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LET us notice, firstly, in this passage, the demand which the chief Priests and scribes made upon our Lord. "Tell us," they said, "by what authority thou doest these things? and who gave thee this authority?"
The spirit which prompted this demand is too evident to be mistaken. These men hated and envied Christ. They saw His influence increasing. They saw their own power waning. They resolved, if possible, to stop the progress of this new teacher; and the point on which they made their assault was His authority. His mighty works they ought to have examined. His teaching they ought, in all fairness, to have compared with their own Scriptures. But they refused to take either one course or the other. They preferred to call in question His commission.
Every true-hearted Christian who tries to do good in the world, must make up his mind to be treated like his Master. He must never be surprised to find, that the self-righteous and the worldly-minded dislike His ways. The lawfulness of his proceedings will be constantly called in question. He will be regarded as meddlesome, disorderly, and self-conceited, a pestilent fellow, and a troubler of Israel. (Acts 24:5; 1 Kings 18:17.) Scripture-readers, district-visitors, lay-agents, and unordained missionaries, are specially liable to meet with such treatment. And worst of all they will often meet with enemies, where they ought to find friends.
Let all who are attacked by the world for trying to do good, take comfort in the thought that they are only drinking of the cup which Christ drank. Their Master in heaven sympathizes with them. Let them work on patiently, and believe that, if they are faithful, their work will speak for itself. The world’s opposition is sure to attend every really good work. If the servants of Christ are to cease from every movement which the world calls in question, they will soon come to an entire stand-still. If we are to wait till the world approves our plans, and is satisfied with the propriety of our efforts, we shall never do anything on earth.
Let us notice, secondly, in this passage, the manner in which our Lord speaks of John the Baptist’s ministry. He refers those who questioned His authority to John’s constant and unvarying testimony to Himself. "Ought they not to remember how John had spoken of Him as the Lamb of God,—as One whose shoe-latchets he was not worthy to bear,—as One who had the fan in His hand, and had the Spirit without measure? Ought they not to recollect that they and all Jerusalem had gone out to John’s baptism, and confessed that John was a prophet? Yet John had always told them plainly that Christ was the Messiah! Surely, if they were honest they would not come now to demand His authority. If they really believed John to be a prophet sent from God, they were bound to believe that Jesus was the Christ."
It may reasonably be doubted whether the importance of John the Baptist’s ministry is generally understood by Christians. The brightness of our Lord’s history overshadows the history of His forerunner, and the result is that John’s baptism and preaching do not receive the attention which they deserve. Yet it should never be forgotten, that the ministry of the Baptist was the only New Testament ministry foretold in the Old Testament, excepting that of Christ. It was a ministry which produced an immense effect on the Jewish mind, and aroused the expectation of Israel from one end of Palestine to the other. Above all, it was a ministry which made the Jews without excuse in their rejection of Christ, when Christ appeared. They could not say that they were taken by surprise when our Lord began to preach. Their minds had been thoroughly prepared for His appearing. To see the full sinfulness of the Jews, and the entire justice of the judgments which came on them after crucifying our Lord, we must remember the ministry of John the Baptist.
However little man may esteem the work of faithful ministers there is One in heaven who sees it, and keeps account of all their labor. However little their proceedings may be understood, and however much they may be slandered and misrepresented, the Lord Jesus Christ writes all their doings in His book. He lives who testified to the importance of John the Baptist’s ministry when John was dead and buried. He will yet testify to the toil of every one of His faithful servants at the last day. In the world they may have tribulation and disappointment. But they are not forgotten by Christ.
Let us notice, lastly, in this passage, the falsehood of which our Lord’s enemies were guilty. In reply to our Lord’s question whether John’s baptism was from heaven or of men, "they answered that they could not tell." This was a downright untruth. They could have told, but they would not. They knew that if they said what they really believed they would condemn themselves. If they confessed that John was a prophet sent from God, they would be guilty of a gross inconsistency in not believing his testimony about Christ.
Falsehoods like this, it may be feared, are only too common among unconverted men. Thousands will say anything rather than acknowledge themselves to be in the wrong. Lying is just one of the sins to which the human heart is most naturally inclined, and one of the commonest sins in the world. Gehazi, Ananias, and Sapphira have more followers and imitators than Peter and Paul. The number of lies which are constantly told by men, to save their own credit, and to cover over their own wickedness, is probably far greater than we are aware.
The true servant of Christ will do well to remember these things as he travels through this world. He must not believe all he hears, and especially in the matter of religion. He must not suppose that unconverted men really believe in their own hearts all that they say. They often feel more than they appear to feel. They often say things against religion and religious people, which they secretly know to be untrue. They often know the Gospel is true, but have not the courage to confess it. They often know the Christians life is right, but are too proud to say so. The chief priests and scribes are not the only people who deal dishonestly in religion, and say what they know to be false. Then let the servant of Christ go patiently on his way. Those who are now his enemies, will one day confess that he was right, though they used to cry loudly that he was wrong.
v1.—[And it came to pass, &c.] The chapter we have now begun is remarkable because of the variety of attacks on our Lord which it describes. Whether the whole of the events here narrated took place on one day, is a question on which commentators do not agree. If they did not all happen on one day, they must at any rate have happened on two successive days.
[In the temple.] This expression means "in the outward courts of the temple," to which all Jews were admitted.
v4.—[The baptism of John, &c.] We must beware of supposing that this question which our Lord put was not pertinent to the one which had been put to Himself, or was at all an evasion of a disagreeable query by a counter inquiry.
Our Lord’s question was in reality an answer to the question of His inquirers. They had asked Him "by what authority," He did what He did. In reply, He asked them whether "John the Baptist was a prophet sent from God." His meaning evidently was that John the Baptist had expressly testified that He was tha Messiah. They knew this. They could not deny it. Now if they really believed that John the Baptist was a prophet, they would see at once by "what authority" He did what He did. He did all as the Messiah, whom John had proclaimed Him to be.
[From heaven.] This expression means simply "from God." (See Daniel 4:26; Luke 15:18, Luke 15:21.)
v5.—[Why then believed ye him not?] The meaning of this of course must be, "Why did ye not believe what he told you about me?"
v6.—[The people will stone us.] Grotius remarks, "They had themselves accustomed the people to this violence. When they could not legally convict their enemies, they incited the people to stone them. It was called the judgment of zeal." See John 10:31; Acts 14:19.
v7.—[They could not tell.] The Greek words here, when literally translated, are even more remarkable than our version, as a proof of the falsehood of our Lord’s enemies. They are literally, "they did not know."
v8.—[Neither tell I you, &c.] Our Lord’s refusal was just, because those who asked him were not honest in their inquiry about His authority. Our Lord never refused to answer the question of any honest inquirer.
THE parable we have now read, is one of the very few which are recorded more than once by the Gospel writers. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, all give it at full length. This three-fold repetition is alone sufficient to point out the importance of its contents.
The parable, no doubt, was specially intended for the Jews to whom it was addressed. But we must not confine its application to them. It contains lessons which should be remembered in all churches of Christ as long as the world stands.
In the first place, the parable shows us the deep corruption of human nature. The conduct of the wicked "husbandmen" is a vivid representation of man’s dealings with God.—It is a faithful picture of the history of the Jewish church. In spite of privileges, such as no nation ever had, in the face of warnings such as no people ever received, the Jews rebelled against God’s lawful authority, refused to give Him His rightful dues, rejected the counsel of His prophets, and at length crucified His only-begotten Son. It is a no less faithful picture of the history of all the Gentile churches. Called as they were out of heathen darkness by infinite mercy, they have done nothing worthy of the vocation wherewith they were called. On the contrary, they have allowed false doctrines and wicked practices to spring up rankly among them, and have crucified Christ afresh. It is a mournful fact that in hardness, unbelief, superstition, and self-righteousness, the Christian churches, as a whole, are little better than the Jewish church of our Lord’s time. Both are described with painful correctness in the story of the wicked husbandmen. In both we may point to countless privileges misused, and countless warnings despised.
Let us often pray that we may thoroughly understand the sinfulness of man’s heart. Few of us, it may be feared, have the least conception of the strength and virulence of the spiritual disease with which we are born. Few entirely realize that "the carnal mind is enmity against God," and that unconverted human nature, if it had the power, would cast its Maker down from His throne. The behavior of the husbandmen before us, whatever we may please to think, is only a picture of what every natural man would do to God, if he only could. To see these things is of great importance. Christ is never fully valued, until sin is clearly seen. We must know the depth and malignity of our disease, in order to appreciate the great Physician.
In the second place, this parable shows us the amazing patience and long-suffering of God. The conduct of the "lord of the vineyard" is a vivid representation of God’s dealings with man.—It is a faithful picture of His merciful dealings with the Jewish church. Prophet after prophet was sent to warn Israel of his danger. Message after message was repeatedly sent, notwithstanding insults and injuries heaped on the messengers.—It is a no less faithful picture of His gracious treatment of the Gentile churches. For eighteen hundred years He has suffered their manners. They have repeatedly tried Him by false doctrines, superstitions, and contempt of His word. Yet He has repeatedly granted them seasons of refreshing, raised up for them holy ministers and mighty reformers, and not cut them off, notwithstanding all their persecutions. The churches of Christ have no right to boast. They are debtors to God for innumerable mercies, no less than the Jews were in our Lord’s time. They have not been dealt with according to their sins, nor rewarded according to their iniquities.
We should learn to be more thankful for God’s mercy. We have probably little idea of the extent of our obligations to it, and of the number of gracious messages which the Lord of the vineyard is constantly sending to our souls. The last day will unfold to our wondering eyes a long list of unacknowledged kindnesses, of which while we lived we took no notice.
Mercy we shall find was indeed God’s darling attribute. "He delighteth in mercy." (Micah 7:18.) Mercies before conversion, mercies after conversion, mercies at every step of their journey on earth, will be revealed to the minds of saved saints, and make them ashamed of their own thanklessness. Sparing mercies, providential mercies, mercies in the way of warnings, mercies in the way of sudden visitations, will all be set forth in order before the minds of lost sinners, and confound them by the exhibition of their own hardness and unbelief. We shall all find that God was often speaking to us when we did not hear, and sending us messages which we did not regard. Few texts will be brought out so prominently at the last day as that of Peter: "The Lord is long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish." (2 Peter 3:9.)
In the last place, this parable shows us the severity of God’s judgments when they fall on obstinate sinners. The punishment of the wicked husbandmen is a vivid representation of God’s final dealings with such as go on still in wickedness.—At the time when our Lord spoke this parable, it was a prophetical picture of the approaching ruin of the Jewish church and nation. The vineyard of the Lord in the land of Israel, was about to be taken from its unfaithful tenants. Jerusalem was to be destroyed. The temple was to be burned. The Jews were to be scattered over the earth.—At the present time, it may be feared, it is a mournful picture of things yet to come on the Gentile churches in the latter days. The judgments of God will yet fall on unbelieving Christians, as they fell on unbelieving Jews. The solemn warning of Paul to the Romans will yet receive an accomplishment: "If thou continuest not in God’s goodness, thou also shalt be cut off." (Romans 11:22.)
We must never flatter ourselves that God cannot be angry. He is indeed a God of infinite grace and compassion. But it is also written, that He is "a consuming fire." (Hebrews 12:29.) His spirit will not always strive with men. (Genesis 6:3.) There will be a day when His patience will come to an end, and when He will arise to judge terribly the earth. Happy will they be who are found hid in the ark in the day of the Lord’s anger! Of all wrath, none can be conceived so awful as "the wrath of the Lamb." The man on whom the "stone cut out without hands" falls at His second coming, will indeed be crushed to powder. (Daniel 2:34-35.)
Do we know these things, and do we live up to our knowledge? The chief priests and elders, we are told, "perceived that this parable was spoken against them." But they were too proud to repent, and too hardened to turn from their sins. Let us beware of doing likewise.
v10.—[Speak to...people...parable.] Let it be noted, that our Lord addresses this parable to all the people who were listening to His teaching, and not to the priests and elders only.
The parable itself is a remarkable combination of figure, history and prophecy. Cyril calls it "the history of Israel in a compendium." The parable of the sower, the parable of the mustard seed, and the parable of the wicked husbandman, are the only parables which are three times recorded in the Gospels.
[A vineyard.] This expression is one which we find used parabolically in Isaiah: "The vineyard of the LORD is the house of Israel." (Isaiah 5:1-7; &c.) Here it seems to mean the land of Judæa, and the peculiar privileges of the Jewish nation.
[Husbandmen.] These are the Jewish people and their rulers and priests.
[Went into a far country.] This expression must not be pressed too closely. It signifies that as the lord of the vineyard left his vineyard to the occupation of the tenants, so God left the privileges of the Jews to be turned to good account by the nation.
vv10-12.—[A servant.] In all these three verses the "servants" sent signify the prophets and others whom God sent to call the Jews to repentance, and rouse them to a sense of their privileges and responsibilities. The treatment the prophets received from the Jews is figured by the beating and wounding of the servants.
v13.—[My beloved Son.] This part of the parable admits of only one interpretation. The Lord Jesus speaks of Himself and the treatment which He was on the point of receiving at the hands of the priests and elders. He knew that while He spoke they were already plotting His death, and saying, "let us kill him."
v16.—[He shall come and destroy.] Here the parable passes into prophecy. Our Lord predicts the destruction of Jerusalem, the scattering of the Jews, and the calling of the Gentiles to enjoy their privileges.
[They said, God forbid.] These words would be rendered more literally "may it not be." The word "God" is not in the Greek. The exclamation appears to me to show clearly that those who heard this parable saw the application of it.
v17.—[The stone.] This means Christ. Though rejected by those who called themselves leaders and builders in the Jewish church, it was prophesied that He would become the head-stone of the corner. And as it was foretold, so it would be. (Psalms 118:22.)
v18.—[Whosoever shall fall, &c.] The meaning of this verse has perplexed some commentators. The distinction between the first and last parts of it has been thought a difficulty. Some have thought that the end of the verse refers to the taking of Jerusalem by the Romans. I venture to think that a better solution of the difficulty can be found.
"Whosoever shall fall upon this stone," signifies every one who stumbles at Christ and His Gospel, and refuses to believe in Him as his Saviour, during the present dispensation. Such an one shall be "broken," ruined, lost, and cast away.
"On whomsoever it shall fall," signifies every one who shall be found unbelieving when Christ comes again the second time in glory. Such an one shall be "ground to powder," and visited with the heaviest displeasure of God. The guilt of unbelief at the end of the Gospel dispensation shall be far greater than the guilt of unbelief at the beginning.
Barradius says, that Augustine takes this view, and refers the verse to the two advents of Christ. The ruin of the unbeliever at the first advent shall be miserable. But the ruin of the unbeliever at the second advent shall be even more miserable still
Gerhard says, that Chrysostom, Theophylact, and Euthymius, all take the same view with regard to the stone grinding to powder him on whom it falls. They apply it to Christ’s coming to judgment at the last day.
Some see in the verse a distinction between the punishment of the Jewish Church for its unbelief at Christ’s first advent, and the punishment of the Gentile Churches at Christ’s second advent. The Jewish Church stumbled and was "broken," but shall yet be raised again, and restored to God’s favor at the latter day. The Gentile Churches, when God’s judgments shall fall upon them at last, shall never be restored. Their ruin shall be complete and irretrievable. They shall be "ground to powder."
LET us mark, for one thing, in this passage, the cloak of goodness under which some of our Lord’s enemies approached Him. We read that they "sent forth spies, which should feign themselves just men." We read further that they attempted to impose on Him by flattering words: "We know that thou sayest and teachest rightly, neither acceptest thou the person of any, but teachest the way of God truly.." These words sounded well. An ignorant bystander would have said, "These are sincere inquirers after truth!" But all was hollow and unreal. It was the wolf putting on the sheep’s clothing, under the vain idea of deceiving the shepherd. "Their words were smoother than butter," yet there was "war in their hearts." (Psalms 55:21.)
