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Bible Commentaries
Luke 20

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verses 1-2

Luke’s reference to Jesus preaching the gospel, as well as the question of His authority to do so, preview the experiences of Peter and Paul (cf. Acts 4:7). Individuals from the chief priests, scribes or lawyers, and elders made up the Sanhedrin. Thus their question constituted an official inquiry. The critics’ first question dealt with who Jesus claimed to be and the second with whom He represented: Himself, or some group.

"Jesus had upset the normal ’religious’ atmosphere of the temple, which led the religious leaders to question His authority." [Note: Ibid., p. 254.]

Verses 1-4

C. Jesus’ teachings in the temple 20:1-21:4

Luke presented Jesus’ teachings in the temple as beginning with opposition from the religious leaders and leading on to Jesus’ condemnation of them. He evidently wanted to highlight the reasons for God’s passing over Israel and working with Gentiles equally in the present era. All of what follows in this section happened on Wednesday of "passion week."

Verses 1-8

1. The controversy over authority 20:1-8 (cf. Matthew 21:23-27; Mark 11:27-33)

Jesus’ authority was crucial not only for the Jewish leaders who opposed Him but for Luke’s readers. This passage established Jesus’ authority beyond reasonable doubt.

Verses 3-6

Jesus’ reply with a counter-question was common in rabbinic discussions. [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 725.] He used "heaven" as a synonym for God. Luke recorded many instances of this practice. The Jewish leaders had opposed John the Baptist, though the people followed him. Luke alone mentioned the leaders’ fear of stoning. Stoning was the penalty for prophesying falsely (Deuteronomy 13:1-11). Here the leaders feared that they might suffer the same fate for denying the legitimacy of a true prophet. Luke therefore hinted that the people who listened to Jesus were the faithful Israelites and that their leaders who rejected Him were worthy of stoning.

Verses 7-8

Luke recorded the leaders’ confession that they did not know from where John received his authority. This was, of course, a deliberate evasion of Jesus’ question. However their answer condemned them because as Israel’s leaders they were responsible to evaluate the claims of professing prophets. Jesus used their refusal to answer His question as a reason not to answer theirs, but the implication was clear to everyone. He claimed the same authority as John, namely, God. There was ample evidence of that in Jesus’ ministry even though the critics refused to accept it.

Verses 9-12

Jesus directed his teaching to the people who generally responded positively to His instruction. A positive response to revelation results in more insight. Those in the crowd who did not believe in Jesus would have found this teaching less illuminating.

The owner of the vineyard in the parable represents God, the vineyard is Israel (cf. Psalms 80:8-16; Isaiah 5:1-7), and the tenant farmers are Israel’s religious leaders. The harvest stands for the inauguration of the kingdom, and the servants represent the prophets. The produce of the vineyard symbolizes the fruits of righteousness that God hoped to find in His people. Luke simplified the story compared with Matthew and Mark’s versions probably to stress the main points and to avoid distraction from too much detail.

Verses 9-19

2. The parable of the wicked tenant farmers 20:9-19 (cf. Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12)

This parable taught that Israel’s religious leaders who had authority were mismanaging their authority. It also affirmed Jesus’ authority, not just as a prophet, but as God’s Son. The leaders had expressed fear of death (Luke 20:6). Jesus now revealed that He would die but would experience divine vindication. The parable contains further teaching on the subject of proper stewardship as well (cf. Luke 19:11-27).

Verses 13-14

Luke cast the owner’s thought in the form of a soliloquy, which he liked to do (cf. Luke 16:3-4; Luke 18:4-5). This literary device adds pathos to the story. The term "beloved" (Gr. agepeton) son identifies the owner’s son as unique from his viewpoint, but it also identified him as God’s Son to perceptive listeners and to Luke’s readers (cf. Luke 3:22). Evidently the tenants believed they could conceal the murder, and the owner would turn the vineyard over to them having no other heir. This was very bad stewardship of what belonged to the owner.

"Tenants were known to claim possession of land they had worked for absentee landlords (Talmud, Baba Bathra 35b, 40b). In a day when title was sometimes uncertain, anyone who had had the use of land for three years was presumed to own it in the absence of an alternative claim (Mishnah, Baba Bathra Luke 3:1)." [Note: Morris, p. 285.]

Verse 15

Matthew and Luke have the tenants casting the son out of the vineyard and then killing him whereas Mark has them doing these things in the reverse order. Probably they removed him from the vineyard, killed him, and then cast his corpse farther from the vineyard. The order of Matthew and Luke makes the killing the climax, and Mark’s point seems to be the insults that the son suffered.

Verse 16

Only Luke recorded the verbal response of the people to the vineyard owner’s action: "may it never be" (Gr. me genoito, cf. Romans 3:4; Romans 3:6; Romans 3:31, et al.). This was a strong statement expressing firm rejection. They understood that Jesus was predicting that God would condemn Israel’s leaders and turn the nation over to other people, probably Gentiles and specifically the Romans. They foresaw the end of Judaism as they knew it, and this prospect upset them.

Verse 17

By looking at His hearers Jesus captivated their attention for a very important statement. Jesus’ response corrected the crowd’s resistance to the idea that God would judge Israel’s present leaders and would allow Israel to fall under other presumably Gentile leadership. He now changed the figure from a vineyard to a building. Luke recorded Him quoting only Psalms 118:22, not Luke 20:23, which the other evangelists included (cf. Luke 19:38; Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:7). This has the effect of highlighting the stone, namely, Jesus, without reference to God.

An apparently insignificant stone that builders discarded as being unfit would become the most important stone of all. Jesus would become the most important feature in what God was building. Luke’s original readers would have understood this as a reference to Jesus being the head of the church. The statement was a further indictment against the current builders, Israel’s leaders.

Verse 18

Jesus next referred to other Old Testament passages that also referred to a stone (Daniel 2:34; Daniel 2:44-45; cf. Isaiah 8:14-15). They taught that a capstone would be God’s agent of judgment. Those who opposed it would only destroy themselves, and it would crush those on whom it fell. The stone in Daniel 2 represents a kingdom. Likewise Jesus as the King of the kingdom of God would serve as God’s agent of judgment in the future. However even now Jesus was the stone that would bring judgment on God’s enemies.

Verse 19

The religious leaders understood Jesus’ meaning and wanted to silence Him but decided not to do anything publicly then because so many of the people supported Jesus (cf. Luke 19:47-48; Luke 22:2).

Verse 20

Luke revealed the motives of Israel’s leaders on this occasion more clearly than the other evangelists did. They watched for and made opportunities to trap Jesus. The Greek word egkathetos, translated "spy," means one hired to lie in wait. A private detective or secret agent might be closer to the ancient equivalent than a military spy. These spies feigned righteous behavior though their real purpose was to get Jesus to say something for which they might accuse Him before Pilate, the Roman governor. Later they resorted to telling Pilate that Jesus taught the people not to pay their taxes (Luke 23:2), but that was a lie.

Verses 20-26

3. The question of tribute to Caesar 20:20-26 (cf. 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17)

Luke showed how the religious leaders’ antagonism was intensifying against Jesus. This was another attempt to discredit Him (cf. Luke 20:1-8). Luke may have included it also because it shows that Jesus did not teach hostility toward the state. The early Christians likewise suffered because of false accusations that they opposed their government, but this was generally untrue.

Verses 21-22

The spies’ preamble was both flattering and devious (cf. Acts 24:2-3). They claimed to accept Jesus’ teaching and to desire a clarification of a point of law. Probably they hoped that their preamble would give Jesus a feeling of self-confidence that would lead to a foolish answer. They wanted to know if Jesus believed that the Mosaic Law required the Jews to pay taxes (Gr. phoros, a general word for tribute) to the occupying Romans. They thought that if Jesus said yes He would alienate the common people, especially the Zealots, who objected strongly to paying. If Jesus said no, He would incur the wrath of Rome, and the Sanhedrin could tell Pilate that He taught the people not to pay their taxes.

Verses 23-25

Jesus perceived the malicious intentions of His questioners rather than falling before their flattery. He proceeded to lead them into a trap of His own. He used an object lesson to reinforce and clarify His answer rather than sidestepping the controversial question. He answered by appealing to principle.

The Roman denarius bore the image of Caesar, probably that of Tiberius (A.D. 14-37) at this time. The image indicated that the money ultimately belonged to him and the government that he headed and represented. He had issued it, though, of course, in another sense it belonged to the person who currently possessed it. The fact that the Jews used Roman money indicated that Rome ruled over them. This rule involved providing services for them as well as extracting payment for those services from them. Therefore the demand for taxes was legitimate.

Jesus added that His questioners and all people who bear the image of God should also give Him what is His due, namely, their worship and service (cf. Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17). Roman coins also bore inscriptions claiming that the emperor was divine. [Note: See Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, s.v. "Coins," by Gleason L. Archer, 1:902-11.] Jesus repudiated that idea by referring to God as the person to whom people owed their primary allegiance.

Jesus was not setting up two parallel and separate realms in which He wanted people to live, namely, the political and the spiritual. Rather He was showing that paying earthly rulers what is their due is only a logical extension of paying the heavenly Ruler what is His due. The earthly political sphere lies within the larger spiritual sphere. When political and spiritual responsibilities conflict, we must give precedence to our larger spiritual responsibility (cf. Acts 5:29).

"Jesus is not a political revolutionary who rails against Rome, nor is he an ardent nationalist. . . .

"This text is the closest to a political statement Jesus makes. . . . In many ways Jesus’ handling of this question shows that he is not interested in the political agenda of changing Rome. He is not a zealot. He is more interested that Israel be a people who honor the God they claim to know than being concerned with their relationship to Rome." [Note: Bock, Luke, p. 512.]

Verse 26

Jesus’ answer in Luke 20:25 has become so commonplace to us that we fail to appreciate the impact it must have had on those who heard it for the first time. Jesus’ critics could not criticize either His logic or His statement. Wisely they kept quiet (cf. Luke 14:6; Luke 20:40), a fact that only Luke noted. Luke also drew attention to their failure to "catch" (NIV "trap," Gr. epilambanomai) Jesus, which he earlier identified as their purpose (Luke 20:20).

This teaching would have been helpful to Luke’s original readers who, as all Christians do, had responsibilities to pagan political authorities as well as to God.

Verse 27

Luke had not identified the party affiliations of Jesus’ former critics as Matthew and Mark did. These Jewish parties would not have been of much interest to his original readers. However here he identified the Sadducees by name. He needed to do this because of their denial of the resurrection that was the central problem that they brought to Jesus. Most Greeks denied the resurrection of the body too (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:12). Much Greek psychology viewed the body as the temporary prison of the soul that was immortal.

Jesus had taught much about the future and had implied that He believed in the resurrection of the body (e.g., Luke 19:11-28). The Sadducees opposed the Pharisees at many points because they believed the Pharisees had departed too far from the teachings of the Old Testament. In one sense the Sadducees were liberal in their theology since they denied much that is supernatural (e.g., the resurrection, angels, and spirits; Acts 23:8). On the other hand they were quite conservative in that they based their views on a strict interpretation of Old Testament teachings and rejected the oral traditions.

Verses 27-40

4. The problem of the resurrection 20:27-40 (cf. Matthew 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27)

This incident was also relevant for Luke’s original Greek readers. The question of the resurrection of the body was important in Greek philosophy (cf. 1 Corinthians 15). Luke used this incident in his narrative to bring Jesus’ confrontations with His critics in the temple courtyard to a climax.

Verse 28

The Sadducees’ commitment to the Old Testament was evident in their approach to Jesus. They began by quoting Deuteronomy 25:5 (cf. Genesis 38:8). The practice in question was levirate marriage. [Note: See Millar Burrows, "Levirate Marriage in Israel," Journal of Biblical Literature 59 (1940):23-33; idem, "The Marriage of Boaz and Ruth," Journal of Biblical Literature 59 (1940):445-54.]

Verses 29-33

Jesus’ critics posed a possible but far-fetched case of levirate marriage. Their obvious purpose was to show that belief in the resurrection of the body was ludicrous and that Jesus was wrong to advocate it. However, they made the unwarranted assumption that life in a resurrected body would involve sexual relations as we know them now. The problem was that none of the woman’s seven husbands had fathered a child by her. Consequently none of them had any special claim on her as his wife.

Verses 34-36

Jesus contrasted the present age with the kingdom age. People resurrected to live in the kingdom, sons or products of the resurrection (Luke 20:36), will not marry (as men do) nor be given in marriage (as women are). They will be immortal, as the angels.

Like the angels they will also be "sons of God," a common designation for the angels in the Old Testament (cf. Job 1:6; Job 2:1; et al.). This title stresses the God-like characteristic of the angels and the resurrected saints that is in view, namely, their immortality. Even though believers are already sons of God we will become sons of God in a fuller sense through resurrection. Similarly Jesus was always God’s Son in the administrative structure of the Trinity, but He became the Son of God in a fuller sense by resurrection (Psalms 2:7; Acts 13:33).

God considers these people worthy to attain to the resurrection of believers because of their faith, not because of any personal merit of their own (cf. Acts 5:41).

There will be people living in the kingdom who have not yet died and experienced resurrection. Jesus was not speaking about them, only about "sons of the resurrection," namely, those who had died and experienced resurrection (cf. Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2; 1 Corinthians 15:50-57; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).

This explanation was important for Hellenistic readers. The Greeks believed that especially worthy mortals became gods, but this is not what Jesus taught. Rather He said that worthy mortals who are already sons of God will become immortal and incapable of reproducing following their resurrection.

Verses 37-38

Jesus also corrected the Sadducees by affirming that the dead rise. There is not just continuing conscious existence after death, as many Greeks believed. To prove His point Jesus cited a verse from the Pentateuch, which his critics respected greatly (Exodus 3:6; cf. Acts 7:32). However the Sadducees had misinterpreted what Moses had written about God’s relationship to the patriarchs.

His point was that Moses spoke of God as presently being the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all of whom had died. He inferred from this that God could only be their God then if they would rise from the dead eventually. God will raise all people eventually. All live to Him in that sense. Therefore "to Him all are alive" (NIV). Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will experience resurrection at the Second Coming and will live in the kingdom as "sons of the resurrection" (Luke 20:36).

Verse 39

Luke is the only evangelist who recorded the verbal reaction of certain scribes, presumably Pharisees. They agreed with Jesus about the resurrection and disagreed with the Sadducees. Their comment confirmed the truthfulness of Jesus’ teaching about the resurrection and affirmed Him.

Verse 40

Luke omitted the discussion about the greatest commandment that followed (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34). He had recorded a similar conversation earlier in his Gospel (Luke 10:25-28) and may have wanted to avoid repetition. He jumped ahead to the end of Jesus’ teaching in the temple that day and wrote that Jesus’ answer ended the attempts to trap Him in His words.

Verse 41

Jesus addressed the religious leaders who had been questioning Him. Matthew has Jesus asking the question of the Pharisees (Matthew 22:41). Mark has Him asking generally how the scribes could say that Messiah was David’s son (Mark 12:35). Luke has Jesus alluding even more generally to those who taught that Messiah was David’s son. Luke’s wording focuses on the question more directly by playing down the identity of the teachers. The people listening to the discussion were those whom Jesus addressed as well as His critics (Luke 20:45). The question itself was, in what sense could Israel’s teachers say that Messiah would be David’s son.

"People who used the title ’Son of David’ (Luke 18:38-39; Matthew 21:9) clearly envisaged the Messiah as someone who would defeat all Israel’s foes and bring in a new kingdom of David. They thought of David’s son as similar to David in being, outlook and achievement. There are not wanting Jewish writings of the period which speak of the Son of David in terms of a narrow nationalism that looked for Israel’s triumph over all its foes (e.g. the Psalms of Solomon). Jesus means us to see that the Messiah was not David’s son in that petty sense. He was Lord, Lord of men’s hearts and lives. To call Him Lord meaningfully is to see Him as greater by far than merely another David." [Note: Morris, p. 293.]

Verses 41-44

5. Jesus’ question about David’s son 20:41-44 (cf. Matthew 22:41-46; Mark 12:35-37)

Jesus’ questioners having fallen silent, He now took the offensive and asked them a question. Its purpose was to clarify the identity of the Messiah.

Verses 42-43

Jesus’ point was that Messiah had to be God as well as a descendant of David. He quoted Psalms 110:1 to show that this messianic psalm presented David as addressing Messiah seated at Yahweh’s right hand, a position that only God could occupy. The early church’s use of this psalm shows that the Jews regarded it as messianic (cf. Acts 2:34; Acts 7:56; Romans 8:34; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 1:13; Hebrews 5:6; Hebrews 7:17; Hebrews 7:21; Hebrews 8:1; Hebrews 10:12-13; 1 Peter 3:22; Revelation 3:21). It is the most quoted psalm in the New Testament. Moreover the title "Lord" as David used it the second time (Heb. adonay) was a title of deity in the Old Testament. The psalm also spoke of Messiah coming from heaven to reign on the earth, another indication of His deity. In Acts 2:34-35 Peter explained that this verse taught Jesus’ exaltation following His resurrection.

Verse 44

Jesus drew the logical conclusion by framing it as a question. Messiah must be both divine and a descendant of David (cf. Romans 1:3-4). No synoptic writer recorded an answer. Apparently no one offered one. The conclusion was obvious but unacceptable to the religious leaders. They did not want to admit that Messiah was God. If they did, they would have to prove that Jesus was not God since He claimed to be Messiah. They did not want to do that because of popular support for Jesus’ messiahship and because they would have had to submit to Him.

"This title of ’Lord’ was a more important title than Messiah, for it pictured Jesus’ total authority and His ability and right to serve as an equal with God the Father." [Note: Bock, "A Theology . . .," p. 104.]

Verses 45-47

6. Jesus’ condemnation of the scribes 20:45-47 (cf. Matthew 23:1-39; Mark 12:38-40)

Luke and Mark both recorded only a synopsis of Jesus’ warning to the multitudes and His disciples that Matthew narrated in detail. Perhaps Luke did so because he had already included Jesus’ lengthy criticisms of the scribes in Luke 11:37-54. Whereas the preceding verses criticized the teachers’ doctrine (Luke 20:41-44), these condemned their practice. Immorality often accompanies heterodoxy. Jesus attacked their attitudes particularly. These words constituted Jesus’ final break with Israel’s religious leaders.

Jesus warned His disciples and secondarily the crowds (Gr. laos) listening in, contrasted with the religious leaders, to avoid three characteristics of the lawyers: their pride, greed, and hypocrisy. Four of their common actions indicated their pride (Luke 20:46). They desired personal admiration, respect, prominence, and honor. The learned teachers wore long robes (Gr. stole) in Israel. [Note: Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "stole," by U. Wilckens, 7:690-91.] They greedily took money from widows who needed it more than they did, apparently violating the trust of these dependent women. [Note: See J. D. M. Derrett, "’Eating up the Houses of Widows’: Jesus’s Comment on Lawyers?" Novum Testamentum 14 (1972):1-9.] This may have included abusing the hospitality of widows who had little money. [Note: Jeremias, Jerusalem in . . ., p. 114. Cf. Morris, p. 294.] Their long prayers presented the appearance of great piety, but they were offering them only to give people that impression.

The condemnation that they would receive at the great white throne judgment would be greater than what other unbelievers would receive who had not been guilty of those sins. Greater privilege means greater responsibility (cf. James 3:1).

This day of teaching in the temple had begun with the religious leaders questioning Jesus’ authority (Luke 20:1-2). Jesus now concluded His public teaching in the temple courtyard with an authoritative evaluation of those who sought to evaluate Him. He was their judge, not the other way around.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Luke 20". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/luke-20.html. 2012.
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