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Luke 20:1. One of those days.—Rather, “one of the days” (R.V.). Preached the gospel.—Lit. “evangelised.” This beautiful word is almost confined to St. Luke, who uses it twenty-four times, and St. Paul, who uses it twenty times. Chief priests, etc.—Thus all classes of the Sanhedrim were represented. This was a formal and official message sent to make Jesus declare Himself as a Divinely commissioned prophet, in which case the Sanhedrim had power to take cognisance of His proceedings as a professed teacher. Came upon Him.—The phrase perhaps has reference to the suddenness and hostility of the action taken. The motives of Christ’s enemies are disclosed in chap. Luke 19:47.
Luke 20:2. By what authority?—I.e., by what kind of authority; it was not that of a rabbi, or priest, or magistrate, for Christ held none of these offices. These things.—Probably special reference is made to the cleansing of the Temple, as well as to the acceptance of the popular homage, and the triumphal entrance into Jerusalem.
Luke 20:4. The baptism of John.—I.e., the whole mission and teaching of John, of which the baptism was the central point. If they acknowledged that John’s mission was from heaven, they had an answer to their own question, for John had borne witness to Jesus as the Messiah, and as having received the Holy Spirit.
Luke 20:5. They reasoned, etc.—We would understand that they went apart and discussed the matter among themselves. Believed.—Gave credit to his testimony concerning Me.
Luke 20:6. Stone.—The word is an emphatic one, and is used only here; it means “to stone to death.”
Luke 20:7. They could not tell.—Rather, “they knew not” (R.V.). Their reply was, virtually, not “We do not know,” but “We do not wish to say”; and to this inward thought Christ replies, “Neither tell I you.” Their incompetence to decide in the case of John disqualified them for judging in the case of Jesus.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 20:1-8
The Question of Authority.—The question put by the chief priests and scribes as to the authority which Jesus exercised was not altogether an unreasonable one. They were the guardians of the religion of Israel, and of the institutions which had been founded by Divine sanction for the preservation of that religion. Had they been single-minded and upright men, with minds open to truth, their question might have been met by Jesus in a very different way. As it was, they were under the influence of a twofold prejudice, which incapacitated them for acting as judges of Christ’s claims.
I. They refused to recognise any authority as genuine which did not emanate from themselves.—They regarded the office of the priesthood, of which they were ministers, as of supreme authority; and since Christ did not belong to the tribe of Levi, they failed to see that He had any right to assume exceptional power, or to set aside that which they exercised. They committed the mistake of over-looking the fact that the authority of the priestly office is secondary and derived, and therefore subordinate to the Living Word of God. Even under the Old Testament dispensation it had been evident, time after time, that authoritative declarations of the Divine will were not given exclusively through members of the priestly caste. Most of the prophets belonged to other tribes than that of Levi, and their authority was accepted by both priests and people. Yet the fact that Jesus had no official position—that He neither belonged to a priestly family nor was accredited as a teacher by any one of the rabbinical schools—was virtually taken by the priests and scribes as a proof that He was usurping functions to which He had no right, in teaching men and in laying down rules for their guidance in spiritual things. In the Epistle to the Hebrews we find an indication of the extent to which this question troubled the minds of Jews who had accepted Christ. There the writer asserts that Jesus is a priest of an order far older than that of Levi, and superior to it—a priest in the same sense as Melchizedek, whom even Abraham recognised as of higher rank than himself.
II. They were blind to the ample proofs Jesus had already given of His Divine authority.—This fact it is that causes us instinctively to regard the question as uncalled-for and impertinent. Christ had now been for more than two years a prominent figure in Jewish society, and we are astonished that His greatness had not impressed all beholders. The people who heard Him speak declared that He spoke with authority, and not as the scribes; but their rulers were too much under the influence of prejudice to form the same opinion. In the life and work of Christ abundant proof had been given, to those who had eyes to see, of His heavenly commission.
1. In the nature of His teaching. His intimate acquaintance with human nature, His exalted conceptions of the requirements of God’s law, His unerring statements of the relations which man should sustain towards God and towards his brethren, and His stern condemnation of all falsehood and hypocrisy, should have convinced His hearers of His right to the authority He claimed. The truth of His teaching was so apparent that no rank with which man might have invested Him would have added weight to His words.
2. In the holiness of His life. His conduct and actions were open to the scrutiny of all, and He could ask, without fear of a reply, “Which of you convinceth Me of sin?” A Divine holiness and a Divine compassion were manifested by Him. He thought of those whom the world forgot; He had pity on those who were ignorant and out of the way; the poor and outcast were the objects of His care: every hour of His life was devoted to ministrations on behalf of others. By these marks, as well as by His zeal for the honour of God, might the priests and scribes have perceived His consecration to the office of Redeemer of men.
3. In His miracles. Day after day He had displayed a mysterious power in overcoming ills that affect humanity. He had healed the sick, cleansed lepers, given sight to the blind, and raised the dead. A few days before, in the presence of a great assembly, He had performed the most wonderful of all His mighty works in recalling Lazarus from the grave. None contested the authenticity of these miracles; even the chief priests and scribes did not refuse to believe that He had performed them. Yet they failed to see that the works of Christ supplied the answer to the question they put to Him—that no one could have wrought these works unless God had been with Him. In all ages ecclesiastical prejudices have blinded men to the worth and significance of the teaching and of the holy lives and works of men who have not drawn their authority from the Church. Instead of frank acknowledgment of good work done, there are often curious and impertinent inquiries as to the validity of “the orders” such men have possessed. Such miserable prejudices find a sufficient reproof in the refusal of Christ to give any formal justification of His right to teach the ignorant, and show compassion to the miserable.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 20:1-8
I. A rebellious question (Luke 20:1-20).
II. A malicious question (Luke 20:21-26).
III. A scoffer’s question (Luke 20:27-38).
IV. Our Lord’s question (Luke 20:39-47).—W. Taylor.
Luke 20:1. “Came upon Him.”—This deputation marks a deliberate and formal inquiry on the part of the Sanhedrim.
I. It consisted of men who were entitled, from their office and rank, to institute careful investigation into the authority of all teachers of religion.
II. But of men who were prejudiced against Jesus.
III. It came at far too late a period.—Jesus had now been at least two years before the public—had performed many indubitable miracles, and had been accepted as a teacher by multitudes in all parts of the land.
Luke 20:2. “By what authority?”—A twofold question.
I. Does Thy power proceed from God?
II. What messenger of God consecrated Thee to this activity?—The reply of Jesus, requiring them to make up their mind as to the claims of John the Baptist, is, therefore, most pertinent to the second of these questions.
Luke 20:3. “I also will ask you.”—The Divine method of judgment.
I. Sinners are made to pass judgment on themselves.
II. Are reduced to silence in the presence of their Lord.
Luke 20:4. “The baptism of John,” etc.—The question
(1) revealed that it was in no truth-loving temper of mind that the rulers had interrogated Jesus as to His authority, and
(2) it contained an answer to their question. If they accepted the mission of His forerunner as Divine, they were bound to accept His as of the same character; if they repudiated the Baptist, they virtually declared their own incompetency to judge spiritual things.
Luke 20:5-6. “They reasoned with themselves.”—The bad faith of the rulers of the people was manifested clearly by their present conduct.
1. They were more anxious to escape the dilemma in which the question of Christ placed them than to return a truthful answer.
2. They professed doubt as to John’s Divine mission, though they had virtually pronounced against it by refusing to believe in him.
3. They were not ashamed to admit to themselves that they were animated by fear of the people rather than by fear of God—that they followed the dictates of carnal policy, while professing to be zealous for the interests of true religion.
Luke 20:7. “They could not tell.”—They confessed their incompetency to decide on the authority of a prophet: Christ, therefore, declined to accept them as judges of His claims.
Luke 20:8. “Neither tell I you.”—Now both are silent; but He, because, on good grounds, He will not speak; they because they, through their own fault, cannot speak. And among the people present as witnesses there is no one who could seriously doubt which of the two parties leaves the field victorious.—Van Oosterzee.
The Indignation of Jesus.—The words of Jesus are animated both by indignation and contempt. “If you declare yourselves incompetent to judge of the claims of John, much more are you incompetent to judge of my claims.” They had admitted failure as leaders of the people: Christ proceeds to brand them, in the parable that follows, as faithless and rebellious.
Luke 20:9. Then began He.—The opening of a fresh series of parables and discourses. This parable.—The substance of which is partly a history of the ingratitude and rebelliousness of the Jewish people, and partly a prophecy of their final act of apostasy in rejecting and slaying their Messiah, and of the punishment that would follow. A certain man.—The man represents God, the vineyard the Jewish nation, the husbandmen the rulers of the Jews. This parable is intimately connected with Isaiah 5:1 ff. For a long time.—The idea implied is that abundant opportunity was given for a return for all God’s mercy to Israel.
Luke 20:10. A servant.—By the servants are to be understood the prophets. For the treatment they received see 1 Kings 18:4; 1 Kings 22:24-27; 2 Chronicles 24:21; Jeremiah 26:20-23; Jeremiah 37:15 :cf. also Nehemiah 9:26; Hebrews 11:36-37. Of the fruit.—I.e., payment in kind.
Luke 20:12. Cast him forth.—A certain gradation in acts of insolence and violence is implied.
Luke 20:13. My beloved son.—The distinction between the son and the other servants is plainly indicated (cf. Hebrews 3:5-6). Yet the Son takes upon Him “the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7). Christ here speaks of Himself, not as Redeemer, but as preacher of righteousness. When they see him.—Omitted in the best MSS.; omitted in R.V.
Luke 20:14. This is the heir.—An implication that the leaders of the Jews were secretly conscious that Christ’s claims were well founded. Nicodemus, speaking for his class, said, early in Christ’s ministry, “We know that thou art a teacher come from God” (John 3:2). The words, too, of Caiaphas seem to imply a latent consciousness that Jesus was the Messiah (John 11:49-52).
Luke 20:15. So they cast him out.—Here the prophetical part of the parable begins. The allusion is either to excommunication, to delivering Him over to the heathen, or to His suffering death outside the walls of the city. If this last be the fulfilment of the prophecy, we may compare with these words, John 19:17; Hebrews 13:11-12.
Luke 20:16. He shall come.—In St. Matthew this reply is given by the people in answer to Christ’s question. This coming of the Lord is here plainly identified with the destruction of Jerusalem. God forbid,—Lit., “Be it not so”; a phrase found here only in the Gosples. There seems no special reason why, in the passages in the New Testament where it occurs, the Divine name should be used in translating it; it is scarcely reverent so to use it.
Luke 20:17. And He beheld them.—Rather, “But He looked upon them” (R.V.); a fixed glance to add force to the quotation from Scripture which He was about to make. That is written.—Psalms 118:22; a psalm from which the multitude had quoted in acclamations the day before. (Hosanna, Matthew 21:9, is from the twenty-fifth verse of that psalm, where it is rendered “save now.”) Head of the corner.—“The stone is regarded both as a foundation-stone and a stone at the angle of the building, binding the two walls together” (Farrar).
Luke 20:18. Broken.—Rather, “broken to pieces” (R.V.). Grind him to powder.—Rather, “it will scatter him as dust” (R.V.). In the latter there is probably an allusion to Daniel 2:35. They fall on the stone who are offended at Christ in His low estate (Isaiah 8:14; Luke 2:34). “Of this sin His hearers were already guilty. There was yet a worse sin which they were on the point of committing, which He warns them would be followed by a more tremendous punishment: they on whom the stone falls are those who set themselves in distinct and self-conscious opposition against the Lord; who, knowing who He is, do yet to the end oppose themselves to Him and to His kingdom” (Trench).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 20:9-18
The Vineyard and its Keepers.—The pungent severity of this parable, with its transparent veil of narrative, is only appreciated by keeping clearly in view the circumstances and the listeners. They had struck at Him with their question of His authority, and He parries the blow. Now it is His turn, and the sharp point goes home.
I. The preparation of the vineyard.—
1. It is planted and furnished with all needful appliances for making wine (see Matthew), which is its great end. The direct Divine origin of the religious ideas and observances of “Judaism” is thus asserted by Christ. The only explanation of them is that God enclosed that bit of the wilderness, and with His own hands set growing there these exotics. Neither the theology nor the ritual is of man’s establishing.
2. Thus prepared, the vineyard is next handed over to the husbandmen. These are the Jewish people. No doubt the Sanhedrim was the chief object at which Christ aimed the parable. But they only gave form and voice to the national spirit, and “the people loved to have it so.” National responsibilities are not to be slipped out of by being shifted on to the broad shoulders of governments or influential men. Who lets them be governments, and influential? Christ teaches both rulers and ruled, then, here, the ground and purpose of their privileges. They prided themselves on these as their own, but they were only tenants. They made boast of the law, but they forgot that fruit was the end of the Divine planting and equipment. Holiness and glad obedience were what God sought.
3. Having installed the husbandmen, the owner goes into another country. Centuries of comparative Divine silence followed the planting of the vineyard. Having given us our charge, God, as it were, steps aside to leave us room to work as we will, and so to display what we are made of. He is absent in so far as conspicuous oversight and retribution are concerned. He is present to help, love, and bless. The faithful husbandman has Him always near, a joy and a strength, else no fruit would grow; but the sin and misery of the unfaithful are that he thinks of Him as far off.
