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Saturday, May 25th, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
Luke 20

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

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In this chapter, which details Jesus’ teachings on Monday of the final week, there are the following units; the Pharisees questioned Jesus’ authority (Luke 20:1-8); he gave the parable of the wicked husbandmen (Luke 20:9-18); he answered the question of tribute to Caesar (Luke 20:19-26); he exposed the question of the Sadducees regarding the resurrection (Luke 20:27-40); he confounded them with a question of his own (Luke 20:41-44); and he uttered a sharp condemnation and warning against the scribes (Luke 20:45-47).

All of this chapter is contained in the parallel accounts of both Matthew and Mark; and twice already in this series, a line-by-line exegesis of these teachings has been presented. To avoid needless repetition, the several units of this chapter are discussed in a more general manner.

I. The Pharisees questioned the authority of Jesus, their purpose no doubt being to embarrass the Lord. That Jesus had no authority from THEM was certain; and, supposing that they alone could grant authority to religious teachers, they must have felt rather smug in propounding their question.

Verses 1-8

And it came to pass on one of the days, as he was teaching the people in the temple, and preaching the gospel, there came upon him the chief priests and the scribes and the elders; and they spake unto him, saying unto him, Tell us: By what authority doest thou these things? or who is he that gave thee this authority? And he answered and said unto them, I also will ask you a question; and tell me: The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or from men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why did ye not believe him? But if we shall say, From men; all the people will stone us: for they are persuaded that John was a prophet. And they answered, that they knew not whence it was. And Jesus said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.

Parallels: Matthew 21:23-27; Mark 11:27-33.

Their question was snide, as was evident in the malice and dishonesty of them that asked it; and yet, despite this, the question itself is the most important that any man may ask concerning the authority of Jesus. Whence is it? That question must be answered by every person hoping to enter into eternal life.

There is a dramatic contrast in the manner of Jesus’ feeding the same words of those hypocrites back to them. They demanded that Jesus "Tell us"; but Jesus threw their hand grenade back into their own faces, saying "TELL ME!" By such a shocking refusal of their rights to pass on the credentials of the Christ, the Lord exposed them before all the people.

John the Baptist’s authority was indeed from God (John 1:5); and the chief priests, scribes and elders of Israel well knew this; for the mighty herald had unequivocally identified Jesus thus:

The Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29)

He that baptizeth in the Holy Spirit (John 1:33)

He that hath the bride is the bridegroom (John 3:29)

He … cometh from above, is above all (John 3:31)

He whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God (John 3:33)

God hath given to the Son all things (John 3:35)

He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life (John 3:36)

He that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him (John 3:36)

With a corpus of testimony like that, well known to all the people, and coming from a man even the priests recognized as universally hailed a true prophet of God — the name "John the Baptist" must have struck fear and embarrassment into the hearts of Jesus’ challengers. So great was the impact of Jesus’ question that it appears they withdrew somewhat, and held a council among themselves on the answer they would give. It quickly appeared that not Jesus, but they, were trapped. The best thing they could come up with was an open profession of ignorance, and that before the multitudes!

Verses 9-18

And he began to speak unto the people this parable: A man planted a vineyard, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into another country for a long time. And at the season he sent unto the husbandmen a servant, that they should give him of the fruit of the vineyard: but the husbandmen beat him, and sent him away empty. And he sent yet another servant: and him also they beat, and handled him shamefully, and sent him away empty. And he sent a third: and him also they wounded and cast him forth. And the lord of the vineyard said, What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; it may be they will reverence him. But when the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned with one another, saying, This is the heir; let us kill him, that the inheritance will be ours. And they cast him forth out of the vineyard, and killed him. What therefore will the lord of the vineyard do unto them? He will come and destroy these husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others. And when they heard it, they said, God forbid. But he looked upon them, and said, What then is this that is written, The stone which the builders rejected, The same was made the head of the corner? Every one that falleth on that stone shall be broken to pieces; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will scatter him as dust.

Parallels: Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12.


II. This great parable is the central member of a trilogy of magnificent parables, all three of which were spoken by Jesus to set forth the rebellious behavior of official Israel. The full trilogy is found only in Matthew (Matthew 21:28—22:14). The independence of the synoptic Gospels (and all of them, for that matter) is nowhere more evident than here. This trilogy of parables is arranged in ascending order of power and dramatic effect (see full discussion of this in my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 22:14). They are the Parable of Two Sons, the Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen, and the Parable of the Marriage of the King’s Son. If either Mark or Luke had access to Matthew’s Gospel, or if either one of them had ever seen it, there can be no logical explanation of why they would have selected the central member of the trilogy and left out the other two. On the other hand, there is no logical device by which it may be supposed that Matthew took Mark’s (and Luke’s) single parable and formed it into a trilogy, because the trilogy carries within itself the most positive and overwhelming proof of originality, an originality that plants it undeniably in the authentic words of Jesus our Lord. The ancient convictions that all of the sacred authors wrote independently of each other is justified by many such things in the Gospels.

Analogies in the parable are easily seen. God, the householder, let out his vineyard, which is the chosen people with their privileges and protection from the Father, to the husbandmen who are the leaders of Israel. Such things as the planting of the vineyard, the hedge, the winepress, etc., represent the establishment of Israel as the chosen people and such religious devices as the law, the temple, etc. The servants whom God sent to Israel to receive the fruits of his vineyard were the prophets of the Old Testament, leading up to and including John the Baptist. Maltreatment of the servants represents Israel’s rejection, abuse, and even murder of the prophets. The householder’s (God’s) desire for fruits in season was God’s desire for true spiritual fruits from Israel, including especially a recognition on their part of the need of salvation. The beloved Son in the parable is Jesus Christ. Their casting him forth and killing him prophesied the hierarchy’s crucifixion of Jesus without the camp of Israel. The fact of the Son’s coming last of all shows the finality of God’s revelation in Christ who is God’s last word to man. God’s taking the vineyard away from the wicked husbandmen and giving it to others is the replacement of Israel with Gentiles in the main possession of the gospel. The householder’s going into another country for a long time stands for the absence of God, in a sense, during the long ages when Israel was left unpunished for countless rebellions against God, in the period required for the bringing of Christ into the world.

This is the heir; let us kill him … This parable shows very clearly that the leaders of Israel recognized Christ as the true heir of the throne of David, the head of the Theocracy, and as the promised Messiah. The only flaw in their identification of Christ was in this, that they failed to see that he was GOD come in the flesh.

He will destroy these husbandmen … is a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. In the third member of the trilogy, this prophecy took the form of a king sending his armies, killing those murderers, and burning their city (Matthew 22:7).

The stone which the builders rejected … By this, Christ referred to himself. He is the chief cornerstone; the builders (those wicked leaders) rejected him, but they are not through with him; he will be the head cornerstone of the New Covenant. For article on "Christ the Living Stone," see my Commentary on Romans, Romans 9:33.

Every one that falleth on that stone … This means "all who stumble at the teachings of Christ."

On whomsoever it shall fall … The imagery here appears to be from Daniel 2:34; Daniel 2:44, in which the little stone "cut without hands" smote the kingdoms of the world and ground them to powder. The Jews were still dreaming of the secular kingdom; and by such a word as this Jesus called their attention to what God would do with their worldly kingdoms. Jesus himself is the little stone; and in the figure he warned the leaders that, although they were planning to kill him, there would come the time when he would fall upon them.

Scatter as dust … The scattering of Israel is in this. Frequently that word appears in the New Testament, and not a few times it refers to God’s judgment and scattering of the chosen people because of their rejection of Christ. Too little is made of this prophecy, the fulfillment of which is before the eyes of all generations.

III. The theme of events being narrated in this chapter is that of the leaders of Israel seeking to "destroy" Christ. In the question regarding authority, they had been completely frustrated; and likewise in the parable of the wicked husbandmen, it was quite obvious at last, even to the wicked leaders, that Christ was speaking about them. They rallied and came back with a series of trick questions, hoping to procure some word from Jesus that they could use as a pretext for formal charges against him. The most likely area for them to explore was the political issues of the day. This they did at once.

Verses 19-26

And the scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him in that very hour; and they feared the people: for they perceived that he spake this parable against them. And they watched him, and sent forth spies, who feigned themselves to be religious, that they might take hold of his speech, so as to deliver him up to the rule and to the authority of the governor. And they asked him, saying, Teacher, we know that thou sayest and teachest rightly, and acceptest not the person of any, but of a truth teachest the way of God: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not? But he perceived their craftiness, and said unto them, Show me a denarius. Whose image and superscription hath it? And they say, Caesar’s. And he said unto them, Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s. And they were not able to take hold of the saying before the people: and they marvelled at his answer, and held their peace.

Parallels: Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17.

The purpose of the leaders was clearly stated by Luke in this paragraph. They planned to trip Jesus up with a dilemma. If Jesus said it was unlawful to give tribute to Caesar, he might have lost much of his popular following; and if the Pharisees could have turned the vast multitudes away from Christ, they could have killed him without causing the uproar they feared. On the other hand, if he said that it was not lawful to give tribute to Caesar, they were planning to prefer charges before the Roman governor against him as a seditionist, that is, a man rebelling against lawful authority and forbidding the people to pay taxes.

The hypocrisy of the leaders is seen in the spies and their flattering approach to Jesus, but his omniscience is seen in the perfect understanding of his questioners and their wicked devices.

Kings and rulers in all ages, as well as all governments, held that the coinage of the realm was the property of the issuing authority. This is still true today in the United States of America. Thus Christ’s reaction to this trick question was: (1) to establish that Caesar’s coinage was in circulation, which he did by inquiring for a coin; (2) then to point out that it could not be wrong to "give back" to Caesar that which was already his! The powerful thrust of this is implicit in two words that surfaced in the confrontation. The Pharisees spoke of "paying" tribute; Jesus spoke of "giving back" what already belonged to the central authority! (3) Next, he took a step forward from this and demanded that those hypocrites also "give back" to God what was his, namely the temple which they had usurped and made a den of robbers, and themselves, created in God’s image, they should "give back" to God. The ages have not diminished the glory of this astounding answer.

IV. One is a little surprised at the Sadducees appearing in this cabal against the Lord; and the desperation of the Pharisees’ case is evident in their including those old enemies of theirs in the contest. This was due to the fact that the Sadducees were the stronger political party, holding most of the high offices, including that of high priest; and these were in fact, the principal architects in the plot to kill Jesus. At any rate, they tried their luck against the Lord of Life.

Verses 27-40

And there came to him certain of the Sadducees, they that say there is no resurrection; and they asked him, saying, Teacher, Moses wrote unto us, that if a man’s brother die, leaving a wife, and he be childless, his brother shall take the wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. There were therefore seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and died childless, and the second, and the third took her; and likewise the seven also left no children, and died. Afterward the woman also died. In the resurrection therefore whose wife of them shall she be? for the seven had her to wife. And Jesus said unto them, The sons of this world marry, and are given in marriage: but they that are accounted worthy to attain to that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: for neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the place concerning the bush when he called the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is not the God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him. And certain of the scribes answering said, Teacher, thou hast said well. For they durst not any more ask him any question.

Parallels: Matthew 22:22-33; Mark 12:18-27.

The Sadducees’ question regarded a projection that was theoretically possible, but actually quite unlikely and ridiculous on the face of it. It is impossible to see how they considered this any greater problem than if only two brothers had been involved in the marriage of one woman. Nevertheless, because, under the Levirate marriage required in Moses’ law, such a development was not impossible, Jesus ignored the unlikelihood of it and answered it.

First, regarding marriage, such an institution will not be found in the eternal world. In this connection, one cannot help wondering about "marriage for eternity" as taught in Mormonism! Just as other fleshly relationships shall have been left behind, so marriage also will not exist in the next world.

Two worlds are clearly spoken of by Jesus in this passage. "This world" (Luke 20:34) and "that world" (Luke 20:35) are the designations Jesus used of the "here" and the "hereafter," nor is there the slightest hint of anything unreal about the future world. The Lord spoke with full authority of conditions there; and his words should illuminate all who heed them.

They are equal to the angels … The Sadducees had raised no question about angels, although, of course, as a matter of fact, they denied that any such beings existed; but Jesus applied the stretchers to their brains in this department also. The Lord not only spoke of angels as actual beings, but he revealed that men shall be equal to angels in the hereafter (see my Commentary on Hebrews, Hebrews 1:14).

Sons of God … sons of the resurrection … This use of the two expressions synonymously is a pledge of a resurrection for the sons of God. The doctrine of the resurrection is a fundamental of Christianity; and no faith is adequate which denies it (see my Commentary on Hebrews, Hebrews 6:2).

Even Moses … taught the resurrection of the dead; and the ignorance of the Sadducees of this was the reason for their not believing. Jesus said, "Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God" (Matthew 22:29).

Christ at once cited an example of Moses’ teaching on the resurrection; and the incident referred to brings in focus Exodus 3:6:

And he (God) said, I AM the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.

Significantly, Jesus made the argument for the resurrection to turn upon a single verb, AM, and the tense of the verb at that! Such faith in the Scriptures on the part of Jesus should inspire his followers to trust the Bible.

It is also significant that Jesus applied these words, I AM, to himself, referring to himself as "I AM" in Mark 6:30; Mark 14:62, and John 18:5; and there can be no understanding of Jesus’ use of this expression except as an affirmation of his Godhead.

Naturally, after such a devastating defeat at the hands of Jesus, the questioners withdrew, no more daring to ask any question of the Lord. However, Jesus would turn the tables and ask them a question.

Verses 41-44

And he said unto them, How say they that the Christ is David’s son? For David himself saith in the book of Psalms, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Till I make thine enemies the footstool of thy feet. David therefore calleth him Lord, and how is he his son? Parallels: Matthew 22:41-46; Mark 12:35-37.

V. Jesus himself asks his questioners a question.

As seen from the parallels, this is an abbreviation of a very significant question which Jesus’ questioners were utterly unable to answer. Its importance merits some further study of it.

1. The question itself. This was simple enough. In Psalms 110:1, which Jesus quoted, David had referred to the coming Messiah as "My Lord," and, despite this, the most widely received title of the Messiah, and one used throughout Israel in those times, was that which entered into the first verse of the New Testament, "Jesus, the Son of David." This was the title used by the Syro-Phoenician woman, and the beggar at Jericho. Jesus, therefore, said to the religious leaders, "How can the Christ be BOTH the Lord of David and the Son of David at the same time?"

2. The true answer to the question. AS GOD, Jesus is the Lord of David; and in the flesh, he is the Son of David. In God’s great promise of the Saviour coming into the world, the GOD-MAN who would save from sin, it was mandatory that the prophecies reveal both natures of the Holy One. Implicit in such a revelation was the built-in necessity of apparent contradiction, due to the antithetical natures of God and man. He who was BOTH would naturally possess antithetical attributes. It is this which led to the Old Testament prophecies that Jesus would be Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, etc., and, at the same time, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. This dual nature of the promised Messiah the Jewish leaders never understood. Their pride led them to dwell upon the more glorious qualifications of the Messiah revealed in prophecy and to rationalize the prophecies of Messiah’s sufferings, rejection and death. They even projected two Messiahs, one the Conquering Hero and the other the Suffering Priest. This misunderstanding of holy prophecy was the undoing of Israel’s leaders, for it led them to reject the Christ.

3. Jesus’ purpose in bringing up this question was apparently that of finding one last means of breaking through their unbelief; but they would not consent to learn anything from him. Not knowing the answer to his question, they nevertheless did not ask him the meaning.

VI. Jesus’ question which fingered the precise point of the leaders’ ignorance was scorned by them as something they did not care to know; and in this their inherent evil was glaringly evident. There could be no divine accommodation with such willful and arrogant sinners. The Lord responded to their obduracy by giving the people a warning against them.

Verses 45-47

And in the hearing of all the people he said unto his disciples, Beware of the scribes, who desire to walk in long robes, and love salutations in the marketplaces and chief seats in the synagogues, and chief places at feasts; who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers: these shall receive greater condemnation.

How trifling are the things men love. Honorable greetings in the markets of the world, seats at "the head table" at dinners, "the Amen Corner" in churches, medals, titles, a ribbon, a red hat, or a surplice. Looking across nineteen centuries, how insignificant do those special seats at the front of ancient synagogues appear! Yet it was for things like these that the priestly hierarchy of Israel bartered away their love for the Lord of Glory.

Nor were such embellishments of their vanity the only trouble with those leaders. With bold selfishness they "devoured widows’ houses." Just how they did this is not known but there may be a glimpse of this in the parable of the unrighteous judge, who for private reasons heard a widow’s plea; but left in the background is the impression that this instance of "justice" stood isolated in his conduct. Through their influence with such men, the Pharisees had many opportunities to pervert justice.

Long prayers … Capping the picture of Israel’s self-serving rulers is this detail of the "long prayer," uttered on street corners or other public stands, full of hypocritical piety, an affront to God and man alike.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Luke 20". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/luke-20.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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