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Bible Commentaries
Luke 20

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

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Verses 1-8

Of the Authority of Jesus and That of John

(Matthew 21:23-32; Mark 11:27-33; Luke 20:1-8)

Jesus knows the anger which he is on the verge of stirring up, but he comes nonetheless to teach openly in the Temple. Hence the question: "By what authority are you doing these things ...?"

True authority is not proved by arguments; it is recognized, it authenticates itself. For those who have eyes to see or ears to hear, the authority of Jesus manifests itself in his words and his works. We have seen this all through his ministry.

Therefore, Jesus replies to the question by another question: What was the authority of John the Baptist? Indeed, if these men had taken John’s baptism of repentance seriously, if they had believed his message, they would have known who Jesus is. The chief priests side-step the question, thus revealing their bad faith. The parable of the Two Sons with its conclusion (vss. 28-32) is closely connected with that which precedes it. It is preserved only by Matthew. Jesus places their own condemnation in the mouths of his accusers "(vss. 30-31); for they are like the son who said, "Yes," but did not obey. John the Baptist had preached the righteousness of God. The tax collectors and harlots had believed his message and repented. They will go into the Kingdom of God before the leaders of Israel. Once again the accent is placed on doing the will of God. What we profess to believe has no value if it is not translated into obedience. This warning is addressed to "religious" people in every age.

Verses 9-19

The Parable of the Tenants

(Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19)

This parable calls up the whole drama of Israel, that elect and rebellious people now placed before a final decision. Its meaning is clear for every Jew well versed in the Scriptures, for the image of the vine is used in the Old Testament to designate Israel, and everyone knew from memory the "song of the vineyard" of Isaiah 5:1-7.

But the parable as told by Jesus contained a new point the sending of the son, introduced by this moving word: "They will respect my son." Without doubt, a human owner would hesitate to risk the life of his son by sending him alone to face some rebels who have just killed his servants! Matthew accentuates the paradox of the situation by saying that finally a group of servants went (vs. 36; compare Luke 20:10-12 where the three servants go one by one; also Mark 12:2-6). This improbable aspect of the story is certainly deliberately designed; for what is more unlikely to the human reason than the sacrifice of the Son of God?

This parable strongly underlines the responsibility of the leaders of Israel. A final appeal has been addressed to them, and they are about to reject it. According to Matthew, which runs counter to Mark and Luke at this point, Jesus poses the judgment of the owner on his tenants under the form of a question (vss. 40-41). Thus the hearers themselves pronounce the verdict the master of the vineyard will put to death the guilty vinedressers and lease out his vineyard to others.

Jesus states his thought more precisely by means of another image taken from Scripture: that of the stone rejected by the builders which becomes the cornerstone (could the reference be perhaps to the "keystone"?) of the new work built by the Lord himself (vs. 42; see Psalms 118:22-23). Verse 44 (which is not found in certain manuscripts) is connected directly to verse 42; the stone will break those who run against it, but it will crush those on whom it falls (see Isaiah 8:14-15). Doubtless in this image of the stone there should be seen an allusion to the old Temple which God is going to destroy and the new Temple which is not made by the hand of man. The Apostles take up this image again on several occasions (Acts 4:11; Romans 9:33; 1 Peter 2:4-8).

Verse 43 states precisely that the Kingdom will be taken away from the unfaithful tenants and given to "a nation producing the fruits of it" In reality, this does not refer to a "nation" in the geographical and ethnic sense, but to that "holy nation," the new people, the "race" born from above of which the Apostle Peter speaks (1 Peter 2:9-10).

The chief priests understood very well the meaning of these two parables. But, the record tells us, they did not dare to arrest Jesus yet because of the people who sided with him. It was necessary to intrigue behind the scenes and to prepare or bribe public opinion.

When we read these severe judgments of Jesus on the Old Israel, we must not forget that such judgments are directed likewise against the New Israel to the degree to which it ceases to "bear fruit" and betrays its mission. That is what Paul develops with great force in his parable of the Olive Tree (Romans 11:17-24): "So do not become proud, but stand in awe." What has happened to one part of Israel could happen to you in your turn; useless branches will be cut off (see also John 15:1-7).