II. The habitual ill-treatment of the messengers.—These are, of course, the prophets, whose office was not only to foretell, but to plead for obedience and trust, the fruits sought by God. The whole history of the nation is summed up in this dark picture. There is no more remarkable historical fact than that of the uniform hostility of the Jews to the prophets. That they should have had prophets in long succession is surely inexplicable on any naturalistic hypothesis. Such men were not the natural product of the race nor of its circumstances, as their fate shows. How did they spring up? The only explanation is that stated here: “He sent His servants.” Christ treats the whole long series of violent rejections as the acts of the same set of husbandmen. The class, or nation, was one, as the stream is one, though all its particles were different; and the Pharisees and scribes, who stood with frowning hatred before Him as He spoke, were the living embodiment of the spirit which had animated all the past. In so far as they inherited the taint, and repeated the conduct, the guilt of all the former generations was laid at their door. They declared themselves their predecessors’ heirs; and as they reproduced their actions, they would have to bear the accumulated weight of the consequences.
III. The mission of the son and its fatal issue (Luke 20:13-15).—Three things are noticeable here.
1. The unique position which Christ here claims, with unwonted openness and decisiveness, as apart from, and far above, all the prophets. They constitute one order, but He stands alone, sustaining a closer relation to God. They were faithful as servants, but He as a son. Rulers and people must decide whether they will own or reject their king, and they must do it with their eyes open.
2. The owner’s vain hope in sending his son. He thought that he would be welcomed, and he was disappointed. It was his last attempt. Christ knew Himself to be God’s last appeal, as He is to all men, as well as to that generation. He is the last arrow in God’s quiver. When He has shot that bolt, the resources even of Divine love are exhausted, and no more can be done for the vineyard than He has done for it.
3. The vain calculation of the husbandmen. Christ puts hidden motives into plain words, and reveals to His hearers what they scarcely knew of their own hearts. But how was the rulers’ or the people’s wish to “seize on His inheritance” their motive for killing Jesus? Their great sin was their desire to have their national prerogatives and to render no true obedience. The ruling class clung to their privileges, and forgot their responsibilities, while the people were proud of their standing as Jews, and careless of God’s service. Neither wanted to be reminded of their debt to the Lord of the vineyard, and their hostility to Jesus was mainly because He would call on them for the fruits. If they could get this unwelcome and persistent voice silenced, they could go on in the comfortable old fashion of lip-service and real selfishness. It is an account of the hostility of many men who are against Him. They want to possess life and its good, without being for ever pestered with reminders of the terms on which they hold it, and of God’s desire for their love and obedience. They have a secret feeling that Christ has the right to ask for their hearts, and so they turn from Him with anger, and sometimes with hatred.
IV. The application of the parable.—Our Lord, in this last portion of His address, throws away even the thin veil of parable, and speaks the sternest truth in the nakedest words. He puts His own claim in the plainest fashion, as the corner-stone on which the true kingdom of God was to be built. He brands the men who stood before Him as incompetent builders, who did not know the stone needed for their edifice when they saw it. He declares, with triumphant confidence, the futility of opposition to Himself—even though it kill Him. He is sure that God will build on Him, and that His place in the building, which shall rise through the ages, will be, to even careless eyes, the crown of the manifest wonders of God. Strange words from a man who knew that in three days He would be crucified! Stranger still, they have come true! He is the foundation of the best part of the best men; the basis of thought, the motive for action, the pattern of life, the ground of hope, for countless individuals; and on Him stands firm the society of His Church, and is hung all the glory of His Father’s house. Rejection of Christ involves an awful doom. The doom has two stages: one, a lesser misery, which is the lot of Him who stumbles against the stone, while it lies, passive, to be built on; one more dreadful, when it has acquired motion and comes down with irresistible impetus. To stumble at Christ, or to refuse His grace, and not to base our lives and hopes on Him, is maiming and damage, in many ways, here and now. But suppose the stone endowed with motion, what can stand against it? And suppose that the Christ, who is now offered for the rock on which we may pile our hopes and never be confounded, comes to judge, will He not crush the mightiest opponent as the dust of the summer threshing-floor?—Maclaren.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 20:9-18
Luke 20:9-18. The Parable of the Vineyard.—
I. Its references to the Jews.—Its special reference was to the teachers, the scribes and Pharisees. The lesson is very plain. They or their fathers had rejected the prophets who had come in the name of God, and now they were about to cast out and even kill the beloved Son of God Himself. Here, therefore, they are warned solemnly that their privileges will be taken from them, and they themselves will suffer the just punishment of their abuse of these privileges.
II. But the parable reaches to us also.—We have each our own vineyard to keep—that is to say, our work to do for God, and our life to live for God. He will call us to account for the deeds done in the body. To teach us to live for Him, He has sent us also prophets and apostles and martyrs, preachers and teachers. They come in humble guise, perhaps; but when they are pure and true, the conscience and the Spirit of God tell us they are God’s messengers. According to our treatment of them shall be our judgment.—Hastings.
The Wicked Husbandmen.—This parable tells—
I. The greatest favour.
II. The greatest sin.
III. The darkest doom.—Wells.
I. The vineyard.—
1. The owner of the vineyard.
2. What he did with it.
II. The husbandmen.—
1. Their privileges, and how they used them.
2. Their rebellion, and how it ended.—Watson.
I. The circumstances in which the vine-dressers (as representing the leaders of the Jewish people) are placed.
II. Their past conduct (Luke 20:10-12).
III. Their present conduct (Luke 20:13-15).
IV. The chastisement to be inflicted on them.
The History of the Theocracy.—Jesus here traces the course of the history of the theocracy. The true significance of that history is unveiled in a most profound manner. From the foundation of the ancient covenant, down through the ministry of the prophets to the advent of Jesus Himself, His rejection and death, the very consequences of His death not yet consummated—the rejection of Israel and the transference of the kingdom of God from the Jews to the Gentiles;—all is presented in the simplest imagery and with the most terrible clearness. At the same time an answer is given to the question of the priests as to the source of His authority. He is the Son, the Heir, the last messenger from their Master.—Godet.
Luke 20:9. “To the people.”—Christ had repelled the attack, but now He carries the war into His enemies’ quarters. He had unmasked the hypocrisy of His enemies, and shown the dilemma in which their pretended ignorance placed them: now He brings their guilt to light and foretells that their rejection of Him will lead to the bringing in of the Gentiles.
“Went into a far country.”—In the miracles which went along with the deliverance from Egypt, the giving of the law from Sinai, and the planting in Canaan, God openly dealt with His people—made, as we know, an express covenant with them; but, this done, withdrew for a while, not speaking any more to them face to face (Deuteronomy 34:10-12), but waiting in patience to see what the Law would effect, and what manner of works they, under the teaching of their appointed guides, would bring forth.—Trench.
Luke 20:10. “Sent a servant to the husbandmen.”—Nothing is more remarkable in the history of Israel than the constant co-existence within her pale of two entirely opposite classes of men—that of the moral triflers, too numerously represented among those exercising official influence; and that of the men of consuming zeal for righteousness, that is, the prophets.—Bruce.
