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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Luke 20



Verse 8


‘Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.’

Luke 20:8

What is the truth that is involved in our Lord’s answer—‘Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things’?

I. The principle of reservation.—God reserves to Himself the right to restrain, when He sees fit, that full manifestation of Himself which some men nevertheless demand of Him. There are some men, some women, in whose heart there has frequently risen up something of this resentment: ‘Why must I live in a state of imperfect knowledge, which is the result of a limited revelation?’ It was not only unto the scribes and the Pharisees, and the idle, gaping crowd that our Lord acted upon this principle of reservation when He was here on earth, it was so with His own disciples. How is the great central mystery of the Incarnation, for example, ever present in His teaching, and yet who shall deny that it is ever shrouded? How guardedly He speaks of the new birth by water and the Word; how mysteriously in the blessed sacrament of His own Blood and Body!

II. The revelation sufficient.—And yet shall we dare to say that the teaching which God in His mercy has vouchsafed to us, and the revelation that He has given to us, is insufficient? How much evidence of authority had He already given to those very scribes and Pharisees! Those who asked Him this very question as to His authority had never denied the facts—they had never dared to deny them. Yet you know what they had done—they had hardened their hearts and shut their eyes against them. It was possible for them to know long ere this by Whose authority He did these things. So for us it is possible to know, and to know with great certainty too, of Christ and His authority. What we need is sufficient knowledge to guide us unto the knowledge of God’s will. And such knowledge comes to men and women rather through the heart than through the intellect. ‘If any man will do His will, he shall know the doctrine whether it be of God.’ Will to do His will, and He tells you that you shall know.

III. Conditions on which knowledge is attainable.—There are conditions on which this knowledge is attainable.

(a) Purity of heart. It is purity of heart that enables men to see God, it is men who love God, and men who love each other as the children of God, who have the most perfect intelligence of God.

(b) Obedience. It has been well said that there is boundless danger in all inquiry which is merely curious! It is to such our Lord answers, and will ever answer, ‘Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.’ When men ask questions of Almighty God, by the answer to which they never mean to rule their lives, let them not think that to them any sign will be given. The will must be set to do the will of God before the intellect can act with discernment on spiritual truth.

(c) Earnestness. A life of trifling here is not the life of those who are enlightened by their God. God must be really sought if God is to be truly found.

A life of earnest seeking is a life of finding, but God’s truth is too sacred a thing to be expounded to superficial worldliness. There are others tried by intellectual difficulties, yet athirst for the living God, and for a fuller revelation to their souls. The time of granting this revelation rests with Him, and to them that revelation will be given. The answer to their cry will come; they shall know the doctrine whether it be of God; He will tell tell them by what authority He does these things.

Rev. Prebendary Villiers.

Verse 15


‘What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do unto them?’

Luke 20:15


I. The vineyard.

(a) Its owner (see Isaiah 5:7).

(b) What the owner did with it (see Isaiah 5:1-2).

II. The husbandmen.

(a) Their privileges and how they used them.

(b) Their rebellion and how it ended.

The Jewish Church had served its end. The Jews thought it was to last for ever; but a great Church was to arise which should embrace all nations, Jews and Gentiles. And who was to be the Head of it? The Son they ‘cast out’—the ‘stone’ they refused (Acts 4:11-12) was to be the chief corner stone.

We are part of His kingdom. We are now in God’s vineyard. Then what does God expect from us? Fruit. Are we yielding any? Is the world any the better for our being in it? Are we rebellious? Not listening to God’s voice? Forgetting Who gives us all our blessings? Despising His Son? (Hebrews 6:6.) Then we must prepare for the King’s displeasure—for banishment from His presence.

—Rev. Canon Watson.

Verse 25


‘And He said unto them, Render therefore unto Cæsar, the things which be Cæsar’s and unto God the things which be God’s.’

Luke 20:25

Let us look at the use which has so long been made of our Lord’s reply, and ask whether it is justifiable or wise. His words have been perpetually quoted, as if ‘Cæsar’ meant civil government, and ‘God’ ecclesiastical government, and as if Cæsar and God had separate spheres of jurisdiction, each limiting the other.

I. All intelligent students of the New Testament know that our Lord has made no such distinction as He is popularly supposed to have made. The question on which He was asked to pronounce had nothing whatever to do with the rival claims of Church and State; their respective rights were not even contemplated, the cunning cavillers who had conspired to entangle Him knew nothing of the distinction between the two. It was, indeed, a distinction utterly foreign to the Jewish mind. What feature in the prophetic writings is more marked than the interpretation of religion and politics?

II. Our Lord here recognises no division of allegiance.—He does not regard man as under two masters—as owing duty to Cæsar and duty to God. No; God is set forth by Him always and everywhere as the sole Lord of man’s being and powers. Nothing man has can be Cæsar’s in contradiction to that which is God’s. Christ claims all for the Sovereign Master. Rightly understood, therefore, the great precepts of the text are in perfect accord with the doctrine of God’s sole and supreme lordship over every thought, and faculty, and possession of man. ‘Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s.’ Why? Who enacts it? The answer is, ‘God.’ It is a part of your religious obedience to be a loyal citizen. God has bound up together our relation to the ‘powers that be’ in this world with our relation to Himself. He has set us under rulers and in societies as a kind of interior province of His mighty kingdom, but our loyalty as subjects and our duty as citizens are but a part of the one supreme duty which we owe to Him.

—Rev. Canon Duckworth.

Verse 36


‘Neither can they die any more.’

Luke 20:36

It is not to the Lord’s articulated references to the deathless future that we have to appeal alone. Into the whole tissue and texture of His sacred message enters the thought of ‘that world, and the resurrection of the dead.’ The same, of course, is the witness of the numberless suggestions in the words of Christ of the sacred significance of the human soul to the heavenly Father.

I. The significance of the victory over death.—Looked upon from the high point of sight, the Redeemer’s own victory over death appears at once as the most necessary and, in a deep sense, the most natural of His works. Setting it apart for the moment from its unspeakable significance for the forgiveness of our sins, we see it in a light most magnificent as the representative glorification of our own immortal nature. The Son of Man challenges the law of death by actually lying down under its iron grasp; but it is ‘not possible that He should be holden of it.’ He overcomes it. It is a victory whose character as fact is the most historical thing in history; to its actuality there come out as principal witnesses, but only principal, leading a ‘great cloud’ of testimony, the glory of the Lord’s Person, and the existence of the Lord’s universal Church. He Who died lived, to die no more. Transfigured, yet the same; embodied as truly as ever, in a body none the less real because now the perfect vehicle of His Spirit, He walked and talked with His own again. And as the proper, the inevitable sequel (for such it will be seen to be on reflection) of His Resurrection, He passed in Ascension into the light invisible. He went up thither, embodied still, leaving the promise (on His own Divine and human honour) to return again, and meantime lifting the hearts of His mortal brethren towards the heavens where He was gone. He would not, indeed, detach them for one moment from the duties at their feet, but He would invest with an ineffable air of heavenly dignity and heavenly hope the humblest factors, the most corporeal conditions, of their lot to-day. ‘As is the earthy one, such are they also that are earthy; as is the heavenly one, such shall the heavenly ones also be.’

II. Man not for time but for eternity.—This, in some faint and faltering outline, is the Christian revelation, the revelation by and in the Lord Jesus Christ, of the immortality of man. By word and by deed, by promise and by warning, by appeals to our mysterious personality, and to our awful conscience, by His own astonishing action in taking to Him our whole nature, and in it traversing and transcending death, He bids us men now know, without a doubt, that we are made not for time only but eternity. And He does this, such is the majestic balance and sanity of all He says and does, so as only to accentuate the importance of time. He dislocates no pure human relation. His doctrine, rightly understood, is the keystone of the bliss of the family and its precious charities. It is the law at once of liberty and duty in the social and in the civic and in the national domains of life. The very leaves of His immortal tree are for the healing of the nations, as they bring to Him their wounds (see illustration).

