The Authority of Jesus Questioned, 1-8
Lk 20:1 One day as he was teaching the people in the temple courts and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him.
Lk 20:2 “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?”
Lk 20:3 He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me, 4 John’s baptism-was it from heaven, or from men?”
Lk 20:5 They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’
Lk 20:6 But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.”
Lk 20:7 So they answered, “We don’t know where it was from.”
Lk 20:8 Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”
The Parable of the Tenants, 9-19
Lk 20:9 he went on to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time.”
The parable records the special privileges given to the Jewish nation. God has given them good and wise laws, godly leaders, gracious promises, and fellowship with himself. We might reflect that we too have been granted many favours by God, and might ask how grateful we are for them, and how positively we have responded to them.
Jesus reworks Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard (Isa 5:1-7), directing his parable not against the nation as a whole (as Isaiah does) but against the religious leaders of Jerusalem. In doing so, he may be reflecting a rabbinic interpretation of the Isaiah passage.
This parable is found in all three Synoptic Gospels. Its implied Christology is very important, especially given the tendency of much modern scholarship to doubt that Jesus had, or even could have had, any self-awareness about his divine Sonship. ‘The so-called Parable of the Wicked Tenants could just as well be the Parable of the Son Sent at Last.’ (N.T. Wright, http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_JIG.htm)
The authenticity of this parable is sometimes doubted. The reasons include, ‘the clear presence of allegory in the parable; the precision of the future actions portrayed in the parable (Jesus’ being put to death outside of Jerusalem; the success of the Gentile mission; and the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70); the use of an OT quotation in the parable.’ (NAC)
The assumption that Jesus’ parables could not contain allegorical elements is discredited.
‘This parable in effect summarises the whole of the biblical history, including the gospel story.’ (Evans)
This remarkable parable (it’s almost an allegory) summarises many of the key movements in the plot-line of Scripture: the giving of special privileges to Israel; the sending of the prophets; the selfish disobedience of the Jewish leaders; the sending, at last, of God’s own Son; the cruel rejection of the Son; the judgement on Israel and the offer of the gospel to the Gentiles; Christ’s establishment as the foundation-stone of God’s kingdom.
Yet the parable does not merely describe a series of events: it challenges our stewardship of the kingdom-privileges we ourselves have been given.
Note the threefold context of the parable:
(a) the cultural context – it describes an arrangement that was quite common at the time. Hendriksen informs us that the parable describes a situation that was common in the upper Jordan valley, where there were large estates owned by absent landlords. They had given their farms and vineyards into the care of local people and who enjoyed a considerable measure of independence in running them. For his share of the yield the owner was dependent on the honesty and co-operation of the tenants;
(b) the biblical context – The parable is closely related to Isaiah’s ‘Song of the Vineyard’, Isa 5:1-7 (the verbal similarities are even closer in Mark’s version). ‘Later Jewish interpretation came to understand Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard as a prophecy of the destruction of the temple, a prophecy fulfilled when in 586 BC Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem. When Jesus utilises the language of this Isaianic parable in order to tell his own parable, his audience cannot help but sense the judgemental tone of the parable. Whereas in Isaiah’s version the vineyard itself (the people) is guilty, in Jesus’ parable it is not the vineyard, but the tenants (= the religious authorities). They are the reason that God does not receive the fruit that is due. The people’s leaders are selfish and disobedient. They will have to be replaced with new leaders who are obedient and responsive to God. This leadership consists, of course, of those whom Jesus has taught. His disciples will replace the old Jerusalem establishment and will servie God and his people more faithfully.’ (Evans)
(c) the biographical context – it comes during the last week of our Lord’s earthly ministry, and reflects his attitude towards, and relationship with, the Jewish leaders and with ‘the people’. Note that although told against Jesus opponents – the teachers of the law and the chief priests, v19 – it is addressed to ‘the people’ (cf 20:1). Some references to ‘the people’ in Lk 3:15,21; 4:31,36,40; 7:29ff; 13:17; 18:43; 19:7,11,47-48; 20:1,6,9,16,19:45; 21:38; 22:2; 23:5,14,35,48.
A vineyard – The process of establishing a vineyard includes: selecting a suitable plot of land; planting it with vines; enclosing it with a wall or fence; digging a wine-press; building a watchtower.
