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122. Authority of Jesus questioned (Matthew 21:23-32; Mark 11:27-33; Luke 20:1-8)
When Jesus returned to the temple, the Jewish religious leaders came to trap him with a question. They hoped to find something in his answer that would enable them to bring a charge, civil or religious, against him. They asked him by what authority he acted the way he did, particularly in overthrowing the established practices of the Jewish temple (Matthew 21:23).
Instead of answering directly, Jesus adjusted the question and turned it back on the religious leaders, so that they were the ones who found difficulty in answering. In doing this, Jesus was not trying to avoid telling the truth, but trying to make them see the truth. If they gave him a correct answer to his question, they would have the answer to their own question. Jesus’ question concerned the authority of John the Baptist. If they acknowledged that John was sent by God, they were acknowledging that Jesus also was sent by God, because John’s message was to announce the arrival of Jesus as God’s chosen Messiah. If they denied that John was sent by God, they could expect trouble from the crowds, because many people still held John in high esteem (Matthew 21:24-27).
When the leaders would not answer, Jesus told a story to rebuke them once more for their refusal to repent. He likened sinners such as tax collectors and prostitutes to a son who at first disobeyed his father but later changed his mind. The sinners repented of their wrongdoing and so entered God’s kingdom. He likened the Pharisees to another son, who pretended to be obedient but, in fact, did not obey. The Pharisees claimed to be obedient to God, but they refused to obey John’s call to repentance (Matthew 21:28-32).
123. The wicked vineyard keepers (Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-18)
This parable pictures Israel as a vineyard, God as the owner of the vineyard, and the Jewish religious leaders as the tenants who looked after it. Just as the tenants beat and killed the servants whom the owner sent to them, so Israel’s leaders persecuted and killed God’s messengers, from Old Testament prophets to John the Baptist. Now they were about to reject God’s Son himself (Matthew 21:33-39). By rejecting him the Jews were bringing punishment on themselves. God would take away the privileges from Israel and give them to the Gentiles (Matthew 21:40-41).
Another picture illustrated this truth. Jesus was likened to the cornerstone of a building, which in ancient buildings was the stone upon which the structure depended. In rejecting Jesus, the Jews were like builders who threw away the cornerstone. God now took this rejected stone and used it in the construction of a new building, the Christian church. This new community would be mainly Gentile, and all of it built around and built into Jesus Christ (Matthew 21:42-43). People’s attitude to Jesus determined their destiny, and those who rejected him guaranteed their own destruction. The leaders of the Jews knew he was talking about them and wanted to arrest him, but they were not sure how the crowd would react (Matthew 21:44-46).
125. A question about paying taxes (Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:19-26)
The Herodians were a group of Jews who, unlike most Jews, were favourable to the rule of the Herods and therefore (indirectly) to the rule of Rome. Normally, they had little in common with the Pharisees, but the two groups were willing to cooperate in an attempt to trap Jesus. They asked him was it lawful for Jews to pay taxes to Rome (Matthew 22:15-17; Luke 20:19-22).
If Jesus replied ‘Yes’, the Pharisees would accuse him before the Jewish people of being a traitor. If he answered ‘No’, the Herodians would accuse him before the Roman authorities of treason. Jesus replied that duty to God and duty to civil authorities are not in opposition. People owe to each a debt for the services and benefits they receive. They should give to civil authorities that which is due to them, and give to God all that they owe him (Matthew 22:18-22; Luke 20:23-26).
126. Marriage and the resurrection (Matthew 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-40)
Next a group of Sadducees came to Jesus with a question. According to the law of Moses, if a man died childless, his brother was to have a temporary marital relationship with the widow for the purpose of producing an heir (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). The question put by the Sadducees concerned an unlikely situation where a widow would meet seven husbands, all brothers, in the resurrection. Since Sadducees did not believe in any form of life after death, their question was intended to make fun of Jesus and the doctrine of the resurrection (Luke 20:27-33). (For other beliefs of the Sadducees see earlier section, ‘The New Testament World’.)
Jesus told the Sadducees that their question was without meaning, because Israel’s laws applied only to life in the present physical world. Life in the age to come is not a continuation of present earthly life, but is a different kind of life altogether (Luke 20:34-36; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:35-44).
To show that life after death was a fact they could not deny, Jesus quoted from the book of Exodus (which, being part of the Pentateuch, was one of the few parts of the Scriptures that the Sadducees read). Long after Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had died, the Scriptures spoke of God as having a living personal relationship with them. They must therefore still be living, even though their bodies are dead and buried (Luke 20:37-38; cf. Exodus 3:6). Some of the scribes (probably Pharisees) were impressed with Jesus’ answer and were pleased to see the Sadducees silenced (Luke 20:39-40).
128. Who is the Messiah? (Matthew 22:41-46; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44)
Some of the questions that Jesus’ opponents put to him were unimportant, even senseless. He now put to them the really important question: what was their view of the Messiah? Jews understood the Messiah to be the son (descendant) of David, but thought of him almost solely as a political figure who would rule Israel in a golden age. Jesus wanted to show that this view was inadequate. The Messiah was far more than the son of David (Matthew 22:41-42).
Jesus referred his hearers to Psalm 110, a psalm that Jews of his time regarded as messianic. The psalm had been written a thousand years earlier, to be sung by the temple singers in praise of King David after he conquered Jerusalem and established his throne there. But the person who wrote the words was David himself; and, as Jesus pointed out, they were written under the inspiration of the Spirit in praise of the Messiah. This means that the opening words of the psalm, where the temple singers expressed homage to David by calling him ‘my Lord’, were the same words by which David expressed homage to the Messiah. The Messiah, who everyone knew was David’s descendant, was also David’s Lord. The Messiah was not only an earthly figure but also a divine figure (Matthew 22:43-45; cf. Acts 2:34-36).
The people understood, at least to some extent, the meaning of Jesus’ words and dared not try to trick him with any more questions. He was telling them, yet again, that his work was not to revive and expand the old earthly kingdom of Israel, but to establish an entirely different kind of kingdom, the kingdom of God (Matthew 22:46).
129. More about scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:1-39; Mark 12:38-40; Luke 20:45-47)
Instead of teaching only the law of Moses, the scribes and Pharisees added countless laws of their own. Instead of making the people’s load lighter, they made it heavier. People could profit from listening to the scribes’ teaching of Moses’ law, but they were not to copy the scribes’ behaviour (Matthew 23:1-4).
Jesus gave two specific reasons for his condemnation of the scribes. First, they wanted to make a display of their religious devotion so that they might win praise from others. Second, they paid strict attention to small details of law-keeping but they ignored the law’s real meaning. Jesus gave a list of examples.
Phylacteries were small leather boxes containing finely written portions of the law that people strapped on their foreheads and arms. Tassels were decorations sewn on the fringes of their clothes to remind them to keep God’s law. The scribes made their phylacteries and tassels extra large to impress people with their devotion to the law (Matthew 23:5; cf. Numbers 15:38-39; Deuteronomy 11:18).
In public meetings the scribes tried to get the most important seats, and they loved the feeling of status when their students greeted them respectfully in public. Jesus rebuked them with the reminder that the only true teacher, father and master was God, and he would humble those who tried to make themselves great (Matthew 23:6-12; Mark 12:38-39). They made themselves appear religious with their long prayers, yet they heartlessly took advantage of the poor (Mark 12:40).
Besides not believing in Jesus themselves, the scribes stopped others from believing. If they succeeded in converting a Gentile to Judaism, they usually turned the person into such an extremist that he was more worthy of God’s punishment than they were (Matthew 23:13-15).
Jews were careful in swearing oaths, so that they could have an excuse if they broke their oath. If they swore by certain things they felt obliged to keep their oath, but if they swore by others they felt no guilt if they ignored their oath. Jesus repeated teaching given earlier that all oaths were binding, no matter what people swore by, and God the supreme judge would hold them responsible (Matthew 23:16-22; see notes on Matthew 5:33-37).
Jesus also repeated some of the accusations he had made elsewhere against the Pharisees and scribes. They concentrated on minor details of their own law but ignored the important teachings of God’s law. Their efforts to appear religious were an attempt to hide their inner corruption (Matthew 23:23-28; see notes on Luke 11:37-44). Like their ancestors, they would not be satisfied until they had killed all God’s messengers. They would even kill the Messiah himself. Therefore, all God’s judgment against his murderous people, including that which he had withheld from former generations, would fall on them. They would live to see their city destroyed and their national life brought to an end (Matthew 23:29-36; see notes on Luke 11:47-51).
In rejecting the Messiah who had come among them, the Jews were rejecting their only hope. They would not experience God’s blessing till they turned and welcomed Jesus as their Messiah and Saviour (Matthew 23:37-39; see notes on Luke 13:31-35).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Luke 20". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany