elders,’
So one day while He was teaching in the Temple, and preaching the Good News of the Kingly Rule of God, the members of the Sanhedrin approached Him. The chief priests were the leading authorities in the Temple including the High Priest himself, the temple Treasurer, the leaders of the priestly courses, ex-High Priests, and their blood relations. The Scribes mainly represented Pharisaic opinion, although there were some Scribes of the Sadducees. The elders were the wealthy laymen from aristocratic families.
Jesus Is Challenged By The Sanhedrin Members As To His Authority (19:47-20:8).
This challenge came at the beginning of this week in which Jesus was constantly tested out, and in each case His replies were more than sufficient to deal with the matters brought against Him, so that there soon came a time when they dared not ask Him any more questions. This first challenge was as to His authority for doing ‘the things’ that He does. Probably largely in mind by ‘the thongs’ was the incident of the cleansing of the Temple, but it also included his miracles and His apparent occasional disregard for the Sabbath. Their purpose in coming there was deliberately in order to show Him up before all the people, for they knew that if they were to be able to do with Him what they wanted, it was first necessary to get the support of the people. So their first aim was to demonstrate to the crowds that in fact He had no authority.
Their question seemed reasonable. There was no doubt that He was claiming some special kind of authority, and that He had caused some disruption in the Temple, and it was after all their genuine responsibility to check the credentials of any who claimed such religious authority, and they were also responsible for public order, especially in the Temple. Yet the fact is that they had had plenty of opportunity for questioning Him and weighing Him up before this, and even now they could have spoken with Him in private and discussed matters reasonably. But the truth was that they had taken on an attitude of extreme belligerence. For the way in which Jesus now dealt with them demonstrated that He saw their challenge as hostile, not as neutral.
That their approach was over more than just His actions in the Temple comes out in the strength of the deputation. His act in the Temple could have been dealt with by the Temple police. It was His whole activity that was in question and the ‘hidden’ claims that He was thus making.
a He was teaching daily in the temple. But the chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people sought to destroy Him (Luke 19:47).
b They could not find what they might do, for the people all hung on Him, listening (Luke 19:48).
c And it came about that, on one of the days, as He was teaching the people in the temple, and preaching the gospel, there came on Him the chief priests and the scribes with the elders, and they spoke, saying to Him, “Tell us, by what authority do you do these things? or who is he who gave you this authority?” (Luke 20:1-2).
d He answered and said to them, “I also will ask you a question, and you tell me, The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or from men?” (Luke 20:3-4).
c And they reasoned with themselves, saying, “If we shall say, From heaven, he will say, Why did you not believe him? But if we shall say, From men, all the people will stone us, for they are persuaded that John was a prophet” (Luke 20:5-6).
b They answered, that they knew not whence it was (Luke 20:7).
a And Jesus said to them, “Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things” (Luke 20:8).
Note that in ‘a’ the leaders of Israel acting in God’s name (they come officially together) but on their own authority were determined to destroy Him, while in the parallel Jesus refused to divulge His authority which was from that same God, on the grounds that they had revealed their incapacity to judge it. In ‘b’ they were baffled as to what to do before the people, and in the parallel they were baffled in seeking to answer Jesus’ question. In ‘c’ they questioned His authority, and in the parallel they reasoned unsuccessfully concerning John’s authority. Centrally in ‘d’ came the crunch question about the source of John’s authority.
Jesus Preaches In The Temple (19:47-21:38).
Having driven the traders out of the Temple in His prophetic zeal Jesus then revealed the greatness of His great courage by returning daily to that same Temple in order to teach the people. As the traders, who would quickly have returned, watched with baleful eyes, and the Temple police stood by alert for trouble, Jesus boldly entered the Temple again, and ignoring both, proceeded to address the crowds gathered there. Indeed the great crowds that gathered to Him would make it seem to the authorities as though He had almost taken over the Temple, apart from the Sanctuary itself.
And perhaps that was how He intended it to be seen. Having driven out the traders He has now taken possession of it in the name of the Lord, for its genuine purpose, that of proclaiming the word of God within it (a theme of Luke/Acts) and of prayer. In the coming months and years this will be one of its purposes until at length it will be finally rejected because it had rejected Him (see Luke 19:47. Luke 20:1; Luke 21:37-38; Luke 24:53; Acts 2:46; Acts 3:1; Acts 3:8; Acts 4:1; Acts 5:20-21; Acts 5:25; Acts 5:42). While it continued as the hub of the Jewish religion, it also became for a time the source from which light could go out from the Jews to the world (Isaiah 2:2-4).
But whereas the authorities wanted to arrest Him they did not dare make a move in public, because He was too popular. They were forced to recognise that any move against Him could only result in tumult, and that that would then bring down on them the wrath of their Roman overlords. Thus they turned to a new tactic, and got together to decide how they might discredit Him in the eyes of the people. They knew that if they could only do that, then they could take Him. This therefore resulted in a number of challenges which are found in what follows. These included the challenge as to His authority for behaving as He did (Luke 20:1-8), the challenge as to whether it was right to give tribute to Caesar (Luke 20:20-26) , and the challenge concerning the truth of the resurrection (Luke 20:27-38).
In dealing with these Jesus not only showed them up as being hypocritical and incompetent, but went on to denounce them and their fellow leaders by means of a parable which demonstrated their connection with the villainy of those who in the past had persecuted those sent from God (Luke 20:9-18). Within this parable at the same time He revealed His own uniqueness as God’s only Son. Then once their challenges were exhausted He riposted with a quotation from Scripture concerning His Messiahship (Luke 20:41-44), following it up with a further attack on the Scribes (Luke 20:45-47) and a contrasting of them with an impoverished widow whose godly giving aroused His admiration (Luke 21:1-4). This was then followed by His description to His disciples of the future destruction of the Temple, along with prophecies concerning the future, which ended up with the promise of His return in glory (Luke 21:5-36). And during all this period He continued teaching daily to the crowds in the Temple (Luke 21:37-38).
In all these episodes Luke was calling, at least to some extent, on Marcan material, but altered so as to suit the points that he was trying to get over, and in terms of other information received. This was, however done without altering their essential message. It all begins with an attack on His authority.
‘And they spoke, saying to him, “Tell us, by what authority do you do these things? or who is he who gave you this authority?” ’
Their question, as an official deputation from the leadership, was twofold. Firstly on what did He base His authority for His actions, and secondly, who had given Him that authority? Did He, for example, claim Rabbinic authority, or Prophetic authority, or what? And if any of these, who had so authorised Him? To them ‘authorisation’ by the right people was all. Unless a man was authorised he had no right to speak. What authorisation then had Jesus?
The approach was high handed and officious. ‘By what authority -- who gave you this authority?’ Their first hope was that He would have no answer and be caught unprepared. Then the people would see that He was a charlatan. Alternately they were hoping to make Him declare Himself, and say something ‘foolish’, such as making a claim to Messiahship, and whatever He said they would use against Him. They could accuse Him of self-exaltation, or even worse, of being a Messianic claimant and an insurrectionist. So the question was, was He claiming to be a prophet? Was He claiming to be the Messiah? Was He claiming to be the coming Elijah? And if He was not claiming to be anyone so important, how could He then claim to have God’s personal authority? Compare Luke 9:7-8; Mark 6:15; John 1:19-25.
