The Parable Of The Vineyard -- Luke 20:1-18
“And it came to pass, that on one of those days, as He taught the people in the temple, and preached the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes came upon Him with the elders, and spake unto Him, saying, 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 will also ask you one thing; and answer Me: The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; He will say, Why then believed ye him not? But and if we say, Of men; all the people will stone us: for they be persuaded that John was a prophet. And they answered, that they could not tell whence it was. And Jesus said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things. Then began He to speak to the people this parable; A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it forth to husbandmen, and went into a far country for a long time. And at the season he sent a servant to the husbandmen, that they should give him of the fruit of the vineyard: but the husbandmen beat him, and sent him away empty. And again he sent another servant: and they beat him also, and entreated him shamefully, and sent him away empty. And again he sent a third: and they wounded him also, and cast him out. Then said the lord of the vineyard, What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him. But when the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be our’s. So they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do unto them? He shall come and destroy these husbandmen, and shall give the vineyard to others. And when they heard it, they said, God forbid. And He beheld them, and said, What is this then that is written, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner? Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder”- Luke 20:1-18.
The rejection of Christ by the world is what fixes the Christian’s place in this scene. He to whom the believer owes everything for eternity has been spurned, cast out, and crucified by those who represented the present world-order; for both Jew and Gentile united in refusing to acknowledge as Lord Him whom the Father sent intc the world. This comes out clearly in the parable of the vineyard and in what follows here and in the twenty-first chapter. The world was tested by the personal presence of the Son of God, who had come in grace, seeking man’s blessing and telling out the love of the Father’s heart. This is the One of whom men said, “We will not have this Man to reign over us.” Rejected by men, He has gone up to the Father’s right hand, where He waits expectantly until His enemies shall be made His footstool (Luke 20:43). Meantime the world continues unchanged in its opposition to its rightful King, as manifested by its hatred of those who now are called to represent Him in this scene. When the restraints of Christian light are withdrawn, its true character will be manifested, as we see in many lands today, both in Europe and Eastern Asia, where for many years the cause of Christ seemed to be in the ascendant, but where new persecution has broken out as violently as in any past period.
In the first eight verses we have the controversy between Jesus and the chief priests, scribes, and elders of Israel. These leaders of the people, who had from the very first rejected the testimony of Christ, were now gathered about Him as He taught the people in the temple: that is, the outer court of the temple, where teachers met with their disciples. They put the question to Jesus, “Tell us, by what authority doest Thou these things?” They referred to the cleansing of the temple which had taken place shortly before. They asked a second question: “Who is He that gave Thee this authority?” They resented the thought that a mere carpenter from that mean village of Nazareth should have dared to enter the precincts of the temple and undertake to cleanse it by driving out those who sold doves, lambs, etc., for sacrifices, and they challenged Him in this way. Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one thing; and answer Me: The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men?” What did that have to do with their question? Well, it had everything to do with it. Declaring he was sent to prepare the way of the Lord, John had pointed the people to Jesus as the Messiah of Israel. He said, “I knew Him not: but He that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, the same is He which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.” John had directed the people to Jesus, exclaiming, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” How blessedly John preached the gospel! I have heard it said that John the Baptist never knew the gospel, that all he preached was legal instruction, pressing upon the people the guilt of their sins and calling upon them to be baptized in order that their sins might be remitted. But the records as given in Holy Scripture will show that statement to be false. John never promised forgiveness of sins through baptism; he did not preach that baptism could cleanse men of their guilt. Those who came down to John to be baptized were not justified through baptism. In their baptism they acknowledged their sins and need of remission, and John bore witness to the Christ as the Son of God, the Lamb of God, through whom alone sins could be put away. John was the forerunner of Jesus, and he pointed men to our Lord as the Messiah and the Saviour. If these leaders accepted John as a prophet they would know who gave to Jesus the authority to enter into the temple and cleanse it, for it was written in the Old Testament, “The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in” (Malachi 3:1). When the Lord put this question to these self-righteous legalists, “They reasoned with themselves, saying, If ye shall say, From heaven; He will say, Why then believed ye him not? But and if we say, Of men; all the people will stone us: for they be persuaded that John was a prophet. And they answered, that they could not tell whence it was. And Jesus said unto them, Neither tell I you by authority I do these things.” Notice that our Lord never attempted to make things clear to these hypocrites; He never attempted to explain divine mysteries to men who were not genuine. If people came to Him as serious inquirers, who were honest and really wanted help, He gave gladly what they needed; but as to these men who had rejected deliberately His testimony and had refused to accept Him, He did as He had commanded His disciples: “Neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” (Matthew 7:6), He never sought to answer their cavils.
