From:  Busy Person’s Guide to Luke 13 to 24                                 Return to Home 

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2019


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Busy Person’s Guide to the New Testament:

Quickly Understanding Luke


(Volume 2:  Chapters 19 to 20)







Chapter Nineteen




Jesus Offends Many by Eating at the Home of the Tax Collector Zacchaeus, but Finds in Him A Man Willing to Set His Lifestyle Right (Luke 19:1-10):  1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it.  Now a man named Zacchaeus was there; he was a chief tax collector and was rich.  He was trying to get a look at Jesus, but being a short man he could not see over the crowd. 

So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, because Jesus was going to pass that way.  And when Jesus came to that place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, because I must stay at your house today.”  So he came down quickly and welcomed Jesus joyfully. 

And when the people saw it, they all complained, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”  But Zacchaeus stopped and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, half of my possessions I now give to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone of anything, I am paying back four times as much!”  Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this household, because he too is a son of Abraham!  10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”



            19:1     Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.  Obviously a transitional sentence to inform us where the following incident took place.  Reading “it happened thus and thus” is far more common than “it happened at such and such place.”  The incident of healing the blind man at the close of the last chapter (18:35-42) is identified geographically (“near Jericho”) while this one is identified more chronologically--as when He was within the community (commonly translated as “was passing through” in NIV and most translations).


            19:2     Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich.  There were surely tax collectors who were not wealthy simply due to the fact that where they worked had a low revenue base, avoidance was unusually effective, or they simply had not yet developed the talents to effectively maximize what they could get out of the system.  By good means--but far more likely foul means--he was among those quite successful at his business.

            He was also either the executive in charge in the town (to use modern terminology) or one of the most important collecting taxes for he is labeled “chief” in regard to them.  (Translations vary between “a chief tax collector” and “the chief tax collector.)  Even if only one of several that the term was applicable to, it still indicated him a “pride of place” within the broader group. 

            Sidebar:  The position of Jericho near the fords of the Jordan made it a natural trade-centre for the imports from the Gilead country—myrrh and balsam.  Under the government of Herod and Archelaus it had become once more a city of palm-trees (Judges 1:16), and their dates and palm-honey were probably liable to an octroi duty.  The ‘farming’ system adopted in the Roman revenue probably gave Zacchæus the status of a middle-man or sub-contractor between the great capitalists of the equestrian order at Rome, the real publicani, and the ‘publicans’ commonly so called, who were the actual collectors.  As such he had as abundant opportunities for enriching himself. . . .”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)  


            19:3     And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature.  He had heard enough about Jesus that he wished to see who this widely talked about Man might be.  Perhaps he had even heard something specific that roused his curiosity; for example, the parable of the Pharisee and the publican praying in the temple would obviously have caught his interest.  But he suffered from the problem of being too short to see over the shoulders of those in front of him.


            19:4     So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.  Determined not to miss this opportunity, he ran ahead of the moving crowd and climbed a tree to assure himself a good look at what was happening.  Embarrassing for a rich man to have to do this, of course, but he wasn’t going to let pride stand in the way.

            Sidebar:  A few translations render “sycamore-fig tree” (NIV) in order to better indicate the specific type of tree it would have been in that region.  In addition to growing tall, the branches began relatively low and that made it that much easier to climb.


            19:5     And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”  When Jesus saw him in the tree, he addressed him by name.  How did He know it?  His supernatural insight would be the most obvious assumption since we are given no hint that they had met previously.  What must have thoroughly startled Zacchaeus was both Jesus’ recognition of him but even more so it being accompanied by an unexpected strong desire to visit with him in his home.  Indeed, remain overnight (note the “stay” and not simply “eat”).

            This respected (though quite unorthodox teacher) was extending this courtesy to him--a tax collector!  Respected “rabbis” simply didn’t do that kind of thing.  On the other hand this Jesus had the reputation of doing unexpected and startling things!

            Sidebar:  Jericho had an unusually large number of priests residing in the community.  One can easily imagine that word of this “outrageous” behavior both shocked and horrified them as word was quickly passed along. 

            19:6     So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully.  Recognizing the great honor that had been given him, Zacchaeus quickly got out of the tree, enthusiastically welcomed Him, and took Him to his home.


            19:7     But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.”  The wording here is significant:  “But when they [i.e., the crowd at large] saw it, they all complained:  Not just any priests who observed it; there was a general sense of annoyance and impropriety.  Jesus had not only been willing to engage in the extremely questionable act of having dinner with a tax collector, He had even sought out the opportunity to do so--and to stay with him overnight as well!  Everyone simply knew that a tax collector was automatically a “sinner.”  The unspoken adjective was surely brazen for one did not usually go far astray in assuming that “tax  collector” was equivalent to “sinner” in its most negative connotations.


            19:8     Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.”  Zacchaeus was determined to leave his evil behavior behind.  He pledged to give half of his possessions to the poor and, if there were evidence that taxes had been collected unjustly, he would even restore the money four-fold. 

            Some have argued that “I give” means “I have been giving” while others take it to mean “I will give half.”  The first makes him already righteous; the other, one who intends to be in the future.  If the first were the situation, it is hard to imagine the locals not knowing about it and quickly pointing out that this was one of the few of his breed who qualified for the label of honorable.

            Jesus did not demand that everything be sold as had been the case in a previous incident (18:22).  This argues that it was the peculiar circumstances of the earlier individual rather than any absolute doctrine of obligatory poverty that motivated Jesus.

            Sidebar on the lack of ethics among tax collectors:  It was common for the publicans to put a fictitious value on property or income, or to advance the tax to those unable to pay, and then to charge usurious interest on the private debt.  On the harsh exaction of such debts, see Matthew 18:28; Luke 12:58.”  (Vincent’s Word Studies)


            19:9     And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham.  As the result of this change in behavior, “salvation” was now present in his home.  As “a son of Abraham” he deserved the opportunity to change for the better--a warning across the bow, surely, to those who were convinced that such a man could never possibly change--and should never be given the opportunity to demonstrate it happening:  What he was, in their minds, he would always be.   But Zacchaeus realized he did not need to remain a slave to the past; he had grasped the need to begin fundamentally altering his lifestyle.  In their own lives, were Zacchaeus’ critics as determined to do equally well?


            19:10   for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”  This illustrated Jesus’ whole attitude toward life:  seeking out and saving those mired in their sin.  The terminology immediately brings to mind the parable of the shepherd seeking out the lost sheep.  Zacchaeus obviously knew where he was physically, but spiritually he had been lost in the maze of self-serving evil.  Through Jesus, he had found the way out.



A Parabolic Warning That the “Kingdom of God” Was Going to Come On God’s Schedule and Not That of An Impatient Generation:  At That Time Those Who Follow Jesus Will Be Rewarded on the Basis of How They Used Their Opportunities--And Punished When Not Doing So (Luke 19:11-27):  11 While the people were listening to these things, Jesus proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately. 

12 Therefore he said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return.  13 And he summoned ten of his slaves, gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Do business with these until I come back.’  14 But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to be king over us!’ 

15 When he returned after receiving the kingdom, he summoned these slaves to whom he had given the money.  He wanted to know how much they had earned by trading.  16 So the first one came before him and said, ‘Sir, your mina has made ten minas more.’  17 And the king said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you have been faithful in a very small matter, you will have authority over ten cities.’ 

18  Then the second one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has made five minas.’  19 So the king said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ 

20  Then another slave came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina that I put away for safekeeping in a piece of cloth.  21 For I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You withdraw what you did not deposit and reap what you did not sow.’  22 The king said to him, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave!  So you knew, did you, that I was a severe man, withdrawing what I didn’t deposit and reaping what I didn’t sow?  23 Why then didn’t you put my money in the bank, so that when I returned I could have collected it with interest?’ 