The true servant of Christ must expect to meet persons of this description, as long as the world stands. There never will be wanting those, who from interested or sinister motives will profess with their lips to love Christ, while in heart they deny Him. There will always be some, who "by good words and fair speeches," will attempt to deceive the heart of the simple. The union of "burning lips and a wicked heart," is far from uncommon. There are probably few congregations which do not contain some of those whom Solomon likens to "potsherds, covered with silver dross." (Romans 16:18. Proverbs 26:23.)
He that would not be often deceived in this wicked world, must carefully remember these things. We must exercise a wise caution as we travel through life, and not play the part of the "simple who believeth every word." (Proverbs 14:15.) We must not lightly put confidence in every new religious volunteer, nor hastily take it for granted that all people are good who talk like good men. Such caution at first sight may appear narrow-minded and uncharitable. But the longer we live the more shall we find that it is needful. We shall discover by experience that all is not gold that glitters, and all are not true Christians who make a loud profession of Christianity. The language of Christianity is precisely that part of religion which a false Christian finds it most easy to attain. The walk of a man’s daily life, and not the talk of his lips, is the only safe test of his character.
Let us mark, for another thing, in these verses, the consummate wisdom of our Lord’s answer to His enemies. We read that a most difficult and subtle question was proposed to Him for solution. "Is it lawful to give tribute to Cæsar or no?" It was a question eminently calculated to entangle any one who attempted to answer it. If our Lord had replied that it was not lawful to pay tribute to Cæsar, He would have been accused to Pilate as a rebel against the Roman power. If our Lord had replied that it was lawful to pay tribute to Cæsar, He would have been denounced to the people as regardless of the rights and privileges of the Jewish nation. An answer which would not involve our Lord in difficulties, seemed at first sight impossible to be found. But He who is truly called "the wisdom of God," found an answer which silenced His adversaries. He bade them show Him a penny. He asked them whose image and superscription was on that penny. "They answered and said, Cæsar’s." At once our Lord made that penny the groundwork of a reply, at which even His enemies were obliged to marvel. "Render," He said, "unto Cæsar the things which be Cæsar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s."
They were to "render to Cæsar the things which were Cæsar’s." Their own lips had just confessed that Cæsar had a certain temporal authority over them. They used the money which Cæsar had coined. It was a lawful tender between man and man. They probably had no objection to receive gifts and payments in Roman coin. They must not therefore pretend to say that all payments to Cæsar were unlawful. By their own admission he exercised some dominion over them. Let them obey that dominion in all temporal things. If they did not refuse to use Cæsar’s coin, let them not refuse to pay Cæsar’s temporal dues.
They were to "render to God the things which were God’s." There were many dues which God required at their hands which they might easily pay, if they were inclined. Honor, love, obedience, faith, fear, prayer, spiritual worship, were payments to God which they might daily make, and payments with which the Roman government did not interfere. They could not say that Cæsar made such payments impossible. Let them see to it that they gave to God His dues in spiritual things, as well as to Cæsar his dues in temporal things. There was no necessity for collision between the demands of their temporal and their heavenly sovereign. In temporal things, let them obey the powers, under whose authority they allowed themselves to be. In spiritual things let them do as their forefathers had done, and obey God.
The principles laid down by our Lord in this well-known sentence are deeply instructive. Well would it have been for the peace of the world, if they had been more carefully weighed and more wisely applied!
The attempts of the civil power in some countries to control men’s consciences by intolerant interference, and the attempts of the church in other countries to interfere with the action of the civil power, have repeatedly led to strifes, wars, rebellions, and social disorder. The injuries which the cause of true religion has received from morbid scrupulosity on one side; and servile obsequiousness to state demands on the other, have been neither few nor small. Happy is he who has attained to a sound mind on the whole subject! To distinguish rightly between the things of Cæsar, and the things of God,—and to pay to each their real dues regularly, habitually, and cheerfully, is a great help towards a quiet and peaceable life.
Let us often pray that we may have wisdom from above, in order to answer rightly, when perplexing questions are put to us. The servant of Christ must expect a portion like his Master. He must count it no strange thing, if the wicked and worldly-minded endeavor to "entangle him in his talk," and to provoke him to speak unadvisedly with his lips. In order to be prepared for such occasions let him often ask the Lord Jesus for the gift of sound wisdom and a discreet tongue. In the presence of those who watch for our halting, it is a great thing to know what to say and how to say it, when to be silent, and when to speak. Blessed be God, He who silenced the chief priests and scribes by His wise answers, still lives to help His people and has all power to help them. But He loves to be entreated.
v20.—[Spies.] The Greek word so rendered is only found here. Parkhurst defines it as meaning "Liers in wait."
v22.—[Lawful to give tribute to Cæsar, &c.] Let it be remembered, that a large party among the Jews bore the yoke of the Roman government most uneasily, and were disposed to regard with the greatest enmity any Jew who conceded that the Jewish nation was altogether in a tributary position under the Roman emperor, or "Cæsar." The question of our Lord’s enemies was so artfully framed, that it seemed to place Him in a dilemma. Whatever answer He gave, it seemed that He must offend one of two parties.—He must either give offence to the friends of the Romish supremacy or to the zealots among the Jews.
v23.—[Craftiness.] The Greek word so translated is only found five times in the New Testament. It is the same word that is used in describing Satan’s "subtlety" in tempting Eve. (2 Corinthians 11:3.)
v24.—[Whose image and superscription.] Lightfoot tells us that the Jews have a tradition among them, that to admit the title of any prince on their current coin was an acknowledgment of subjection to him.
v25.—[Things which be Cæsar’s... things which be God’s.] Few principles contain more deep wisdom than the famous one in this verse. Few however have been found to admit of such difference as to practical application.
The grand difficulty in applying the principle arises from this, that men do not agree what are the "things of Cæsar," and what are the "things of God,"—where the claims of Cæsar end, and where the claims of God begin. A meeting place there must be. A boundary to the respective claims of each party must be laid down. The definition of this boundary has been in every age a fertile cause of strifes, divisions, and controversies.
On the one hand the English government under the Stuarts used to push the claims of "Cæsar" to a fearful extreme. Men were persecuted, and punished, and fined, and imprisoned, like felons, because they would not worship God in a particular way. In this case "Cæsar," beyond all doubt, was stepping out of his province.
On the other hand, the Roman Catholic Church, in modern times, is continually interfering with the civil power of every nation where Roman Catholics live, and claiming for her members immunities and privileges which threaten to interfere with the existence of civil government altogether. In this case we have an extravagant and unreasonable assertion of the claim on behalf of "the things that are God’s."
There are few subjects on which Christians have such need to pray for a sound mind and a clear judgment, and to ask for deliverance from a morbidly scrupulous conscience, and especially on the question of the dues of "Cæsar."
A conscience which is very tender and sensitive about a money payment which the state demands, but very careless in all matters of faith, and hope, and charity, and humility, and private holiness, is a conscience which, to say the least, is very suspicious.
So long as we have liberty to worship God in Christ, according to our conscience, and to serve Him in the way of His commandments, we may safely submit to many requirements of the state, which in our own private opinion we do not thoroughly approve.
It is evident to every reflecting person, that all government must be the result of compromise, and that every member of the commonwealth must be willing to give up something of his private opinions for the sake of the general good. If every subject is to be excused paying the tax to which he feels an objection, common sense tells us that all government must soon come to a stand-still. One will object to one tax, and another to another, until the whole state is thrown into confusion.
Gualter has a very useful note on this passage, in which he maintains the principle just laid down by the example of the Jews under the rule of their Babylonian conquerors, and also bears his protest against the excesses committed by Anabaptists in Germany, in the days of the Reformation, under the color of conscientious scruples.
Our Lord had probably in view two parties among His hearers. One party was that of the Jewish zealots. To them He said "render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s." The other was that of the worldly Herodians. To them He said, "Render to God the things that are God’s."
WE see in these verses what an old thing unbelief is. We are told that "there came to our Lord certain of the Sadducees, which deny that there is any resurrection." Even in the Jewish Church, the Church of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob,—the Church of Moses, and Samuel, and David, and the prophets,—we find that there were bold, avowed, unblushing skeptics. If infidelity like this existed among God’s peculiar people, the Jews, what must the state of heathenism have been? If these things existed in a green tree, what must have been the condition of the dry?
We must never be surprised when we hear of infidels, deists, heretics and free-thinkers rising up in the Church, and drawing away disciples after them. We must not count it a rare and a strange thing. It is only one among many proofs that man is a fallen and corrupt being. Since the day when the devil said to Eve "ye shall not surely die," and Eve believed him, there never has been wanting a constant succession of forms of unbelief.—There is nothing new about any of the modern theories of infidelity. There is not one of them that is not an old disease under a new name. They are all mushrooms which spring up spontaneously in the hot-bed of human nature. It is not in reality an astonishing thing that there should rise up so many who call in question the truth of the Bible. The marvel is rather, that in a fallen world the sect of the Sadducees should be so small.
Let us take comfort in the thought that in the long run of years the truth will always prevail. Its advocates may often be feeble, and their arguments very weak. But there is an inherent strength in the cause itself which keeps it alive. Bold infidels like Porphyry, and Julian, and Hobbes, and Hume, and Voltaire, and Paine arise from time to time and make a stir in the world. But they produce no lasting impression. They pass away like the Sadducees and go to their own place. The great evidences of Christianity remain like the Pyramids, unshaken and unmoved. The "gates of hell" shall never prevail against Christ’s truth. (Matthew 16:18.)
We see, secondly, in these verses, what a favorite weapon of skeptics is a supposed case. We are told that the Sadducees brought to our Lord a difficulty arising out of the case of a woman who had married seven brothers in succession. They professed a desire to know "whose wife of the seven" the woman would be in the resurrection. The intention of the inquiry is clear and plain. They wished to pour contempt on the whole doctrine of a life to come. The case itself is one which we cannot suppose had really arisen. It seems the highest probability that it was a story invented for the occasion, in order to raise a difficulty and found an argument.
Reasoning of this kind will often meet us, if we are thrown into company with persons of a skeptical turn of mind. Some imaginary difficulty or complication, and that connected probably with some fancied state of things in the world to come, will often prove the stronghold of an unbeliever.—"He cannot understand it! He cannot reconcile it! It seems to him revolting and absurd! It offends his common sense!"—Such is the language which is often used.
Reasoning of this kind should never shake us for a moment. For one thing, we have nothing to do with supposed and imaginary cases. It will be time enough to discuss them when they really arise. Enough for us to talk and argue about facts as they are. For another thing, it is mere waste of time to speculate about difficulties connected with a state of existence in a world to come. We know so little of anything beyond the visible world around us, that we are very poor judges of what is possible or not possible in the unseen world. A thousand things beyond the grave must necessarily be unintelligible to us at present. In the meantime it is our wisdom to wait patiently. What we know not now, we shall know hereafter.
We see, thirdly, in these verses, something of the true character of the saints’ existence in the world to come. We read that our Lord said to the Pharisees, "They which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage: neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels."
Two things are abundantly clear from this description, respecting the saints in glory. For one thing, their happiness is not a carnal happiness, but a spiritual one. "They neither marry nor are given in marriage." The glorified body shall be very unlike what it is now. It shall no longer be a clog and a hindrance to the believer’s better nature. It shall be a meet habitation for a glorified soul. For another thing, their happiness shall be eternal. "They can die no more." No births shall be needed, to supply the constant waste caused by death. Weakness, and sickness, and disease, and infirmity, shall be no more at all. The curse shall be clean removed. Death himself shall die.
The nature of what we call "heaven" is a subject which should often engage our thoughts. Few subjects in religion are so calculated to show the utter folly of unconverted men, and the awful danger in which they stand. A heaven where all the joy is spiritual, would surely be no heaven to an unconverted soul!—Few subjects are so likely to cheer and animate the mind of a true Christian. The holiness and spiritual-mindedness which he follows after in this life will be the very atmosphere of his eternal abode. The cares of family relationship shall no longer distract his mind. The fear of death shall no longer bring him into bondage. Then let him press on and bear his cross patiently. Heaven will make amends for all.
We see, lastly, in these verses, the antiquity of belief in a resurrection. Our Lord shows that it was the belief of Moses. "That the dead are raised, even Moses showed at the bush."
Faith in a resurrection and a life to come has been the universal belief of all God’s people from the beginning of the world. Abel, and Enoch, and Noah, and Abraham and all the Patriarchs, were men who looked forward to a better inheritance than they had here below. "They looked for a city which had foundations." "They desired a better country, that is, an heavenly." (Hebrews 11:10-16.) The words of our own seventh Article are clear and unmistakeable: "They are not to be heard which feign that the old fathers did look only for transitory promises." This witness is true.
Let us anchor our own souls firmly on this great foundation truth, "that we shall all rise again." Whatever ancient or modern Sadducees may say, let us believe firmly that we are not made like the beasts that perish, and that there shall be "a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust." (Acts 24:15.) The recollection of this truth will cheer us in the day of trial, and comfort us in the hour of death. We shall feel that though earthly prosperity fail us, there is a life to come where there is no change. We shall feel that though worms destroy our body, yet in the flesh we shall see God. (Job 19:26.) We shall not lie always in the grave. Our God is "not a God of the dead, but of the living."
v27.—[Certain of the Sadducees.] The only certain thing which we know about the sect of the Sadducees is this, that they denied that there was any resurrection, or angel, or spirit. (Acts 23:8.) The common opinion that they rejected all the books of the Old Testament, excepting the five books of Moses, appears to be a vulgar error. There is no foundation for it. Josephus, the historian, was a Pharisee, and not likely to spare the errors of Sadducees in describing them. But though he charges them with rejecting traditions, he nowhere charges them with rejecting any of the sacred books.
[Any resurrection.] Campbell has a long note to prove that by this term "resurrection" we are not to understand the reunion of soul and body, but simply a renewal of life, in whatever manner this may happen. He holds that the fundamental error of the Sadducees was not barely the denial of the resurrection of the body, but the denial of the immortality of the soul, and that our Lord’s argument in this passage tends to prove no more than that the soul survives the body, and subsists after the body is dissolved.
The opinion must be received with caution. It solves some difficulties undoubtedly, but involves us in others.
v28.—[His brother should take his wife.] The law of Moses here referred to, (Deuteronomy 25:5,) ought to be carefully studied, and compared with Leviticus 18:16. It is clear that marriage with a deceased husband’s brother was only allowed under certain peculiar circumstances, and as a general rule was unlawful. How any Bible reader can advocate a man’s marriage with a deceased wife’s sister, in the face of such texts as Leviticus 18:16, and Leviticus 20:21, is, to my mind, quite incomprehensible. If it is wrong for a woman to marry two brothers, it must be wrong for a man to marry two sisters. The exceptional permission to a woman to marry two brothers was only granted when the first brother had died without leaving any children. To argue from this permission that a man may marry two sisters in succession, on the ground that the first wife left children, who need an aunt’s care, seems very singular logic!
v29.—[First took a wife, and died childless.] Let it be noted that Ambrose and Jerome attach allegorical meanings to this story, and regard the woman as an emblem of the Jewish synagogue. The idea seems utterly improbable.
v31.—[The seven also...left no children.] The possibility of such a thing happening as that which is here described, of course cannot be denied. The gross improbability of it, however, must be evident to all reflecting minds. The most probable view is that the story was a supposed case invented to supply a foundation for a difficulty.
v34.—[Children of this world marry.] We must beware that we do not allow these words to give any sanction to Roman Catholic notions of the superior holiness of the state of virginity to the state of matrimony. The distinction our Lord draws implies no reflection on matrimony. It is simply a declaration that the condition of men and women in a world to come is utterly unlike their condition in this world.
"The children of this world," we must remember, do not in this place signify unconverted people, but simply people who are living on earth.
v35.—[The resurrection from the dead.] The Greek words here are remarkable. They would be rendered more literally, "the resurrection out from the dead." They seem strongly to favor the opinion that there is a first resurrection peculiar to the righteous. (Revelation 20:5, &c.) The expression, "children of the resurrection," in the following verse, seems to point the same way.
v36.—[Equal to the angels.] We must not conclude from these words that the glorified saints are exactly like the angels. Angels have not bodies, like ours, but are spiritual beings. The meaning appears to be, that in freedom from death and disease, and in complete deliverance from a condition of being in which marriage and birth are needful to supply the continual waste occasioned by death, the saints shall be like the angels.
[The children of God.] This means evidently, that the saints are introduced into a state of peculiar privilege as members of God’s family, and residents in God’s house, after a fashion that they know nothing of here on earth.
v37.—[That the dead are raised...Moses showed, &c.] The quotation contained in this verse has caused much controversy. At first sight it does not appear to be any proof of a resurrection, but only of a life to come.
Some have thought that stress ought to be laid on the expression in the original quotation, "I am," and not "I was" the God of Abraham, &c.
Some think, with Mede and others, that our Lord refers to the promise of the land of Canaan to Abraham and his seed, and to the fact, that this promise, yet unfulfilled, will literally be fulfilled one day by Abraham rising again, and possessing the land.
Some think, with Campbell, that our Lord’s object all through is not so much to prove a resurrection as a life to come.
One thing, however, is very clear. The argument which our Lord used completely silenced the Sadducees, and called forth the approbation of the Scribes. Now if the Sadducees had not felt the argument convincing and silencing, they would not have submitted to it so quietly as they did. If we do not see the full force of the argument, the fault is evidently in ourselves. We do not see the fulness of Scripture as we ought to do. There is depth of meaning in many texts which we have not fathomed.
v38.—[All live unto him.] This expression is remarkable, and peculiar to Luke’s Gospel. It probably means, "In His sight all are living," though long dead, buried, and removed from this world. There is no such thing as annihilation.
LET us observe in this passage, what striking testimony to Christ’s divinity the book of Psalms contains. We read that after patiently replying to the attacks of His enemies, our Lord in turn propounds a question to them. He asks them to explain an expression in the hundred and tenth Psalm, where David speaks of the Messiah as his Lord. To this question the Scribes could find no answer. They did not see the mighty truth, that Messiah was to be God as well as man, and that while as man He was to be David’s son, as God He was to be David’s Lord. Their ignorance of Scripture was thus exposed before all the people. Professing themselves to be instructors of others and possessors of the key of knowledge, they were proved unable to explain what their own Scriptures contained. We may well believe that of all the defeats which our Lord’s malicious enemies met with, none galled them more than this. Nothing so mortifies the pride of man, as to be publicly proved ignorant of that which he fancies is his own peculiar department of knowledge.
We have probably little idea how much deep truth is contained in the book of Psalms. No part of the Bible perhaps is better known in the letter, and none so little understood in the spirit. We err greatly if we suppose that it is nothing but a record of David’s feelings, of David’s experience, David’s praises, and David’s prayers. The hand that held the pen was generally David’s. But the subject matter was often something far deeper and higher than the history of the son of Jesse.
The book of Psalms, in a word, is a book full of Christ,—Christ suffering,—Christ in humiliation,—Christ dying,—Christ rising again,—Christ coming the second time,—Christ reigning over all. Both the advents are here,—the advent in suffering to bear the cross,—the advent in power to wear the crown. Both the kingdoms are here,—the kingdom of grace, during which the elect are gathered,—the kingdom of glory, when every tongue shall confess that Jesus is Lord. Let us always read the Psalms with a peculiar reverence. Let us say to ourselves as we read, "A greater than David is here."
The remark now made, applies more or less to all the Bible. There is a fullness about the whole Book, which is a strong proof of its inspiration. The more we read it, the more it will seem to contain. All other books become threadbare, if they are constantly read. Their weak points, and their shallowness become every year more apparent. The Bible alone seems broader, and deeper, and fuller, the oftener it is studied. We have no need to look for allegorical and mystical meanings. The fresh truths that will constantly spring up before our eyes, are simple, plain, and clear. Of such truths the Bible is an inexhaustible mine. Nothing can account for this, but the great fact, that the Bible is the word, not of man, but of God.
Let us observe, secondly, in this passage, how abominable is hypocrisy in the eyes of Christ. We are told that "in the audience of all the people He said unto His disciples, beware of the Scribes, which desire to walk in long robes, and love greetings in the markets, and the highest seats in the synagogues, and the chief rooms at feasts; which devour widows’ houses, and for a show make long prayers." This was a bold and remarkable warning. It was a public denunciation, we must remember, of men who "sat in Moses’ seat," and were the recognized teachers of the Jewish people. It teaches us clearly that there may be times when the sins of people in high places make it a positive duty to protest publicly against them. It shows us that it is possible to speak out, and yet not to "speak evil of dignities."
No sin seems to be regarded by Christ as more sinful than hypocrisy. None certainly drew forth from His lips such frequent, strong, and withering condemnation, during the whole course of His ministry. He was ever full of mercy and compassion for the chief of sinners. "Fury was not in Him" when He saw Zacchæus, the penitent thief, Matthew the Publican, Saul the persecutor, and the woman in Simon’s house. But when He saw Scribes and Pharisees wearing a mere cloak of religion, and pretending to great outward sanctity, while their hearts were full of wickedness, His righteous soul seems to have been full of indignation. Eight times in one chapter (Matthew 23:1-39.) we find Him saying, "Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites."
