Luke 20

The Word Made Fresh

1One day while he was teaching the people and sharing the good news with them in the temple, the chief priests and scribes, who were experts in the law of Moses, came with the elders 2and said, “Tell us where you received the authority to do these things. Who gave you permission?”

3“I’ll ask you a question,” he replied. “You tell me, 4was John’s baptism from heaven, or from men.”

5They discussed the question among themselves. They said, “If we answer, ‘from heaven,’ he’ll say, ‘then why didn’t you believe him?’ 6But if we say, ‘from men,’ the people will stone us because they’re convinced John was a prophet.” 7So they answered that they didn’t know.

8Jesus replied, “Then I won’t tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

9Then he told the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants. Then he went to another country and was gone for a long time. 10When the grape season came he sent a servant to those tenants to receive his share of the produce from the vineyard, but the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11He sent another servant and they beat him and insulted him, and sent him away empty-handed as well. 12He sent another, and they wounded him and threw him out. 13Then he said, ‘What can I do? I know – I’ll send my son whom I love; surely they will respect him.’ 14But when they saw the son they met together and said, ‘This is the heir; let’s kill him, and then we will possess the inheritance.’ 15So they threw him out and killed him. What do you think the owner of the vineyard will do to them? 15He’ll come and put those tenants to death, and turn the vineyard over to others.”

When they heard this they cried, “Heaven forbid!”

17He looked at them. Then he said, “What then does the Psalm mean when it says, ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? 18Whoever falls on that stone will be broken, and it will crush everyone on which it falls.”

19The scribes and chief priests realized the parable was against them and they wanted to arrest him on the spot, but they were afraid of the people. 20They kept an eye on him, though, and sent spies who pretended to be honest. They tried to trick him into saying something that would enable them to arrest him and hand him over to the governor. 21So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you say and teach things that are correct, and that you aren’t partial to anyone, but you teach God’s way truthfully. 22Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”

23But Jesus saw through their plot and answered, 24“Show me a denarius coin. Whose head and whose title is on it?”

“The emperor’s,” they answered.

25He replied, “Then give the emperor what belongs to the emperor, and give God what belongs to God.”

26They couldn’t trap him by what he said in front of the people and were amazed by his answer, so they said no more.

27Some Sadducees, who claim there is no resurrection, came to Jesus 28and asked, “Teacher, Moses wrote that if a man’s brother dies leaving a wife with no children, he must marry his brother’s widow and raise up children for his brother. 29Now there were seven brothers. The first married, but then died without children. 30The second brother married her, 31and then the third, and so on until all seven of them had married her and had died without children. 32Finally the widow also died. 33So, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? All seven had married her.”

34Jesus answered, “In these times men marry and women are given in marriage, 35but those men and women who are considered worthy in the age to come and are raised from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage. 36They cannot die again because they are children of God and will be like the angels; they will be children of the resurrection. 37As for the dead being raised, Moses himself demonstrated it in the story about the bush, where he speaks about the LORD being the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 38The LORD is the God of the living, not of the dead; to God all of them are alive.”

39Some of the legal experts answered, “Teacher, you have answered well,” 40and they no longer dared question him.

41Then he asked them, “How can they say that the Messiah is David’s son? 42David himself says in the Psalms, ‘The LORD told my Lord, “Sit at my right hand 43until I have made your enemies your footstool.”’ 44If David calls God his Lord, how can he be his son?”

45Then, with all the people listening, he told his disciples, 46“Beware of the scribes! They like to walk around in long robes and love to be recognized in the marketplaces, and they love to have the best seats in the synagogues and to be honored at banquets. 47But they rob widows of their houses and just to impress others they say long prayers. They will be even more greatly condemned.”


1-8: Jesus’ actions in the temple attracted attention, to say the least. Representatives of the religious authorities are sent to challenge him. They want to know where his authority comes from. Jesus asks them from whence John the Baptizer’s authority came. They cannot answer because they do not believe John’s authority came from heaven, but if they say it publicly they will arouse the ire of the crowd, for John was very popular among the populace. Jesus then refuses to answer them.

9-19: The prevailing interpretation of the “parable of the wicked tenants” is that the vineyard is Israel, the owner of the vineyard is God, the tenants are the leaders of Israel, the servants are the prophets (the fact that there are three servants has precipitated much speculation over which three prophets are intended), the son is Jesus, and the others to whom the vineyard is ultimately given is the Church. Of course, the scribes and chief priests would have imagined the “others” to be the Romans, and that would have made them pretty angry.

20-26: The Jews had a law: Do not make for yourselves any engraved image or likeness of anything in the skies, on the ground, or in the water” (Exodus 20:4). But the Romans required that their taxes be paid with Roman coins which were stamped with the image of the emperor. It was a perfect “catch 22” for any would-be savior. Knuckle under to the Roman demand for taxes and risk losing your integrity as a serious revolutionary. But, if you stand up to the Romans and refuse to pay the levy you risk losing your freedom and even your life. Jesus’ response was pure genius. Notice that 1) it’s their coin, not his and 2) he gets them to point out whose picture is on it. That is just too cool.

27-36: The Sadducees have been watching the priests and scribes attempting to trick Jesus and getting sliced up by his superior logic, but they are a proud sort who cannot resist giving it a try. They present a complicated picture of a poor woman who buries seven husbands. In the resurrection, they ask, whose wife will she be? Their interest is to prove how silly the whole idea of a resurrection really is. I might have answered, “She can claim whichever one she wants.” Jesus has a much more troubling answer: there will be no marriage in the resurrection. The reason he gives is that the resurrected will live forever. Some wags have speculated that no marriage can last that long, anyway. I wonder, though, that his answer may have more to do with the fact that those who live forever have no need to have children and thus the primary reason for the marriage covenant, which in old Israel served the purpose of protecting the transmission of estates to succeeding generations, will no longer be a factor.

37-40: The Sadducees, relying on reason, have failed in their attempt to disprove the idea of the resurrection and eternal life. Jesus, relying on revelation, turns to the scriptures to show how Moses speaks of the dead in the present tense, thus showing that the dead are still somehow alive. Some of the scribes, experts in the Law of Moses, compliment Jesus on his answer.

41-44: A great deal of effort has been exerted to demonstrate that Jesus stands in David’s lineage. Jesus seems to be defeating the purpose of that designation. If the Messiah is to be a descendant of David, he says, why then does David refer to the Messiah as his “Lord?” (Psalm 110:1). I have some suspicion that Jesus made this argument only half seriously as a way of demonstrating the ineptness of the scribes so that he could then warn the people about them, as he does in the following verses. But perhaps the more likely explanation is that Jesus was distancing himself from the misguided expectations the people had about the Messiah, that the Messiah would be a David-like figure, a charismatic revolutionary who would galvanize the people against Rome and lead them into a new era of unrivaled international prominence. Jesus, however, was not the long-awaited Davidic Messiah; he was the long-awaited Suffering Servant Messiah foretold not by David but by Isaiah. It is not that Israel needed a military/political savior to restore the fortunes of Zion. It is rather that we all needed a sacrificial lamb to atone for the sins of the world and God chose Israel as the altar.

45-47: Jesus was not condemning all scribes. He was warning his disciples of those scribes who liked to flaunt their position by wearing long robes and misusing their legal training to cheat uneducated widows out of their inheritances.


Even today we still meet people who are determined to prove that the stories of Jesus are like fairy tales. Be we who have met him in our prayers and in our devotion as well as in the Good Book know the truth; God’s only son was sent into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. God has an interest in our salvation.