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The Pharisees having often quarrelled at our Saviour's doctrine before, they call in question his mission and authority now: although they might easily have understood his divine mission by his divine miracles; for Almighty God never impowered any to work miracles that were not sent by him. Our blessed Saviour, understanding their design, gives them no direct answer, but replies to their question by asking them another: The baptism of John, was it from Heaven, or of men? That is, was it of divine institution, or of human invention? Plainly implying, that the calling of them who call themselves the ministers of God, ought to be from God: No man ought to take that honor upon him, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron, Hebrews 5:8
The Pharisees reply, that they could not tell where John had his mission and authority; which was a manifest untruth: they knew it, but did not own it. By refusing to tell the truth, they fall into a lie against the truth; thus one sin ensnares and draws men on to the commission of more: such as will not speak exact truth according to their knowledge, they fall into the sin of lying against their knowledge and their conscience. Our Saviour answers them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things: he did not say, I cannot, or I will not tell you, but I do not, I need not tell you; because the miracles which I work before you are a sufficient demonstration of my divine commission, that I am sent of God among you: because God never set the seal of his omnipotency to a lie, nor impowered any impostor to work real miracles.
In the parable before us, the Jewish church is compared to a vineyard, God the father to an householder, his planting, pruning, and fencing his vineyard, denotes his care to furnish his church with all needful helps and means to make it fruitful; his letting it out to husbandmen, signifies the committing the care of his church to the priests and Levites, the public pastors and governors of the church; his servants are the prophets and apostles whom he sent from time to time, to admonish them to bring forth answerable fruits to the cost which God had expended on them; his son is Jesus Christ, whom the rulers of the Jewish church slew and murdered. So that the design and scope of the parable is, to discover to the Jews, particularly to the Pharisees, their obstinate impenitency under all the means of grace, their bloody cruelty towards the prophets of God, their tremendous guilt in crucifying the Son of God; for all which God would unchurch them finally, ruin their nation, and set up a church among the Gentiles, that should bring forth much better fruit than the Jewish church ever did.
From the whole, note,
1. That the church is God's vineyard; a vineyard is a place inclosed, a place well planted, well fruited, and exceeding dear and precious to the planter, and the owner of it.
2. That as dear as God's vineyard is unto him, in case of barrenness and unfruitfulness, it is in great danger of being destroyed and laid waste by him.
3. That the only way and course to engage God's care over his vineyard, and to prevent its being given to other husbandmen, is to give him the fruits of it; it is but a vineyard that God lets out, it is no inheritance: no people ever had so many promises of God's favor as the Jews; nor ever enjoyed so many privileges while they continued in his favor, as they did; but for rejecting Christ and his holy doctrine they are a despised, scattered people throughout the world. See the note on Matthew 21:39-40
Both St. Matthew and St. Mark tell us, that these spies, sent forth to ensnare our Saviour about paying tribute to Caesar, were the Pharisees and Herodians: the former were against paying tribute, looking upon the Roman emperor as an usurper; the latter were for it. These two opposite parties concluded, that, let our Saviour answer how he would, they should entrap him; if, to please the Pharisees, he denied paying tribute, then he is accused of sedition; if, to gratify the Herodians, he voted for paying tribute, then he is pronounced an enemy to the liberty of his country, and exposed to a popular odium.
But observe with what wisdom and caution our Lord answers them: he calls for the Roman penny, and asks them, whose superscription it bare? They answer, Caesar's. Then says he, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's. As if he had said, "Your admitting the Roman coin amongst you, is an evidence that you are under subjection to the Roman emperor; because the coining and imposing of money is an act of sovereign authority; therefore you having owned Caesar's authority over you, by accepting of his coin amongst you, give unto him his just dues, and render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's."
1. That our Saviour was no enemy to magistracy and civil government; there was no truer pay-master of the king's dues, than he that was King of kings; he preached it and he practised it, Matthew 17:27
2. Where a kingdom is in subjection to a temporal prince, whether by descent, election, or conquest, he derives the title, the sujects ought from a principle of conscience to pay tribute to him.
3. That as Christ is no enemy to the civil rights of princes, and his religion exempts none from paying their civil dues, so princes should be as careful not to rob him of his divine honor, as he is not to wrong them of their civil rights. As Christ requires all his followers to render to Ceasar the things that are Caesar's, so princes should oblige all their subjects to render unto God the things that are God's.
Our blessed Saviour having put the Pharisees and Herodians to silence in the foregoing verses, here the Sadducees encounter him. This sect denied the immortality of the soul, and the resurrection of the body, and as an objection against both, they propound a case to our Saviour, of a woman that had seven husbands; they demanded whose wife of the seven this woman should be at the resurrection? As if they had said, "If there be a resurrection of bodies at the great day, surely there will be a resurrection of relations too, and the other world will be like this, in which men will marry as they do here; and if so, whose wife of the the seven shall this woman be? They all having an equal claim to her."
Now our Saviour, for resolving of this question, first shows the different state of men in this and in the other world: The children of this world, says Christ, marry and are given in marriage; but in the resurrection they do neither. As if our Lord had said, "After men have lived a while in this world, they die, and therefore marriage is necessary to maintain a succession of mankind; but in the other world, men shall become immortal, and live forever; and then the reason of marriage will wholly cease; for when men can die no more, there will be no need of any new supplies of mankind."
Secondly, our Saviour having got clear of the Sadducees' objection, by taking away the ground and foundation of it, he produces an argument for the proof of the soul's immortality, and the body's resurrection, thus: those to whom Almighty God pronounces himself a God, are alive; but God pronounces himself, a God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, many hundred years after their bodies were dead; therefore their souls are yet alive, otherwise God could not be their God." For he is not the God of the dead, but of the living.
From the whole note, 1. That there is no opinion so absurd, no error so monstrous, that having had a mother will die for lack of a nurse: the beastly opinion of the mortality of the soul, and of the annihilation of the body, finds Sadducees to profess and propagate it.
Learn, 2. The certainty of another life after this, in which men shall be eternally happy, or intolerably miserable, according as they behave themselves here: though some men live like beasts, they shall not die like them, neither shall their last end be like theirs.
Note, 3. The glorified saints, in the morning of the resurrection, shall be like unto the gloruous angels; not like them in essence and nature, but like them in their properties and qualities, namely, in holiness and purity, in immortality and incorruptibility; and also like them in their way and manner of living. They shall no more stand in need of meat or drink than the angels do; but shall live the same heavenly and immortal lives that the angels live.
Note, 4. That all those that are in covenant with God, whose God the Lord is, their souls do immediately pass into glory, and their bodies at the resurrection shall be sharers in the same happiness with their souls. If God be just, the soul must live, and the body must rise; for good men must be rewarded, and wicked men punished. God will most certainly, one time or other, plentifully reward the righteous, and punish the evil doers; but this being not always done in this life, the justice of God requires it to be done in the next.
The design of our blessed Saviour in propounding this question to the Pharisees, (how Christ could be David's son, when David by inspiration called him Lord) was two-fold:
1. To confute the people's erroneous opinion touching the person of the Messiah, who they thought should be a mere man, of the stock and lineage of David only, and not the Son of God.
2. To strengthen the faith of his disciples touching his Godhead, against the time that they should see him suffer and rise again: the place Christ alludes to is The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand. Psalms 110:1 The Lord, that is, to God the Son; who was to be incarnate, whom David calls his Lord, both as God, and as Mediator, his Lord by a right of creation and redemption also.
Now the question our Saviour puts to the Pharisees is this, how Christ could be both David's Lord, and David's Son? No son being Lord of his own father; therefore if Christ were David's Sovereign, he must be more than man, more than David's son. As man, he was David's son; as God-man was David's Lord.
Note hence, 1. That though Christ was truly and really Man, yet he was more than a mere man; he was Lord unto, and the salvation of, his own forefathers.
Note, 2. That the only way to reconcile the scriptures which speak concerning Christ, is to believe and acknowledge him to be both God and Man in one person. The Messiah, as man, was to come forth out of David's loins; but as God-man, was David's Lord, his Sovereign and Saviour: as man he was David's son; as God-man, he was Lord of his own father.
Observe here, what it is that our Saviour condemns; not civil salutations in the market-place, not the chief seats in the synagogue, not the uppermost rooms at feasts, but their fond affecting of these things, and their ambitious aspiring after them; it was not their taking, but their loving, the uppermost rooms at feasts, which our Saviour condemns. God is the God of order, there may and ought to be a precedency among persons; God commands us to give honor to whom honor is due, but pride and ambition are detestable and hateful vices, especially in such as are preachers, and ought to be patterns of humility.
Observe, 2. How our Saviour condemns the Pharisees for their gross hypocrisy, in coloring over their abominable covetousness with a specious pretence of religion, making long prayers in the temple and synagogues for widows, and thereupon persuading them to give bountifully to Corban, that is, the common treasury for the temple; some part of which was employed for their maintenance.
Whence we learn, that it is no new thing for designing hypocrites to cover the foulest transgressions with the cloak of religion: thus the Pharisees made their prayers a cloak and cover for their covetousness.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Luke 20". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany