Luke 20 describes much controversy. Remember that Jesus being in the temple teaching and preaching happens soon after He has cleansed it (19:45-48). It’s in the course of one of these times that Luke relates these “conversations” with His opponents. I put “conversations” in quotes because they weren’t really honest conversations. Luke tells us that they were seeking something that they could use against Him (19:47-48, 20:19-20). So in all of these accounts in Luke 20 they’re trying to trap Jesus. Of course, being Jesus, He doesn’t fall for the traps. Rather, He shows them just how far from the truth they are.
A few notes on the text:
20:1-8 Authority is a Key
- Jesus is in the temple, the place where God promised to be. And He’s teaching with authority. Jesus questioners probably have not only the temple cleansing but all Jesus is doing around the temple, including the teaching, when they challenge His authority.
- The word authority is a key word to understand. It has to do not with the ability to do something (the best word for that is “power”) but with the right to do it. People who teach or exercise any power without the right authority aren’t acting properly. As a Jewish religious leader, to claim the authority of God Himself was a huge thing (as it still is today!).
- Jesus’ answer to the challenge is to employ a technique typical of rabbis: answer a question with a question. And what a question! It immediately calls to mind the fact that Jesus was baptized by John, and proclaimed by John to be greater than he was. So this is a huge problem for the Pharisees to answer either way, because they have rejected John as a prophet. It’s not just a thought exercise; this is foundational stuff for religious teachers of the day.
20:9-18 A Targeted Parable
This parable is clearly targeted at Jesus’ challengers. The characters of the parable are fairly clear to us: God is the vineyard planter/owner; the tenants are the Jewish religious leaders; the servants are the prophets sent by God, and Jesus is the Son. He will be rejected, but through His death and resurrection will be revealed to be the foundational piece of the new building.
20:19-26 More Hypocrisy
Another challenge from the leaders is brilliantly answered by Jesus. Jesus shows the hypocrisy of the question by showing that they themselves use the coin of the day, and so are in no position to act “high and mighty”. But there is a higher authority than Caesar (or indeed, any earthly ruler): God.
20:27-40 A Rebuke of the Sadducees
The Sadducees were a group of Jews that were theologically trained—both priests and laity—but who were at theological odds with the Pharisees. One of their beliefs was that there was no resurrection, as Luke tells us here (20:27). Again, the question is a trap. It hangs on Jewish law (and the Sadducees only accepted the Pentateuch—the first five books of the Old Testament—as authoritative), and again Jesus responds brilliantly, using their own theological leanings against them to show them the truth. He uses an example from Exodus, which is in the Pentateuch (20:37), and refers to angels as part of this creation and the new one (which the Sadducees also did not believe in). (Also notice that Jesus does not say people become angels in the new creation, but that they are of equal status with them as loved creatures of God.)
20:41-44 Turning It Back
The “them” of verse 41 is likely the scribes who probably felt a small theological victory over against the Sadducees (20:39). Jesus turns back to them to show they’re still lacking the primary understanding: that the Christ (namely, Jesus!) is both David’s son—that is, He comes from the lineage of David—and David’s Lord. It’s a reference to Psalm 110 that shows the scribes—yet again—the truth of who He really is.
20:45-47 Warning Against the Scribes
Jesus now shifts to address not His opponents, but His disciples, His followers, the “hearers of the Word”. They are to be on guard against the trappings of religion, and especially against making a show of their piety. If it’s praise from people that you want, then when you get it, that’s your reward. What’s left to receive? True piety (faithfulness in action) isn’t concerned about showing itself off. It simply does good works for the sake of the others who need those good works. (This is a potent warning to us in the age of social media as well! As Jesus says often, he who has ears to hear, let him hear.)
The controversies continue into Luke 21, which we’ll dig into next week.