“Give him of the fruit.”—These fruits which are demanded are in no wise to be explained as particular works, nor yet as a condition of honesty and uprightness, but much rather as the repentance and the inward longing after true inward righteousness which the Law was unable to bring about. It is by no means implied that the Law had not an influence in producing uprightness; it cuts off the grosser manifestations of sin, and reveals its hidden abomination, so that a righteousness according to the Law can, even under the Law, come forth as fruit. While yet, to be sufficing, this must have a sense of the need of redemption for its basis (Romans 3:20-25). The servants, therefore, here appear as those who seek for these spiritual needs, that they may link to them the promises concerning a coming Redeemer; but the unfaithful husbandmen, who had abused their own position, denied and slew these messengers of grace.—Olshausen.
Luke 20:11. “Entreated him shamefully.”—Cf. Nehemiah 9:26 : “Nevertheless, they were disobedient and rebelled against Thee, and cast Thy law behind their backs, and slew Thy prophets which testified against them to turn them to Thee; and they wrought great provocations.” See also 2 Chronicles 24:20-21; Jeremiah 44:4.
Luke 20:12. Cast him out.”—The vinedressers proceed from bad to worse: the first messenger they beat; the second they beat and outrage; the third they wound and fling out of the vineyard.
Luke 20:13. “I will send my beloved Son.”—The failure of this attempt implies
(1) that the resources even of heavenly love are exhausted, and
(2) that the impenitent fill up the measure of their guilt.
“It may be they will reverence.”—Two alternatives:—
I. Reverence shown to the Son.
II. Or, at least, hesitation to inflict on Him ill-treatment like that suffered by the servants previously sent.
Anthropomorphism.—Strictly speaking, indeed, this thought does not apply to God, for He knew what would happen, and was not deceived by the expectation of a more agreeable result; but it is customary, especially in parables, to ascribe to Him human feelings. And yet this was not added without reason, for Christ intended to represent, as in a mirror, how deplorable their impiety was, of which it was too certain a proof that they rose in diabolical rage against the Son of God, who had come to bring them back to a sound mind. As they had formerly, as far as lay in their power, driven God from His inheritance by the cruel murder of the prophets, so it was the crowning point of all their crimes to slay the Son, that they might reign as in a house which was without an heir.—Calvin.
“They will reverence him.”—The lord of the vineyard has one expedient left. He will send his only and well-beloved son. The thought which lies on the surface is the estimate formed in heaven of the mission of the Son of God. It was something different, not in degree, but in kind, from any other instrumentality that had been or could be employed for touching hard hearts and awakening dormant sensibilities. We know how opposite was the result. Hearts were only stimulated into a greater degree of resistance by the mission of the Divine Son. Not one generation or one nation only which has thus argued. Men in all ages have felt the critical nature of the interposition of Jesus Christ, and have roused themselves to put Him down with an energy stimulated by the thought of the finality of the enterprise. In this recognition of the greatness of the stake at issue, Christians find nothing to complain of, everything to rejoice in. Jesus Christ is the key of the position. The text describes the anticipation in heaven, chronologically antecedent to the reception below. “It may be they will reverence Him when they see Him.” The word “reverence” used here occurs in several other places and contains three elements:—
I. Attention.—This is the first element of reverence. Can there be reverence without attention? Is there not much irreverence among priests and people alike? Neglect of Christ’s word? Careless living?
II. Awe is the second element in reverence.—There is much unhallowed familiarity in present-day religion. Too much emotional fondness. Christ risen and enthroned is too much forgotten. How little is felt of St. John’s awe in His presence!—“When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead.”
III. Shame is the third element.—It might have been thought that the sight of the son would awaken in the husbandmen a sense of shame for those misdeeds of theirs which had made his coming necessary. Whether shame enters into all reverence is a question which may wait. It must, however, enter into all that reverence which forgiven sinners feel for Jesus Christ. There is nothing like the sight of the Saviour for quickening the sense of the multitude and the shamefulness of personal sins. Because I am ashamed before Him now, I hope not to be ashamed before Him at His coming.—Vaughan.
Luke 20:14. “Let us kill him.”—We, on the contrary, say, “This is the Son of the Eternal God; let us believe on Him, and the inheritance shall be ours.”—Sutton.
Luke 20:15. “And killed him.”—Jesus relates, with striking calmness, and as a fact already accomplished, the crime which they are preparing to commit upon His person. It is as though He told them that He would not seek to escape out of their hands.—Godet.
Luke 20:16. Give the vineyard to others.—If the husbandmen who are dispossessed represent the heads of the Jewish theocracy, the others who take their place must be understood to represent the apostles and their successors.
Luke 20:17-19. The Rejected Stone.—A codicil added to the parable of the vineyard. The Jews were familiar with the ideas connected with the cornerstone.
I. The stone at rest.—Men falling or rushing on a big rock hurt, not the rock, but themselves. The Redeemer resisted in the day of grace, means loss and harm to those resisting. We must come into some kind of contact with the Son of God. Alas! He has, on earth, to bear the weight of many sinners striking against Him.
II. The stone in motion.—The rock is raised in mid-heaven, hovers over the assailants for a while, and then falls on their heads. Here the destruction is final and complete. Christ’s enemies will be overwhelmed by His own power put forth in the day of judgment. The first bruising may be cured: the grinding to powder accomplished by the Judge when the day of grace is done can never be healed. Many resented this doctrine from the lips of Christ. Some resent it keenly still. But there is no escape from the solemn truth that those who in this life reject Christ must bear the weight of His judgment in the world to come.—Arnot.
Luke 20:17. “What is this, then?”—I.e., if the evil-doers were not to be overthrown, the prophecy of Scripture would not be fulfilled.
Luke 20:18. “Fall on this stone.”—Those persons are said to fall upon Christ who rush forward to destroy Him; not that they occupy a more elevated position than He does, but because their madness carries them so far that they endeavour to attack Christ as if He were below them. Christ tells them that all they will gain by it is, that by the very conflict they will be broken. But when they have thus proudly exalted themselves, He tells them that another thing will happen, which is that they will be bruised under the stone against which they so insolently dashed themselves.—Calvin.
I. An injury which may be healed.—The bruising caused by a man’s unbelieving opposition to Christ under the gospel.
II. Irremediable destruction.—Accomplished by the wrath of the Judge when the day of grace has passed.
Rejection of The Gospel.—The two clauses of the text figuratively point to two different classes of operation on the rejection of the gospel. The one class represents the present hurts and harms which, by the natural operation of the thing, without the action of Christ judicially at all, every man receives in the very act of rejecting the Gospel, and the other represents the ultimate issue of that rejection.
I. Every man has some kind of connexion with Christ.
II. The immediate issue of rejection of Christ is loss and maiming.
III. The ultimate issue of unbelief is irremediable destruction when Christ begins to move.—Maclaren.
Luke 20:19. And they feared the people.—The state of mind in which the attempt to ensnare Jesus was made: “and they did so in fear of the people” (Alford).
Luke 20:20. They watched Him.—Rather, “and having watched for an opportunity.” Spies.—Men “suborned.” Just men.—I.e., honest, ingenuous men, perplexed with a doubt which He might solve. Power and authority of the governor.—I.e., “to the Roman power, and to the authority of the governor.”
Luke 20:22. Tribute.—The word means a poll-tax which had been levied since Judæa became a Roman province. The insurrection of Judas of Galilee had been occasioned by the belief that it was unlawful to pay this tax, since God was the only true ruler of the Jewish people. This belief was held by a large section of the people; if Christ decided against it, He would alienate them; if He agreed with them He would embroil Himself with the Roman authority. The idea that the Herodians who, as St. Matthew says, joined with the Pharisees in putting this question, approved of the tax, is utterly unfounded. It is a mere conjecture of Origen’s. There would be very little craftiness in the plot if two classes, one of them notoriously opposed to the payment of the tax, and the other as notoriously in favour of it, were represented in the same deputation. The Herodians, as clinging to the last fragment of Jewish national independence in the rule of the Herods, would naturally be opposed to complete subjection to Rome.
Luke 20:24. A penny.—The Roman denarius.
Luke 20:25. Render, therefore.—It was a decision of the rabbis that “wherever any king’s money is current, there that king is lord.” By accepting the coinage of Cæsar they had acknowledged his supremacy in temporal things, and consequently his claim to tribute. But the answer goes further. The followers of Judas of Galilee regarded the authority of Cæsar as incompatible with that of God. Our Lord distinguishes between temporal and spiritual sovereignty, and shows that the two are not opposed to each other. God was no longer, as of old, the civil ruler of His people. They had rejected His authority, and He had given them over to a foreign power, who reigned and claimed tribute by His ordinance (cf. Romans 13:1; Romans 13:7). But God was still, and must ever be, the spiritual Ruler of the world, and to Him now, as ever, worship and obedience were due.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 20:19-26
Cæsar and God.—Jesus thus refuses to decide formally a question of politics, just as, on another occasion, He had refused to interfere between the two brothers who were in dispute about an inheritance. It was not for settling questions like these that He came to earth. More than once the people sought to force Him to take up the rôle of a political leader, but in vain. He firmly refused to compromise His cause by associating it with any of the political factions of His time. Yet He did not merely maintain a prudent silence on this occasion, when the question of the lawfulness of paying tribute to Rome was brought to Him for solution. He spoke words which cast a new light upon the whole subject, and which solved the difficulty which these men hypocritically professed to experience, but which really troubled many devout hearts in Israel.
I. It was new to hear that the theocracy was now a thing of the past.—Up to this time the religious ideal of Israel was the subordination of civil society to the priestly order: though the nation was actually subject to a foreign power, it was considered that the normal condition of matters ought to be the direct government of the state by ministers of Jehovah, acting in His name and employing, by His authority, all the resources and powers that are at the disposal of earthly kings and rulers. It was a magnificent dream, but all attempts to realise it had hopelessly failed. Christ now distinguishes between the two spheres of national life: the one is purely civil, and may be an empire, a kingdom, an oligarchy, or a democracy; the other is purely religious and in it God is the supreme Ruler.
II. The duties belonging to both spheres are to be discharged in a religious spirit.—Christ did not represent civil society as a domain which is withdrawn from holy influence, and, as it were, isolated from that in which God rules. One of the most striking characteristics of the gospel is that it ignores the pagan distinction between things sacred and things profane, and that it does not make religion a distinct part of life, but a Divine influence upon every part, which penetrates, pervades, and governs the whole. St. Paul states this fact in very strong terms: “Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” And wherever Christianity exists as a living power it acts upon the consciences of men and directs their conduct, not only in matters of specially religious duty, but also in all that concerns the well-being of the body social. It purifies public opinion, brands as evil all customs and practices of a degrading kind, and spreads its shield over the weak and helpless. None of the spheres of human activity can be sealed against it.
III. Yet there is a profound distinction between religious and civil society, both with regard to the domains they occupy and the modes of action they employ.—The domain of the State is that of the present life and of interests that are purely temporal. The State ought to secure for each individual the free enjoyment of all rights and liberties belonging to him, and to endeavour to increase the sum of happiness of all who are under its care. But it has to do only with man as a citizen. All teaching concerning God, the human soul, religious duties and aspirations, and the hope of immortality, are out of its province. It should stand neutral towards all varying forms of religious belief, as the defender of liberty of conscience, and of the religious rights of all. The Church and the State also differ in the nature of the means which they employ. The arm of the State is force; it has the power and the right to overcome, by material strength, all resistance to its laws. The arm of the Church is persuasion; it has not the power or the right to use force for the establishment or maintenance of any form of religious belief. “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal” (2 Corinthians 10:4), said one of the greatest of its champions. Its sword is the Word of God; its instrument of triumph is the cross, which symbolises the submission of its Lord to sufferings and death; and the Spirit which animates it is compared to a dove. Such are the figures under which Holy Scripture represents the power it wields. To the State we owe tribute, obedience to its laws, and the sacrifice of our time and strength for securing the common good. To God we owe ourselves—the homage of mind, will, and heart. The influence of the world and of sin may almost have obliterated the Divine image and superscription upon the soul which proclaim that it belongs to God and should be rendered to Him; but they never wholly disappear.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 20:19-26
Luke 20:19. “The chief priests and scribes sought.”—There is
(1) a bitterness against Christ, which arises from a misunderstanding of Him; but
(2) a still deeper and more intense bitterness is manifested here by men who understood Him far too well, and who were only the more estranged from Him in consequence.
Luke 20:20. “Take hold of His words.”—They could not find Him guilty in any of His actions, but hoped to force Him into some hasty utterance upon a complicated question.
“Just men.”—I.e., they came pretending to be upright persons who were perplexed on a point of duty; but their real intention was to entrap Him into the expression of an opinion which might be used against Him.
Luke 20:21. “We know that Thou,” etc.—It is not hard to see the treachery that lay beneath this praise. The Jews were firmly convinced that it was unlawful to pay tribute to Cæsar, but found it advisable to conceal their feelings of aversion. Those who now approached Christ wished, by flattering His courage and integrity, to force Him to express an opinion of which they might take advantage to put Him to death.
Luke 20:22. “Is it lawful for us?”—The difficulty of the question arose from the contradiction between the condition of subjection in which the nation actually was at the time, and the independence which it should have enjoyed, and which seemed to be anticipated and promised in the writings of the prophets.
The True Way to Follow.—The way to follow in this abnormal position was not that of revolt, which in this case would have been revolt against God, but that of humiliation, repentance, and devout submission to God, who alone could give them deliverance, since it had been national sin that had led to their being subjected to the Gentile yoke. The error which Jesus dissipates, in His reply, consisted in applying to the actual state of the nation the principle laid down by God as governing its normal state. Jesus virtually said to those who interrogated Him, “Become ye again dependent upon God, and He will render you independent of Cæsar; but until He has accomplished that deliverance you are bound to fulfil the duties which belong to your present state.”—Godet.
Luke 20:23. “Perceived their craftiness.”—Neither force nor craft could prevail against the Lord. In an instant He saw through the wiles of His enemies, and escaped the snare they had laid for Him. Thus He exemplified the counsel He gave to His servants and combined the wisdom of the serpent with the harmlessness of the dove.