III. The inmost necessity of the future life.—In such a Presence and in such a prospect let us think, let us labour, let us pray, let us live and die. And do we ever pause or doubt in view of that amazing future when we, in Christ, shall ‘not be able to die any more’? Do we feel a misgiving of the soul, as though that long to-morrow would be too much for us, and we should at last even desire to sink out of ourselves into the dreamless sleep of a personless universe? Such thoughts have crossed the minds even of saints and sages in moments when they have been awfully conscious of the weight of life. But the question is raised almost altogether by imagination, and imagination working where it ought to rest—in regions unknown to us, but guaranteed to faith by God. And the answer to it lies assuredly in that great Scripture with which we began—‘Neither can they die any more’; ‘I am the God of Abraham.’ To know Him is the life eternal. To get a glimpse of Him is to see what makes immortality the inmost necessity—the sublime sine quâ non—of the living and transfigured soul. It has seen Him; and its being will be dear to itself for ever as the seer of that sight. To anticipate His Presence is the answer to every fear beside the timeless ocean of the coming life. For then, as now, the basis of our immortal personality will lie deep in our relation to the eternal Love. Not for one instant of the heavenly life shall we be asked to float in a void; we shall be borne upon the strong, calm tide of the life of God; we shall repose in all the depth and wonder of our being upon the everlasting arms; ‘Because I live, ye shall live also.’ ‘God shall be All, and in all’; not ‘All’ in the sense of being the shadowy and silent Sum of the shadows and silence of a Nirvana, but ‘All in all,’ the innumerable blessed ones who will be themselves for ever, but themselves supremely in this, that ‘they see His face, and His name is on their foreheads.’

Bishop H. C. G. Moule.


‘It is Christ Who has been and is the Emancipator of the slave. It is He Who is the one real Giver to woman of her dignity, her prerogative, her glory; the weaker vessel, in His estimate, only because the more delicately perfect, the more sensitive to the lights and voices of the unseen life; and, therefore, how often the stronger, the far more heroic of the two types of the one humanity in holy purity and in the courage of self-forgetting love! It is He Who has sown in man’s troubled society the seed of an endless progress in a path of peace by revealing the greatness of man as he is related to God, and then by laying it on every man, in his Maker’s and Redeemer’s Name, to study always the rights of others and the duties of himself. It is He Who, by His articulation and embodiment of truth eternal and supernatural, has given to the natural its full significance, so that His followers, because they have seen Him That is invisible, because they have handled by faith the things not seen as yet, see in every concrete instance of humanity around them a thought of God. They look upon men, women, children, with eyes perfectly human in their perception of common needs and sins and tears and joys; but they see these things all the while with the sky of immortality above them, and so with a patience, a tolerance, a reverence, a love, which only Jesus Christ can teach. Yes, it is He, it is only He, blessed be His Name, Who gives to our mysterious existence its true continuity, its unity never to be dissolved, when we see it as re-created in Himself. It is only He Who so unveils eternity as to illuminate to-day.’

Verse 37


‘Now that the dead are raised, even Moses shewed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’

Luke 20:37

In ‘the bush,’ flaming but not destroyed, were indeed closely knit together, in that incident at the foot of Sinai, three signs.

I. The bush.—There was the fact of the shrub, apparently being destroyed, yet living, and indestructible, and intact.

II. The title.—There were the words which God selected as His very title—‘the God of the living and the dead’—‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’

III. The name.—And there was the grand name by which He named Himself—‘I AM’—‘I AM!’ Independent of all external things, self-containing—self-existent. ‘I AM,’ in My own, and ‘I AM,’ part of My own eternal nature; they draw it from Me, and uphold it in Me.

Now, ‘the burning bush’ was a picture and type of many things illustrative of one fundamental truth.

IV. The Presence in the bush.—You will recollect that—in itself a poor bramble tree—‘the bush’ was actually in flames, but in it was a Presence. That Presence is first called ‘the Angel of the Lord’—no doubt ‘the Angel of the Covenant’—the Lord Jesus Christ, the one great ‘Messenger’ who brought the message of peace and truth to this world. ‘The Angel of the Lord’ called Himself by the very same name by which He named Himself nearly fifteen hundred years before—‘I AM.’

Where He is, annihilation, destruction, death, can never be. There is an essential element of perpetuity. As He is for ever, so is that. If He is in it, it is for ever. Therefore, ‘the bush was not consumed.’

(a) Such as the ‘bush’ was, so at that moment were the Jewish people. They were a poor, crushed race. But they were the covenant people, covenanted to great things. And the Lord God was with them, therefore the result was sure—they could not be consumed. They might be in a ‘furnace of affliction’; but the ‘I AM’ was there.

(b) The same truth has been indicated in the children of Israel ever since. Some persons would say that a people so oppressed would lose their integrity, must perish among the nations. But they live, as distinct as ever—they shine, and shall shine, as God’s witness in the ‘fire,’ and shall ‘not be consumed.’

(c) And as with the Jewish Church, so with our own. Our Church has lived on, from century to century, amid all that is destructible. It has been ever ‘ready to perish’—by its afflictions and its martyrdoms—but it lives, and shall live, the monument of the truth and power of God, because the ‘I AM’ is there—‘God is in the midst of her, therefore she shall not be moved.’

(d) Many is the child of God who could put his seal to the same truth. ‘My trials have burned deep, but I have lived through them. I don’t know one real possession of my soul, not one bud of hope, not one ray, that has ever perished.’ Why? The great ‘I AM’ was with you!

We learn to connect and identify the indestructible with the indwelling of God.

—Rev. James Vaughan.


‘There, in the Scriptures, in one short, unfathomable sentence, in the self-revealing words of Jehovah to Moses by the mysterious bush, Christ finds immortality, not for the soul only but for the body too, that is to say, not for a part of humanity only, but for its total. And He finds it in the fact that then and there the voice of Eternal Personal Life and Love proclaimed a link between Itself and man, intimate and endeared: “I am the God of Abraham,” said the Voice, “and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” That amazing relation was, for our Lord Christ, warrant enough for the certainty of the immortality, whole and perfect, of those three personalities. If God, if the God of the Bible—Living, Loving, Holy, Infinite, Alpha and also Omega of existence—can descend into living relationship with Man and be his God, then man must be so made that he is capable of sustaining that relationship—capable in the idea of his nature. Then man is not, because he cannot be, a creature only of the dust. He is born for immortality.’

Verse 38


‘He is not a God of the dead, but of the living; for all live unto Him.’

Luke 20:38

Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob live; but life, as we hold human life, is the union of body and soul: therefore there is a union of the soul and body even of the departed: therefore they must be joined together again, ‘for God is not the God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto Him.’ If these things are so, let us see some of the consequences.

I. And first, as regards the body.—The relation of the body to the soul, and of the soul to the body, subsists through the interval between death and the resurrection. Can we suppose that the spirit, in the intermediate state, does not affect and desire its own body? St. Paul leads us on to that thought. He did not rest in, he did not like the idea of, unclothed spirit, ‘Not that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon,’ i.e. with the old body renovated, and no longer, as now, burdensome. And this is one of the reasons why the disembodied spirit longs for the Second Advent, that it may have its body back, for the sake of the integrity of its being, for service, for the perfect image of the Man Christ Jesus, and for the glory of the Father. Do not, therefore, adopt too loosely what is very common, the idea of a mortal body, and an immortal soul. Is the body, in its strictest sense, mortal? Do not disparage the body.

II. But as respects the spirit.—Surely it cannot be that energies are dormant, that existence is torpid, and all things in abeyance, and life as if it were no life after we die, till the day of Christ. For then, could it indeed be said of souls in such a state, we ‘live unto Him’? We say it of the body indeed, though it be asleep, because of its relations to an animated soul. But would it be true if the soul also slept that long sleep? Are they not rather living in a very ecstasy of being and of joy, if they ‘live unto Him’? And to think of that life of theirs, may it not help us to live indeed an earnest, and a busy, and a holy, and a happy life? To think of them dead, is not it to sadden, to hinder, and to deaden us? But to think of them living, and so living, is not it to gladden and animate us? And shall I not do anything the better, when I remember that they are doing it too?

III. And what is our unity with those who are gone a little way out of our sight?—Is it not ourselves also to live to Him? Are we not then indeed one, when we have one focus, and when we point our life to one and the same mark? Nearer than we to the fountain of life, they doubtless drink in more of its living waters, and that makes their glory. But farther down the same stream we are drinking, and that is our grace. And the grace and the glory are one and the same river of life.

Therefore, whatever presses us closer to Jesus, draws us nearer to them. To live in Him, from Him, with Him, to Him, this is our fellowship, ‘for all live unto Him.’


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Luke 20:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

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