The vineyard symbolises Israel’s favoured status as God’s people.
‘Privilege entails responsibility. The more one receives, the more he must account for. They who had enjoyed so many more favours at the hand of God than other nations, ought to have been just so much better than other nations, and ought to have cheerfully rendered to him the service which he sought. Holy lives, loving service, cheerful and devoted loyalty to himself, – these were the fruits God sought as the return for the giving of the theocracy and its blessings to them.’ (Taylor)
Farmers – The underlying word can mean ‘farmers’ or ‘vinedressers’. The latter is more likely here, given the content of the parable.
A man…went away for a long time – This can scarcely allude to the delay in the Parousia, since it is ‘the man’, and not the son, who went away. Similarly, the judgement referred to in v16 does not fit the final judgement, but to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and to the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles.
Some writers (e.g Taylor) suggest that God was more openly present with his chosen people when they were being established as such at the time of the Exodus, and that he withdrew to the extent that he met less with them face-to-face, more through his prophets. But this line of reasoning may be pushing the detail of the parable too far. Ryle says, ‘This expression must not be pressed too closely. It signifies that as the lord of the vineyard left his vineyard to the occupation of the tenants, so God left the privileges of the Jews to be turned to good account by the nation.’
Lk 20:10 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed.
A servant – represents the prophets. On the rejection of the prophets, see Mt 23:29-37; Lk 6:23; 11:49-51; 13:31-35; Acts 7:52.
So that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard – This was one of several ways in which tenants might pay a landowner.
The tenants who beat him – symbolise Israel, especially its leaders, and the shameful treatment of the prophets.
‘In the days of Elijah, Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord, and Ahab subjected Micaiah to the foulest indignity. In the reign of Joash, the people conspired against Zechariah the son of Jehoiada, on whom the Spirit of God came; and they stoned him with stones. Jeremiah was cruely abused by those to whom he went as the messenger of the Lord; and the tradition has always been, that Isaiah was sawn asunder by the order of Manasseh.’ (Taylor)
Lk 20:11 He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed.
Lk 20:12 He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.
Lk 20:13 “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.'”
“I will send my son, whom I love” – cf. Lk 3:22; 9:35. We are clearly intended to read this as a reference to Jesus. The identity of Jesus as the Son of God, far from being minimally attested in the Gospels, features quite widely. It is most apparent in passages such as Jn 5, but is perfectly clear in the Synoptics, the present passage shows. See Jn 3:16 Rom 8:32 Gal 4:4 2 Cor 9:15. See also Mt 21:37n.
Heb 1:1f affirms that Jesus is God’s last word in succession to the prophets.
Jesus was sent first of all to Israel, Mt 10:5f, but was rejected by the Jews, Mk 15:12f Jn 1:11 12:37-41 Acts 2:23 4:10.
Lk 20:14 “But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.'”
“This is the heir” – The tenants assume, perhaps, that the owner has died. By killing the heir, they plan to lay claim to the ownership of the vineyard. ‘Possession in 9/10 of the law.’
If v13 clearly indicates the divine Sonship of Jesus, then this verse indicates his knowledge of the intentions of his enemies, and the following verse the fact that this intentions were carried out. The parable was spoken on the Tuesday before ‘Good Friday’.
Lk 20:15 So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?”
And give the vineyard to others – These ‘others’ are evidently the Gentiles, Acts 13:45-47; 18:6; 28:25-28.
Lk 20:16 “he will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When the people heard this, they said, “May this never be!”
“He will come and kill those tenants” – ‘Lk wanted his readers to understand that this was fulfilled in Jerusalem’s destruction in A.D. 70 (cf. Lk 13:35; 19:43-44; 21:20-24; 23:29-31).’ (NAC)
‘At the time when our Lord spoke this parable, it was a prophetical picture of the approaching ruin of the Jewish church and nation. The vineyard of the Lord in the land of Israel, was about to be taken from its unfaithful tenants. Jerusalem was to be destroyed. The temple was to be burned. The Jews were to be scattered over the earth. – At the present time, it may be feared, it is a mournful picture of things yet to come on the Gentile churches in the latter days. The judgements of God will yet fall on unbelieving Christians, as they fell on unbelieving Jews. The solemn warning of St. Paul to the Romans will yet receive an accomplishment: “If thou continuest not in God’s goodness, thou also shalt be cut off,” Rom 11:22. (Ryle)
“and give the vineyard to others – ‘Here the vineyard refers to God’s kingdom, which would be offered to the Gentiles, whose time had now come Lk (21:24). Mt 21:43 elaborates on this, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruits.”‘ (NAC)
‘The vineyard, i.e., the privileged position, once granted to Israel, was subsequently tansferred to the church universal, Mt 21:41; 28:19; Acts 13:46, a truth whose realisation was already foreshadowed when Jesus walked on earth, Mt 8:11f; 15:28; Jn 3:16; 4:41f; 10:16; 17:20f.’ (Hendriksen)
According to Evans, 16a is not about the giving of God’s kingdom to the Gentiles but the giving of the leadership of that kingdom to the disciples. Mt 21:43 would seem to weaken this interpretation.
‘Here, then, is the interpretation of the parable: The householder is God, the vineyard is the theocratic privileges enjoyed by those who were the chosen people of God, and as such were placed by him under the law of Moses; the husbandmen are the Jews themselves; the removal oof the householder into a far country is the withdrawal of God from such open manifestation of himself as he made on Sinai, into “expectant passivity,” waiting for the result to develop itself freely in the choice of the peple themselves; the servants sent were the prophets, who were often cruelly maltreated by those to whom they were commissioned; the son is the Lord Jesus Christ himself, the crucifixion of whom was the climax of the nation’s iniquity, for which the kingdom of God was taken from it, and given to the Gentiles.’ (Taylor)
When the people heard this, they said, “May this never be!” – ‘The people by their response stood in sharp contrast to their leaders. (cf. Lk 19:47-48; 20:6,19) They expressed horror at the whole course of events in the parable, and their hearts furthermore were favorably disposed to the preaching of Jesus (Lk 20:1).’ (NAC)
Lk 20:17 Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written:”‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone ‘?”
The quotation is from Ps 118:22. The Messianic reference is picked up in Acts 4:11 and 1 Pet 2:7.
“The stone” – a large building block.
“The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone” – we cannot but think of the rejection and subsequent vindication of the Messiah.
‘The cornerstone of a building, in additon to being part of the foundation and therefore supporting the superstructure, finalises its shape, for, being placed at the corner formed by the junction of two primary walls, it determines the lay of the walls and crosswalls throughout. All the other stones must adjust themselves to this cornerstone. Such is the relation of Christ to his church. But his glorious resurrection, ascension, and coronation he has become highly exalted, and for his place at the Father’s right hand sends out the Spirit to dwell in the hearts of his followers and to rule over the entire universe in the interest of the church, to the glory of God Triune.’ (Hendriksen)
Lk 20:18 “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.”
Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed” – ‘The quotation from Isa 8:14-15 demonstrates that those who are offended by the gospel and reject the stone will experience a disastrous judgment. Simeon in Lk 2:34 had already alluded to this. Jesus is the divine divider who separates the wheat from the tares, the sheep from the goats, the blessed from the damned.’ (NAC)
There are several ways in which the two parts of this verse may be understood:-
(a) Some take the first part to refer to the temporary injury experienced by those who find Christ to be a stumbling-block, but subsequently believe in him, whereas the second part refers to those who permanently reject him. Thus, Taylor says, ‘Here are two different treatments of the Lord, with their respective consequences, foreshadowed to us’ –
‘The first is that of those who merely for a season stumble over certain difficulties regarding (Christ). They are not satisifed, it may be, concerning his deity; they are offended, perhaps, as even Peter was once, at the idea of his dying upon a cross; or they cannot unravel all the mystery of his atonement: therefore they do not yet accept him. That is bad. That is hurtful. They fall over the stone, and are broken…Yet such injury may not be absolutely irreparable if at least it occur in time; for those who have bene thus hurt may be stirred up thereby to alter the whole plan of their lives, and begin anew by the acceptance of Christ as their only Saviour and Sovereign.’