Let us not forget that the Lord Jesus never changes. He is the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever. Whatever else we are in religion let us be true. However feeble our faith, and hope, and love, and obedience may be, let us see to it that they are real, genuine, and sincere. Let us abhor the very idea of part-acting and mask-wearing in our Christianity. At any rate let us be thorough. It is a striking fact that the very first piece of armor which Paul recommends to the Christian soldier is "truth." "Stand therefore," he says, "having your loins girt about with truth." (Ephesians 6:14.)
Let us observe, lastly, in this passage, that there will be degrees of condemnation and misery in hell. The words of our Lord are distinct and express. He says of those who live and die hypocrites, "the same shall receive greater damnation."
The subject opened up in these words is a deeply painful one. The reality and eternity of future punishment are among the great foundation truths of revealed religion, which it is hard to think upon without a shudder. But it is well to have all that the Bible teaches about heaven and hell firmly fixed on our minds. The Bible teaches distinctly that there will be degrees of glory in heaven. It teaches with no less distinctness, both here and elsewhere, that there will be degrees of misery in hell.
Who, after all, are those who will finally receive condemnation? This is the practical point that concerns us most. All who will not come to Christ,—all who know not God and obey not the Gospel,—all who refuse to repent, and go on still in wickedness, all such will be finally condemned. They will reap according as they have sown. God willeth not their eternal ruin. But if they will not hear His voice, they must die in their sins. But who among those who are condemned will receive the heaviest condemnation? It will not fall on heathens who never heard the truth. It will not fall on ignorant and neglected Englishmen, for whose souls, however sunk in profligacy, no man cared. It will fall on those who had great light and knowledge, but made no proper use of it. It will fall on those who professed great sanctity and religiousness, but in reality clung to their sins. In one word, the hypocrite will have the lowest place in hell. These are awful things. But they are true.
v41.—[He saith unto them.] The connection between this verse and the two preceding ones should not be overlooked. It seems clear that it is "the Scribes" to whom our Lord now addresses Himself. They were ready enough to approve of His answer to the Sadducees. But did they themselves understand the Scriptures ? Our Lord shows them that they did not.
[How say they.] This expression implies that it was a common saying among Jewish theologians,—an acknowledged and received opinion.
[Christ is Davids son.] Let it be noted, that this expression shows us, that when sick persons and others who applied to our Lord called Him, "Thou son of David," they meant more than at first sight perhaps appears. The expression was tantamount to a confession that our Lord was the Messiah.
v42.—[David himself saith, &c.] Let it be noted, that the very Psalm which our Lord here brings forward is the one which the apostle Peter presses on the Jews, in the first public sermon he addresses to them on the day of Pentecost. (Acts 2:34.) It is interesting to reflect, that on that day Peter probably remembered his Master’s use of the Psalm, and wisely walked in His steps by quoting it to the Jews.
v44.—[How is he then his son?] This was a question concerning Messiah’s person, which could only be answered by admitting that He was God as well as man, and man as well as God. This the Scribes and Pharisees did not understand.
Our Lord had probably a double object in view in the question which he put to the Scribes.
For one thing, He desired to convince them of their own ignorance of the Scriptures, which they proudly supposed they understood.
For another thing, He desired to teach them higher and more exalted views of the true nature of the Messiah. One grand error of the Scribes and Pharisees, and indeed of most Jews, during our Lord’s earthly ministry, was the low, carnal view which they held of Messiah’s nature and person. They expected one who would be a prophet and a king, one greater than Moses and David, undoubtedly, but still not One who would be at the same time very God. To correct this error, and show the inconsistency of it with Scripture, appears to have been one part of our Lord’s intention in this last public conversation which He held with His enemies.
Those who secretly wonder that our Lord did not fulfil prophecies, and apply them publicly to Himself, in such a plain way that there could be no room left for any one to doubt, would do well to remember that this is not God’s way of dealing with man. God never forces conviction on man’s mind. If men are not willing to believe, there is always room left for unbelief. This is a most important principle, and one which we shall do well to remember in the interpretation of unfulfilled prophecy. To expect the book of Revelation, for instance, to be fulfilled so clearly that there shall be no possibility of dispute or doubt as to its fulfilment, is expecting that which is entirely contrary to the analogy of all God’s dealings with man.
v46.—[Walk in long robes.] This expression either refers to garments of an extravagantly large size, on which the Scribes prided themselves, or else to the fringes and borders to their garments, which they put on in obedience to the law. (Numbers 15:38.) These fringes they made excessively large, in order to impress on the minds of the common people an opinion of their own holiness, and their great reverence for the law.
[Love greetings.] This expression is explained in the Gospel of Matthew. (Matthew 23:7-10.) They loved appellations of honor and respect, such as "Rabbi, Father, Master, Teacher," to be given to them in public places. Men often profess a desire to « magnify their office, when in truth they want to magnify themselves.
[Highest seats...chief rooms.] The grand characteristic of hypocritical and formal religion, is love of man’s praise, and the honor that comes from man. True grace can wait for honor, and cares little what it has upon earth.
The Greek word which we have rendered "chief rooms," means literally, "the chief or uppermost reclining places" round a table at a feast. It does not mean the principal apartment out of several chambers.
v47.—[Devour widows’ houses.] The most probable explanation of this phrase is, that the Scribes, under pretence of charity, took charge of the property of widows, and pretended to manage it for them. But instead of managing it honestly and faithfully, they embezzled it, and privately used it for their own interests.
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Ryle, J. C. "Commentary on Luke 20". "Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels". https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent