Luke 20 Part 2
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.
Now the Lord turns to the people and begins to tell them a parable. However, even though He addresses this to the people, it is nevertheless a parable against the leaders whom He has just spoken to and who are still present to hear it.
In this parable, He speaks of a landowner who plants a vineyard. This would have been a very common thing to do, for Israel was a good country for grapes, and the making of wine and other products made from grapes was a very profitable enterprise in that land. Now this owner, having planted a vineyard, seems to be uninterested in maintaining it himself. Either that, or else other, more pressing business arises to which he must attend. At any rate, he goes into a far country for a long time. Not willing to leave his vineyard untended during this time, he leases it out to certain vinedressers. The agreement is that they are to keep the vineyard in his absence. No doubt they are to receive a certain amount of its fruits for themselves in payment for their labors, but they are also to render a percentage of the fruits of this vineyard back to the owner upon request.
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.
Now vintage-time comes when the grapes are ready to be harvested. In order to receive his share, the owner commissions one of his servants with his authority to go to the vinedressers and to receive from them the portion of the fruit that is to come back to him as the vineyard owner. The vinedressers, however, refuse to yield to this servant the portion of the fruits that they are obligated to return to the owner. Instead, they beat this servant, and send him back to his master with his commission unfulfilled.
The Greek word for “sent” in the first case here is a form of the word apostello. In other words, the landowner sent his servant with authority, or commissioned him. In the second case, the word is exapostello. Ex– is from ek which means “out.” It has to do with sending out or away with authority. In other words, the stripes they laid on this servant were their message to the owner, and this poor, beaten servant was given the authority to carry it.
The word for “servant” here is actually the Greek word doulos, which means not “servant” but “slave.” Roman society at the time the Lord told this parable ran on slaves, and slavery was common. This word has been translated too weakly when it is made to be “servants.” Doulos is talking about a slave. It was a slave that this owner sent to the vinedressers.
11. “Again he sent another servant; and they beat him also, treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed.
The owner sends another slave. His actions here seem rather strange, for why should he simply send another slave when the first was treated in such a shameful manner? No doubt the owner is puzzled as to why his renters treated the first slave he sent this way. Perhaps he wants to know what the problem is, and what grievance these vinedressers may have against him or against the slave he sent, and that is why he sends this second slave. However, when this second slave arrives, it quickly becomes clear that the vinedressers have no interest in working with him either. Instead they beat him also, treat him in a shameful manner, and again send him away empty-handed with none of the fruits owed to his lord.
The first word for “sent” here is a form of the Greek word pempo, which is the simple Greek word for a sending, rather than the word apostello, which has to do with sending with authority. Perhaps the point is that he does not send this slave with the authority to collect the fruits for him, as he did the first one, but simply sends him to see what the problem is with these vinedressers. The second word “send” is again a form of exapostello, and means the vinedressers sent him away with their authority to deliver the message to the owner, written in the cruel welts on his back, that they were not going to relinquish the fruits he was owed.
12. “And again he sent a third; and they wounded him also and cast him out.
The owner sends a third slave. This seems yet more strange, for we would not think that an owner would be this long-suffering with men who treated him as scornfully as these vinedressers were doing. However, this is what he does in the Lord’s parable. The vinedressers respect this slave no more than they did the first two. They wound him, and cast him out of the vineyard.
The word for “sent” here is again the Greek pempo, and means a simple sending. The owner had sent this slave to the vinedressers in hopes that they would yield. This time, there is no word for “sent” connected to the vinedressers.
The Lord was picturing here the way Israel as represented by their leaders often treated God’s messengers whom He sent to them. Anyone who has read the books of the prophets knows many examples of kings and other leaders of Israel acting in this way towards the prophets themselves. The prophets really were the slaves of the Lord, the ruler over all Israel. Yet the petty rulers that He had given in charge over His people rebelled against Him and refused to hear His messengers, though He sent them time and again. Though we may feel that He was incredibly patient with them, that is the way the Lord is, very gracious and slow to anger. He had been very tolerant of these wicked rulers, and had again and again sent his slaves to them. Yet again and again they rejected them and cast them out. That is the way the leaders had been throughout Israel’s history, and the leaders in the Lord’s day were no different. They were acting the same way as their fathers had done.
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 hard pressed to know what to do. The vinedressers he rented out his vineyard to refuse to give him his due. He decides that his best recourse is to send his son. This again may seem like a foolish choice to us, for the vineyard owner has seen what these vinedressers did to his slaves. They had not respected these agents he sent, as he well knew. Yet they were merely slaves. It seems the owner cannot believe that the wicked vinedressers will not respect his son. Surely they could not be so foolish as to treat his son and heir as poorly as they had already treated his slaves!
The word “sent” is again pempo here. He sends his son, but without authority to collect the fruits. By this time, he is more interested in patching up his relationship with his vinedressers than in collecting the fruits of his vineyard.
It might seem to us unlikely that a real vinedresser would do this. Again, this may or may not seem probable. However, this is just what the Lord had done. After He had sent prophets and slaves of His to the rulers of Israel and they mistreated and rejected them, He sent His Son to them. Yet when these wicked rulers saw the Son, they did not respect Him either.
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.’
When the rebellious vinedressers see the son of the vineyard owner, they reason among themselves. They excitedly decide that this is their big chance. This is the heir of the vineyard! If they kill him, they reason, then when the time comes that he would have inherited, they will receive the vineyard instead.
Of course, this is totally senseless and illogical, as no owner and no father would give the inheritance that should have gone to his son to his son’s killers! Probably what they were thinking was that the owner of the vineyard must be dead. Why else would he not have come himself, and have sent his son instead in this placating manner? Therefore this son is probably the only thing standing between them and possession of the vineyard. If the heir of the vineyard is dead and they are in possession of the vineyard, the law may rule that the vineyard pass to them as the current keepers of it. Of course, their reasoning was faulty, as they were not reckoning with the longsuffering and patience of the vineyard owner. He was not dead, as they would soon find out!
The religious leaders in the Lord’s day showed a very similar attitude to that of these wicked vinedressers. They seemed to think that if they could just kill the Messiah, God would change His mind and allow them to keep their control over the nation. How blinded they were by power and greed!
15. “So they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do to them?
The act is carried out, and the son is killed. Now, Christ raises this question for His listeners. What will the vineyard owner do to these rebellious vinedressers of his? This question has an obvious answer, and the Lord gives it in the following verse.
16. “He will come and destroy those vinedressers and give the vineyard to others.”
And when they heard it they said, “Certainly not!” Of course the vineyard owner will not relinquish the vineyard to these wicked vinedressers, nor will he make them his heirs. He will be enraged over the death of his son, and will come and righteously destroy those vinedressers for their murderous act. Then, he will give the vineyard to others more worthy of it.
Now some have made this to be about setting aside Israel in order to turn God’s blessings over to a Gentile company they call “the church.” Yet these utterly fail to consider the context and import of this passage. The Lord is saying He is going to destroy the government of Israel that existed at that time and turn that authority over to others more worthy of it. This is very similar to what He said in the times of Saul, when He promised to take the kingdom away from him and give it to another man after His Own heart, who later we learn was David. The vineyard itself is Israel, and the vinedressers are its leaders. For Him to destroy Israel in this case would be like Him destroying the vineyard to spite the vinedressers! It was the leaders who needed to be replaced, not the vineyard itself. And they were replaced, for God set up His Own leaders, His apostles, in the book of Acts, and from then on they had the authority that the Pharisees and religious leaders no longer had.
The leaders realize immediately that Christ is declaring that God will cast them out of their positions of authority and give these positions to others who more deserve them. They react to such an idea with horror. They could not accept the idea of losing their positions. They were too used to being the “rich” in Israel, having been this since they were children, and being anything but the elite class was unthinkable to them. Yet God did reject them, and He set up His Own leaders over Israel during the time of the Acts.
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 word, knowing that the leaders have understood His meaning, Christ stops addressing the people and addresses these leaders directly. If this could never be, then what is this that He finds written in the Scriptures? He quotes Psalm 118:22 to them. This verse is speaking of this very situation, and of their rejection of Him. Yet God would still use Him to build the nation of Israel that He planned to build in the future. This is the point of His parable.
In Greek this reads not “chief cornerstone” but “head into the corner.” The word “head” or kephale in Greek means an outflowing source, even as the head of a body is the source of all that happens in the body. The Greek word for “corner” is gonia, and means either a corner or a secret place. We know that a cornerstone is the stone upon which all the measurements for the walls are made. It provides the lines and the direction for the rest of the house. Therefore it is indeed a “head” or source for the rest of the building.
When Israel is built again in the future in order to become all God means for it to be, it will all be built around Jesus Christ. He will be the standard around which all else is measured. He will provide the direction and the guidance. He will be the essential ingredient. Everything else will be subservient to Him. Everything else will be made to conform to Him. Anything that does not conform to Him will have no place in this structure, and will be cut out of it. All Israel will be built around Him, and then it will be a glorious building indeed!
18. “Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”
The Lord has compared Himself to a stone as part of a building. Now he compares Himself to a stone in another way. He speaks of men falling on Him as a stone, or of the stone falling on them. The idea seems to be that one is doomed either way. Whether you fall on the stone or the stone falls on you, the stone remained uninjured, whereas you are crushed or broken. Yet for those who voluntarily fall on the Lord Jesus Christ, they may find that they are indeed broken, yet only to be healed and renewed!
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.
As we saw in verse 16, the chief priests and scribes well understood the import of the Lord’s words, and that they were directed against them. This verse confirms this for us. They knew whom He was talking about in this parable! It is too bad that so few who interpret this parable today seem to have any idea what He was saying, applying it to all of Israel as they do. At least those to whom the Lord spoke knew exactly who He was talking about.
It seems these rulers can barely restrain themselves in their desire to take Him, yet they are forced to because of the people’s love for Him. They are afraid that any action against Him might lead to violence against them, as it may well have done. Therefore, they are forced to wait, and to plot and scheme some way of taking Him in secret.
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.
The leaders feared to arrest Him themselves. Therefore, they came up with a scheme to try to get the Roman governor to do their dirty work for them. If they can get the Lord to say things that could be deemed as treasonous against Rome, then they can convince the governor that he must deal with Him. Then, the governor would take the heat for His arrest, and not these Jewish leaders.
While the leaders no doubt planned this to get the governor to take the blame for His persecution rather than them, they may even have already had in mind the death they wanted for Him. If they put Him to death, that would have meant stoning, for that was the Jewish method of execution. Yet merely stoning Him would not do, for then He could become a martyr to His followers, and His cause might be continued. What they really wanted for Him was crucifixion, for they knew that the Bible teaches that anyone hung on a tree is cursed. This is made clear in Deuteronomy 21:22-23.
22. “If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23. his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God.
So death by crucifixion, certainly the most terrible form of death on a tree, would have seemed ideal to these religious leaders, for then not only would the Lord die, but to the people His death would also seem to nullify His claims. Surely no one could have been God’s chosen Messiah if He died a shameful and cursed death, they reasoned. Yet the fact was that the Jewish leaders could plan this death for the Lord, but they could not carry it out. Only the Romans had the authority to crucify anyone. So if the Lord was to die on a tree, they would have to get the Romans to do it for them somehow.
So it may be that these leaders already had death by crucifixion in mind for the Lord. Yet perhaps they had not thought that far ahead yet. They just hoped to get the Romans, who were hated already, to do one more hateful thing which they themselves were not willing to do. But regardless of their exact motivations, the fact is that they sent these spies to try to catch Him in some traitorous statement that they could accuse Him of before Pilate.
The word for “sent” here is a form of the Greek word apostello. These spies were commissioned with the authority of the chief priests and scribes. Yet they were pretending to be righteous men. Of course, their mission was very unrighteous. Yet ultimately what they were pretending is that they were not actually sent with any agenda at all, but that they just had some innocent questions. Of course, this was a lie, for their real mission was to destroy Him.
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:
They start out, it seems, by trying to butter Him up. Yet in this case every word of flattery that they say is true, because they are speaking of the Lord. Except, perhaps, for the words “we know.” They know nothing of the kind, but are only trying to put Him off-guard by their compliments. They do not really believe the words they are speaking of Him.
Flattery is often used by men before seeking to trap someone. It is used so much because it so often works. A man who is full of pride is more willing to speak freely, and more likely to speak foolishly. Yet the Lord Jesus Christ, of course, saw their designs and answered accordingly.
22. “Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
The question they put to him was whether or not it was consistent with the law God gave Israel to pay taxes to Caesar. This was a hot button issue, to say the least. Many in Israel were loyal patriots, and so hated having to pay taxes to the Romans, who were occupying their land. They not only hated the fact that they were enslaved to Rome, but also that the Romans were polytheists, and thus they were paying their taxes to idolaters. Anyone who openly spoke out in support of the Roman taxes would be considered by most a traitor to his people at best, and a sympathizer with idolatry at worst. This is why the tax collectors like Zacchaeus were outcasts and were so despised.
The Lord could not have spoken up for paying taxes to Caesar without damaging His reputation among the people. Yet if Christ had done the popular thing and spoken out against these Roman against taxes, it might have satisfied the zealots of Israel, yet then these men who questioned Him would quickly have reported His words to the Romans and demanded His arrest. Indeed, it is likely that a man like the Lord Jesus who had a popular following was already being closely monitored by the Romans for any signs of sedition. His words may have quickly gotten back to the Roman authorities even without these enemies who questioned Him doing anything. Any sign of open rebellion like this would have been quickly answered with force by those authorities. Therefore, this was the trap His enemies had set for Him, and the corner they thought they had Him in from which He could not escape.
23. But He perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Why do you test Me?
The Lord was not fooled by their flattery. He immediately perceived their craftiness in asking Him this question. The first thing He does, then, in answering it is to point out their duplicity. Anyone who thought about it could have seen the corner His enemies were trying to back Him into. The Lord now lets His audience know that these men who had come pretending to be honest seekers were actually putting Him to a test which they hoped He would fail.
24. “Show Me a denarius. Whose image and inscription does it have?” They answered and said, “Caesar’s.”
Next the Lord demands from them that they show Him a denarius. This was the coin that was used to pay the poll tax to Caesar. No doubt His questioners fumbled about for a moment among themselves, and then produced such a coin. Next, He asks them whose image and inscription is on this coin? The answer was obvious to all. It was Caesar’s image and inscription on the coin.
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.”
Now the Lord easily defuses their trap. He neither agrees nor disagrees with the Roman taxes, but rather befuddles them in their own argument by this simple and yet brilliant statement. These men had already accepted and were using coins that belonged to Caesar. By this He turns the trap back upon them. If they were going to accept Caesar’s coinage, then how could they claim to have the moral high ground when they refused to pay taxes to Caesar? If these coins were Caesar’s, then render them to Caesar. If a thing is God’s, however, then give that thing to God. But don’t claim to be righteous by taking what you owe to Caesar and giving it to God instead. That is not how He is pleased.
This is a good lesson for us today as well. Some seem to think that they are duty bound to tithe, and that even if they are practically bankrupt and owe others large amounts of money, they are justified in taking their income and first giving ten percent to some church organization because they are obeying the law of tithing. Yet is it right to give to God what in reality you owe to other people? This is not the kind of gift He is looking for.
This also tells us something about God’s view of paying taxes. Though it would be unwise to take the answer to a “trap” question too far, the Lord shows no signs of being anti-taxes here. We may think we do not like taxes, or that we are asked to pay too much. Well, it may well be that we are asked to pay too much. Yet the Lord has a good point here. We have accepted coins with the imprint of our government upon them. Can we say we are righteous when we hold back these coins from that government? We had best think hard before claiming we are being righteous by refusing to pay taxes.
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.
Though these spies rack their brains, they cannot figure out anything they can lay hold of in His words in order to turn them against Him. They find their own trap utterly defused, and themselves trapped in a corner. Instead of being able to ensnare Him, they are amazed and forced to silence by the simple power of His words.