‘But if one persistently and defiantly rejects Christ, and justifies thereby the Jews in their treatment of him, he does not fall over the stone, but the stone falls upon him, and he is eternally destroyed. “Ground to powder,” – what a terrible expression! describing utter, hopeless, remediless perdition.’
(b) Others (e.g. Evans) think that the first part of the verse refers to the difficulties that the followers of Christ will experience in their mission and ministry, whereas the second part refers to the judgement of Christ falling on those who reject him.
(c) Still others take both parts to refer to substantially the same thing, i.e. judgement and ruin coming upon those who reject Christ. This view is supported by the parallels with Isa 8:14f and Lk 2:34. The contrast is not between the two parts of v18, but between v17 and v18.
Lk 20:19 The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.
They looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them – ‘Quite possibly some of the Jewish leaders who heard the parable at first might have wondered if the original tenants stood for the Romans who were occupying their land. By the end they clearly recognized that Jesus was telling this story against them, and so they became enraged.’ (Blomberg)
‘When the hearts of the sons of men are fully set in them to do evil, the fairest warnings both of the sin they are about to commit and of the consequences of it make no impression upon them.’ (MHC)
But they were afraid of the people – This is not surprising, because the people held Jesus to be a prophet, Lk 7:16; had on the previous Sunday been shouting his praise, 19:37f; and on an earlier occasion tried to make him their king, Jn 6:15.
The theological emphases of the parable may be summarised as follows:-
1. Stewardship. The parable exemplies the importance of the right use of gifts and privileges that God has bestowed. ‘Those who enjoy the privileges of the visible church are as tenants and farmers that have a vineyard to look after, and rent to pay for it. God, by setting up revealed religion and instituted orders in the world, hath planted a vineyard, which he lets out to those people among whom his tabernacle is, v9.’ (MHC)
What does stewardship mean for us today? It means that Christian teachers and leaders have a duty to be faithful. They are not called, first and foremost, to creative, innovative, speculative. They are to be faithful stewards of all that God has entrusted them with. They are to ‘keep the faith’, ‘preach the word’. There is a corresponding responsibility for those who sit under Christian ministry. Bearing in mind that this parable was spoken about, the Jewish leaders, but spoken to the ‘the people’, we all have a duty to weigh the words of our teachers, and observe their lives. ‘Beware of the leaven of Pharisees’, said Jesus. ‘You have observed my behaviour,’ said Paul.
2. The continuity of the covenant. The son follows in the footsteps of the prophets who went before him. ‘God sent his Son into the world to carry on the same work that the prophets were employed in, to gather the fruits of the vineyard for God; and one would have thought that he would have been reverenced and received. The prophets spoke as servants, Thus saith the Lord; but Christ as a Son, among his own, Verily, I say unto you. Putting such an honour as this upon them, to send him, one would have thought, should have won upon them.’ (MHC)
3. Israel’s rejection of God’s prophets and of the Messiah. ‘It has often been the lot of God’s faithful servants to be wretchedly abused by his own tenants.’ (MHC)
4. The judgement on Israel and the offer of the gospel to the Gentiles.
‘The most significant teaching found in this parable, however, is its Christology. Whereas the OT prophets are described as servants (Lk 20:11-13), Jesus is described as God’s “beloved son” (Lk 20:13, RSV). He is not simply his favorite servant or his most beloved servant. He is sufficiently different from the OT prophets that a qualitative change of category must be used to describe him. He is not a servant but the Son. Without reading more out of the parable than is warranted, the question of an “ontological” uniqueness of the Son is raised here. Jesus’ unique role as the “Church’s One Foundation” (see Lk 20:17; Acts 4:11-12; Eph 2:20; 1 Cor 3:11) is then shown by the quotation of Ps 118:22. Whether the judgmental role of the stone alludes to the role of the Son of Man in judgment is uncertain, but that each individual will be judged on the basis of his or her attitude toward Jesus is clear. (Lk 9:26 12:8-9 Acts 4:12) The Lukan emphasis on this point is evident, for Lk alone added in 20:18 the allusion to Isa 8:14-15 Dan 2:34-35,44-45. The reference to the Son as Heir (20:14) also has Christological significance, for here Jesus is seen as the future Lord of the vineyard. This lordship over the church and creation is more clearly described elsewhere in the NT, but it is found in Luke-Acts as well.’ (NAC)
Paying Taxes to Caesar, 20-26
Lk 20:20 Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be honest. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor.
Lk 20:21 So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.
Lk 20:22 “Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
‘In order to make him lose favour with the people or incur the suspicion of the Romans they raised a question about the polltax imposed on the Jews by the Romans. It had been introduced amid fierce resentment and opposition (cf 2:2), and it continued to be unpopular. Would Jesus oppose it – and perhaps be arrested as a rebel? Or would he uphold it – and perhaps lose the support of the people?’ (NBC)
Lk 20:23 He saw through their duplicity and said to them,
Lk 20:24 “Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?”
‘Jesus asked his questioners for a coin, not because he did not possess one, but so as to demonstrate that they themselves used Caesar’s money. The silver denarius, which bore Caesar’s head on one side and on the other the goddess of peace, was inscribed: ‘Tiberius Caesar Augustus, son of the divine Augustus, chief priest.’ If the people used Caesar’s coinage, they were under obligation to pay back what was owing to him.’ (NBC)
Lk 20:25 “Caesar’s,” they replied. He said to them, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
‘Governmental authority is instituted by God and must be respected. (Pr 8:15 Dan 2:21,37-38 Rom 13 1 Pet 2:11-17) Yes, our citizenship is in heaven, (Php 3:20) and we are strangers and pilgrims on earth, but that does not mean we should ignore our earthly responsibilities. Human government is essential to a safe and orderly society, for man is a sinner and must be kept under control. Jesus was not suggesting that we divide our loyalties between God and government. Since the1 powers that be are ordained of God, (Rom 13:1) we live as good citizens when we obey the authorities for the Lords sake. When obedience to God conflicts with obedience to man, then we must put God first, (Ac 4:19-20 5:29) but we must do it in a manner that is honorable and loving. Even if we cannot respect the people in office, we must respect the office. The counsel that Jeremiah gave to the Jewish exiles in Babylon is a good one for Gods strangers2 and pilgrims to follow today: (Jer 29:4-7) Seek3 the peace of the city! Caesars image and name were on the coins, so it was basically his currency. To pay the poll tax meant simply to give Caesar back that which belonged to him. Gods image is stamped on us; therefore, he has the right to command our lives as citizens in his kingdom. We should seek to be such good citizens that God will be glorified and the unsaved will be attracted to the Gospel and want to become Christians. (1 Pet 2:9-12 3:8-17) It is unfortunate that some Christians have the mistaken idea that the more obnoxious they are as citizens, the more they please God and witness for Christ. We must never violate our conscience, but we should seek to be peacemakers and not troublemakers. Daniel is an example to follow (Dan. 1).’ (Wiersbe)
Lk 20:26 They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.
The Resurrection and Marriage, 27-40
Lk 20:27 Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question.
Lk 20:28 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother.
Lk 20:29 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. Lk 20:30 The second Lk 20:31 and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. Lk 20:32 Finally, the woman died too.
Lk 20:33 Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”
Lk 20:34 Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage.
Lk 20:35 But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage,
Lk 20:36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.
‘After the resurrection relationships change. “Putting on immortality” means there is no more need to create new mortals (1 Cor 15:50–54). With God as Father, families are no longer necessary. There is no more death, nor is there any need to worry about continuing one’s family line. This makes the afterlife a new paradigm of existence to which the problem the Sadducees have posed is irrelevant. People do not marry in the afterlife, and the issue of whose spouse the woman is becomes vacuous.’ (Bock)
“They are like the angels” – Jesus is having another dig at the Sadducees, because they did not believe in the reality of the spirit world, Acts 23:8.
Lk 20:37 But in the account of the bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’
Lk 20:38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
Lk 20:39 Some of the teachers of the law responded, “Well said, teacher!”
Lk 20:40 And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Whose Son is the Christ? 41-47
Lk 20:41 Then Jesus said to them, “How is it that they say the Christ is the Son of David?
Lk 20:42 David himself declares in the Book of Psalms: “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand 43 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”‘
Lk 20:44 David calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”
Lk 20:45 While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples,
Lk 20:46 “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.
Lk 20:47 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely.”