Verses 20-26

God and Caesar (Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26)

This passage is important because men have frequently attempted to build out of this word of Jesus a theory concerning the State. Let us note first of all that the intention of the Pharisees is to lay a trap for Jesus, to "entangle" him. The leaders of the Pharisees refrain from coming in person. They send some "Herodians," that is to say, some men of the circle of Herod, who were partisans of his pro-Roman politics. Herod’s politics were not at all those of the Pharisees, but every means is good in compelling Jesus to imperil himself by taking sides either for or against Rome. In the popular expectation the coming of the Messiah meant the end of the Roman yoke. If Jesus declares himself for Roman authority, he loses the confidence of the people; if he declares himself against Caesar, he becomes a political insurgent. It is the Messianic problem which is posed here. It was an effort to shut Jesus up to a dilemma. It is then quite justifiable to charge as "hypocrites" those who approach him with flattering words but whose only purpose is to destroy him.

Pious Jews shunned even looking on the image of Caesar. Jesus has no such vain scruples. He takes a coin and shows it to his questioners. He confronts them with their real situation they are under the dominion of Caesar. Let them, therefore, render to him what is his! But let them also render to God what is God’s! We know from elsewhere what Jesus thinks of temporal authority it is its nature to "domineer" (Matthew 20:25). This domineering is a part of the order of this world which is destined to disappear. The norms of the Kingdom to come are exactly the opposite (Matthew 20:26-27; see 5:5). But this Kingdom cannot be established by violence; it can be established only by God himself, in his own time. All revolutionary messianism is thus discarded. The authority of Caesar is acknowledged within its proper limits. The Gospel according to John states clearly the thought of Jesus on this point: his Kingdom is not of this world. But God governs history, and temporal authority exists only because he has willed it thus (see John 18:36; John 19:10-11). Sovereign and final authority remains that of God. The State can require only our money and our services, never our souls that is to say, the obedience which we owe only to God.

Verses 27-40

Of the Resurrection (Matthew 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-40)

This time the attack does not come from the Pharisees but from the Sadducees, the representatives of the priestly caste. The resurrection was a subject of controversy among the Jews. Belief in the resurrection appears rarely in the Old Testament and then only in the latest parts, such as the Book of Daniel (Daniel 12:2). The Pharisees believed in it while the Sadducees rejected it, accepting only the authority of the Pentateuch the original Mosaic Law. On this point Jesus shares the conviction of the Pharisees. The Sadducees try to prove their argument by an absurd example: To whom will a wife belong who has had seven husbands? The Sadducees are not the only ones who have asked such trifling questions about the beyond. We would all like to pierce the mystery of it. Jesus refuses to reply to this question in the form in which it is posed. He accuses his adversaries of not understanding the Scriptures because they do not believe in the power of God. It is a matter of a new creation, of an order of things other than the one here below. Marriage and procreation belong to the order of this world. The angels, by their nature, are not involved in these temporal conditions. Jesus says no more than that. We must receive in faith the affirmation of the life to come, without trying to know more than Jesus has judged it well to tell us.

In the saying which follows (vss. 31-32), Jesus bases his faith in the resurrection on the fact that God is the living God who communicates his life to those who believe on him. Speaking to the Sadducees, who wish to acknowledge only the authority of Moses, Jesus reminds them of the word spoken by God from the midst of the burning bush (Exodus 3:6). Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are among the living because they have believed in God (see Matthew 8:11).

Let us note that this conception is totally .different from the Greek conception shared by so many moderns! according to which the physical body is destroyed and the soul is immortal by nature. For Jesus, eternal life is a gift of God; it is a resurrection from the dead, a wholly new mode of existence, a fullness of being whose form remains veiled from us.

Verses 41-44

Son or Lord? (Matthew 22:41-46; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44)

The argument here may seem subtle to us who are not trained in rabbinic discussions. But it poses an essential question that of the humanity and the divinity of the Messiah. Some saw in the Messiah a temporal king, a descendant of David, who would re-establish the kingdom of Israel in its ancient glory (see Isaiah 9:5-7; Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Ezekiel 34:23-24); others, laying stress upon Daniel 7:13-14 and on the Book of Enoch, were looking for a pre-existent "son of man" who would come from heaven, as Judge and King.

Several times Jesus had been called "Son of David" and did not reject the title (Matthew 20:31; Matthew 21:9; Matthew 21:15; compare 1:1). His descent from David never seems to have been contested (see Romans 1:3). But in calling himself the "Son of man," in announcing his return as King and Judge of men, he affirms his divine authority (16:27-28; 25:31-32). In this double human and divine nature lies the mystery of his Person. He poses the enigma to the Pharisees by citing Psalms 110, which was acknowledged by tradition as a Messianic Psalm. How can the Son of David be at the same time David’s Lord? The question is left without reply. Jesus will openly proclaim his Messiahship only later at his trial (Matthew 26:63-64).

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Luke 20". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/luke-20.html.
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