Luke 20:24. “Show me a penny.”—It was not to gain time that He desired that a denarius should be shown Him: the image and title it bore decided the question that was put to Him.
“Whose image and superscription?”—Christ serenely walks through the cobwebs spun by His enemies, and lays His hand upon the fact. “The currency of the country proclaims the monarch of the country. It is too late to ask questions about your tribute when you pay your bills in his money.” Does not the other side of Christ’s answer—“to God the things that are God’s”—rest upon a similar fact? Does not the parallelism require that we should suppose that the destiny of things to be devoted to God is stamped upon them, whatever they are, at least as plainly as the right of Cæsar to exact tribute was inferred from the fact that his money was the currency of the country?
I. Note the image stamped upon man, and the consequent obligation.—Our spirits show that God is our Lord, since we are made in a true sense in His image, and therefore only in Him can we find rest. We are like God in that we can love; we are like Him in that we can perceive the right, and that the right is supreme; we are like Him in that we have the power to say “I will.”
II. Look, next, at the defacement of the image and the false expenditure of the coin.—Our nature has gone through the stamping-press again, and another likeness has been deeply imprinted upon it. The awful power that is given to men of degrading themselves till, lineament by lineament, the likeness in which they are made vanishes, is the saddest and most tragical thing in the world. Yet every fibre in your nature protests against the prostitution of itself to anything short of God. Only misery and unrest can ensue. Only when we render to God the thing that is God’s—our hearts and ourselves—can we find repose.
III. The restoration and perfecting of the defaced image.—Because Jesus Christ, the God-man, has come, and in our likeness presented to us the very image of God and irradiation of His light, therefore no defacement that it is possible for men or devils to make on this poor humanity of ours need be irrevocable or final, and we may look forward to a time when the coinage shall be called in and re-minted in new forms of nobleness and of likeness.—Maclaren.
Luke 20:25. Cæsar and God.—We owe to kings, as rulers,
(2) obedience to the laws;
(3) payment of taxes;
(4) the duty of prayer. We owe to God
(2) our substance;
(3) our time, talents, and influence;
(4) our love.
I. Religion and loyalty should accompany each other.
II. In cases where the commands of earthly rulers interfere with the will of God, they are to be disobeyed, at whatever hazard or loss.
Two Distinct Spheres.—Things civil and things sacred are
(1) essentially distinct from each other, yet
(2) quite harmonious. Neither may overlap or intrude itself into the sphere of the other. In the things of God we may not take law from men (Acts 4:19; Acts 5:29), while in honouring and obeying Cæsar in his own sphere we are rendering obedience to God Himself (Romans 13:1-7).—Brown.
“Render.”—The chief priests and scribes had asked if it were lawful to give tribute to Cæsar, as if tribute were a boon. Christ reminds them that it is not a gift, but a due. Render, therefore, tribute of your coin to Cæsar; and tribute of yourselves, coined in the Divine mint, and stamped with the Divine image and superscription, to God.
“Render unto Cæsar.”—This precept of Jesus is developed in Romans 12:13; in Romans 12:0, “Render to God,” and in Romans 13:0 “Render to Cæsar.”
Luke 20:26. “Marvelled at His answer.”—All the synoptical Gospels lay stress upon the astonishment excited by the the reply of Christ, and thus imply that it was expressed in some very visible manner. The statement here made, that His enemies “could not take hold of His words before the people,” gives a hint of the critical position in which He would have been placed if He had failed to silence the questioners.
Luke 20:27. Sadducees.—Members of the aristocratic and wealthy class, which included the higher ranks of the priesthood. It is a popular error, based on a statement of Jerome’s, that they rejected all the Jewish Scriptures but the Pentateuch. They accepted the later Scriptures but rejected the Oral Law and traditions. Like all Jews, no doubt, they attributed a higher degree of inspiration to the Pentateuch than to any other part of the Old Testament. Deny the resurrection.—I.e., of the body, and apparently even the immortality of the soul. The Pharisees, on the contrary, believed in the resurrection of the body and a future life, much in a Christian sense, though they had somewhat carnal ideas of the nature of the future state.
Luke 20:28. Moses wrote.—Deuteronomy 25:5.
Luke 20:29. Seven brethren.—Probably a fictitious case. The difficulty however, would have been the same if there had been only two brethren.
Luke 20:33. For seven.—Rather, “for the seven” (R.V.). It is difficult to see what triumph the Sadducees would have won if Jesus had agreed with some of the rabbis who had discussed this question, and decided the matter in favour of the first husband.
Luke 20:34. The children of this world.—The R.V. absurdly changes this to “the sons of this world.” The phrase “marry” is appropriate to “sons,” but “are given in marriage” applies only to women. Though “sons” is a literal translation, a general word like “children” is evidently called for.
Luke 20:35. To obtain that world.—Or, “to attain to that world” (R.V.).
Luke 20:36. Neither can.—Rather, “for neither can” (R.V.). The reason why there is no marriage in that state is that there is no death: so that it is not necessary to raise up a new generation to take the place of the old. Equal unto the angels.—I.e., in being immortal. Christ distinctly asserts the existence of these beings, which the Sadducees denied. Children of God.—I.e., not because of their ethical character, but because they become “partakers of the Divine nature,” receiving life by the direct action of God in raising them from the dead.
Luke 20:37. Even Moses showed.—Moses, whose supposed silence on this point the Sadducees laid such stress upon. At the bush.—Rather, “in the place concerning the bush” (R.V.); i.e., in the section of the book of Exodus known by that name (chap. 3).
Luke 20:38. Not a God of the dead.—But for Christ’s interpretation, the profound meaning of the name by which God then called Himself could scarcely have been discovered with any measure of certainty. “Our Lord here testifies of the conscious intent of God in speaking the words. God uttered them, He tells us, to Moses, in the consciousness of the still enduring existence of His peculiar relation to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Meyer). “The groundwork of His argument seems to me,” says Alford, “to be this: the words ‘I am thy God’ imply a covenant. There is another side to them: “Thou art mine” follows upon “I am thine.” When God, therefore, declares that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He declares their continuance, as the other parties in this covenant. It is an assertion which could not be made of an annihilated being of the past.”
Luke 20:38. All live unto Him.—I.e., none are annihilated; those who have passed away from earth and are counted by us as dead, are living in the sight of God. See this same thought expounded in Romans 14:8 and Acts 17:28.
Luke 20:39. Thou hast well said.—The Pharisees as a class would be glad to see their opponents, the Sadducees, refuted, and some of them were evidently generous enough to express their feelings of admiration at the wisdom displayed by Jesus on this occasion.
Luke 20:40. Durst not ask.—I.e., did not presume to frame any more captious questions, or to endeavour to entrap Jesus in His teaching.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 20:27-40
The Question Concerning the Resurrection.—There does not seem to have been any sinister intention on the part of the Sadducees who now approached Christ, saying that there is no resurrection, and stating a case which seemed, in their opinion, to cast ridicule upon the doctrine. They came to him with a stale piece of casuistry, conceived in a spirit of self-complacent ignorance, but still sufficiently puzzling to furnish them with an argument for their disbelief, and with a difficulty to throw in the way of their opponents. It was drawn from what is called the levirate law of marriage, appointed by Moses to limit and curtail certain evils in the rude state of society then existing. A certain woman was married successively to seven brethren. Whose wife shall she be in the resurrection? What a confused state of society there must be in the future world—if, indeed, there is a world beyond the grave! Christ might have dismissed the stupid and frivolous question with contempt. If He had replied that the woman would be the wife of the first or of the last of the brethren, the Sadducees could scarcely have invalidated the reasonableness of the statement. But He was pleased to do more than rebuke the presumptuous ignorance of the questioners; He draws aside the veil that hides the future world, and gives us a glimpse of new conditions of life there, and also bestows upon mankind definite assurance of the immortality of the soul.
I. He refutes the erroneous opinions of the Sadducees (Luke 20:34-36).—He shows that their question went on the false theory that the forms and relations of the present, sensible life would be transferred to the future, spiritual life. In the resurrection-state there will not be a repetition, pure and simple, of our present conditions. It will not be a state of probation, but of perfect and unending blessedness. The children of the resurrection will be children of God, partakers of His nature, and subject no longer to the law of change and death which prevails here. Here it is but the species, the race, that has perpetuity; there the individual life is assured of immortality. No provision will, therefore, be necessary for the succession and renewal of the race. The Sadducees had virtually denied the power of God by asserting that life in another world must be a mere reflex and repetition of the life of the children of this world. With the shallowness and dogmatism that so often distinguish men of the rationalistic school to which they belonged, they took for granted that that which was incomprehensible to them must be set aside as untenable. And therefore Christ reminds them (Matthew 22:29) of the infinite power of God from whom all life comes—who created the present order of things, and who is able to re-form or transform our beings, and to fit us for life in a new and higher sphere of existence.
II. He points out that the doctrine of immortality is implied in the Divine revelation to man (Luke 20:37-38).—The words of Christ plainly indicate that belief in the immortality of the soul is bound up with the very idea of religion. It is as though He had said, “You believe that God has spoken to men, summoned them to faith in Him, and to a life of obedience to His will, and that He has formed a covenant with them. How could God place Himself in so near a relation to individual men, and ascribe to them so high a dignity, if they were mere perishable existences?—if they had not a being akin to His own, and destined to immortality?” We may note the fact that the promise of blessings made when this special relationship was established between God and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, was not fulfilled in this life. There was nothing in their earthly lot which distinguished them from others of their time, to whom no such promise was given. They had hardships and trials like other men, and confessed that that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. In obedience to the call of God they gave up the ties of country and kindred; “wherefore God gave them a better country, that is an heavenly.” The promise was not that God would reward their obedience by blessing them with wealth, length of years, tranquillity, or other earthly benefits, but that He would be their God. It was not limited by the condition that He would be their God so long as their earthly life would continue. And, centuries after the mortal bodies of these patriarchs had mouldered into dust, God spoke to Moses of His covenant with them (which was also their covenant with Him), as still existing, and of them, therefore, as in possession of that heavenly and eternal inheritance after which they had longed. The Sadducees had probably supposed that the words simply meant, “I am the God in whom Abraham, Isaac and Jacob trusted.” Yet to what had their trust come, if there were no resurrection? To death and nothingness, and an everlasting silence, and a land of darkness, after a life so full of trials that the last of these patriarchs had described it as a pilgrimage of few and evil years. Though we may never at any time cherish doubts concerning the facts of a resurrection and of the immortality of the soul, as these Sadducees did, we may derive spiritual strength and consolation from these words of Christ, especially from the way in which He associates these doctrines with God’s mercy and condescension. He does not merely assert that, from the constitution of our nature, we are immortal, or that, from His own personal knowledge of the unseen world, He can assure us of the fact, but He points out that it is necessarily implied in the communion of the believer with His God. God has come near to us, and called us to love Him, and to be conformed to His will; if we obey Him, He takes us into His keeping, and makes us partakers of His own nature. The truth, as Christ expounds it, is not merely calculated to satisfy an intellectual curiosity which only few may feel, but to allay those doubts and fears concerning the future which, from time to time, trouble the hearts and consciences of all—not merely to assure us that there is a future world, but that it will be well there with all those who trust in God. He knows His own, each by name; His covenant is with each of them personally, it is an eternal bond between Him and them, and is a sure pledge of their highest welfare.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 20:37-40
Luke 20:27-33. The Question of The Sadducees: designed
(1) to set forth the unreasonableness of the popular faith, and
(2) as an apology for their own unbelief. Yet propounded in a somewhat frivolous and sarcastic spirit.
Luke 20:34-36. The Reply of Christ.
I. The conditions of life in the world to come are absolutely different from those of the present world.
II. Death being abolished, marriage, which was instituted in order to preserve the race from extinction, will come to an end.
Luke 20:36. “Children of God.”—Lit., “sons of God.” On earth men are sons one of another; but there each one will receive his new body from God Himself, by an immediate Divine action, so that, as among the angels, there will be no relation of filiation; hence the latter are all called “the sons of God.”—Godet.
Luke 20:37. “Now that the dead are raised.”—Christ does not remain satisfied with having triumphed over His opponents, but, knowing they are entangled in error, adds to His reply a further word of enlightenment.
“God of Abraham,” etc.—A twofold relation:—
I. That by which God takes Abraham under His especial care.
II. That by which Abraham makes God the only object of his worship and his sole refuge.
Luke 20:38. “Live unto Him.”—I.e., in relation with Him. The ties between them and men on the earth are broken, but they live in communion with God.
The God of the Living.—Our Lord’s refutation of the Sadducees’ question lay—
I. In exposing their ignorance of the heavenly nature.—Spiritual bodies are angelic; their relationship is that of brothers and sisters in a great family.
II. God’s words through Moses imply the continued life in the unseen.—That which is dead cannot realise or do its part to God, neither can God do His part to it. The “dead” really live. And life implies union of soul and body. Death seems division, but to God it is not really so. The “dead” body is in some calculable relation to the departed spirit, and they will come together again.
III. What are the consequences of Christ’s teaching?—
1. As regards the body. In heaven’s language the body never really dies. Do not despise the body. You may long for its renewal. But meanwhile honour, reverence, use well, the body.
2. As respects the spirit. It is not dormant. It, too, “lives.” Nearer to the fountain of life, drinking in more of its living waters.
IV. Who, then, are the dead?—Those who, in life, are living separate from their own souls. Awful words! Not considering their soul, not loving their soul, soulless. And so both soul and body are separate from God. These are the truly dead.—Vaughan.
Luke 20:39-40. “Thou hast well said.”—On hearing this prompt and sublime reply, the scribes, who had sought in vain for that which Jesus had with such ease brought to light, could not refrain from expressions of joy and surprise; and as they saw that every snare laid for Him only brought His wisdom into clearer relief, they abandoned this mode of attack.—Godet.
Luke 20:41. To them.—I.e., to the scribes. Christ.—Rather, “the Christ” (R.V.). David’s son.—Cf. John 7:42.
Luke 20:42. David himself.—Psalms 110:1. David was popularly supposed to be the author of the psalm. Even if he were not, the point on which Christ lays stress—viz., that in it Divine honours are paid to the Messiah, who was to come of David’s line, would be unaffected. Christ is not discussing the authorship of the psalm and affirming that it was written by David, but drawing the attention of the scribes to a statement in Scripture which was inconsistent with their belief that the Messiah would be a mere man. The Lord, etc.—I.e. “Jehovah said unto my Lord.”
Luke 20:43. Thy footstool.—R.V. “the footstool of thy feet.” The same tautology is in the original; but it is doubtful whether it was worth while to coin an awkward English phrase by such a literal translation.
Luke 20:44. How is He, then, his son?—The solution is given in Romans 1:3-4; Christ was the Son of David according to the flesh, and yet the eternal, pre-existent Son of God.
Luke 20:45. Then in the audience.—Rather, “and in the hearing” (R.V.).
Luke 20:46. Long robes.—Either an official dress or an exaggerated obedience to the law concerning dress (Numbers 15:38-40). Chief rooms.—Rather, “chief seats” (R.V.).
Luke 20:47. Devour widows’ houses.—Cf. 2 Timothy 3:6. For a show.—Rather “for a pretence” (R.V.). Damnation.—Rather, “condemnation” (R.V.).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 20:41-47
A Warning against False Guides.—The attempts to check our Lord’s activity, to betray Him into the expression of an opinion which might have been used against Him, and to cast ridicule upon His teaching, having failed, His adversaries withdrew from the contest. But He was not satisfied with having maintained His ground against them: He now carried the war into His enemies’ quarters.
I. He exposed the incompetency of the scribes and Pharisees as teachers (Luke 20:41-44).—They prided themselves on their skill in expounding and interpreting the Word of God, and He drew their attention to one of the most famous of the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament, and asked them to solve the difficulty which, according to their principles of interpretation, it contained. Their dead monotheism had blinded them to the intimations given in Scripture of the Divine dignity of the Messiah, and consequently they could return no answer to the question, “How could David apply the term ‘Lord’ to one who was to be descended from him?” Yet the question was not asked merely in order to show that the Word of God contained passages which they could not explain. It was also calculated to stir them up to profounder reflection upon a truth which they had not fairly faced, and to remove one of their principal grounds of objection to the claims He made. For frequently in the course of His ministry they had protested against His assumption of Divine attributes and prerogatives. Their obstinate silence, however, when confronted with the fact that Divine dignity was ascribed in Scripture to the Messiah, clearly proved that deeply rooted prejudices filled their minds, and that, therefore, they were incapacitated for acting as teachers of spiritual truths.
II. He upbraids them with the moral corruption of their lives (Luke 20:45-47).—He judged it necessary to set the people on their guard against those whose religion was only a cloak for the worst vices, and who took advantage of the reverence which the simple-minded naturally have for all who wear the garb of piety, to deceive and defraud them. Hypocrisy, pride, and covetousness, are the three charges He makes against them. They affect a piety of the most exaggerated type, in order to conceal the real depravity of their characters. They are consumed with a desire to secure the applause of their fellows, instead of being any help or blessing to them. And, worst of all, they plunder the property of those whom they delude with their religious professions. The picture thus drawn reminds us of the ecclesiastical abuses in the worst time of the Middle Ages; but traces, at any rate, of the same vices will still be found. People are still so easily deluded by a profession of piety that it is a wonder that hypocrites are not even more numerous than they are. Popularity and notoriety are still too often sought after by ministers of religion; and silly women are still so inclined to run after those who profess an exaggerated piety that one cannot be surprised at seeing hypocrites and impostors occasionally flourishing at their expense.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 20:41-47
Luke 20:41-44. Christ’s First and His last Visit to The Temple.—Immeasurable is the contrast between the first and the last visit of our Lord to the Temple. The less may we leave unnoticed that the boy Jesus, who, once, by his questions, threw the teachers in Israel into astonishment, and by His answers often made them suddenly dumb, and the Messiah, who often, on the final day, both with questions and with answers, nobly maintains the field, exhibit really one and the same character. The Divine Sonship then presaged is now distinctly known.—Van Oosterzee.
Deeper Truths Unveiled.—Our Lord’s question does not, by the passage referred to, solve any difficulty, but rather throws out a difficulty which might arrest the attention of a scribe desirous to know the truth, such as would lead him to see there was something far higher and more mysterious about the Messiah than he supposed. Our Lord’s words were a clue by which faith might apprehend the secret nature of the kingdom. To reason they proved nothing; but to faith they opened lofty views of the Divine economy in the gospel, as far surpassing anything which reason could have inferred, or imagination could conceive, as heaven is above earth.—Williams.
The Present and The Future.
I. Surrounded by enemies, victorious over enemies—those whom He has now confuted to be suppressed, if still impenitent, by His almighty power.
II. Enthroned in the hearts of a few disciples, but to be exalted to God’s right hand, and have all authority in heaven and earth.
The Divine Nature of Christ.
I. Revealed to David.
II. Concealed from scribes and Pharisees.
III. Brought to light by Christ Himself.
IV. Accepted by His disciples.
Cf. Revelation 22:16—Christ the offspring of David and yet the root from which David sprang; and John 8:58—the Son of Abraham, and yet before Abraham; also Romans 1:3—born of the race of David, “according to the flesh.”
Mysteries Revealed to Faith and Love.—Scripture contains mysteries which can never be solved by the wise and understanding, but which are revealed to those who love and obey Christ, and to them alone.
I. Imposition practised upon society in general.
II. Usurpation of places of honour in synagogues.
III. Self-seeking ambition in social life.
IV. Making religion and philanthropy a cloak for the grossest frauds.
Luke 20:45. “In the audience of all the people.”—The minds of scribes and Pharisees were hardened against Christ: the hearts of the people were receptive of His word. To them, therefore, He addresses a word of warning against blind devotion to unworthy leaders.
Luke 20:46. “Beware of the scribes.”—Christ dwells upon the external guise of these self-appointed guides and rulers, as an indication of their inward character: “by their fruits ye shall know them.”
Luke 20:47. “Devour widows’ houses.”—I.e., either extort large sums of money from them, under some religious pretext, or take advantage of their position as directors of consciences to enjoy sumptuous feasts in the houses of their victims.
Cf. 2 Timothy 3:6. “Pretenders to holiness practise most upon women, who are less apt than men to see through their hypocrisy, and are easily inclined to love them on the ground of religion” (Chrysostom).
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Luke 20". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter