Chapter 20 -  Commentary on Luke's Gospel

20:1-47 Jesus' confrontation with the religious leaders in the temple - On the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday before the arrest after the last supper, Jesus was teaching in the temple courts (20:1). The first objection was that Jesus had no authority for what he was doing. "Where did you study? What are your degrees? Who has ordained you? Where is your permission from the High Priest?" The second was a trick question about paying taxes (20:20-26). The Sadducees tried to get him with a question about resurrection (20:27-39). And in each case Jesus counterattacked with a parable, unanswerable explanation or question. Finally he condemned the Jewish theologians.

20:1 In the previous chapter Luke explained that Jesus was teaching in the temple "every day" (19:47). He is opposed by the three groups of power in Jerusalem. The chief priests conducted not only the worship of the temple but touched on all the affairs of ordinary people in fund raising, birth, marriage, and funeral rituals. The scribes were the theologians who devoted their energies to studying and applying the torah (law of Moses) and the interpretations of the rabbis. The elders were the members of the sanhedrin (parliament) who governed the political life of the Jewish people far and wide.

20:2 The religious leaders demanded to know Jesus' authority for clearing the temple and teaching the people (as in Matthew 21:23, see introductory note above).

20:3-4 Jesus responded to the question of authority by asking what they thought about the authority of John the Baptist. When John the Baptist baptized disciples and taught them (see notes on 3:7), was he acting on his own authority or had God sent him?

20:5-6 They apparently withdrew to discuss what response they could give. If they said he was sent from God, they knew Jesus would ask them why they did not believe what John the Baptist said and respond to his message. (Matthew 3:7 is wrongly translated to suggest the Pharisees and Sadducees came to be baptized. The Greek says "they came to the baptism." Evidently they were only spectators who had come to report back to the authorities in Jerusalem). But if they said John the Baptist was only speaking his own mind, the people who knew John was a prophet would have turned on them and stoned them out of the temple.

20:7-8 They had to come back and sheepishly admit they did not know. So Jesus refused to tell them the source of his own authority ( He would have told them if they had answered his question, Matthew 21:24, Mark 11:29). Obviously the people recognized Jesus' authority as from God (19:37-38, 48).

20:9 Having silenced them, Jesus came back with a parable about a vineyard (exactly as in Matthew 21:33-46, Mark 12:1-12). They would all know he was speaking of the Lord's "love song concerning his vineyard" (Isaiah 5:1) which is clearly identified as "the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting" (Isaiah 5:7). Jesus had already used this imagery in the parable of the fig tree in the vineyard (Luke 13:6-9) and in his parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1, see 21:28).

20:10-12 Here again the word doulos should be translated "servant" not slave (see "my servants the prophets"in Jeremiah 35:15, Revelation 10:7). Jesus refers to prophets who had been sent (11:49) and badly treated (see Matthew 23:35-37).

20:13-14 Finally God the Father has sent his son (as in John 3:16) who would be killed (as Jesus had predicted in 9:21, which refers to the same group of religious leaders that were now attacking him. See also 18:32-33). Here the tenants are the religious leaders responsible for the Jewish people (called shepherds in Ezekiel 34:1-10). Their logic was "if we can get rid of this Jesus, then we can control the people for the purposes of our religious agenda."

20:15-16 In Matthew's Gospel it is the tenants who themselves answer Jesus' question (Matthew 21:41). The destroying of the tenants is the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple and its religious establishment in that generation (as in 21:20-24, 32). Jesus predicted that immediately after his coming to destroy Jerusalem there would be a huge ingathering of people "from the four winds" (Matthew 24:31, Mark 13:27) and this was the time when the Gentile churches replaced the churches led by Jewish Christians before the fall of the city in AD 70. In the parable of the vineyard this is pictured as giving the vineyard to others (20:16). The response of the religious leaders was not "God forbid" (which they would have viewed as blasphemous), but the literal Greek words "let it not be").

20:17-18 The text Jesus used (Psalm 118:22) was quoted by Peter after the Day of Pentecost to point out that the Messiah who was rejected by the religious establishment of Jerusalem is now "the only name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:11-12). He is the stone people can stumble over, and the stone that crushes other kingdoms that oppose his reign (Daniel 2:44), but he also the cornerstone of the Kingdom that will never be destroyed.

20:19-20 The theologians and priests (omitting the members of the sanhedrin, 20:1 who apparently did not grasp the implications) knew that Jesus was talking about them. But they were too afraid of the people to act immediately (see 20:6). The alternative was to note every word Jesus spoke and use spies (secret agents) who would infiltrate the disciples to report anything that could be held against him. Already it had become clear that they would have to get Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, to take responsibility for the crucifixion (see 23:25, John 18:31).

20:21-22 First the Pharisees sent some of their disciples with some Herodians (supporters of the Herod) to entrap him (Matthew 22:15-16). They began by pretending they admired Jesus' character and teaching. Then they devised a question about taxes which they thought would get Jesus into serious trouble whichever way he answered. This was the hated poll tax levied on every Jew and paid directly to the Roman Emperor (as opposed to the local excise taxes collected at every customs booth). If Jesus said the poll tax should be paid to the Roman oppressors, all the people would turn against him. If he said no taxes should be paid to the Roman government, he would be immediately put to death by Pontius Pilate, the Governor.

20:23-25 Jesus recognized the trap and, taking a Roman coin, asked whose head was on the coin and what was his title (as in Matthew 22:18-22, Mark 12:15-17). The emperor should be honored with his coinage, and God given the honor due to his name. Based on this, Paul first asked Christians to "Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (Romans 12:1), and immediately went on to require submitting to government authorities, behaving as good citizens, paying taxes, and giving due respect and honor to "whom honor is due" (Romans 13:1-7).

20:26 Obviously the trap had failed, and the religious leaders were astonished (as in 2:47) by Jesus' answer, and they were silenced in the presence of the crowd.

20:27 Meanwhile a group of Sadducees (who denied the possibility of resurrection) had worked at what they thought was an unanswerable question. They quoted the Old Testament rule that, if a woman was widowed, her husband's brother was to act for her dead husband, and "the firstborn whom she bears shall succeed to the name of the deceased brother" (Deuteronomy25:5-6).

20:28-33 Now, they asked, if seven brothers died one after another, and in each case the widow had been taken and married by these different men, who would be her husband in the resurrection?

In each case they emphasize "died childless." Perhaps in denying the resurrection they believed we live on in our children.

20:34-35 Jesus' answer it very simple. There is a contrast between this age and that age. Marriage and remarriage (or other family ties and divorce) are necessary institutions for our life on earth. They are ways of preparing us for the perfect love of heaven. Here "considered worthy" does not imply earning a place in heaven by good works, but rather "have a right to" because of God's grace and their willingness to accept it (as in John 3:19-21, Ephesians 2:8). The family and friendship relationships we have now will not be needed in our resurrection. Nobody will be able to say in the perfect love of heaven "This person belongs to me and has rights to my love and loyalty greater than anyone else from any tribe or nation" (Revelation 21:23-26). Angels apparently do not marry. "Children of the resurrection" is a Hebraism meaning those who enjoy their resurrection life.

20:37-38 Speaking to Moses, God speaks of himself as the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and Jacob, who were all dead and awaiting the resurrection in sheol, the abode of the dead. The point is that, though their bodies were dead in the grave, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were already children of the resurrection. As Jesus said "The hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice" (John 5:28) which would soon happen when Jesus descended into sheol to bring up the dead from there (see Matthew 27:52-53, 1 Peter 3:18-19).

20:39-40 The Sadducees had to admit that was a good answer, and they didn't dare come back to tangle with such a teacher. Very soon with the resurrection of Jesus there was further unanswerable evidence of life after death.

20:41-44 Having decimated the arguments of those who wanted to silence him, Jesus then came back with a question for them to think about. They all accepted the fact that the Messiah would come from the line of David, but in the Psalms David said (by inspiration of the Spirit, Matthew 22:43, Mark 12:36) "The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool" (Psalm 110:1). David was addressing David's Lord. Who could that be? The only explanation was the Father was speaking to his Son who was appointed to reign as Lord King Messiah. In this exchange Jesus did not claim to be that Son, only left them to draw the conclusion which he had previously made clear. "My Father is still working, and I also am working" which the hearers interpreted as Jesus "calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal with God" (John 5:17-18, see John 7:28-29, 8:18-19, 42, 58, 10:30-31). As Paul explained, the Son of God has been appointed by the Father to "reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet" (1 Corinthians 15:25). Jesus' words are based on the fact that he was already reigning when David sang the psalm. This also proves that the Persons of God the Father and God the Son were already in relation to one another throughout the Old Testament period. Jesus said that "no one has ever seen God" the Father (John 1:18), but the Son was certainly seen again and again (Genesis 3:8-10, 5:24, 17:1, 32:30, Exodus 24:9, Numbers 14:14). The Holy Spirit was also experienced (see Genesis 1:2, Exodus 31:3, 35:31, Judges 3:10, 6:34, 13:25). Evidently the idea of the Trinity was not invented in the New Testament but is the eternal fact of God's oneness.

20:45-47 Matthew collects Jesus' condemnations of the Pharisees in one chapter (Matthew 23) but Mark confirms the fact that Jesus used these words to end his response and counterattack on this occasion (Mark 12:38-40). The scribes (theologians) had completely missed the key teaching about the Son of God, and cared only about their self-importance, greed, and impressive prayers.

Chapter 21 .....