The Authority of Jesus Questioned
After arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus spent most of his time in the temple courts teaching and proclaiming the good news. One day, the chief priests and teachers of the law together with some of the elders of the temple came to Jesus and questioned his authority.
The Jewish leaders did not acknowledge non-ordained rabbis as workers of God. They would have heard a lot about Jesus of Nazareth, the number of lives that he had touched on his way to Jerusalem.
However, as we saw in the last chapter, Jesus was a threat to their corrupt practices. They desperately wanted to prove this Jesus of Nazareth as a fraud and again and again, would send different representatives to prove their point.
Jesus answers the question with a question
He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me: John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin?” – Luke 21:3-4
By asking such a question, Jesus put them in a conundrum and at once they got together and tried to come up with the best response.
They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.” – Luke 21:3-4
The Pharisees did not bother about the truth or even the right answer but were more concerned about how the crowd will perceive their answer. Many times we see politicians changing their views on several issues. One day they will be on the right of a particular issue while the very next day they will be on the left of that issue. This is because politicians only care about how their vote is perceived by their audience. Similarly, these ‘workers’ of God were now in political offices and did not care about the truth but only their audience.
They could not come up with an answer that would serve the purpose on both ends, so like any other politician, they chose not to answer.
Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” – Luke 20:8
Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus did not evade the question but rather he did not want to waste time with people who are not even clear in what they believe.
The Parable of the Tenants
Jesus addressed the state of Jerusalem through a parable where a man planted a vineyard and rented it out to some farmers. Several harvest seasons passed by and the man kept sending his servants to collect what was due. God created this earth and chose humans to work it and take care of it (Genesis 2:15). Yet we kept going astray and God kept sending Prophets as reminders of both his love and his wrath but now, Jesus had arrived in Jerusalem, surely now people will take heed to his warnings (Luke 13:31-35).
But the people of Jerusalem had other plans. The people who knew the Prophesies about the coming of the Messiah and even preached and taught others about it either failed to recognize Jesus or forced themselves to deny his existence. They were planning to kill Jesus, lest he comes and disturbs their peace in their small vineyard. Jesus warned them saying that the day of the Lord’s wrath is near and that, they will have to give an account of all the Prophets that they had killed for the sake of preserving their traditions.
The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately because they knew he had spoken this parable against them but were afraid of the people.
Question on taxes
So the chief priests sent spies to Jesus in hopes of catching him questioning the authority of the Roman governor. They started with some thinly veiled flattery but eventually put forth this question.
Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not? – Luke 20:22
The Jews were not in favour of paying taxes to a foreign government and any answer that Jesus gives in favour of paying taxes will be met with strong backlash from the onlookers. Whereas, if Jesus supported the abolishment of Roman taxes, they would hand him over to the Roman authorities to be prosecuted but Jesus saw right through their duplicity and asked for a denarius.
“Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” – Luke 20:24-25
Rather than giving them ammunition, he put them in more hot soup as he addressed the fact that the Pharisees had burdened the citizens with various temple taxes. Jesus’ statement was fanning the flames on an already irate group of people who felt they were overburdened with taxes from all sides.
Jesus clearly told them that God is not interested in our monetary wealth but rather God wants us, his creation. What can we give the creator of the world but only ourselves as a living sacrifice. (Romans 12:1)
They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent. – Luke 20:26
Sadducees and Resurrection
Now the Sadducees tried their hand in trapping Jesus. Having no faith in the resurrection of the dead, they came to Jesus in an attempt to mock his beliefs and eventually turn the crowds against him.
“Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. The second and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. Finally, the woman died too. Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?” – Luke 20:28-33
Their question showed how they regarded women as mere possessions. They are under the assumption that all eight characters in their weird scenario were eventually going to heaven. And once in heaven, they are not worshiping God but busy arguing about who gets to keep the woman.
Jesus quickly reminded them why God had put Eve in the garden with Adam. The institution of marriage was created so that humans can have a companion on this earth but for those who are considered worthy to enter the eternal kingdom, they don’t need a companion as they are the children of God.
Jesus also took this opportunity to address their beliefs on the matter of resurrection.
“But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” – Luke 20:37-38
The teachers of the law who actually believed in resurrection commended Jesus’ answer and no one dared to ask any more questions. So Jesus put forth this question before them.
“Why is it said that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself declares in the Book of Psalms: “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’ – Luke 20:41-43
Jesus again uses David’s example as he did while addressing the matter of breaking sabbath to feed oneself (Luke 6:3-5). This time he addressed their belief that the Messiah would come from the line of David as a king to lead Jerusalem out of bondage of the Roman empire. Jesus made it clear that if David himself calls the Messiah Lord, then the Messiah is not a natural decedent of David.
Jesus went on to warn his listeners about the teachers of the Law, the very same group of people that praised him for his answer to the Sadducees.
“Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” – Luke 20:46-47
- Why was the meaning of the Parable of the Vineyard revealed to the teachers of the law and the chief priests but hidden from the general public (Luke 20:19)?
- Why did Jesus ask for a denarius, did the people not know whose inscription was on it?
- Why does Jesus keep bringing up David when addressing the Pharisee group?