‘And he answered and said to them, “I also will ask you a question, and you tell me, The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or from men?” ’
Jesus replied by using the Rabbinic method of dealing with a question by a question. He had, of course, twofold authority, the first came as a result of what had happened when He had been baptised by John, and John as a prophet had testified to Him both then and afterwards, while the second came through His mighty signs and wonders that demonstrated that God was with Him (see John 5:31-37). This was why initially He had every reason for seeking to establish John’s authority.
So in support of the first basis for His authority He sought to establish the credentials of John the Baptiser, and He did it by a counter-question. But while we need not doubt that He probably saw it as a foregone conclusion that His opponents would dodge the question, for how could they do otherwise when they had not supported John, it was not a trick question. The answer to it was fundamental to His own claims. But although they had not supported John, He would know that they would not dare speak against John because of the number of John’s supporters among the crowds. So He certainly knew that He was putting them on the spot.
The question that He put was outwardly simple and straightforward. Here they were claiming the authority to decide on other people’s claims to authority, so let them now tell Him and the crowd the answer to this question, “The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or from men?” The way He put the question was very subtle, for He and they knew that they were surrounded by people who had been baptised by John, a baptism which they believed to be extremely important to them. Thus, as they themselves realised, to have denied John’s baptism in front of such a festal crowd, who were in a high state of religious emotion, and many of whom treasured the fact that they had been baptised by John, and most of whom saw him as a prophet, would have been the equivalent of suicide. For as a result of his martyrdom John’s memory was especially sanctified.
‘And they reasoned with themselves, saying, “If we shall say, From heaven, he will say, Why did you not believe him? But if we shall say, From men, all the people will stone us, for they are persuaded that John was a prophet.”
His opponents in their discussions together revealed how clearly they themselves recognised their predicament. They knew that if they said that John’s baptism was ‘from Heaven’ Jesus would ask why in that case they had not supported John more, and why they had not listened to him, and promulgated his baptism, and He would then also point out what John had said of Him, describing Him as greater than himself. But if they said ‘from men’ they knew very well that the crowds, who still remembered John vividly, and the method of his death, would stone them for the equivalent of blasphemy. For all the crowds knew that John was a prophet, and at this time feelings were running high. The principle behind the crowd’s thinking would be that while it was true that a false prophet had to be stoned, it was also true that any who falsely accused a true prophet of being a false prophet was also liable to stoning, the false accuser bearing the penalty that would have been that of the accused if the charge had been proved. This was an ancient principle of the Law (see Deuteronomy 13:1-11; Deuteronomy 19:15-21). And the members of the Sanhedrin were well enough aware of the mood of the crowd to realise that feelings were such that such a stoning would be a very likely consequence of any denial.
‘And they answered, that they knew not whence it was.’
So they replied lamely that they did not know the answer to His question. Lame though their reply was they were really left with no option. But we can imagine their sense of extreme humiliation at having to do it. For by answering like this they would know that they were admitting that they in fact were in no position to decide on genuine bases of authority when it came to someone like John. And if they admitted that they could not judge John’s authority, how could they then be credibly seen as being able to judge any prophet’s authority?
Furthermore at the same time the crowds, who were not stupid, would know from their reply exactly what the situation was. To the crowds they would simply be revealing themselves as treacherous. So their whole position was being undermined by their inability to answer, and instead of showing up Jesus they had shown themselves up.
And, of course, the consequence of this was that as they could not decide on what John’s authority was, it was quite clear that there was no point in Jesus appealing to that authority. His appeal must await their deciding on John’s authority. But it had answered the question. For the crowds, who would know of Jesus’ connection with John would again draw their own conclusions. They would accept His authority, both because they accepted John’s authority, and because of His own works and teaching.
‘And Jesus said to them, “Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.” ’
So when Jesus then declared that He was not willing to submit His case to the very people who had admitted that they did not know how to judge a prophet’s authority, the people would recognise that He had really answered their question. His claim was that the source of His authority was the same as that of John, which was what they thought anyway. The Sanhedrin were stymied, and the belief of the people was thus confirmed.
‘And he began to speak to the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into another country for a long time.” ’
Jesus’ words are spoken to the people, but as ever among these were a number of antagonists, including chief priests and Scribes. The idea of Israel as a vineyard is found regularly in the Old Testament. In Isaiah 5:1-7 we have a similar opening to this, ‘My wellbeloved had a vineyard in a very fruitful hill’ (Isaiah 5:1). And there the choicest vine was planted and it produced wild grapes, so that it was ripe for judgment. And that vineyard and vine were Israel and Judah Compare also Psalms 80:8-16; Jeremiah 2:21-22; Hosea 9:10, where again the vineyard is Israel/Judah.
Here the vineyard is planted (Luke omits the further details) and put under the control of others who are made responsible for ensuring that a fair rental in terms of produce is paid to the owner. The owner, Who is clearly the God of Israel, then leaves it in their hands ‘for a long time’. It would take four years for the vineyard to become fruitful in such a way that rents (paid in produce) could be expected (see Leviticus 19:23-25). Even the Jewish leaders recognised that here He was speaking about them (Luke 20:19). It was they who saw themselves as having the responsibility for God’s vineyard.
The Parable of the Wicked Tenants of a Vineyard (20:9-19).
But Jesus did not leave it there, He riposted with a parable that connected His accusers with the slayers of the prophets, by this confirming their connection with others in the past who had been unable to recognise those who came from God, and at the same time remarkably laying down His claim to being the unique and only Son of God, thus answering their question about the source of His authority indirectly, which is one reason why in both in Mark and Luke the parable immediately follows the question about authority.
The importance that Luke places on this parable comes out in that he places it centrally in the chiasmus of the whole Section (see above). It is the message around which the whole chiasmus is based.
In this parable He spoke of Israel as a vineyard, of God as its owner, and of the Jewish leaders as the tenants responsible for it. All this would be recognisable from the Old Testament. Those then sent by the Owner in order to collect the proceeds from the vineyard could only be the prophets, and Who then must be the last to come, the only beloved Son? In view of all His earlier claims we can be in no doubt that it is Jesus. (And yet there are still those who close their eyes and refuse to see this. Spiritual blindness is still among us).
The parable is based on real life. In Palestine at that time there were many farms and vineyards tenanted by tenant farmers, with absent landlords who expected to receive their rents. And we can with regard to some of those farms and vineyards that there was much skulduggery.
With regard to Luke’s sources for the parable, we need have no doubt that he had Mark’s Gospel in front of him, and yet he clearly did not just copy from Mark. It would seem that he also had other sources. This should not surprise us as he would have spoken with a number of people who were probably eyewitnesses, including especially some of the Apostles. His concern was not to ape Mark but to present the truth succintly without altering it, while emphasising what he saw as important.
Analysis of the passage.
a He began to speak to the people this parable. “A man planted a vineyard, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into another country for a long time” (Luke 20:9).
b “And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that they should give him of the fruit of the vineyard, but the husbandmen beat him, and sent him away empty, and he sent yet another servant, and him also they beat, and handled him shamefully, and sent him away empty, and he sent yet a third, and him also they wounded, and cast him out” (Luke 20:10-12).
c “And the lord of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son. It may be that they will reverence him” (Luke 20:13).
d “But when the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned with one another, saying, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours” (Luke 20:14 a).
e “And they cast him forth out of the vineyard, and killed him.” (Luke 20:14 b).
d “What therefore will the lord of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy these husbandmen, and will give the vineyard to others.” And when they heard it, they said, ‘God forbid’ ” (Luke 20:15-16)
c ‘But He looked on them, and said, “What then is this that is written, The stone which the builders rejected, The same was made the head of the corner? Every one who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but on whomsoever it will fall, it will scatter him as dust” (Luke 20:17-18).
b And the scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on Him in that very hour (Luke 20:19 a).
a And they feared the people, for they perceived that He spoke this parable against them (Luke 20:19 b).
Note that in ‘a’ he speaks the parable concerning the husbandmen, and in the parallel the Scribes and Pharisees noted that He spoke it against them. In ‘b’ their ancestors had laid hands on the prophets, and in the parallel they were seeking to lay hands on Jesus. In ‘c’ the Lord determines to send His only Son, trusting that they will at least reverence Him as the One Who represents the owner most closely, and in the parallel they rejected Him with the obvious consequences. In ‘d’ they make their decision to act against the heir and prospective owner by killing Him so as to gain possession of the vineyard, and in the parallel the owner kills them and takes over the vineyard. And centrally in ‘e’ are their acts of deliberate rejection and brutal murder.
“And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that they should give him of the fruit of the vineyard, but the husbandmen beat him, and sent him away empty. And he sent yet another servant, and him also they beat, and handled him shamefully, and sent him away empty. And he sent yet a third, and him also they wounded, and cast him out.”
When the appropriate time came, and no fruit was forthcoming, the owner then sent a number of servants, one by one, in order to collect His portion of the fruit of the vineyard. But in each case the servants were handled shamefully in order to discourage them from persisting or returning. As so often ‘three’ indicates completeness. These three cover all the prophets and men of God down to John.
None would have any difficulty here in recognising that this indicated all godly men who had sought to speak to Israel, and none more so than the true prophets whose treatment by Israel/Judah was a byword.
‘Sent -- a servant.’ See Jeremiah 7:25-26 - ‘I have sent unto you all my servants the prophets, day by day rising up early and sending them -- but they made their neck stiff and did worse than their fathers’, and 2 Chronicles 24:19 - ‘yet He sent prophets to them to bring them again to the Lord’. (See also Matthew 23:30-36). Compare also 2 Chronicles 36:15-19, ‘the Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people, and on His dwellingplace, but they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising His words and scoffing at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, until there was no remedy --- therefore He slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary ---and they burned down the house of God and broke down the walls of Jerusalem’. None knew better than Jesus that history repeats itself. For the maltreatment of successive men of God see also 1 Kings 18:13; 1 Kings 22:27; 2 Chronicles 24:20-21; Nehemiah 9:26; and for the sending of prophets, Jeremiah 25:4; Amos 3:7 Zechariah 1:6. The consequences that followed are also clearly described.
Note that Luke deliberately leaves out the mention of the death of some of the servants. He wants to emphasise the contrast between the servant and the son. It is only the Son Whose death is really significant.
“And the lord of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son. It may be that they will reverence him.’ ”
Finally the owner of the vineyard decided that He would give them one last chance. He would send to them his beloved son. This was with the twofold hope, firstly that they would acknowledge the potential owner as having the right to collect payment, and secondly in the hope that their consciences might be moved at the thought of the special and precious beloved son, with the result that that they would repent and respond to Him. They would recognise that while they might get away with illtreating servants, it would be a very different matter with the only son. In Isaiah 5:1-7 the Beloved was God Himself. Here the Beloved is His Son. Compare also Luke 3:22, ‘You are My beloved Son’. The implication was clear for all who had eyes to see. It is as clear a declaration of Jesus’ uniqueness, and of His Sonship as it is possible to have. Only the spiritually and obstinately blind could fail to see it.
And yet, as was necessary at this time of such bitterness, His claim was couched in such a way that it could not be used as an instrument against Him. All knew, however, that if they questioned Him about it He would come back with one of His devastating questions, such as, ‘Why do you think that this applies to Me?’ All would know that it did, and they would simply be left looking foolish. But it would equally appear foolish to charge Him with blasphemy on account of it unless they were willing to admit His claim.
The sending of the Son is seen as God’s final act towards men. If they will not respond to Him, and to those who go out in His Name, they will not respond to anyone. Hebrews 1:1-3 may well have partly resulted as a consequence of this parable.
Some may argue that no father in his right senses would do such a thing, and they would, of course, be right. But this is not speaking of any father. It is speaking of God. And this is precisely what God amazingly did do. It is meant to sound remarkable. It was remarkable (John 3:16; 1 John 4:9-10; Romans 5:8; Galatians 4:4-5; Hebrews 1:1-3).
“But when the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned with one another, saying, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.’ ”
The reaction of the husbandmen is then given. Reasoning with each other (which has been seen to be a trait of the Jewish leaders - Luke 20:5) they determined what they would do. They would kill the heir so that they might retain control of the inheritance. For the Law allowed for the fact that if those in physical possession of land were able to farm it untroubled by anyone for a number of years they could claim legal possession of it also.
Certainly as the Jewish leaders saw the great crowds hanging on to Jesus’ every word they must have felt that ‘their inheritance’ was slipping away from them. Thus the picture is graphic, and in view of their plans to kill Jesus, telling. And once He was out of the way they would be able to regain control over the inheritance.
‘Let us kill him.’ The words are similar to those used by Joseph’s brothers in Genesis 37:20 (see LXX). Jesus was likening these men to Joseph’s brothers, full of hate and jealousy. They were the forerunners of the persecutors of the prophets, and of these men who now planned Jesus’ downfall.
“And they cast him forth out of the vineyard, and killed him. What therefore will the lord of the vineyard do to them?”
The result was that the servants rejected the son, expelling him from the vineyard and killing him. This was a clear warning to the Jewish leaders that both God and Jesus were fully aware of their murderous intentions. The expulsion from the vineyard indicated that it was their intention that Jesus be seen as excommunicated and cut off from Israel (the vineyard is Israel, not Jerusalem), and the killing simply described what was in their minds. And then He gave His warning, “What therefore will the lord of the vineyard do to them?” Let them think well of the consequences of what they were doing.
Mark has ‘they killed him and cast him forth out of the vineyard’. The ideas are not necessarily contradictory. It is rather a matter of where they wish the emphasis. For if the son was physically attacked and mortally wounded on entering the vineyard, retreating before the onslaught and collapsing dead outside the vineyard under their final blows, either description would be true. The question would then be, is someone killed when they are first mortally wounded, or when they finally collapse and die? The difference is thus one of emphasis, not of chronological order. Luke is wanting to lay stress on the son as being like the One Who is numbered among the Gentiles in His death, as well as on His being killed, Mark’s emphasis is on the blows that commenced the death throes of the son in the first place, the fist initial, vindictive and murderous attack. ‘Killed him and cast him out’ are simply two events that took place together. The verbs in translation can therefore be in any order that fits the grammar, for the physical order of words in one language is never the same as the physical order in another.
‘Cast him forth out of/from the vineyard.’ This could signify:
1) The expulsion of Him from Israel by being cut off from among the people and ‘branded’ a renegade, and an excommunicate
2) The expulsion of Him to take His place among the Gentiles, the greatest humiliation that the Jews could place on a homeborn Israelite.
3) Simply a parabolic description.
As with all Jesus’ parables that were not explained the actual application was left to the listener and the reader, so that different ones could take it in different ways which were not exclusive.
“He will come and destroy these husbandmen, and will give the vineyard to others.” And when they heard it, they said, “God forbid.” ’
What the Lord of the vineyard will do is then spelled out by means of the answer to a typical question. What will He do with them? He will destroy the evil men who have done this thing, and give the vineyard to others. No one could really have been in doubt about the final ending. It was the obvious conclusion. Nevertheless its literal fulfilment was remarkable. For Jerusalem would, within forty years after the death of Jesus, be destroyed, and the care of God’s people would have been removed elsewhere, initially, among other places, to Syrian Antioch (Acts 13:0), and then to the church leaders of the local communities. But Jerusalem would be left empty.
‘To others.’ Presumably the Apostles, compare Luke 22:30; Matthew 16:18-19; Matthew 18:18. We can compare here Matthew 21:43, ‘The Kingly Rule of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation bringing forth its fruits’, not strictly another nation, but a new Israel as headed by His followers. It was of that new Israel, which excluded the unbelievers in the old Israel, that all who became Christians would become a member (Romans 11:17-27; Galatians 3:29; Galatians 6:16; Ephesians 2:11-22).
‘And when they heard it, they said, “God forbid.” ’ As we must surely assume that a good number present recognised the significance of His parable from the start, at least in general outline, some such expostulation is not unexpected. The thought of God’s people being removed from the control of the High Priest and of the Sanhedrin would have appeared to the people like the end of the world. It would sound like another Exile. What would have been surprising would have been if there had been no reaction. For the consequences had been vividly described. This is, of course, a summary of the reaction which would have been even more vociferous. We are not expected to think that everyone said exactly this like some huge automaton. It indicates their intended meaning, not actually what everyone said. But what it does bring out is that they all recognised what the parable was saying.
It should be noted that the fact that the resurrection is not in some way included in the parable serves to confirm that the parable is as given before the resurrection and not altered afterwards. We thus have it in its pre-resurrection state. But the idea of the resurrection is now introduced, although as something added in additionally, not as a direct part of the parable, and it is in the form of a quotation from Scripture.
‘But he looked on them, and said, “What then is this that is written, The stone which the builders rejected, The same was made the head of the corner?” ’
This method of finishing off a parable with a Scripture quotation is regularly found among the Rabbis.
For then Jesus looked at them and emphasised the reference to Himself as the beloved Son by citing Psalms 118:22, and declaring that ‘The stone which the builders rejected, The same was made the head of the corner.’ They might reject Him, He is telling them, but they cannot prevent Him from being made the chief cornerstone of God’s saving purposes. For while they may kill the Son it will not be the end. He will rise again and be the foundation and seal on which God’s salvation will be based. The verse is used similarly in Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:7.
The chief corner stone was either the corner stone of the foundation which had to bear the weight of the building, or the stone which when it was finally set in place, completed the building and held it together as one (the cap-piece). Here it is seen as being in the first place rejected by the builders because they cannot see how it will fit in, only for them to discover in the end that it was the essential cornerstone. (We are not intended to ask whether builders could be so stupid, although no doubt some could. The whole point of the parable is to bring out the stupidity of those of whom it speaks by an exaggerated picture).
In contrast to this firm Foundation Stone on Whom the future will be based, and on which other stones will be erected (Ephesians 2:19-22), are the ‘goodly stones’ of the Temple which will be cast down and left not one stone upon another (Luke 19:44; Luke 21:5-6). The One is to replace the other (compare John 2:19-22; 1 Corinthians 3:11-17; 2 Corinthians 6:16-18).
It should be noted that it was from this Psalm that the people greeted Jesus as He rode into Jerusalem (see Luke 20:26). It was probably a Psalm used in festal situations for among other things welcoming the king or ruler of Israel as he ceremonially entered Jerusalem or the Temple with a view to making an offering (Luke 20:27). It was thus a suitable picture for application to the King Himself Who would shortly offer Himself upon the altar chosen by God.
“Every one who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but on whomsoever it will fall, it will scatter him as dust (or ‘blow him away as chaff’).”
And the stone will not only become the head of the corner, but it will also become a stone of destruction on which men will fall, like a pot on a hard stone, and be broken in pieces, and which itself will fall on men, as a stone may fall on pots, scattering them as dust. The picture may well have in mind the idea of a city which is being destroyed after siege, with stones being torn down and falling on the pottery beneath, while other pottery is seized and dashed (like the children - Luke 19:44) against stones. (There is an interesting Jewish proverb which illustrates this, "If the stone falls on the pot, alas for the pot; if the pot falls on the stone, alas for the pot!" It was one therefore to which they should have taken heed. However, where the pictures are used elsewhere in Scripture they refer to what happens to men (Isaiah 8:14-15; Daniel 2:34). He will thus be for both salvation and judgment. Some will be founded on Him and become strong, others will fall on Him, or be crushed by Him, and will be destroyed. Both in the comparatively near future and in the last Judgment (both are again brought together in chapter 21).
The picture is taken from a combination of Isaiah 8:14-15, ‘He will become a Sanctuary, and a stone of offence, --- and many will stumble on it, they will fall and be broken’, and Daniel 2:34, ‘a stone was cut out by no human hand and it smote the image on its feet of iron and clay and broke them in pieces’.
As this verse is not cited by either Matthew or Mark in this context this may have been added by Luke from other sayings of Jesus, in order to give a satisfactory conclusion to the passage, for in contrast with them he has omitted ‘this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes’ (Mark 11:11; Matthew 21:42). By it he brings together salvation and judgment in a way quite in keeping with the parable, and consonant with the whole wider context of the passage. Compare also 1 Peter 2:7-8 where similar ideas to those here are linked.
‘And the scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him in that very hour, and they feared the people, for they perceived that he spoke this parable against them.’
The parable made the Scribes and the chief priests even more determined to arrest Jesus, and they sought to find ways of doing so, but always the people got in the way, for they would not leave Jesus alone. And while the people were there in such huge numbers they recognised that any attempt to arrest Him would simply cause excessive trouble.
We may, perhaps, conclude our comments on this passage by drawing from the application made of the parable by a well known scholar:
· It tells us of human privilege. God had given to His people an inheritance which all recognised as a blessing.
· It tells us of human sin. Man misuses what God has given and appropriates it for his own purposes.
· It tells us of human responsibility. The inheritance was given in order that man may pay his proper respects to God and show his proper respect to his neighbour.
· It tells us of God’s patience. Over the long centuries, while God had chastened His people, He had preserved them through it all and had even brought them back to their land. And now He was still lovingly reaching out to them.
· It tells us of God’s mercy. In reaching out to them He even gave His only beloved Son.
· It tells us of God’s judgment. One day the consequence of this can only be that for those who have rejected His Son will come judgment.
· It tells us that Jesus knew what was coming and yet did not turn back from it. he suffered for us, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God.
· It tells us that He never doubted God’s ultimate triumph. He knew that in the end God’s purposes would prevail and man’s folly be revealed for what it is.
· It tells us that He is the only beloved Son of God, greater than Moses and all the prophets, even greater than John the Baptiser. They were beloved servants but He is the beloved Son. There is no other.
‘And they watched him, and sent out spies (or ‘ambushers’), who put on a pretence that they themselves were righteous, in order that they might take hold of his speech, so as to deliver him up to the rule and to the authority of the governor.’
This verse beautifully sums up the true situation. These men who approached Jesus, who were sent by the Sanhedrin who waited out in the darkness, and pretended to a great deal of righteousness and godly concern, were actually tricksters whose one aim was to catch Him out and report Him to the governor for subversion. They wanted to entrap Him into saying something seditious, i.e. that ‘it was not lawful to pay tribute to Caesar’.
Mark tell us that they were an unholy alliance of Pharisees and Herodians (Galilean court officials), but Luke does not want to complicate things for his readers, who would know nothing of the Herodians (see Mark 12:13 and compare Mark 3:6).
The Second Test: Is It Lawful To Give Tribute To Caesar? (20:20-26).
In the chiasmus of the Section this challenge parallels the challenge concerning His authority (Luke 20:1-8). Sneakily they seek to take advantage of His claim to speak with authority by trapping Him into subversive remarks that can then be passed on to the Roman Governor as examples of His treasonable behaviour.
In most countries the question would have been fairly easy to answer, but in Israel it was a minefield, for while most reluctantly paid their denarius poll tax they did so because of what would have happened to them and their children if they did not, but they did it with reluctance and with hatred in their hearts.
However, for any prophet to suggest that they should pay it even reluctantly would have been the death knell for any hopes that the prophet had to be listened to. He would be instantly discredited. Prophets were supposed to stand out for what was right, not to give in to expediency (that was for common folk like them).
a They watched Him, and sent out spies, who put on a pretence that they themselves were righteous, in order that they might take hold of His speech, so as to deliver Him up to the rule and to the authority of the governor (Luke 20:20).
b They asked Him, saying, “Teacher, we know that you say and teach rightly, and do not accept the person of any, but of a truth teach the way of God. Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” (Luke 20:21-22)
c But He perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose image and superscription has it?” And they said, “Caesar’s” (Luke 20:23-24).
b And He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Luke 20:25).
a And they were not able to take hold of the saying before the people, and they marvelled at His answer, and held their peace (Luke 20:26).
Note that in ‘a’ their aim was to ‘take hold of Him in His speech, and in the parallel we learn that they were unable to take hold of His saying before the people. In ‘b’ the question was as to whether it was lawful to give tribute to Caesar, and in the parallel He gave His answer. And centrally in ‘c’ He calls on them to produce the coin that He will cite in evidence against them.
‘And they asked him, saying, “Teacher, we know that you say and teach rightly, and do not accept the person of any, but of a truth teach the way of God.” ’
Their approach was with obsequious flattery. It is a warning to us to beware of those who speak too well of us. Very often it is because they seek to trap us. Here they lauded Him to the skies. They addressed Him as ‘Teacher’ (‘Rabbi), and then declared firstly that they knew that He only ever spoke and taught what was true, secondly that He was not afraid of any man’s person, and thirdly that He always spoke God’s way in truth. Such flattery could only have made Him suspicious, (any sensible person would have thought on receiving it, ‘now what do they want?’), but they did it because they hoped that it would make Him drop His guard and that, eager to show them how right they were about Him, He would give them the answer that they wanted.
“Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?”
Their question was as to whether it was ‘lawful’ or not to give tribute to Caesar. That is whether it was in line with the teaching of Moses. Now strictly speaking the Law does not deal with that question. But the Law does make it clear that the people of Israel were God’s people, God’s holy nation, and thus that for them to be ruled over by anyone else was contrary to God’s intention. It was something that would only happen to them as a result of disobedience. So to every Jew the answer as to whether tribute should be paid to Caesar would have been a resounding ‘No!’ For while they reluctantly did on the whole give such tribute, they certainly did not see it as ‘lawful’. In their view the Law required rather that they directed their gifts towards God, His Sanctuary and His people, and the Roman poll tax was highly and deeply resented as an imposition, and as an evidence of their submission to Rome.
Thus if Jesus answered the question by declaring that it was lawful He would instantly have been denounced by the whole nation as a false prophet. On the other hand if He said that it was not lawful, (and that was the answer towards which they were working), then they could immediately denounce him to the Roman governor for stirring up the people to avoid paying their taxes, a crime subject to the most serious punishment.
‘But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose image and superscription has it?” And they said, “Caesar’s.” ’
Jesus, however, saw through them immediately. And so He called for them to produce a denarius, the silver coin in which the tax would be paid, which bore on it the head of the reigning Caesar at the time that the coin was minted, and what was actually a blasphemous superscription describing him.. Countries who were under Rome could at the time produce their own bronze coinage, but their silver coinage had to be that issued by Rome. This was partly because it was then an indication to the peoples involved that they were subject to the overall control of Caesar and the Empire. The use of Caesar’s coin demonstrated the allegiance that they owed to Caesar.
Having that in mind, as soon as they produced a denarius (having the value of a day’s wage to a working man) He asked them whose image and details were on the coin. Their reply could only be, ‘Caesar’s’.
‘And he said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” ’
His reply was then, in that case, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”. It was a very wise reply. It was pointing out that anyone who could produce a denarius was thereby testifying to the overlordship of Caesar. It was right therefore that they rendered back to him, what they had received from him. All denarii essentially belonged to Caesar. Furthermore a good patriot should strictly not have touched a denarius with a bargepole, and so good patriots would actually have agreed with Jesus that all denarii should be got rid of by handing them back to Caesar. Of course, if they would not touch a denarius they would have to go into hiding for non-payment of taxes, but at least they would see themselves as being kept pure. However, the moment one descended to the depths of obtaining a denarius in order to pay the tax he was by it acknowledging his debt to Caesar. And it was therefore right that he gave the hated coin back to him. Thus Jesus was both in the clear with the extreme patriots, who agreed with Him on the fact that the denarii should be handed over to Caesar, and should not be touched by any patriotic Jew, while all else belonged to God, and also with the Roman authorities, whose only concern was to be paid the denarius in poll tax.
What this did not teach was that a certain amount should be given to God, and the rest could then be looked on as ‘Caesar’s’, to be looked on as ‘secular’, and therefore usable as a man wished. It applied to a specific situation. It might, however, be seen as saying that for any benefits that we receive from the state we have an obligation to make a contribution back to them. But while that is true, it is not really what Jesus was positively teaching.
For what was of general application in what He said was the command to render “to God the things that are God’s”. The point here was that all that we have, we have received from God, and we should therefore recognise that for it we are accountable to God as His stewards. This is continuing the theme of numerous parables that we have already looked at. It is confirming that every man must give an account of himself to God with regard to his use of wealth.
‘And they were not able to take hold of the saying before the people, and they marvelled at his answer, and held their peace.’
The ‘spies’ were staggered at His reply. They recognised how cleverly He had avoided their trap, while at the same time teaching something very positive. And they recognised that there was nothing in His reply that they could take hold of in order to use it to set the people against Him. He had indeed agreed that all that a man had should be dedicated to God, apart from the hated denarius which no godly person would touch. And yet that by leaving the latter open for those who wanted them to pay their tax, however reluctantly, He was preventing them coming under condemnation for doing so.
‘And there came to him certain of the Sadducees, those who say that there is no resurrection,’
The Pharisees having been defeated in their attempts to discredit Jesus, the Sadducees now approached Him in order to dispute His teaching on the resurrection of the body. Like many Greeks they did not believe in such a resurrection. They did it by an appeal to levirate marriage. The principle of that is that if a man dies having no children to inherit his property, with the result that his wife is childless and has no one to care for her, His brother who lives in the same household should marry and impregnate the widow and thus produce seed to his brother’s name (see Deuteronomy 25:5-10). The child will then grow up to look after his ageing mother, and to inherit the dead brother’s inheritance. It is questionable, although not certainly so, whether levirate marriage was actually practised in New Testament days, but whether it was or not it had certainly been practised in the past, and was even more certainly spoken of in the Law.
This is the only mention of the Sadducees in Luke’s Gospel, but see Acts 4:1; Acts 5:17; Acts 23:6-8. They do not seem to feature in Galilee and Peraea. We can only pick up something of what their teaching was from such passages as this, and from the literature of their opponents. They appear to have founded their teaching on the first five books of the Bible (the Torah, the Books of Moses), having a secondary view of the prophets. This included the rejection of the idea of either the resurrection of the body or of the existence of angels, which they saw as the newfangled teaching of some of the Prophets (Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2) and of the Pharisees. They tended to be Hellenistic and to be politically tolerant of Rome. The leading priests were in fact Sadducees.
The Sadducees and the Resurrection (20:27-40).
Having made two attempts the Pharisees now withdrew for the time being in order to nurse their wounds. They were deeply chagrined, but unable to do anything about it. Jesus had thwarted their every move, and shown them up in the process. Now, however, came the turn of the Sadducees who were concerned about His teaching about the resurrection. And they came to Him with what may well have been a standard conundrum levelled at all who taught and believed in the resurrection from the dead.
a ‘And there came to him certain of the Sadducees, those who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him, saying’ (Luke 20:27-28 a).
b “Teacher, Moses wrote to us, that if a man’s brother die, having a wife, and he be childless, his brother should take the wife, and raise up seed to his brother. There were therefore seven brothers, and the first took a wife, and died childless; and the second, and the third took her, and likewise the seven also left no children, and died. Afterward the woman also died” (Luke 20:28-32).
c “In the resurrection therefore whose wife of them shall she be? for the seven had her to wife” (Luke 20:33).
d And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this world marry, and are given in marriage, but those who are accounted worthy to attain to that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage, for neither can they die any more. (Luke 20:34-35).
c “For they are equal to the angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection” (Luke 20:36).
b “But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the place concerning the Bush, when he calls the Lord, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him” (Luke 20:37-38).
a And certain of the scribes answering said, “Teacher, you have well said.” For they dared not any more ask him any question’ (Luke 20:39-40).
Note that in ‘a’ the Sadducees asked Him a question, and in the parallel the Scribes say that He has ‘well said’. In ‘b’ there is a continual emphasis on death, and in the parallel a continual emphasis on the fact that the dead are raised to new life. In ‘c’ the question is as to prospects in the future life, and in the parallel those prospects are described. And centrally in ‘d’ the condition of those who enjoy the future resurrected life is described.
‘And they asked him, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote to us, that if a man’s brother die, having a wife, and he be childless, his brother should take the wife, and raise up seed to his brother. There were therefore seven brothers, and the first took a wife, and died childless; and the second, and the third took her, and likewise the seven also left no children, and died. Afterward the woman also died.”
His questioners cited a case where the levirate principle had been applied to seven brothers one by one, with each marrying the woman who had been left a widow by the previous brother when the previous brother died. She had thus married all seven brothers.
“In the resurrection therefore whose wife of them shall she be? for the seven had her to wife.”
Thus their question was, assuming the resurrection of the body, to which of the brothers would she belong as his wife when they were all raised again in the body? They considered that this therefore made the doctrine of the resurrection absurd.
‘And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this world marry, and are given in marriage, but those who are accounted worthy to attain to that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage, for neither can they die any more. For they are equal to the angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.” ’
Jesus’ reply, indicating a detailed knowledge of the afterlife which demonstrated His heavenly origin, declared that the question was based on the failure of the questioners to appreciate the truth about the afterlife. For in the afterlife there is no such thing as marriage and reproduction. Those raised from the dead at the resurrection become similar to the angels, with spiritual bodies (1 Corinthians 15:44), and become ‘sons of God’ (an Old Testament title used of angels - Genesis 6:2; Genesis 6:4; Job 1:6 to Job 2:7; Job 38:7) indicating their then enjoying a wholly spiritual nature and body, similar to that of God and the angels. They cannot die any more, and thus reproduction is unnecessary. They are ‘sons of the resurrection’, that is products of the results of God’s resurrection power resulting in eternal life.
‘Those who are accounted worthy to attain to that world, and the resurrection from the dead.’ Jesus’ emphasises here that not all will experience resurrection to life, and enjoy the life of the age to come. Only those who will be considered fit and suitable because God counts them as worthy (e.g. Genesis 15:6) will attain to that world. (Thus not all of the seven brothers, for example, would necessarily experience it). And they will thus have become immortal, and will never again experience death, will not marry or have children, but will enjoy a similar life of immortality to that of angels enjoying their ecstasy, not in sex, but in enjoying the presence of God.
(Thus those who teach a millennial kingdom on earth have the problem of having a mixture of spiritual beings who cannot bear children, mixing with physical beings who can have children. This is not the impression given by taking all that is said in the Old Testament in its overly-literal meaning e.g. Isaiah 65:17-25).
“But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the place concerning the Bush, when he calls the Lord, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.”
Jesus then dealt with the Torah’s basis for the resurrection. In Exodus 3:6 Moses had spoken of God as ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’. But, says Jesus, God cannot be the God of the dead, for to be someone’s God they must be able to appreciate His Godhood. Thus He can only be the God of the living. That must mean that all who have truly known God, and have entered into covenant relationship with Him, must have life in Him, and are indeed seen by Him as having such life. That being so resurrection to life for His own necessarily follows so that they can fully enjoy God in this way.
Putting it another way. The dead do not praise God (Psalms 88:10; Psalms 115:7). He is not their God. So if God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob they must in some way be enjoying life, even though they have apparently died. For He is the God only of the living. There may also be solidly included in this the significance of the covenant relationship with God which was indicated by the title, ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’. God could not be seen as being in a covenant relationship, which was a deeper one than that of marriage, with those who were no more. Thus they must in some way have been alive when God spoke these words. Some of the Psalmists also actually reveal a vague belief in an afterlife on the same basis, that they could not believe that their positive and glorious relationship with God, which was in such contrast with those whose minds were set on earthly things, could cease on death (e.g. Psalms 16:9-11; Psalms 17:15; Psalms 23:6; Psalms 49:15; Psalms 73:24, see its whole context; Psalms 139:7-12; Psalms 139:24).
It will be noted that this teaching does away with any possible belief in reincarnation. In Jesus’ eyes there was no thought that any of them could be reincarnated. His argument indicated the opposite. Thus it is impossible to take Jesus seriously and believe in reincarnation.
‘In the Bush.’ In Jesus’ day the Old Testament was split up into sections each of which had a heading. This was probably for the purpose of synagogue worship. The section headed ‘the Bush’ contained Exodus 3:0.
‘And certain of the scribes answering said, “Teacher, you have well said.”
Then certain of the Scribes, almost certainly Pharisees, who had been searching for such an argument in the Law of Moses for a long time, expressed their admiration for Jesus’ argument. To move such men, who were among His opponents, demonstrated His superiority indeed.
‘For they dared not any more ask him any question.’
And from then on no one dared to come to Him with any more questions in order to try to prove Him wrong and to discredit Him. They recognised that they had met their match.
‘And he said to them, “How say they that the Christ is David’s son?”
Mark has “How do the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David?” We must assume from this, as mentioned above, that some Rabbis, especially perhaps even with Jesus in mind, were downgrading ‘the Messiah to come’ into a lesser David, a mere ‘son of David’, in contrast with the glorious figure usually presented. Their idea may well have been someone who was subservient to the Pharisees. There were in fact many differing and varying views about the Messiah as is especially witnessed by the Dead Sea Scrolls where the Messiah of David appears in some cases to be inferior to the Messiah of Aaron. In contrast some of the apocalyptists endowed him with the highest honours.
Jesus was not by His words denying that He was the son of David, for both Matthew and Luke have already made clear in their genealogies that He was. See also Luke 1:27; Luke 1:32; Luke 1:69; Luke 2:11; Luke 18:38-39; Acts 13:34. What He was arguing against was the idea that that was all that He was. As we have seen earlier (on Luke 18:38) ‘Son of David’ was not a prominent Messianic title at this time, even though clearly used by some, although as far as Luke is concerned it was certainly used by the blind man whose eyes were opened (Luke 18:38).
Jesus Himself Now Puts a Question: Who Is David’s Lord? (20:41-43).
In the chiasmus of the Section (see above) this statement, where Jesus reveals Himself as ‘David’s Lord’, and denounces the ostentation and claims of the Rabbis who set themselves up as false deliverers, a situation in which their fleecing of widows is prominent, is paralleled with the depiction of Jesus’ entry into the Temple to cleanse it as its ‘Lord’ (Luke 19:31; Luke 19:34), and the declaration that the Temple is a ‘den of Robbers (Luke 19:45-46).
The question of Jesus here would seem to be directed at a Rabbinic idea that the Christ was merely the son of David and therefore not superior to David, thus making him purely merely political and secondary. But Jesus wanted to bring out that the Messiah was not only superior to David, but was of a totally higher status. he was Lord over all. For even David addressed Him as ‘my Lord’, thus exalting the Messiah high above David. He leaves men to recognise how this applies to Himself.
The contrast with the Scribes is striking. Jesus, the Messiah, Who is destined shortly to receive glory, and exaltation to the chief seat from God, walks in lowliness and meekness on earth, taking on Himself the form of a servant, and eschewing wealth, awaiting His destiny, while the Scribes strut and prance around as though they were the Messiah, and seize for themselves the wealth of the vulnerable, while putting on a pretence of sanctity. For at the time when this was spoken there was a sense in which these Scribes did rule their religious world.
The reference here is to Psalms 110:0 which is headed ‘a psalm of David’. Reference in that Psalm to the institution of ‘the order of Melchizedek’ (Luke 20:4), referring to the old King of Salem in Genesis 14:0, may suggest that it was written not long after the capture of Jerusalem by David, when it would have been suitable for pacifying the Jebusites, and yet have come before the time when such an idea would have been looked on as heresy. In it David and his heirs were to be seen as non-sacrificing priest-kings in Jerusalem, acknowledged by the Jebusites and Jerusalemites, even if seen as priest-king nowhere else in Judah and Israel. This would have aided the assimilation of the Jebusites into the faith of Israel.
Furthermore as David considered the promise that one day his heir would rule over an everlasting Kingdom (2 Samuel 7:16) and be God’s Anointed, triumphant over the all the nations of the earth (Psalms 2:8-9), it could well have raised within him a paean of praise and a declaration that this future son of his would be greater than he was himself, that he would indeed be his superior, ‘my Lord’. But what matters in Jesus’ use of it in this passage is not so much its background, as how the Psalm was seen in His own day (although it is clear in Mark that Jesus saw it as written by David under inspiration of the Holy Spirit - Mark 12:36).
There are good grounds for stating that this Psalm was interpreted Messianically in the pre-Christian period. This is confirmed by the Midrash on Psalms 18:36 where Psalms 110:1 is quoted by way of illustration in a Messianic sense. Later the interpretation was dropped by the Rabbis because the Christians had taken it over. Now, says Jesus, if David wrote this Psalm with a future king in mind, now interpreted as the Messiah, then David was addressing the Messiah as ‘Lord’. And indeed he was not only addressing Him as Lord but was portraying Him as God’s right hand man. That being so he must have recognised the Messiah as being far superior to himself.
This receives some confirmation in that Psalms 110:0 is constantly quoted Messianically in the New Testament. See for example Acts 2:34 where it is cited of His ascending the throne of God as both Lord and Messiah; Hebrews 10:12 where, after offering one sacrifice for sins for ever, He ‘sat down at the right hand of God’. See also Acts 7:55-56; Acts 13:33-39; 1 Corinthians 15:22-28; Ephesians 1:19-23; Hebrews 1:3-14; Hebrews 5-7. With regard to the Melchizedek priesthood see Hebrews 6:20; Hebrews 7:17; Hebrews 7:21.
So we may see that Jesus was here concerned to bring home to His listeners, in what was at this time His usual veiled way, that His status in fact far exceeded that of David and that He was destined to sit at God’s right hand with His enemies subdued before Him (Acts 2:36) as made clear especially in Psalms 2:0; Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-4; Zechariah 14:3-4, Zechariah 14:9.
a He said to them, “How say they that the Christ is David’s son?” (Luke 20:41).
b “For David himself says in the book of Psalms, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit you on my right hand, until I make your enemies the footstool of your feet’ ” (Luke 20:42-43).
a “David therefore calls him Lord, and how is He his son?” (Luke 20:44).
The comparisons are simple. In ‘a’ and its parallel are the questions, in ‘b’ is the answer.
“For David himself says in the book of Psalms, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit you on my right hand, until I make your enemies the footstool of your feet.’ ”
Jesus here took the Psalm to be Davidic, as His opponents did, and His argument was based on what David had said of the coming King in his psalm. In it he had declared that the coming King Who would sit at God’s right hand until all His foes were subjected to Him, was also his (David’s) Lord, One Who had demonstrated Himself to be superior to David. He thus foresaw a more exalted position for Him as sitting on God’s right hand in the seat of divine power and authority, until all his foes submitted to Him and were subjected before Him.
We note here how once again Luke omits the reference to the Holy Spirit included by Mark. This non-reference to the Holy Spirit is his studied purpose in these final chapters of his Gospel, ready for the transformation that will take place at the commencement of Acts.
“David therefore calls him Lord, and how is he his son?”
Now if this were the case, asks Jesus, how can He be limited to being described merely as David’s son, when He is in fact declared to be David’s Lord? Whatever else this therefore demonstrates it certainly reveals Jesus’ exalted view of His own position as Greater than David, and as One Whom He declares to all who heard Him to be ‘David’s Lord’. It thus reveals why He had the authority which gave Him the right to cleanse the Temple, which, following the examples of Hezekiah and Josiah, would be seen as a Messianic task. And all this in One Who walked humbly and graciously among men, with nowhere to lay His head. He made no attempt to ape His future glory.
‘And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples,’
Jesus now turns to teaching His disciples, but in such a way that all the people overhear Him. It will then be up to them how they take it.
Jesus Warns Against The Hypocrisy Of The Pharisees and Commends The Example Of The Poor Widow (20:45-21:3).
Having established His position over against Pharisaic teaching, Jesus now warned further against following the ways of the Pharisees, who did ape such ways. Just as in the parallel in the Section chiasmus above, the Temple was a Den of Robbers, thus condemning the chief priests, so are the Rabbis hypocritical seekers of glory in the eyes of the world, and despoilers of widows. And an example of one such widow is then given, who in spite of her poverty, gives all that she has to God, her consecration highlighting the godliness of such people in contrast with the unscrupulousness and greed of these Rabbis.
We can compare His condemnation here with that in Luke 11:39-52, but there it was the Pharisees who received the initial assault, whereas here all was reserved for the Scribes. It will be noted that unusually for Luke, who generally avoids repetitions, there is almost a ‘repetition’ of Luke 11:43, for there He accuses the Pharisees of loving the best seats in the synagogues and the salutations in the marketplaces, whereas here He applies the same accusations to the Scribes. Clearly He felt that this typified what they were truly like. Spiritual pride has been the downfall of far too many for it not to be taken with the deepest seriousness.
a ‘And in the hearing of all the people He said to His disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to walk in long robes, and love salutations in the marketplaces, and chief seats in the synagogues, and chief places at feasts” (Luke 20:45-46).
b “Who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers” (Luke 20:47 a).
c “These will receive greater condemnation” (Luke 20:47 b).
b And he looked up, and saw the rich men who were casting their gifts into the treasury. And he saw a certain poor widow casting in there two mites (Luke 21:1-2).
a And he said, “Of a truth I say to you, This poor widow cast in more than they all, for all these did of their superfluity cast in to the gifts, but she of her want did cast in all the living that she had” (Luke 21:3).
Note that in ‘a’ the Scribes make a great show of their own importance, and in the parallel, where men continue to make a show, they are shown up in contrast with a poor widow. In ‘b’ the Scribes devour widow’s houses and yet make a pretence of sanctity by praying long prayers, and in the parallel their giving is contrasted with that of a widow who in what she is represents all whom they have despoiled. In ‘c’, and centrally, their great condemnation is declared.
“Beware of the scribes, who desire to walk in long robes, and love salutations in the marketplaces, and chief seats in the synagogues, and chief places at feasts,”
His warning is that they beware of a particular type of Scribe of whom there were far too many (not all Scribes could be put on the same level), the showy and ostentatious ones whom everyone noticed, and not be like them. The wearing of long robes was an indication that someone was wealthy enough not to need to work, or it may mainly have in mind special and distinctive festal garments worn on the Sabbath, or the long robes of the teacher. But whichever is in mind (and more than one may be), they were worn in order to draw attention to themselves. We know that special salutations were given to Rabbis, and a certain type of Rabbi loved going through the marketplace so that he would receive the deference that he felt was his due. And they would be offered the chief seats in the synagogues, sitting facing the ordinary worshippers (with the chief one taking ‘Moses’ seat’ - Matthew 23:2). All this was in order to draw attention to themselves and make them feel good. They loved it. The disciples were to avoid such behaviour, and probably continued to succeed in doing so, but as the centuries went by the so-called Christian leadership would mainly go the way of the Jewish leadership. It is but a short step from deserved distinction to spiritual pride. The pride of life is regularly a huge stumblingblock that stands in the way of those who serve Christ, as it was to the Pharisees and Scribes, and if not checked it eventually produces the worst types of behaviour.
Note how all this apes the picture of the Messiah drawn in the previous passage. Their distinctive clothing, their love of being hailed, their taking of ‘chief seats’, their being honoured at feasts, which will be followed by their devouring of widow’s houses, is all similar to the behaviour of kings. In their own way they were setting themselves up as messiahs to whom the people should look for deliverance. We are reminded of Paul’s words in another context, ‘You have reigned as king’s without us, would to God that you did reign’ (1 Corinthians 4:8).
“These will receive greater condemnation.”
And these will receive greater condemnation because they have abused the trust given to them, and the trust that others have in them (compare Luke 17:1-2). In what way would it be greater?
1). It will be greater than the condemnation of Chorazin and Bethsaida, greater than that of Capernaum (Luke 10:13-15), because they had received greater privileges and had failed to take advantage of them in order to become truly spiritual (compareLuke 12:47; Luke 12:47).
2). It will also be greater than the high estimation that they have of themselves.
3). It will be greater even than their hypocrisy.