“Then began He to speak to the people this parable; A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it forth to husbandmen, and went into a far country for a long time.” It is God Himself who is here set forth under the symbol of the Owner of the vineyard, which represents the people of Israel (Isaiah 5:1-7). The husbandmen were their rulers, temporal and spiritual. “At the season he sent a servant to the husbandmen, that they should give him of the fruit of the vineyard: but the husbandmen beat him, and sent him away empty.” So they had treated the prophets who were sent to Israel in the name of God to call the people back in heart to His law; yet they not only turned deaf ears to their entreaties, but also persecuted them for telling the truth (Matthew 6:12). “And again he sent another servant: and they beat him also, and entreated him shamefully, and sent him away empty.” Other messengers were sent from time to time, only to be treated with contempt and contumely (Acts 7:52). All this revealed the actual state of the hearts of Israel’s leaders.
“And again he sent a third: and they wounded him also, and cast him out.” For long centuries one prophet followed another, seeking fruit for God, but it became more and more evident that there was no desire to glorify Him on the part of those who had been blessed so greatly. As we look back in the Old Testament records we find that this agrees perfectly with the history of the prophets. They had been misused, ill-treated, and their testimony refused; some of them were actually put to death, and others treated most insolently.
Last of all we find the Lord of the vineyard saying, “What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him.” What an insight this gives us into the heart of God! We can see Him, as it were, looking down upon Israel, conscious of all the sinfulness, the waywardness of the people, yet saying, “I am going to send My Son to them. Surely, they will not treat Him as they have treated the prophets.” Of course God knew exactly what would take place, but this is what theologians call an “anthropomorphism”-God represented as speaking and acting on the human plane. In the fulness of time He sent forth His Son (Galatians 4:4). He who was the delight of the Father’s heart was sent into the world, to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:24), to reveal the love of the God of their fathers. The people,of Israel had misused God’s messengers; they had put many of the prophets to death; but at last He sent His Son. Would they accept Him and yield obedience to His word? Instead of that, we are told that “When the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be our’s.” This was sinful man’s response to the love of the Father. Instead of reverencing the Son, they were determined to get rid of Him, and they refused to acknowledge His authority.
“They cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him.” Our Lord here anticipates that which He knew was soon to take place. He showed His enemies that He foresaw all that they were about to do. His death was foreordained,of God, but their part in rejecting Him was the expression of their own wicked hearts, as Peter told them later on (Acts 2:23). The picture is clear. Now what will be the next step? Jesus puts the question to His hearers: “What therefore shall the Lord of the vineyard do unto them?” What should be done with a people who had enjoyed such privileges but bad spurned all of them? The answer comes: “He shall destroy these husbandmen, and shall give the vineyard to others.” These words were fulfilled literally some forty years after the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ, when God in His governmental dealing, permitted the Roman army to overrun the land of Palestine, encircle the city of Jerusalem and utterly destroy it. Israel has been a nation of wanderers ever since. Her day of opportunity, for the present at least, is over, and God has given His vineyard to other husbandmen; and the Gentiles are enjoying the blessing Israel might have had. Having forfeited all claim upon God because of their attitude toward Christ, Israel after the flesh must be set aside and the vineyard be given to those in a later day who will turn to God in repentance. It is not exactly the call of the Gentiles that is here set forth, but the regenerated Israel of the last days. Some day there will be a remnant of Israel who will be brought back, when they will once again be gathered in the land promised to them in the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. During this age they are cast out because of their rejection of their c Messiah. The Lord Himself makes the declaration that God will destroy these wicked husbandmen and give the vineyard to others.
“What is this then that is written, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner?” Jesus drew the attention of His hearers to that same 118th Psalm from which the children sang as He rode into Jerusalem, where, in Psalms 118:22-23, both His rejection and His triumph are prophesied. According to Jewish tradition, Psalm 118 was written about the time of the completion of Solomon’s Temple and may even have been sung at its dedication. It is said that the passage Jesus quoted may have reference to something that occurred during the building of the temple. It will be remembered that Solomon was seven years in constructing this glorious sanctuary, and that he had many thousands of workmen, who labored six months at a time and then were superseded by others; consequently very few who were in the early relays were engaged upon the building when it was about to be completed. From the Book of Kings we learn that the stones for the temple were all hewn and cut to order in the quarry below before being sent up to the great platform on the top of Mount Moriah.
