In the previous chapter we left off at the scene where Jesus chases off the money lenders from inside the temple area. In the following section, Luke describes several encounters with various Jewish leaders who try to discredit and undermine Him with their questions and traps.
Encounters – Luke 20:1-47
1On one of the days while He was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders confronted Him, 2and they spoke, saying to Him, "Tell us by what authority You are doing these things, or who is the one who gave You this authority?" 3Jesus answered and said to them, "I will also ask you a question, and you tell Me: 4Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?" 5They reasoned among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say, 'Why did you not believe him?' 6But if we say, 'From men,' all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet." 7So they answered that they did not know where it came from. 8And Jesus said to them, "Nor will I tell you by what authority I do these things."
- Luke 20:1-8
The chief priests, scribes and elders represented the highest levels of society. Many were members of the Sanhedrin, the ruling body charged by the Roman government to oversee the affairs of the Jewish people. They came together to make a show of force and say to Jesus, "How dare you!"
Jesus had taken it upon Himself to make a judgment call on the propriety of commercial activity in the temple area (which profited these men) and carry out a swift and rough justice on these traders. The religious leaders' response should have been: Amen, it's about time, or thank you for righting a wrong that we have ignored. Instead, they were annoyed and insulted that someone with no social standing, and from a town (Nazareth) far from the seat of power would presume to do such a thing in an area that they controlled.
He obviously had courage, but who gave Him the right to defy their authority? Of course, as the Son of God (and Lord of the temple) He had God-given authority, but to say this now would have provoked them to action before the proper time.
Jesus, therefore, finds another way to disarm them. By asking them to name the authority behind John the Baptist's ministry He does two things:
- He maintains the important discussion about spiritual authority, but deflects attention and the point of the question from Himself to John the Baptist.
- He forces them to acknowledge their lack of faith. If they said John's baptism was from God, they would then have to also acknowledge that He (Jesus) was also from God since this is what John testified. By saying they didn't know they confessed to uncertainty, but they said this to avoid the displeasure of the crowd that did believe. In their hearts they did not believe and Jesus exposes this to themselves and the many who followed and watched His ministry.
Jesus' own position about John and his mission had been stated previously (Luke 7), so by not answering Him the leaders lost the authority to demand an answer concerning Jesus' conduct in the temple. The Lord follows this exchange with a parable that described the attitude and end of those who rejected Him.
Parable of the Vine-Growers (20:9-18)
This parable is a thinly veiled rebuke of the disbelief and violence that He would ultimately suffer at the hands of these religious leaders.
In the parable, vine-growers are entrusted with a vineyard by its owner who then leaves. People sent by him to check on its progress are harassed and killed, even the owner's son is murdered by the vine-growers in an attempt to seize possession of the vineyard. The owner eventually returns to execute these men and gives their position to others.
It was easy to spot the parallel between the conduct of the vinedressers and the religious leaders.
One interesting feature of this parable is that Jesus quotes several Old Testament passages (Psalms 118:22, Isaiah 8:14) to support His teaching that rejection and violence against the Messiah was spoken of by the psalmist and prophets long ago.
The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief corner stone.
- Psalms 118:22
In the parable the builders are the religious leaders who were referred to at times as the "builders of Israel." The stone was the Messiah, who should have been laid as the foundation of the kingdom by these builders but was rejected (because they wanted to rule the kingdom themselves). The stone will cause many to stumble (direct opposition to the stone will fail), but those on whom the stone falls (judgment) will be destroyed.
It was unusual for Jesus to mix a Scripture reference with a parable which normally stood alone as a teaching unit.
Tribute to Caesar (20:19-26)
19The scribes and the chief priests tried to lay hands on Him that very hour, and they feared the people; for they understood that He spoke this parable against them. 20So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, in order that they might catch Him in some statement, so that they could deliver Him to the rule and the authority of the governor.
- Luke 20:19-20
This is a description of the reaction of these religious leaders to Jesus' parable and serves as a bridge to the next scene of confrontation/entrapment.
21They questioned Him, saying, "Teacher, we know that You speak and teach correctly, and You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth. 22Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" 23But He detected their trickery and said to them, 24"Show Me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?" They said, "Caesar's." 25And He said to them, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." 26And they were unable to catch Him in a saying in the presence of the people; and being amazed at His answer, they became silent.
- Luke 20:21-26
If confrontation didn't work perhaps trickery would succeed. Note in verse 23, Jesus detects the trap and the attitude behind the question.
If He answered that they should pay the tax, they would brand Him as a Roman sympathizer to discredit Him before the people. If He supported the non-payment of the tax, they would report Him to the Roman authorities as an agitator and have Him arrested. Instead, Jesus solves a dilemma faced by many sincere Jews who were conflicted because they were being forced to pay taxes to a foreign ruler using coinage that was blasphemous to them (the coins had the image of a pagan king). Jesus goes to the heart of the matter by making a distinction between the material and the spiritual.
Some things (like taxes) belong strictly to the material world and while here we must deal with these accordingly. Other matters are spiritual and we must follow God's commands regarding these (worship, morals, etc.). The problem occurs when we mix the two, we make money our god, or we worship God and conduct ourselves according to man-made rules and ideas.
God has created both the spiritual and material worlds and has instructed us in how we are to function in each.
Question Concerning the Resurrection (20:27-44)
The leaders have tried confrontation and trickery and have failed at both, so they attempt to discredit Jesus through ridicule.
The Sadducees bring Jesus a hypothetical situation with a view to mock and ridicule His teaching on the matter. These priests considered only the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy) as inspired and authoritative texts. They were a small group of conservative, wealthy religious leaders. Their political support came from the wealthy class whereas the Pharisees (teachers and experts in the Law) held sway over the common people.
The Sadducees believed that there was a great distance between God and man (much like Deists do today). They believed that man's task was to maintain his daily life here because there was no after-life. They taught that wealth and position were blessings from God given to show His approval. This is why many thought poverty was a curse and a sign of God's displeasure.
27Now there came to Him some of the Sadducees (who say that there is no resurrection), 28and they questioned Him, saying, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, having a wife, and he is childless, his brother should marry the wife and raise up children to his brother. 29Now there were seven brothers; and the first took a wife and died childless; 30and the second 31and the third married her; and in the same way all seven died, leaving no children. 32Finally the woman died also. 33In the resurrection therefore, which one's wife will she be? For all seven had married her."
- Luke 20:27-33
Their question was impertinent and mocking. They saw themselves as wise and were ready to trip up this country rabbi with a trick question.
34Jesus said to them, "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; 36for they cannot even die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. 37But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the burning bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38Now He is not the God of the dead but of the living; for all live to Him."
- Luke 20:34-38
Jesus responds to impertinence with knowledge, a knowledge that reveals immediately His superior, divine understanding and their ignorance about matters they thought they knew well. The Lord uses the very skill they prided themselves in (scholarly examination and commentary of the Scripture) to prove that their teaching about the resurrection was mistaken.
1. Jesus correctly interprets the meaning of a key passage to prove that bodily resurrection takes place after death. He does so by drawing the logical conclusion based on the proper grammatical usage of the verb in the sentence in question.
5Then He said, "Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." 6He said also, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
- Exodus 3:5-6
The use of the verb, "Am" in the present tense (I am the God of your father...) grammatically supports the conclusion that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are also present and alive before God. The proper understanding of the use of the verb and how it leads to a correct interpretation of the passage defeats the "no resurrection" position of the Sadducees. They only accepted the teachings of the Law as authoritative, so Jesus proves His point using their method as well as their text to demonstrate that they were mistaken.
2. He also demonstrates His divine knowledge (and by doing so His divine nature as well) by revealing things concerning resurrection that only someone from heaven could know. He reveals to them that resurrected beings are like angels (pure spirits with similar powers). They do not marry or reproduce because they are eternal (no need for reproduction when there is no death).
39Some of the scribes answered and said, "Teacher, You have spoken well." 40For they did not have courage to question Him any longer about anything.
- Luke 20:39-40
Some scribes, who were serious students and teachers of the Scriptures (Sadducees served as priests) agree with Jesus but the rest were silent not wishing further humiliation.
3. Jesus, at this point, poses the religious leaders a question.
41Then He said to them, "How is it that they say the Christ is David's son? 42For David himself says in the book of Psalms, 'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, 43Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet."' 44Therefore David calls Him 'Lord,' and how is He his son?"
- Luke 20:41-44
Jesus dealt with intimidation, trickery and mocking. He has answered the questions and corrected their mistaken understanding about the resurrection. He now goes one step further by asking them a question about the Scriptures. His previous question about John the Baptist was tactical in nature. He boxed them in so that no matter what they answered, they would lose the argument.
This question asks them to interpret a passage of Scripture concerning the dual nature of the Messiah. The answer to His question (verse 44) is the following:
- The Lord (God the Father) said to my Lord (Jesus the Son) sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet (complete victory including victory over death) (Psalms 110:1).
- David spoke this prophecy (through the power of the Holy Spirit).
- Question: If David calls Him Lord, how then is He his (David's) Son?
- Answer: David calls the Son of God Lord before He comes into the world as a man named Jesus (Matthew 1:6-16).
- At the time David spoke these words, Jesus had not yet come. Approximately 1000 years later Jesus became man by the power of the Holy Spirit and entered the world through a family whose head (Joseph) was a descendant of David.
The Scribes and priests knew this Scripture and acknowledged that the Messiah would be a descendant of David but did not realize or refused to admit that (as Jesus had just demonstrated) the Messiah would also be divine. What really bothered them was that this Jesus who stood before them claimed that He was that divine Messiah!
Warning Against the Scribes
45And while all the people were listening, He said to the disciples, 46"Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, 47who devour widows' houses, and for appearance's sake offer long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation."
- Luke 20:45-47
The epilogue to this section is Jesus' warning concerning the hypocrisy of the scribes (this included the Pharisees). The warning is twofold:
- Be careful that you not be victims of their schemes, unduly impressed by their pretense at holiness and importance.
- Be careful not to be like them in their attitude and deeds.
Jesus reveals yet another hidden fact that only God would know concerning the judgment: there will be degrees of guilt and condemnation.
Signs of the End – Luke 21:1-38
Jesus has just condemned the scribes for their hypocrisy and continues this line of teaching as He describes the events leading to and including the final judgment.
1And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. 2And He saw a poor widow putting in two small copper coins. 3And He said, "Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; 4for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on."
- Luke 21:1-4
As a way of balancing His warnings about the hypocrisy of the scribes, Jesus comments on the sincere faith and generous spirit of the widow's sacrificial offering when compared to the perfunctionary giving of others with more physical resources. These may have given a greater amount, but not a sacrificial amount as was the case with the poor widow.
This event takes place in the temple area and naturally sets up a question about the temple itself which Jesus uses to elaborate on the issue of judgment, something the Jews will soon face because of their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah.
5And while some were talking about the temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts, He said, 6"As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down." 7They questioned Him, saying, "Teacher, when therefore will these things happen? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?"
- Luke 21:5-7
Their questions lead Jesus into a long teaching concerning the end times. Both Matthew (Matthew 24) and Mark (Mark 13) include this section in their gospels. When taken together these passages contain three questions by the Apostles:
- When will this happen (destruction of the temple) and what are the signs for this?
- What will be the sign of your coming (return)?
- What about the end times?
Luke only records the first question asked by the Apostles but includes the answers to both the first and second questions.
In verses 8-24 He answers the first question by describing the political and social situation in the world as well as the persecution of the church that will precede the end of the city of Jerusalem (70 AD). He also describes the suffering and destruction that will take place.
In verses 25-36 Jesus gives them information concerning His return which will coincide with the end of the world. The Lord finishes with an encouragement to be alert for both the destruction of Jerusalem and His return at the end.
In verses 37-38 Luke adds a comment that Jesus' devoted followers were listening to Him teach daily in the temple and Jesus would spend evenings in prayer. This call to prepare for judgment sets up the final events in Jesus' ministry: His crucifixion, death and resurrection.
1. We should all strive to give sacrificially, not just regularly
We can easily become complacent in our giving (and thus receive no blessing from it) if there is no element of sacrifice in our offering to the Lord.
2. The judgment is sure
The Jews ignored Jesus' warning of judgment to come (and we know historically that it did come in 70 AD when the Roman army destroyed the city of Jerusalem and its temple along with the majority of its citizens). Let's not make the same mistake.
- What type of attack or confrontation on your own personal faith do you find most challenging?
- Why is this so?
- How can you improve your response?
- Summarize, in your own words, the answer to the question, "what will happen at the end of the world when Jesus returns?"
- Can you provide Scriptures for your answer?