Preparing the Quick Bible Truths tweet for this morning, which lately has been following the daily NT reading schedule, I wanted a submission really upbeat and positive. Well, Luke 20 isn’t one of those chapters for cheery thoughts. It presents the conflict between Jesus and the authorities in its final, hottest moment, before his betrayal.
After Jesus cleanses the temple, they challenge his authority (1-8). Not every question is a simple request for information. Questions are used for many purposes, with a variety of motivations. Theirs, like the later question on taxes, was designed “to take advantage of what he might say so that they could deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor” (v. 20). One would think that “teaching … and proclaiming the gospel” (v. 1) would be innocent and harmless activities, but the Lord invaded their territory “in the temple courts.” As well, he was teaching “the people,” where the priests, scribes, and elders (probably indicating the Sanhedrin) exerted their influence. Everything Jesus did was wrong, in their mind.
The Lord refuses to throw pearls before swine, so he asks a question in return. By their huddle about repercussions and their refusal to answer, they show their hypocrisy. Jesus has turned their trap against them and so refuses to answer their question.
In the parable of the tenants (9-19), Jesus speaks of a vineyard, a common Old Testament figure for Israel, and its owner, who will soon absent himself from the scene and later return for his due from the tenant farmers. The owner is God; the tenants are Israel’s leaders; the slaves are the prophets; the “one dear son” is Jesus. How the tenants expected to take the inheritance by killing the son is obscure, unless they intend further force. They are obviously self-deceived, since the owner has superior strength to kill them and deliver the vineyard over to others (v. 16). The people’s shock at the tenants’ destruction (v. 16) signals that they understood the gist of his point. This galls the authorities even further, to the point of wanting to “arrest him that very hour” (v. 19), but refrained because “they were afraid of the people.”
After the Pharisees’ and scribes’ failures, the Sadducees step in to try their hand at snaring the Lord (27-40). Their question, designed to leave the hearer stumped, so that they could declare the ridiculousness of the resurrection, was an easy pitch for the Lord, who first responded from his own knowledge of the state of the angels and deceased humans and then appeals to Moses, whom the questioners would have to acknowledge. If God was then, when he spoke to Moses, still the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the three patriarchs who had died centuries before, that meant they were still alive, that there was life beyond the grave, and that the soul would be reunited with the body. He is the God of the living.
The one positive phrase in the chapter comes from some of the experts in the law, “Teacher, you have spoken well” (v. 39). Luke chooses this phrase to conclude the conflict section, when finally “they did not dare any longer to ask him anything” (v. 40).
When service to God is not so positive, Jesus does not merely react to challenges; he also goes on the offensive, with his question about the Messiah being David’s son (41-44). Their theology is the Messiah is so uncertain and skewed that they cannot answer. Luke doesn’t even bother recording their non-reply.
Jesus then warns his disciples, in the hearing of the people, to beware of the scribes. Behind their pompous religiosity lay greed. The widow’s offering in 21:1-4 should be read with this condemnation.
Charles Spurgeon wrote, “The closing conflicts between the rulers and Jesus constitute the saddest revelation of the depravity of the human heart” (Exposition of the Whole Bible 439). In that sense there is little positive to the chapter, except for a Messiah who parries their attacks and, yes, even for them and because of them, continues steadfastly to the Cross to redeem men from such false religion and useless faith.