24 And he said to his attendants, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has ten.’  25 But they said to him, ‘Sir, he has ten minas already!’  26 ‘I tell you that everyone who has will be given more, but from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. 

27 ‘But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be their king, bring them here and slaughter them in front of me!’ “



            19:11   Now as they heard these things, He spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately.  Rather than grasping Jesus’ earlier warning of His coming death, the apostles thought that after they arrived in Jerusalem that “the kingdom of God would appear immediately.”  (No wonder they could not understand His warning of His upcoming death.  The victory of the kingdom was imminent; hence, no death can possibly occur.) 

            To warn them that the kingdom was not coming the way they thought, He gave the parable of the minas (19:12-27).  This has both its similarities and differences with that of the parable of the pounds, indicating that Jesus freely adapted certain story lines to the needs of the moment and these varied from place to place and time to time.

            Sidebar:  Our text refers to “they heard these things” rather than just to the apostles or “disciples”--as in the case of the story of the pounds (Matthew 24:3, with the parable in 25:14-30).  Hence this one is probably addressed to the wider group of individuals traveling along with them to the Passover. 


            19:12   Therefore He said:  “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return.  He was qualified for kingship since he was already a “nobleman” with the status and importance that went with it.  He was not some “upstart outsider” making a bold play for power that He had no qualifications for.  Yet to receive this kingdom it was not going to be done locally, as the people assumed would now occur in Jerusalem.  Only afterwards would the new ruler return where the servants were.  (The parallel with Jesus would be receiving the kingdom in heaven and later returning to judge those who had been His earthly servants and foes.)

            Sidebar--This has been regarded by a goodly number as a case where an actual historical incident is being adapted to spiritual purposes:  Two nobles, Herod and Archelaus, in that age had literally gone from Jericho, where the Speaker of the parable-story then was, to a far country across the sea--to Rome, to receive a kingdom from Caesar (Josephus, Antiquities, 14:14; 17:9).  And one of these two nobles, Archelaus, had rebuilt the stately royal palace of Jericho, under the very shadow of which the Speaker and the crowds were perhaps standing” (Pulpit Commentary).


            19:13   So he called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Do business till I come.’  His selection of these ten servants to act on behalf of his monetary interests while he was away argues that he felt confidence in their ability to work wisely and as circumstances dictated.  The fact that each was given the same amount argues that none was regarded as so exemplary that they deserved a greater responsibility.

            The amount is actually rather small.  It is an amount he can easily afford to lose if the worst happens.  Paradoxically it is large enough to serve as a reasonable test of their skills and talents.  Clearly he has in mind using their skills after he returns if they manifest the ability he hopes for.

            Historical sidebar:  Archelaus did actually leave money in the charge of some of his servants, especially entrusting Philippus to look after his pecuniary interests in his absence” (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges).


            19:14   But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We will not have this man to reign over us.’  The general population detested this nobleman and send “a delegation” after he left, insisting that they refused to permit him to rule over them any longer.  These enemies are barely mentioned in the remainder of the parable--only coming to the forefront in verse 27.  Jesus is interested not so much in what will happen to them as to the responsibilities and behavior of the nobleman’s servants.  For in the context of the parable, the ten represented Christian believers.

            Historical sidebar:  In the parable there is absolutely no hint that the king has acted unjustly at all.  Hence to the extent that Jesus may be constructing a scenario “parallel to” Archelaus, he is freely adapting it to make His point:  Not all rulers are like Archelaus after all, and the audience would be well aware of it.

            “ . . . We . . . know from Josephus that the Jews did send an embassy of 50 to Augustus—who were met on their arrival at Rome by 8000 Jews—to recount the cruelties of Archelaus, and plead for deliverance from him and the Herods generally. (Josephus, Antiquities. xvii. 11, § 1, &c.)   Although not immediately successful, the embassy was one of the circumstances which led to his ultimate deposition.” (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges) 


            19:15   “And so it was that when he returned, having received the kingdom, he then commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.  As anticipated by him, he was given authority over the kingdom and eventually returned to exercise direct authority over it.  (How quickly we aren’t told and is basically irrelevant to the point Jesus is driving at.)  At this time he assembled the ten servants to see how successful each had been while away.  The fact that all but one had done well certainly argues for skill and hard work on their part.  The fact that some had quite impressive returns on the money may well argue that the nobleman had been away for an extended period of time as well, not a short one.


            19:16   Then came the first, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned ten minas.’  A ten for one ratio is not to be sneezed at and the man would have fully known it when he gave his report.  Even though both the original and final sums were modest in absolute turns, it still represented an impressive increase on the original.


            19:17   And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.’  The nobleman praised him as a “good [= effective, reliable, praiseworthy] servant.”  Since he had been so reliable in carrying out such a comparatively small responsibility, he would be given the chance to exercise his skill over no less than ten other communities.   

            Sidebar:  If one mina (verse 13) is “very little” then a major point of the parable is that in comparison with one’s minimal responsibilities and resources, one will still be abundantly rewarded if one has taken advantage of the opportunity that has been granted for service (verses 18-19).  We may, indeed, have only “little” available in abilities and talent, but the effective use of them will still be amply rewarded.  Since this is a parable about future rewards for our current earthly work, the point would seem to be that there will be opportunities for responsible leadership in the heavenly kingdom as well.

            Historical sidebar in connection with Archelaus (verses 12, 13, 14):  “Another strange touch explained by the history of the times.  Archelaus had actually assigned the government of cities to his adherents who had proved faithful, and this was not an uncommon plan among the Herodian princes.  ‘We shall also reign with Him,’ 2 Timothy 2:12.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)


            19:18   And the second came, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned five minas.   Although not as abundant a return as the first man, he still had demonstrated both an intense effort and a responsible return on his opportunities.


            19:19   Likewise he said to him, ‘You also be over five cities.’  In a similar spirit of generosity this servant was also rewarded with management responsibility, though only over five towns rather than the larger number.  So far, there has been nothing to criticize.  Now, however. . . .


            19:20   “Then another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I have kept put away in a handkerchief.  The blunt truth was that at least one had not even attempted to fulfill the responsibility that had been given.  This individual had hidden it away “in a handkerchief,” perhaps with the implication that he had buried it in one so that even its physical appearance would not be tarnished by the passage of time.  If not buried, then at least hidden away so no one could see it and be tempted to steal it.


            19:21   For I feared you, because you are an austere man.  You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’  This unprofitable servant (literally so!) had a rationalization for his behavior:  He pointed to the fact that the master was a strict and severe man, the implication being that it would be extremely easy to offend and anger him if the money were to be lost through bad decisions or bad judgment.  Rather than risk the possibility of failure, he would rather not try at all.  Then nothing bad could occur and there was nothing he could possibly be blamed for. 

            After all, it was clear that the King did not really require the man’s assistance, which could only be modest at best.  He seemed to effortless collect money and crops without any effort.  Furthermore the servant had done nothing overtly wrong--nothing evil at all. 

            Note how he attempts to put responsibility for his own failure on his King:  (1)  He was too strict to risk offending and (2) he didn’t need his help in the first place.  Underlying these justifications is surely the subtext of “I was doomed to at least comparative failure from the very beginning because of your sternness and your lack of needing anything I could do!”  Have times really changed with human rationalizations?  “If He just made me stronger . . . wiser . . . more self-controlled . . . etc. . . . then I would not have failed.”  It won’t work in our context either.


            19:22   And he said to him, ‘Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant.  You knew that I was an austere man, collecting what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow.  The master decided that he would judge the servant based upon the premises he himself had claimed.  Accepting, at least for the purpose of discussion, that the master was as strict as claimed and was as successful at obtaining profits with apparently no work.  Did he really have the “hiding room” he thought?  Not so--surely angrily--responded the nobleman/king. . . .


            19:23   Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’  Knowing the new king was the way he was, surely he could at least have placed the money in a bank.  That way he would at least have both the principle with interest added to it.  How could he possibly have imagined a man with the attitudes he assumed were present have settled for anything less?  A little gain is profoundly better than no gain at all.


            19:24   “And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas.’  Since he had done nothing with the mina, he was going to be stripped of it and have it passed on to the servant who had best demonstrated his ability to utilize his resources.  Whether anything more punitive happens to him, we are not told.  But there is certainly a reasonable implication that since he had “lost” what was given him, he would now be counted as personally “lost” to the King’s service as well--with whatever negative implications that came with it.  At the very least he is denied the leadership privileges granted the others.

            One could easily imagine what was taken away being given to the lesser successful servant since the most successful had already been so generously rewarded, but that was not the king’s judgment and that immediately causes protests. . . .


            19:25   (But they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas.’)  The decision spurred a negative reaction from a number of people--“they said” (i.e., however many were present) and not just one individual.  Although they may well have understood the servant losing what he had, giving the original investment money to the most successful simply didn’t seem fair to them.  (Note that “fairness” is judged differently by the king than by his subjects.  And in a kingdom the king gets to decide what is its proper definition.)


            19:26   ‘For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.  There is something quite understandable underlying the King’s decision:  Who is the best person to gain future opportunities to act on the King’s behalf than the one who has already not only proved that he could do so but demonstrated it superbly?  The king refuses to reward failure by letting the original recipient keep it or to minimize the honor of great success by giving it to anyone else.

            Sidebar on the increasing and stripping of privileges:  This again takes its place among the oft-repeated axioms of our Lord’s teaching.  It meets us after the parable of the Sower (Luke 8:18; Matthew 13:12; Mark 4:25), in that of the Talents (Matthew 25:29), and here.”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)


            19:27   But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.’   Only in this last verse of the parable does the narrative return to those enemies who had rejected His desire to reign over them.  They would be destroyed before His very eyes.  His servants may not have been thrilled by the King’s decision about them, but they had received praise and a blessing--except for the one who had failed to do his duty--while the actual enemies of the king were going to bear painful punitive justice.

            Jesus had warned that He was going to die in Jerusalem.  Now He provides a warning that those responsible--and anyone else violently suppressing His cause--would face a punishment no matter how much time passed and how long they continued to seem to be “triumphant.”



The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem:  To the Outrage of Certain Pharisees, Jesus Rides into Jerusalem on a Colt with a Loud and Boisterous Crowd Hollering Out Praise for “the King Who Comes in the Name of the Lord” (Luke 19:28-40):  28 After Jesus had said this, he continued on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.  29 Now when he approached Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 telling them, “Go to the village ahead of you.  When you enter it, you will find a colt tied there that has never been ridden.  Untie it and bring it here.  31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it.’ “ 

32 So those who were sent ahead found it exactly as he had told them.  33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying that colt?”  34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”  35 Then they brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt, and had Jesus get on it. 

36 As he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road.  37 As he approached the road leading down from the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen: 3 8 Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 

39 But some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” 40  He answered, “I tell you, if they keep silent, the very stones will cry out!”



            19:28   When He had said this, He went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.  After completing the parable of the minas (19:11-27), Jesus resumed His journey.  This time He took the lead (“went on ahead”) rather than being further back within the traveling company.  The journey from Jericho to Jerusalem was literally an ascent all the way, and in this sense, as well as following the language common to most nations, in speaking of their capitals, the verb [going up] might well be used” (Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers).


            19:29   And it came to pass, when He drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mountain called Olivet, that He sent two of His disciples.  Hence there were at least these two communities located on the mountain.  The mount was also a place where pilgrims who did not have (or could not afford) accommodations within Jerusalem would stay during the annual feasts.  The communities are estimated to have been a little over two miles outside the city; the Mount itself over a mile. 

            Acts 1:12 tells us this was a sabbath’s day journey outside Jerusalem.  There is no Biblically provable definition of the expression, but if the traditional rabbinic definition of the term is accepted (2,000 cubits) it would be under .6 mile.  This divergence argues that there were at least two rival definitions at play in the early centuries--or that at feast times popular practice allowed it a considerable expansion.  If not then many could not have both visited the Temple and gotten back to their dwelling place on the Sabbath.


            19:30   saying, “Go into the village opposite you, where as you enter you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat.  Loose it and bring it here.  The fact that Bethphage and Bethany have already been identified by name may argue that this is a distinctly different community from either.  Alternatively, since Matthew 21:1 tells us that they were at Bethphage at this point, it could be--though less likely--a reference to Bethany.  He was “near to” both (verse 29).  


            19:31   And if anyone asks you, ‘Why are you loosing it?’ thus you shall say to him, ‘Because the Lord has need of it.’ ”  The term “Lord” would identify them as representing someone in authority and indicates that they weren’t simply appropriating the animal for their own use.  The question might arise because they were not native to the community and, seeing someone walk off with local property, there would be the natural desire to assure that their own residents were protected.  The fact that the “Lord” is not verbally identified argues that it was already a widely used description of Jesus.   

            19:32-33   So those who were sent went their way and found it just as He had said to them.  33 But as they were loosing the colt, the owners of it said to them, “Why are you loosing the colt?”  Not only were they challenged, as Jesus warned might happen, they were challenged by the persons with the most right to do so--the owners.


            19:34   And they said, “The Lord has need of him.”  They responded with the explanation they had been instructed to give.  The wording assumes that the owners automatically recognized what “Lord” is requesting the loan of the animal.  Perhaps they were disciples--and even had been forewarned at a previous festival that Jesus would be needing the animal when this Passover occurred?


            19:35   Then they brought him to Jesus.  And they threw their own clothes on the colt, and they set Jesus on him.  After bring the creature to Jesus they placed their own garments on it in order to provide a more comfortable ride.  Just as a king would ride on the best “purple” padding, they doubtless placed the best they had--from the very clothes off their backs, leaving them with their undergarments as attire.  Alternatively:  Depending on how many were available, one can easily imagine them selecting the most expensive or visually impressive garments from those offered by the Passover crowd--an even more emphatic visual mark of honor for Jesus.

            Sidebar:  Here we have a major cultural difference between the Roman world and the culture of the region where the story takes place--“The ass in the East is not a despised animal (Genesis 49:14; Genesis 22:3; Judges 5:10), and it is only because it was despised by Gentiles that Josephus substitutes for it ‘horse’ or ‘beast of burden,’ and the Seventy (LXX) soften it down into ‘foal,’ &c.  The Gentile world abounded in sneers against this narrative, and had all sorts of absurd stories about the Jews and the ass, or ass’s head, which they were supposed to worship (Josephus. e. Ap. ii. 10; Tacitus Hist. v. 3. 4).  The Christians were also called ass-worshippers (Tertullian Apol. 16; Minuc. Fel. Oct. 9). . .” (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges).


            19:36   And as He went, many spread their clothes on the road.  In a similarly self-sacrificial manner others went so far as to spread their own clothes on the road to cushion even the steps of the animal.  Unneeded, of course, but still a mark of deepest honor and personal joy.  In the Old Testament we read of this being done for the new king Jehu (2 Kings 9:12-13).   


            19:37   Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen.  As they neared the point where the mount of Olives began to descend, the entire crowd began to celebrate the many “mighty works they had seen”--Jesus’ miracles and perceptive teachings, including the raising of Lazarus at Bethany:  John 12:17-19 stresses the role of this most recent miracle in sparking the passion of the receptive crowd.  What had been happening was so wonderful it was only natural to “rejoice and praise God” for them.  The Man who had performed such astounding miracles was coming to the proverbial “city of the King.”  Indeed that was both natural and inevitable because. . . . 


