Notes on Luke 20:1-40

Luke 20:1‑40  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 7
The Lord is now seen in contact with the various classes of officials and religious and political bodies among the Jews, who successively present themselves in the hope of perplexing and inveigling Him, but in effect to their own confusion, Essaying to judge Him, they expose themselves and are judged by the truth from His lips on their own evidence one after another.
“And it came to pass on one of the1 days as he was teaching in the temple and evangelizing, the priests and the scribes came up with the elders, and said unto him, saying, Tell us by what authority thou doest these things; or who it is that gave thee this authority.” (Ver. 1, 2.)
It is ever apt to be thus in an evil day. Worldly religion assumes the sanction of God for that which exists, its permanence and its future triumph. It was so in Israel; and it is so in Christendom. Prophets then held up the fate of Shiloh to the religious chiefs who reasoned from the promises of guaranteed perpetuity for the temple, its ordinances, its ministers, its devotees, and its system in general; and those who warned like Jeremiah found bitter results in the taunts and persecutions of such as had the world's ear. They denied God's title to tell them the truth. And now a greater than Jeremiah was here; and those who stood on their successional office, and those who claimed special knowledge of the scriptures, and those of leading influence in the counsels and conduct of the people, demanded His right to act as He did and its source. No wonder they felt the solemn testimony of approaching ruin to all that in which they had their importance; but there was no faith, no conscience toward God. They therefore turned away from the consideration of their own ways and responsibility to the question of His title.
The Lord meets them by putting another question. “And answering he said unto them, I also will ask you a [or one]2 word, and tell me: The baptism of John, was it of heaven or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we should say, Of heaven, he will say, Why3 believed ye him not? but if we should say, Of men, the whole people will stone us, for they are persuaded that John is a prophet. And they answered that they knew not whence [it was].” (Ver. 3-7.)
The wisdom of the Lord's procedure is worthy of all heed. He who alone could have taken His stand on personal dignity and the nearest relationship and the highest mission pleads none of these things. He probes their consciences; and, in their desire to escape from the consequences of answering truly, they are compelled to confess their incapacity both to guide others and even to act aright themselves in a matter of the deepest and most general concern to all Israel of that day. “The priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth; for he is the messenger of Jehovah of hosts. But ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith Jehovah of hosts.” So said Malachi, and so the Lord proved now. “Therefore have I also made you contemptible and base before all the people, according as ye have not kept my ways but have been partial in the law.” They could not deny, yet refused to profit by, the moral power of John, who bore witness to Jesus as Messiah and to Israel's need of repentance. To own therefore the baptism of John, a new institution, as of heaven, without the least appearance of traditional sanctity or claim of antiquity or connection with the priesthood or the temple, was of the most serious import to men who derived all their consequence from the regular course of the law and its ordinances. Besides, it at once decided the question of the Messiah, for John in the strongest and most solemn way declared that Jesus was the Christ. To disown John and his baptism would have been fatal to their credit, for all the people were persuaded that John was a prophet. It was to them a mere question of policy, and hence they shirked answering under cover of a lie. They could not afford to be truthful; they said they knew not whence John's baptism was. They were as void of faith as the heathen. He who read their dark hearts winds up with the reply, “Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Ver. 8.) It was useless to inform unbelief. Long before the Lord had forbidden His disciples to tell any man that He was the Christ; for He was going to suffer on the cross. “When ye shall have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am [he], and that I do nothing of myself, but even as my Father taught me, I speak these things.” (John 8)
Here we have no special application to the Jews in order to let them know that the most despised men and corrupt women go into the kingdom of God before the heads honored by the peoples. This has its appropriate place in the Gospel of Matthew. But we have the parable of the vineyard let out to husbandmen in all three synoptic accounts, each with its own special shades of truth.
“And he began to speak unto the people this parable: a man planted. a vineyard and let it out to husbandmen, and left the country for a long time. And in season he sent unto the husbandmen a slave that they might give him of the fruit of the vineyard; but the husbandmen beat and sent him away empty. And again he sent another slave, and him also they beat and dishonored and sent away empty. And again he sent a third, and they wounded and cast out him also. And the lord of the vineyard said, What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: perhaps on seeing they will reverence him. But when the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, This is the heir: let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours. And him they cast out of the vineyard and slew: what therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy these husbandmen, and will give the vineyard to others. And when they heard they said, Let it not be. But he looked on them and said, What then is this that is written? A stone which the builders rejected, this has become head of [the] corner. Every one that falleth on that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it shall crush him to powder.” (Ver. 9-18.)
On the truth common to all it is not needful to speak now. But the reader in comparing may notice the greater fullness of detail in Matthew and Mark than in Luke as to the dealings with Israel; as also the greater minuteness in Mark of the reception the servants and son received. So also observe on the other hand that Mark and Luke speak simply of giving the vineyard to others, Matthew on letting it out to other husbandmen such as shall render him the fruits in their seasons. Responsibility is thus most maintained in Matthew, grace in Luke, both being true and of capital moment. Again, in Matthew it is “he that falleth,” in Luke “every one,” &c. There is breadth in judgment as in grace. Mark has not the verse at all, as not bearing on service, the theme of the Spirit by him.
“And the scribes and the chief priests that very hour sought to lay hands on him (and they feared the people); for they perceived that he had spoken this parable against them.” Again does the Holy Spirit notice their bad conscience, their hatred of Jesus, and their fear of the people. God was in none of their thoughts: else had they repented and believed in Jesus. What a comment on the parable was their desire to lay hands on Him! Thus were they soon to fulfill the voice of the prophets and the parable of the great Prophet Himself.
“And they watched and sent suborned persons pretending to be righteous that they might lay hold of his word so as to deliver him to the power and the authority of the governor. And they asked him, saying, Teacher, we know that thou rightly sayest and teachest, and acceptest no person, but in truth teachest the way of God. Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar or not? But perceiving their deceit he said unto them, Show me a denarius; whose image and title hath it? And answering they said, Caesar’s. And he said unto them, Therefore render the things of Caesar to Caesar, and the things of God to God.” (Vers. 20-25.) The moral depravity of all concerned is here very marked, whether of suborners or suborned. Simplicity of purpose detects and exposes the crafty. Jesus sacrifices no duty. Let Caesar have what is his, and God His own. The world-panderers and the zealots were alike foiled, who set one duty against another, doing neither aright because each was seeking self. “And they were not able to lay hold of his word before the people, and wondering at his answer were silent.” (Ver. 26.)
“And some of the Sadducees who deny that there is any resurrection came up and asked him, saying, Teacher, Moses wrote to us, If any one's brother having a wife die and he be childless, that his brother take the wife, and raise up seed to his brother. There were then seven brothers, and the first having taken a wife died childless; and the second, and the third, took her; and likewise also the seven left no children and died; and lastly the woman died. In the resurrection therefore of which of them does the woman become wife? For the seven had her as wife. And Jesus said to them, The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage; but those counted worthy to obtain that age and the resurrection from among [the] dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they can die no more, for they are equal to angels, and are sons of God, being sons of resurrection. But that the dead rise even Moses showed at4 the bush when he calleth Jehovah the God of Abraham, and God of Isaac, and God of Jacob. But He is not God of dead but of living, for all live to Him.” (Verses 27-38.)
We need not combat here men like Dr. Campbell, ably as he wrote on the Gospels, or Dwight, who contend that the point is a future life rather than the resurrection of the body. Not so. The proposed case could hardly have risen but as a difficulty in the ways of a risen body, though it is doubtless true that the Sadducees went farther and denied angels and spirits.
Our Gospel, it is of interest to observe here, furnishes several distinct truths beyond what is found in Matthew and Mark. Resurrection from among the dead (not resurrection as such) has its own proper age, a time of special blessedness which the resurrection of the unjust cannot be 6aid to be. It was after this the apostle longed so ardently, minding no sufferings meanwhile, none above all of Christ in character. The resurrection of the wicked is for the second death. The resurrection from among the dead is for the righteous who die no more, being equal to angels and sons of God, being sons of resurrection. The resurrection of the unjust is the awful condition of eternal judgment, as they had rejected Christ and eternal life in Him. God is Abraham's God and will raise the dead to enjoy the promises not yet fulfilled; He is not God of dead men but of living; for to Him all live, even before the resurrection comes as well as when it does come. Thus Luke above all the evangelists gives us a full glimpse of the separate state, besides the certainty of resurrection and glory. “And some of the scribes answering said, Teacher, thou hast well said. And5 they did not dare any more to ask him anything.” (Ver. 39, 40.) We shall see that the Lord's turn is come to question them.