The Jews say that these stones were practically all the same size and shape, but that one stone was sent up which was so different from the rest that they were at loss to know what to do with it. It did not seem to fit anywhere. After consultation they decided a mistake had been made, and so they placed it upon rollers and pushed it over to the edge of Mount Moriah and tumbled it down into the vale below. “The stone which the builders rejected!” But as time went on and the temple was nearing completion, the day drew near for the placing of the chief cornerstone. There was nothing suitable on the platform. Word was sent down to the quarry-men to send up this cornerstone, as they were now ready for it, but the answer came back, “We sent it to you long ago; you must have it there upon the temple site.” But a thorough search failed to reveal it. Then an old workman said: “I remember now; there was a stone sent up when we first began to build, but we saw no place for it, and we hurled it down into the abyss. Go down below, and you will find it.” And so they sent a searching party and eventually discovered it almost covered with debris and overgrown with moss. They raised it with great effort to the platform above and found it fitted exactly into the place prepared for it. Thus the rejected stone became the head of the corner.
“Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken.” Israel fell upon the stone, and they have been broken to pieces nationally and scattered among the nations (Isaiah 8:14). “But on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” When He comes the second time the Lord will fall, like the stone in Daniel 2:34-35; Daniel 2:45, upon the great nations of the Gentiles and break them in pieces, in order that the kingdoms of this world may become the kingdom of our Lord and His Christ (Revelation 11:15).
The Lord Jesus said, practically, “I am that Stone, for I have come to you, but you do not know that I am the Corner Stone of the spiritual temple that God is now about to build.” So they rejected Him. They cast Him,out, but God the Father raised Him from the dead and has made Him the head of the corner. “Jesus Christ Himself,” we are told, “being the chief Corner Stone” (Ephesians 2:20).
“And the chief priests and the scribes the same hour sought to lay hands on Him; and they feared the people: for they perceived that He had spoken this parable against them. And they watched Him, and sent forth spies, which should feign themselves just men, that they might take hold of His words. that so they might deliver Him unto the power and authority of the governor.” Unable to answer Him, and having wilfully rejected Him, they stooped to the meanest and most contemptible methods in order to discredit Him before the people, and to find some occasion against Him in order that they might accuse Him before Pilate.
Men are not lost because they do not know better; they are lost because they sin against the light which God gives them. These men had abundance of light, but they spurned it. He who is Himself the Light of the world stood in their midst, but their eyes were blinded by unbelief and self-righteousness, and they knew Him not. Nothing brings out the corruption and incurable evil of the heart of sinful man like the presence of Jesus. His holiness emphasizes man’s unholiness. His righteousness throws into bold relief man’s unrighteousness. His love stirs up man’s hatred. It is a sad commentary on fallen human nature that when God Himself came unto His own creation in the Person of the Incarnate Son, men, instead of being melted by His grace, were hardened by His goodness, and were never satisfied until they saw Him nailed to a felon’s cross. God has declared, “As in water face answereth face, so the heart of man to man” (Proverbs 27:19). It is only the grace of God working in the soul that leads anyone to trust Christ and to repent of rejecting Him in the past.
Jesus Confounds His Questioners -- Luke 20:21-47
“And they asked Him, saying, Master, we know that Thou sayest and teachest rightly, neither acceptest Thou the person of any, but teachest the way of God truly: Is it lawful for us to give tribute unto Caesar, or no? But He perceived their craftiness, and said unto them, Why tempt ye Me? Show Me a penny. Whose image and superscription hath it? They answered and said, Caesar’s. And He said unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s. And they could not take hold of His words before the people: and they marvelled at His answer, and held their peace. Then came to Him certain of the Sadducees, which deny that there is any resurrection; and they asked Him, saying, Master, Moses wrote unto us, If any man’s brother die, having a wife, and he die without children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. There were therefore seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and died without children. And the second took her to wife, and he died childless. And the third took her; and in like manner the seven also: and they left no children, and died. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore in the resurrection whose wife of them is she? for seven had her to wife. And Jesus answering said unto them, The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage: but they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from die dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection. Now that die dead are raised, even Moses showed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and die God of Jacob. For He is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto Him. Then certain of the scribes answering said, Master, Thou hast well said. And after that they durst not ask Him any question at all. And He said unto them, How say they that Christ is David’s son? And 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 Thy footstool. David therefore calleth Him Lord, how is He then his son? Then in the audience of all the people He said unto His disciples, Beware of the scribes, which desire to walk in long robes, and love greetings in the markets, and the highest seats in the synagogues, and die chief rooms at feasts; which devour widow’s houses, and for a show make long prayers: the same shall receive greater damnation”- Luke 20:21-47.
In this section we have our Lord Jesus Christ in controversy with His enemies. Two questions were raised by the leaders of the Jews; and one by the Lord Himself, and a very solemn warning added.
The first question had to do with the tribute money. We are told in Luke 20:19, “And the chief priests and the scribes the same hour sought to lay hands on Him.” They were watching Him. They sent men as spies, and they wanted to find some fault in Him for which they might arrest Him. This was the reason for their questions, which were put to Him by men who desired to entrap Him. In the first instance they endeavored to get Him to say something that would put Him in opposition to the Roman Government. They themselves hated that government, and they would have been delighted if it had been overthrown and the Jews liberated as a nation. But they took this opportunity to try to put the Lord Jesus in apparent opposition to the representatives of that government: “And they asked Him, saying, Master, we know that Thou sayest and teachest rightly, neither acceptest Thou the person of any, but teachest the way of God truly.” This was mere flattery. If they believed what they said they would have given heed to His words. They approached Him in this way in order to get Him to commit Himself, “We know that Thou sayest and teachest rightly, neither acceptest Thou the person of any, but teachest the way of God truly.” Then they put the question, “Is it lawful for us to give tribute unto Caesar, or no?” In other words, they were saying, “This is the land of Israel! We know God gave this land to Abraham, our father, and to us, his descendants. Have the Romans the right to bear authority over us and to collect tribute from us? Is it lawful for us to meet their demands and pay taxes, to give tribute to Caesar?” “But He perceived their craftiness, and said unto them, Why tempt ye Me? Show Me a penny. Whose image and superscription hath it? They answered and said, Caesar’s.” The word translated “penny” refers to a much more valuable coin than either our penny, or an English penny, which is worth twice as much as ours. The word is “denarius.” A denarius was a little smaller than our twenty-five cent piece but had far more purchasing value in those days. “Show Me a denarius,” and someone handed Him one. Did He have none Himself? Probably not. He deigned to become poorer than the poorest in order to enrich us. You remember on another occasion a denarius was needed to pay the temple tax; so He sent Peter down to the seaside and commanded him to cast in his line and bring up a fish. He told him when he had taken the fish and opened his mouth he would find a denarius. When Peter obeyed, by casting in his line he drew up the fish and found the denarius. Evidently somebody had lost that coin overboard, and this fish, seeing it sinking in the water, darted over and swallowed it, and it lodged in the gullet of the fish; and there it was ready to pay the Lord’s tax when the time came. He seems to have been without a penny this time, and He said, “Show Me a penny,” and they handed Him one. He looked it over and asked, “Whose image and superscription hath it?” Many of those ancient Roman denarii, with the likeness of one of the Emperors upon them, are found today in different collections in our great museums. “They answered and said, Caesar’s.” He said, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s.” They were willing to use Caesar’s money; they were ready to profit thereby. Then they should pay such taxes to Caesar as he demanded. They were to recognize that “the powers that be are ordained of God.”
The principle which the Lord set forth applies today. We as Christians know that it is God who puts up one ruler and puts down another; it is He who permits any particular government to exist. We are therefore to pay taxes as commanded by the rulers of the land in which we live. We are also to remember that we are heavenly citizens, that we are linked up with the God of heaven. We are to render unto Caesar the things that belong to Caesar, and we are to render unto God the things that belong to Him. Jesus knew well that these scribes were trying to get Him to commit Himself so that they might accuse Him, but His words silenced them. “They could not take hold,of His words before the people: and they marvelled at His answer, and held their peace.”