            19:38   saying:   ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!’  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”  So impressed were they by Jesus’ teaching and miracle working capacity that they felt no hesitation in boldly proclaiming that this was the promised “King” who was approaching, carrying with Him “the name [= authority] of the Lord.  With their concept of a worldly kingdom, they clearly felt that now was the time that it would be established under Jesus.  Or as Luke 19:11 words it, “they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately.” 

            If Jesus’ “unorthodoxy” in doctrine and practice did not sufficiently threaten the religious status quo, this directly threatened the power of the Sanhedrin itself.  If He did establish an earthly kingdom, would any of its membership doubt that one of His first acts would be to thoroughly purge its membership?  Something approaching panic must have filled them when they heard reports of this celebratory reception (as John 12:19 alludes to):  All their scheming against Jesus had come to nothing.  


            19:39   And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.”  Whether members of the Sanhedrin or not, these “Pharisees” recognized this was a challenge to them as well.  A minority in the Sanhedrin, would not even their status suffer a massive reduction in public prestige because of His dominating the religious scene . . . far more so if He actually became an earthly king as well?

            For that matter, conscientious scruple may also be present:  However much they might disagree with the Lord, most would have felt compelled to admit that He did say much that was worthy of consideration and study.  But to go so far as to condone calling Him King--well that vastly upped what was at stake.  The political implications were nothing short of explosive.


            19:40   But He answered and said to them, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.”  Their plea He flat out refused because the truth that was being proclaimed was so important that if they actually decided to be silent, even inanimate stones “would immediately cry out” with the same message.  (Hyperbole, of course, but hyperbole is used to make a point even more emphatic than it already is.)  In other words, Jesus is the King . . . He does come with the full backing of God’s authority (verse 38).  However much they might gloss this with human hopes and dreams, the conceptual core of their conviction remained quite true.

            Truth will not be permanently repressed.  Jesus invokes an Old Testament image used of truth crying out in spite of its foes (Habakkuk 2:9-10):  “For the stone will cry out from the wall and the beam from the timber will answer it” (verse 11).  



Jesus Weeps in Sorrow For the City That Will Reject Him and Face Destruction by the Romans (Luke 19:41-44):  41 Now when Jesus approached and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “If you had only known on this day, even you, the things that make for peace!  But now they are hidden from your eyes.  43 For the days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and surround you and close in on you from every side.  44 They will demolish you—you and your children within your walls—and they will not leave within you one stone on top of another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”



            19:41   Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it.  The city would appear beautiful from the mountainside.  And there lay one of the architectural wonders of the age before them--the great Jewish Temple that had taken decades and a vast fortune to construct . . . glittering with its white marble in the daylight.  Knowing that destruction lay in the city’s future for its refusal to repent, what more natural reaction than tears--especially that now there were only mere days before His own death?

            Sidebar:  Not merely edakrusen ‘shed silent tears’ as at the grave of Lazarus (John 11:35) but eklaasen ‘wept aloud;’ and that although not all the agonies and insults of four days later could wring from Him one tear or sigh.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)  


            19:42   saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!  But now they are hidden from your eyes.  This was quite literally “your day” . . . the time when they had--and had already had as well in recent years--the opportunity to meet and hear the long sought Messiah face to face.  If they had only recognized and accepted “the things that make for your peace” with God that Jesus had taught--but they had rejected them instead!  They were hidden in plain sight--but they were still “hidden from your eyes” because they refused to lay aside their self-proclaimed authority and allowed their prejudices and self-interest to blind them.  It didn’t have to happen this way.  They made it happen this way. 

            It reminds one of many on the famous Titantic:  hearing the word they needed to abandon the vessel, they knew that it was “unsinkable” and lifeboats literally pulled away with few aboard.  They had heard the warning message, but knew that it simply couldn’t be true.  Until it was too late to escape their own doom.


            19:43   For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side.  By rejecting Jesus’ message of peace and reconciliation with God, they were actually laying the foundation that would lead to war . . . war with a dangerous and determined foe who was guided by one fundamental policy:  our victory or your death.”  Even after the start of war, the Romans were normally willing to allow a restoration of peace on their terms, but if you did not take advantage of it the only question was how soon you would die--never was it an issue of whether.

            Historical sidebar:  The word ‘trench’ [KJV; ‘embankment’ or conceptual equivalent in virtually all modern translations] now means commonly a ‘pit or ditch.’  When the Bible was translated, it meant also ‘earth thrown up to defend a camp’ . . . .  This is the meaning of the original here.  It is not a pit or large ‘ditch,’ but a pile of earth, stones, or wood thrown up to guard a camp, and to defend it from the approach of an enemy.  This was done at the siege of Jerusalem.  Josephus informs us that Titus, in order that he might compel the city to surrender by ‘famine,’ built a wall around the whole circumference of the city.  This wall was nearly five miles in length, and was furnished with thirteen castles or towers.  This work was completed with incredible labor in ten days.  The professed design of this wall was ‘to keep’ the city ‘in on every side.’  Never was a prophecy more strikingly accomplished.”  (Albert Barnes Notes)  This would, of course, keep nearly everyone from escaping.  The next step, of course, was. . . .


            19:44   and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”  The city would be knocked “to the ground” with stone constructions leveled, i.e.,  nothing would be permitted to stand in the way of the Roman conquest.  All of this would be the ultimate result of not having recognized “the time of your visitation”--that God had come to visit and teach (Luke 1:68) through Jesus.  The Jewish authorities wouldn’t recognize it and the ultimate result would not only be the destruction of their own power but of the Temple they loved so dearly as well.

            Sidebar on Josephus’ description of the destruction of the city:  “ ‘Thus was Jerusalem taken, in the second year of Vespasian’s reign, on the 8th day of September; and having been already five times surprised, it was again finally destroyed.  Such was the end of the besieging of Jerusalem, when there was none left to kill, nor any thing remaining for the soldiers to get.  Cesar commanded them to destroy the city and temple, only leaving certain towers standing, that were more beautiful than the rest, namely, Phaselus, Hippicos, and Mariamne, and the wall that was on the west side, meaning there to keep a garrison, and that they should be a monument of the prowess of the Romans, who had taken a city so well fortified, as by them it appeared to have been.  All the rest of the city they so leveled,’ answering to our Lord’s phrase, lay thee even with the ground, ‘that they who had not seen it before, would not believe that ever it had been inhabited.”  (Benson Commentary)  



Jesus Rebukes the Temple Being Turned into a Place of Commerce; His Temple Leadership Foes Seek a Way to Kill Him Without Causing the Crowds to Turn on Them (Luke 19:45-48):  45 Then Jesus entered the temple courts and began to drive out those who were selling things there, 46 saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house will be a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of robbers!”

47 Jesus was teaching daily in the temple courts. The chief priests and the experts in the law and the prominent leaders among the people were seeking to assassinate him, 48 but they could not find a way to do it, for all the people hung on his words. 



            19:45   Then He went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it.  There was no question that such business could be honorably engaged in outside the Temple.  But since the Temple was dedicated to the worship of God, the introduction of anything else much beyond that core purpose would seem an interpretive “reach” to put it mildly. 

            It would seem as reasonable as opening the equivalent of a hotel (did not the city have multitudes of visitors from far away?) or running a restaurant within it (did you not always have hungry visitors?).  The decision to introduce commerce was made not all that many years before.  Many of the middle aged who visited the Temple would be able, from personal memory, to remember when such was not allowed--yet the Temple had functioned quite nicely without it. 


            19:46   saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house is a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’   Interestingly the Temple as a place of sacrifice--in its many forms--is not mentioned at all, probably because those were carried out by the priests.  For the masses of people, their role was praying--even when they brought animals to the priest to be sacrificed on their behalf.  With or without sacrifices being made, that was always honorable and praiseworthy.  But with the introduction of businesses the Temple was converted into simply another place for commerce--and dishonesty is about as drastic antithesis to prayer as you ever can get.

            Historical sidebar:  In the outer court of the temple stalls had been erected in which money-changers were located, in order that pilgrims from foreign lands might be able to exchange their foreign coins for the purchase of sacrificial victims.   [And with which to pay the temple tax with coins lacking any human image on them, RW.]  These also seem to have been sold in the precincts.  All this made the courts of the Lord’s house a scene of noise and tumult, and, from the Master’s stern words, a scene often of cheating and overreaching.  The words of Jesus were taken from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11.  (Pulpit Commentary)


            19:47   And He was teaching daily in the temple.  But the chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people sought to destroy Him.  Jesus had taught in all types of communities and places throughout the land, but now he made His base in the temple itself.  In effect, He was challenging the religious authorities:  If I’m wrong come and show it . . . where everyone will see your failure!  Unable to meet Him intellectually, they sought another way to deal with Him:  The ultimate antidote to an inability to answer, of course, is “to destroy Him.”


            19:48   and were unable to do anything; for all the people were very attentive to hear Him.  This was the practical difficulty in carrying out their intentions:  Popularity with the masses kept them from doing anything overt.  This should warn us that when we read of large crowds hollering for Jesus to die in these last chapters of the gospel narratives, that these are crowds arranged by the leadership.  In other words, they are people who could be counted on to follow the party line.  Either because they directly worked for the religious leadership (in their households), due to financial ties, or because their involvement had literally been purchased.  With enough money or influence you can buy virtually anything.







Chapter Twenty




Jesus Turns the Tables on His Critics:  Answer Me a Simple Question (Luke 20:1-8):  1 Now one day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple courts and proclaiming the gospel, the chief priests and the experts in the law with the elders came up and said to him, “Tell us: By what authority are you doing these things? Or who is it who gave you this authority?” 

He answered them, “I will also ask you a question, and you tell me:  John’s baptism—was it from heaven or from people?” 

So they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’  But if we say, ‘From people,’ all the people will stone us, because they are convinced that John was a prophet.”  So they replied that they did not know where it came from. 

Then Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by whose authority I do these things.”



            20:1     Now it happened on one of those days, as He taught the people in the temple and preached the gospel, that the chief priests and the scribes, together with the elders, confronted Him.  If they could destroy Him in argument that would as effectively dissipate His support as if they had Him killed.  And it would be far safer than risking a riot or other civil disturbance by attempting to publicly arrest Him.  This time it was not simply “Pharisees” or unidentified others who challenged Him, but the prestigious “notables” of the Jerusalem religious leadership:  “the chief priests” and “the elders,” language surely implying that the scribes were also of that recognized leadership status as well.


            20:2     and spoke to Him, saying, “Tell us, by what authority are You doing these things?  Or who is he who gave You this authority?”  Since by being part of the Jerusalem religious leadership they were supposed to be the most authoritative figures in the land, it was natural that they challenged Jesus as to the credentials which authorized His own ministry.  For His actions to be legitimate, someone must have given approval. . . . and whoever it was had to be someone of little importance compared to themselves and the Sanhedrin.  And if He cites no one at all, that “conclusively proved” that He was not authorized to be a teacher in the first place.  Either way He blatantly lacked the “proper credentials” and His teaching must be worthless even if popular.   

            Our modern equivalent of this would roughly be:  What college did you graduate from that is recognized as one of best?  Surely you have a PhD and published books as well, don’t you?  Truth and credibility becomes based on something other than the legitimacy and validity of what is being taught. 


            20:3     But He answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one thing, and answer Me:  He implicitly agrees to answer their question but only on the condition that they respond to one as well.   In light of their own query, they were hardly in a position to deny Him the right but--as if to be sure they don’t even have time to conjure up an excuse--He immediately presents it to them.  It has two great advantages over asking about anything else:  (1) It is also a question about authority and (2) it is one about which the vast majority of the population had come to a conclusion.  On most subjects the masses might well be hesitant to disagree with the “experts,” but on this one they would have no hesitancy at all.


            20:4     The baptism of John—was it from heaven or from men?”  They wanted to talk about His authority but there recently had been another major religious figure who was manifestly different from the behavioral and doctrinal “norms” of the religious leadership and that was John the Baptist.  How about his authority?  Who had provided authority for it--“heaven” (an obvious euphemism for God) or men?

            If his could be authorized in that manner, whether any human religious authority supported Jesus’ “teaching credentials” was also of little importance.  If Jesus wanted to drive the point further:  John had publicly spoken words of praise about Him at His baptism.  If an earthly “authorizing party” had to be introduced at all, Jesus had the support of the one earthly figure who unquestionably was more important than them.     


            20:5     And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’  This presented a major public relations problem for them.  The religious leaders of the time were known for their non-receptive attitude toward John (Matthew 3:7; Luke 7:29-30).  If they conceded that God had truly sent him they would be open to the accusatory challenge of why they had refused to “believe him”--accept his message and change their attitudes and behavior.


            20:6     But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us, for they are persuaded that John was a prophet.”  On this point the multitudes had a firm conviction and were not going to tolerate their “betters” telling them otherwise.  Anything other than an admission that he was appointed by God and functioned as His “prophet” would cause the violence they wanted to come down upon Jesus to come down on their own heads instead.


            20:7     So they answered that they did not know where it was from.  The fascinating thing in their analysis is that truth did not enter the picture.  It was all a matter of practicality and how the public would react.  Like hypocritical politicians, unable to answer a simple “yes” or “no” without risking embarrassment or attack, they took the least plausible course open to them and denied that they knew the answer.  That they had no firm opinion was absurd on the surface:  They were the proclaimed “experts” on religious truths and felt free in binding their judgments on the masses; how could they possibly not have an opinion on such a well known person?


            20:8     And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”  Since they did not want to answer this challenge concerning authority, Jesus responded that He felt no obligation to answer their query on the same subject.  Furthermore “if they were incompetent to decide as to the authority of the Prophet who had saluted Jesus as the Messiah, they were obviously incompetent to decide as to His authority” (Pulpit Commentary).

            Note that even though Jesus has failed to give a direct reply as to the mandate behind His actions, the parable that comes next does so.  And predicts what they will soon do to silence Him by violence when they could not do so by argument. 



Jesus Uses a Parable to Warn the Religious Leaders of Jerusalem of the Coming Divine Judgment for Rejecting and Abusing the Teachers and Son That the Heavenly “Landlord” Sends (Luke 20:9-19):  Then he began to tell the people this parable:  “A man planted a vineyard, leased it to tenant farmers, and went on a journey for a long time.  10 When harvest time came, he sent a slave to the tenants so that they would give him his portion of the crop.  However, the tenants beat his slave and sent him away empty-handed.  11 So he sent another slave. They beat this one too, treated him outrageously, and sent him away empty-handed.  12 So he sent still a third.  They even wounded this one, and threw him out. 

13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What should I do? I will send my one dear son; perhaps they will respect him.’  14 But when the tenants saw him, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir; let’s kill him so the inheritance will be ours!’   15 So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.  What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

When the people heard this, they said, “May this never happen!”  17 But Jesus looked straight at them and said, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written:  The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’?  18 Everyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, and the one on whom it falls will be crushed.” 19 Then the experts in the law and the chief priests wanted to arrest him that very hour, because they realized he had told this parable against them.  But they were afraid of the people.  



            20:9     Then He began to tell the people this parable:  “A certain man planted a vineyard, leased it to vinedressers, and went into a far country for a long time.  From 19:45 to here, Jesus was dealing with those who were not responsibly and honestly exercising their duties as leaders--the primary one being to be honest and tell the truth.  To critique their willingness to use any and every tactic that would retain both their public image and themselves in office--no matter who might get hurt--Jesus used a parable about a vineyard and those put in charge of running it.  Since the owner was traveling far away and “for a long time,” he permitted the vinedressers to control the property for the duration.  Just as the owner left the responsibility in the hands of the vinedressers, God had left responsibility for religious leadership over “God’s vineyard” of the Jewish people in the hands of those now criticizing Jesus.

            Using the image of a vineyard to present a rebuke of Israel for its moral and spiritual misconduct is found in such passages as Psalms 80:8-19 and Isaiah 5:1-7 (“For the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel and the men of Judah are His pleasant plant,” verse 7).   


            20:10   Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that they might give him some of the fruit of the vineyard.  But the vinedressers beat him and sent him away empty-handed.  Although not physically present, the owner did not forget about his property.  When the time came for the crop to be harvested, he sent a servant to collect his percentage.  Instead of doing as they had agreed, they beat him up and sent him away without anything.  As we read the Old Testament we see how this repeatedly occurred as God used prophets to try to get the people to return to His will  and how they were rejected and opposed (Jeremiah 44:4-5; Zechariah 7:11-12).

            In addition fake prophets would arise to provide vindication of the injustices that were perpetuated--as in Micah 3:1-11:


                                                                                                1  And I said:  “Hear now, O heads of Jacob, and you rulers of the house           of Israel:  Is it not for you to know justice?  Thus says the Lord concerning the        prophets who make my people stray; who chant “Peace” while they chew with         their teeth, but who prepare war against him who puts nothing into their mouths [i.e., who doesn't pay them] . . . .  Now hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob    and rulers of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert all equity, 10 who           build up Zion with bloodshed and Jerusalem with iniquity:  11 Her heads judge for           a bribe, her priests teach for pay, and her prophets divine for money.  Yet they     lean on the Lord, and say, “Is not the Lord among us?  No harm can come upon   us.”


            20:11   Again he sent another servant; and they beat him also, treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed.  One case was alarming--but would they really be foolhardy enough to keep doing it?  Yet that is exactly what happens as they treat this man in a similarly disrespectful and insulting manner. 


            20:12   And again he sent a third; and they wounded him also and cast him out.  By giving them this much leeway, the owner had given them opportunity to change for the better, but they did not take advantage of it.  By the time of the third servant’s abuse, they had made crystal clear that what they were doing was not a deviation from the norm but was the norm.  Yet in the ancient stories this is exactly the way true prophets were treated repeatedly--scorned, rejected, even abused and killed (cf. 1 Kings 9:10; 2 Chronicles 36:16).

            Although Stephen surely exaggerates, it was such a common pattern that no one could, with a straight face, challenge him on the point:  Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?  And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers” (Acts 7:52).


            20:13   “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do?  I will send my beloved son.  Probably they will respect him when they see him.’  The owner is now between the proverbial “rock and hard place:  What in the world is he to do?  Since servants can’t get their attention, he will send someone who can--his own son.   After all, they had rented the ground through the father; none could challenge the authority of the son to act on his behalf.  Similarly after sending prophet after prophet, the Heavenly Father sent His own Son in an effort to get the “bounty” of obedience from His earthly/physical holdings that had not been given Him.  


            20:14   But when the vinedressers saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, ‘This is the heir.  Come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.’  By this point the vinedressers had grown even more callous and self-assured.  They had gotten away with their previous insults without retribution.  They have established that they could “do whatever we want” without punitive action.  Admittedly killing the son would be a drastic step.  But afterwards they would have uncontested use of the property and not have to share its fruits with anyone.  After all, if the owner had planned on ever returning, surely he would have done so by now.  The only real barrier to de facto (rather than legal) ownership was represented by one mere man.


            20:15   So they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.  Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do to them?  They thought, they considered, they acted.  They not only rejected him (“cast him out of the vineyard”) but committed the ultimate insult to the father by killing him as well.  They have now fatally misjudged for at some point even the most tolerant individual screams out “Enough!”


            20:16   He will come and destroy those vinedressers and give the vineyard to others.”  And when they heard it they said, “Certainly not!”  They would lose not only property but also their possessions and not only those but their own lives.  The religious leaders who listened protested against such a conclusion to the story.  Guilty consciences because of what they have been wanting to do to Jesus (19:47-48)?  Or simply a recognition (verse 19) that the parable had them in mind?  Perhaps a bit of both.


            20:17   Then He looked at them and said, “What then is this that is written: ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone’?  At this point Jesus stresses that Divine retribution against those earthly religious leaders who did not follow God’s rules had clear scriptural precedent.  After all the highly loved and respected Psalms (118:22) spoke of how a stone that been rejected by the builders had ultimately become the cornerstone of the entire building. 

            In this context the idea is that though you may reject Me I will triumph and become the cornerstone of God’s spiritual temple.  Interpreted literally or spiritually it was clearly a challenge to the legitimacy of how they were using the authority they exercised and Jesus’ own importance in the Divine scheme of things since He is the one being rejected.


            20:18   Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”  The danger of rejecting this stone (= Jesus) was not merely earthly embarrassment but spiritual catastrophe.  Falling on that stone will break a person’s bone (harm them spiritually); it falling on them--in judgment--will grind them to dust.  In plain language:  In rejecting Me you are actually during terrible harm to yourselves.  You think you will triumph but your temporary power only obscures your ultimate humiliation and destruction.

            The “stone” image invokes the action of the powerful destructive stone described in Daniel 2.  There it is pictured  as destroying the empires that had ruled throughout previous history and replacing them with His own people:  “And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth” (verse 35).  It “fathered” its own empire--the empire of faith.

            Also compare the imagery used in Isaiah 8:14-15:  He will be as a sanctuary, but a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, as a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.  And many among them shall stumble; they shall fall and be broken, be snared and taken.”


            20:19   And the chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people —for they knew He had spoken this parable against them.  Immediately--at “that very hour”--they frantically tried to think of a way to seize Jesus but they saw no way of doing so without falling victim to the very violence that they wished to inflict on Him.  A kind of “poetic justice” in that, isn’t there?  Although they would not have understood every detail of the parable and the reference to the cornerstone--that would become clearer only in retrospect years later--they fully understood that they had been the targets of what was being said.  They had not only been warned, but they also knew they had been. 



Questioners Who Hid Their Hostilities Attempt to Establish a Grounds for Prosecution by Asking Whether It Was Proper to Pay Taxes to the Roman Government (Luke 20:20-26):  20 Then they watched him carefully and sent spies who pretended to be sincere.  They wanted to take advantage of what he might say so that they could deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor.  21 Thus they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach correctly, and show no partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.  22 Is it right for us to pay the tribute tax to Caesar or not?” 

23 But Jesus perceived their deceit and said to them,  24 ”Show me a denarius.  Whose image and inscription are on it?”  They said, “Caesar’s.”  25 So he said to them, “Then give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 

26 Thus they were unable in the presence of the people to trap him with his own words.  And stunned by his answer, they fell silent.   



            20:20   So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor.  Unable to meet Him head on, they decided to adopt a kind of “covert action” approach:  They sent “spies who pretended to be” highly scrupulous and sincere in their religious observance.  People with no obvious ties to the religious leadership.  Jesus had once spoken of how even the “minor” matters of the Torah would “by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:19).  They pretended to be ones who wanted to get even those points right and the matter they are going to raise would rank far higher in most minds.  The sentiment was honorable; the hypocrisy vile.


            20:21   Then they asked Him, saying, “Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth.  In the hopes of catching Him in a trap between nationalism and the Roman demand that every one pay their taxes, they first praised Him generously to disarm His alertness.  Since He is so well known for His candid answers they urge Him to give one to the question of. . . . 


            20:22   Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”  Obviously under Roman law it was not only “lawful” but also “obligatory.”  The question is obviously whether in God’s sight it is the same.  In light of the universally known Roman polytheism and their quite obvious willingness to walk over any opposition, one could even imagine it being such a stink in the nostrils of God that it would be outright evil and forbidden.

            Sidebar:  This ‘tribute’ was a capitation tax - a denarius a head assessed on the whole population, the publicans who farmed it being answerable for it to the Roman treasury.  As a direct personal tax it was most unpopular, and was looked on by scrupulous legalists and the more zealous Jews as involving a greater humiliation than the ordinary import or export customs dues.  It occasioned at times popular tumults, as in the case of Judas of Galilee (Acts 5:37).  If Jesus answered the question in the affirmative ‘Yes, it is lawful for the Jews to give this tribute to Caesar,’ then the Pharisees would use this decision of His as a means of undermining his credit with the zealous populace. . . . If, on the other hand, the Master had said such payment of tribute was unlawful, then the Herodians, who were watching him [as stated in Mark 12:13], hoping for some such expression of opinion, would at once have denounced him to their Roman friends as One who taught the people - only too ready to listen to such teaching - lessons of sedition.  In the latter case Pilate and the officials of Rome would have taken good care that the Galilaean Master troubled the Sanhedrin no more.”  (Pulpit Commentary)


            20:23   But He perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Why do you test Me?  Jesus recognized that this was not a sincere question but that they were simply trying to “test” whether He could both give a candid answer and stay out of trouble with both the general population and the Romans at the same time.  Actually the trickery was even deeper than that:  Regardless of His answer it could be used against Him.  If He said “no” then He could be denounced to the Romans.  If He answered “yes,” He could be denounced to the masses who were sympathetic:  How could a true prophet (or the Messiah so many thought Him to be) possibly be willing to pay tribute to Caesar!  Unthinkable!


            20:24   Show Me a denarius.  Whose image and inscription does it have?”  They answered and said, “Caesar’s.”  After showing Him the coin, He challenged them to tell Him what it said:  obviously, “Caesar’s.”  There was no other answer possible.

            Sidebar:  No matter how great an annoyance having to use currency with an emperor’s image, the fact remained that the denarius was widely distributed among Jews--as demonstrated by its routine use to pay farm laborers (Matthew 20:2, 9).


            20:25   And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  Since it said it belonged to Caesar and even showed his image, how could it possibly be wrong to pay Caesar what was Caesar’s?  That did not remove, however, the obligation to give God everything that is rightly His as well--service, respect, obedience.  It was not a case of either/or but this/and the other.


            20:26   But they could not catch Him in His words in the presence of the people.  And they marveled at His answer and kept silent.  The questioners “marveled” at this ability to simultaneously dodge giving the kind of answer they wanted and yet also give one that made excellent sense.  It represented a position they could hardly deny the truth and validity of.  And why should you give a blunt and misusable answer to a question intended to do harm rather than to learn from?  When dealing with enemies playing word games, they had been treated as well--or, perhaps, even better and more gently--than they deserved.



The Sadducees Attempt to Discredit Jesus by Attacking His Doctrine of a Physical Resurrection:  If a Woman Had Outlived Multiple Husbands, Whose Wife Would She Be When the Resurrection Occurs?  (Luke 20:27-40):  27 Now some Sadducees (who contend that there is no resurrection) came to him.  28 They asked him, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies leaving a wife but no children, that man must marry the widow and father children for his brother.  29 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died without children. 30 The second 31 and then the third married her, and in this same way all seven died, leaving no children.  32 Finally the woman died too.  33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For all seven had married her.”

34 So Jesus said to them, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage.  35 But those who are regarded as worthy to share in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 3 6 In fact, they can no longer die, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, since they are sons of the resurrection. 

37 But even Moses revealed that the dead are raised in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.  38 Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live before him.”  39 Then some of the experts in the law answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well!”  40 For they did not dare any longer to ask him anything.  



            20:27   Then some of the Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection, came to Him and asked Him.  Due to their wealth and religo-political connections (via occupying the high priestly position, for example), this group had a disproportionate power within the Sanhedrin.  With the destruction of the Temple (70 A.D.) they vanished as a movement.  Even in their heyday they were never a true “mass” special interest group and Pharisees were often able to get their way on matters of Temple ritual as a result.

            A person can deny the resurrection (wrongfully) and still believe that the soul will exist eternally without the need for a resurrection occurring.  The Sadducees took what would seem to be a far more consistent position by denying both possibilities (as noted in Acts 23:8).  Hence the issue raised was a surrogate for denying both:  In challenging the resurrection they were simultaneously denying life after death as well.  From a purely self-centered standpoint there was much to commend itself in this view for the powerful and over-bearing:  You would never have to answer for your evils no matter what they were, how often they were, or how extreme they were.


            20:28   saying: “Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife, and he dies without children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother.  It is often stated that the only scripture they recognized as authoritative was the Torah of Moses (Genesis to Deuteronomy) and they certainly thought they had an excellent proof from that source:  Moses had written that if a man dies without fathering children, then his brother was to marry the wife and do so; this way the dead man’s name would be continued (Deuteronomy 25:5-6).


            20:29   Now there were seven brothers.  And the first took a wife, and died without children.  It is very uncommon in twenty-first century western society to have a family this large; however in that time period childhood death rates required having a number of children to assure that some lived to adulthood.  Furthermore note that only the sons are mentioned and there would likely have been daughters as well--increasing the size even further.

            Each son would want to assure that his own personal name be perpetuated so he would set out with that as a major goal of his marriage.  Indeed, under most conditions, that would be no problem.  But here is an extreme case of where it does not.  Hence. . . .


            20:30   And the second took her as wife, and he died childless.  Once again probability is in favor of the problem being resolved by this stage.  Unfortunately. . . . 


            20:31   Then the third took her, and in like manner the seven also; and they left no children, and died.  That this was improbable is not mentioned.  That it was theoretically possible was enough for them to feel it was a sound argument.


            20:32   Last of all the woman died also.  The Law had determined how to assure the husband’s name would be preserved and now there is absolutely no chance of it being done.

            Sidebar:  Oddly the Law itself recognized this might happen:  It gave a procedure to follow when the next would be husband refuses to become involved (Deuteronomy 25:7-10). 


            20:33   Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife does she become?  For all seven had her as wife.”  The question here put to the Master was a well-known materialistic objection to the resurrection, and had on several occasions been asked by these shallow Epicureans--as the Talmud calls them--to the great rabbis of the schools of the Pharisees.  Their usual answer was that the woman in question would be the wife of the first husband” (Pulpit Commentary).

            Since there was a more or less “standard” answer to their question, one wonders why they raised the matter at all.  Perhaps recognizing that Jesus could give surprising but intriguing responses to questions--as in the immediately preceding case of paying taxes (verses 20-26)--perhaps there was even a touch of genuine curiousity.  And if He did say something different perhaps, with creativity, it could be turned against Him.


            20:34   Jesus answered and said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage.  Jesus responded that marriage is limited to those in the current world (“of this age”).  By itself, this would reasonably imply that in the next world there is no such institution, but He doesn’t leave this as a possible implication but makes it quite explicit. . . .


            20:35   But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage.  Those “counted worthy” to attain heavenly rewards via the resurrection will no longer marry.  This could be read as meaning that only some will be resurrected and that would still be devastating to their “no survival of death scenario”--but He does not get into the question of what happens to the wicked at all.  He only has in mind the Jewish ideal of the honorable, pious, righteous individual.  What does that kind of person have in the future?  However exaggerated their own self-evaluations were, they surely placed themselves in that category as well.  Hence the answer logically applies to them also:  They will survive death.


            20:36   nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.  Marriage exists, so far as honorable society goes, so that the human species can continue in an orderly and responsible fashion.  In contrast, in the next age death no longer exists at all and, therefore, marriage is no longer needed either. 

            Due to being “sons of the resurrection” they have become “equal to the angels” and no longer need human type sexuality.  Equal with the angels in being immortal; no death; no marriage.  Jesus in this place asserts that angels have a body, but are exempt from any difference of sex.  The angels are here introduced because our Lord was speaking with Sadducees, who (Acts 23:8) denied the existence of these glorious beings.  He wished to set the seal of his teaching on the deeply interesting question of the existence of angels” (Pulpit Commentary).


            20:37   But even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’  If they wished scriptural evidence for the survival of death, then they might well consider the incident of the burning bush, where God called Himself (in the present tense) the God of the patriarchs who were long dead.  It cannot properly be said, that God is the God of any who are totally perished  (Benson Commentary).  

            (There are much clearer passages on survival of death and the resurrection in later Old Testament books, but the Sadducees made the Torah pre-eminent and had grounded their argument in the Pentateuch.  Hence it made full sense for Jesus to appeal to a text in the first five books of the Old Testament as well.)

            Sidebar:  “showed in the burning bush passage”--Literally “in the Bush, i.e. in that section of Exodus (Exodus 3) which they called by that name, just as they called 2 Samuel 1 ‘the Bow’ and Ezekiel 1 ‘the Chariot.’   (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges).


            20:38   For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him.”  That is, the term God implies such a relation as cannot possibly subsist between him and the dead; who, in the Sadducees’ sense, are extinguished spirits, who could neither worship Him nor receive good from Him” (Benson Commentary).  By His very nature, Jesus is arguing--it is inescapable and unavoidable--God can only be God of the living and no one else.  Hence for Him to be God of Abraham, for example, Abraham must still be alive in the first century--which would be some two thousand or so years after his physical death.


            20:39   Then some of the scribes answered and said, “Teacher, You have spoken well.”  However deep the official hostility to Jesus, individual scribes were not always part of that phalanx.  Hence some of them concede that He had indeed given an excellent answer to His challenger.  Perhaps they latter became disciples.  Perhaps they were simply honest men who refused to let their own hostilities fully blind them.  


            20:40   But after that they dared not question Him anymore.  He had gained a respite from the hostile questioners.  From their standpoint it was surely of equal importance that they had a respite from His quite successful answers!



Jesus Challenges the Inadequate Christology of Their Theology:  How Could the Messiah Be Both David's Descendant and His Lord?  (Luke 20:41-44):  41 But he said to them, “How is it that they say that the Christ is David’s son?  42 For David himself says 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.”   44 If David then calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?’ “



            20:41   And He said to them, “How can they say that the Christ is the Son of David?  Having let His foes ask several questions in this chapter, He took advantage of their continued presence to throw at them an interpretive challenge of His own:  in what sense can the Messiah (= “the Christ”) be described as David’s son?


            20:42-43          Now David himself said in the Book of Psalms:  The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, 43 Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” ’  He begins by quoting a text (Psalms 110:1) that was very congenial to twisting into proof of a coming earthly theocracy--if you did not pay close attention to what is actually being asserted:  David Himself had described the Messiah as His Lord and how He (the Messiah) would reign until all His enemies had been subjugated to Him.  Compare the application of this to Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:25-26:  For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.  The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.” 

            In both Psalms and 1 Corinthians 15, He reigns while His enemies are still alive and about but His ultimate triumph is still inevitable.  And where He reigns from is not subject to earthly attack because it is in heaven with the Father--at His “right hand.”  And how in the world could He possibly reign from heaven if He were merely an earthly king?


            20:44   Therefore David calls Him ‘Lord’; how is He then his Son?”  Rather than argue from the premises we suggested in the previous verse, there is a further problem for them in Psalms 110:1.  He selects that one to challenge them to solve:  How does one reconcile the descriptions of the Messiah as both David’s “Lord” and as David’s descendant (= “son”)?  Only by accepting the Messiah as more than a mortal such as David had been (i.e., as supernatural) could one do so.  Once one accepts that premise, it is only a small step to the depiction of Jesus in the prologue to the gospel of John as deity.

            Sidebar:  This was not the only text that pointed in such a direction.  Take Isaiah 9:6-7 for example: 


                        For unto us a Child is born,
                        Unto us a Son is given;
                        And the government will be upon His shoulder.
                        And His name will be called
                        Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
                        Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
                        Of the increase of His government and peace
                        There will be no end,
                        Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
                        To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
                        From that time forward, even forever.
                        The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.


            And then there is Micah 5:2, which also mixes the images of coming rulership with deityship as well:  But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, / Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, / Yet out of you shall come forth to Me / The One to be Ruler in Israel, / Whose goings forth are from of old, / From everlasting.”



However Prestigious the Religious Leaders of the Day Might Appear, The Disciples Are to Refuse to Follow Them When They Are Bad Examples (Luke 20:45-47):  45 As all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, 46 ”Beware of the experts in the law.  They like walking around in long robes, and they love elaborate greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.  47 They devour widows’ property, and as a show make long prayers.  They will receive a more severe punishment.”



            20:45   Then, in the hearing of all the people, He said to His disciples.  Sometimes we read of Jesus addressing the crowds and in other passages we read of Him addressing His “disciples” in particular--and sometimes even taking His apostles apart from the broader band of “disciples” and teaching them separately.  In this verse, though, we find Him giving a message to the “disciples” in general but of such a nature that He wants to be sure that “all the (other) people” heard it as well.  In other words, though it was of special importance to the disciples, it had a relevancy to everyone    


            20:46   “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts.  He warned them of those who wore their religion on their shirt sleeves, who went around and rubbed everyone’s faces in it.  Not only were these people pretentious, they expected everyone to take seriously those pretensions.  People were expected to notice their unusually long robes.  They were expected to unthinkingly give greetings in the marketplace.  They were expected as a matter of course to provide them the best seating in both synagogues and at feasts.  It was their right.  It was their due.  And they would be offended at anything else.


            20:47   who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers.  These will receive greater condemnation.”  Beneath the religious veneer there was a sad core of unscrupulousness that was not above both moral and religious hypocrisy.  Widows felt they could count on their good advice and help but they weren’t above eating up every penny a widow had.  They were expected to be able to deliver prayers so they made a point of delivering long ones even though their only purpose was to impress listeners.  Such people would “receive greater condemnation.”  They had, after all, added to their sins the additional sin of hypocrisy.

            Sidebar:  The Talmud was well aware that the virtues of Pharisee principles could be twisted into a caricature of their claimed purposes.  It does so by describing a variety of  types who fell into this trap, of which these are some: 


                        “(a)  The 'Shoulder' Pharisee.  This type wears his good deeds on his     shoulders, and is very punctilious in his observance of the Torah, traditions and        all, from expediency, not principle. . . .

                        “(b)  The 'wait-a-little' Pharisee.  He always has an excuse for not doing            the good deed just now. . . .

                        “(c)  The 'bruised' or 'bleeding' Pharisee.  This Pharisee is too pious to

            look at a woman, and so shuts his eyes if he fears one is coming, and stumbles   against a wall and makes the blood flow from his face.  He is anxious that the          blood shall be seen in order to gain credit for his piety. . . .

                        “(d)  The 'pestle' or 'mortar' Pharisee.  He walks with his head down in mock humility like a pestle in a mortar.  He is also called the 'hump-backed'      Pharisee, who walked as though his shoulders bore the whole weight of the law,      or the 'tumbling' Pharisee, who was so humble that he would not lift his feet from            the ground, or the 'painted' Pharisee, who advertised his holiness by various poses so that no one should touch and bring defilement to him.

                        “(e)  The 'ever-reckoning' or 'compounding' Pharisee.  He is always on the        look out for something 'extra' to do to make up for something that he has          neglected.  He is the 'reckon-it-up' Pharisee, trying to counterbalance his evil deeds with his good ones.  He is anxious to have his few sins deducted from his             many virtues and leave a clean balance sheet. . . .”  A. T. Robertson.  The     Pharisees and Jesus:  The Stone Lectures for 1915-1916.  New York:  Charles     Scribner's Sons, 1920.  Pages 24-26.