Having been silenced on this point they next came to Him with a doctrinal question: “Then came to Him certain of the Sadducees which deny that there is any resurrection.” There were at this time several different sects among the Jews; two of them are specifically mentioned in Scripture, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Pharisees were the most orthodox party in Israel. The Sadducees did not believe in angels or spirits, or in the resurrection of the body. The Pharisees confessed all these things. And so there was constant strife between them because of their different doctrinal positions. It was a group of these Sadducees who put to the Lord what they thought was a very perplexing question. “They asked Him, saying, Master, Moses wrote unto us, If any man’s brother die, having a wife, and he die without children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.” That was according to the law of Moses. If an Israelite married and he was taken away by death and left no children to inherit his estate, his brother, if free to do so, was responsible to marry the widow. If children were born as the result of that marriage, the first child would inherit the estate of the deceased husband as though the child were his own. The Sadducees supposed a case where seven brothers were married in turn to one woman and all died childless. Probably the whole story was fabricated in order to enable them to show, as they thought, the absurdity of a physical resurrection. So they put the question, “Therefore in the resurrection whose wife of them is she? for seven had her to wife.” The Lord Jesus was not perplexed; He was not troubled about that. He turned to them and said, “Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). How often we err because we do not know the Scriptures and ignore the power of God! If we knew our Bibles better we would have fewer questions to ask. And if we recognized the power of God more definitely we would not be as confused as we often are. The Sadducees did not know the Scriptures, nor did they realize God’s omnipotence. Jesus added, “The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage, but they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.” When our Lord became Man He was made “a little lower than the angels.” Man under the present order is lower than the angels which are greater in power and might; but in the resurrection the redeemed will be equal unto the angels. We will no longer be inferior to them, because we will be the children of God in a manifest sense, even the children of the resurrection. All this the Sadducees denied. The Lord continued to answer by saying, “Now that the dead are raised, even Moses showed at the bush when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. For He is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto Him.” But where is there anything in that about resurrection? Well, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were not blotted out of existence; they had not become extinct through death; they are still living. God did not say to Moses that He was the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob when they were here in the world. He said, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Jesus explained this clearly. So our dear ones in Christ who have left us are not utterly unconscious: they are living unto God; He knows them well and they know Him, and they have blessed fellowship with Him. It is necessary that there be a resurrection for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, because God had made a promise to them which had not been fulfilled. He promised to give them the land of Canaan that they might possess it to the end of the time, and they never possessed it while on earth. They dwelt in the land as strangers, but the promise will be fulfilled when God brings them back from the dead. Thus the Lord silenced these Sadducees. “Then certain of the scribes answering said, Master, Thou hast well said. And after that they durst not ask Him any questions at all.”
He then put a question to them; one which they found it impossible to answer unless they were willing to bow before Him and accept Him as their Messiah and Saviour. “He said unto them, How say they that Christ is David’s Son?” Why did the scribes say the Messiah is David’s Son? Scripture says that in many places. In the 110th Psalm (Psalms 110:1) we read, “The Lord said unto my Lord, sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool.” Now that passage admittedly referred to the Messiah, the coming Redeemer. David wrote it, and David there calls the Messiah his Lord. He says, “Jehovah said unto my Lord.” “David therefore calleth Him Lord, how is He then his Son?” If they had been able to answer that question intelligently, the whole truth of His Messiahship would have been settled. The answer is this: He is David’s Lord because He is the eternal God; He is David’s Son because He became Man, and He chose to come into this world as born of a daughter of David’s line, the blessed Virgin Mary. He is therefore both David’s Son and David’s Lord.
“Then in the audience of all the people He said unto His disciples, Beware of the scribes, which desire to walk in long robes, and love greetings in the markets, and the highest seats in the synagogues, and the chief rooms at feasts.” They took their places as the religious leaders of the people. The Lord knew that many of them were downright hypocrites: they devoured widows’ houses, and for a show they made long prayers. Many of them were money-lenders, who would take mortgages on the homes of widows at exorbitant interest, so that the poor women would have great difficulty in keeping up their payments; and then when they got in arrears these hypocrites would foreclose the mortgages and take everything from the helpless widows. Was not that legal? Yes; it was legal according to man’s laws. But many things were legal according to man’s law which were absolutely illegal according to the law of God, who had forbidden the very practices of which these hypocrites were guilty. Imagine one of these extortioners foreclosing on a widow’s home on Friday night, and on the Sabbath standing up in the synagogue and making a long prayer! It may well speak to us today. God give us to be consistent, that our lives may answer to our profession, that we may be real in public and in private, as real before God in our business as in the affairs of the Church of God. The Lord said, “The same shall receive greater damnation.” The day is coming when the Lord will deal with all hypocrites. Such hypocrites are found among those who profess Christianity, and many make this an excuse for rejecting Christ. But it does not alter the fact that if you are not saved at last you will have to answer for your .own sins in the day of judgment. How much better to get right with God now than to wait until that day when He will judge every man according to his works!
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Luke 20". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany