What About Unbelievers?

Explore the Bible Series

January 30, 2005


Background Passage: Luke 20:1-47

Lesson Passage: Luke 20:9-19


Introduction: At the end of the previous chapter, Luke recorded several events that initiated Passion Week: the triumphant entry, Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, and the cleansing of the temple.  The last two verses of Chapter Nineteen indicate that the hostility of the Jewish religious leaders had reached a fever pitch; yet, the Lord’s immense, but temporary, popular appeal made it difficult for the enemies of Christ to move against the Savior.  They resorted to subterfuge in their efforts to discredit Jesus.  Chapter Twenty details some of these efforts to turn the crowds against Jesus.


In one regard the Jewish leaders did see things clearly.  They understood that this “new religious movement” stood or fell in the person of Jesus.  That, of course, is still the case today.  So often, it seems, Christians forget the centrality of Christ to the claims of Christianity.  Ultimately, the gospel must center on Jesus, not on one’s political views or stance on social issues.  Evangelicals can, and often do, get sidetracked into secondary ways of defining the essence of Christianity.  They find themselves defending a series of social concerns rather than centering the presentation of the gospel on Christ alone.  Of course Christians should address important social issues of the day, but the credibility of the gospel does not turn on whether believers can fend off ungodly opponents on issues like evolution, same-sex, marriage, pornography, or a thousand other concerns.  Instead, Christians, in their evangelism and apologetics, must focus on Christ.  Once the issues concerning Christ’s person and work are settled, the secondary things will fall into place.


What does this chapter tell us about the identity and mission of Jesus?  How did the religious leaders attack Christ’s person and seek to discredit his character?  What insight do these ancient attacks grant us concerning the issues Christians face in twenty-first century America?


I.                   The Question of Christ’s Authority (Luke 20:1-8)

A.     The defiant attitude of the religious leaders (vv. 1-2): Godless men resent authority.  Their hearts rise irresistibly to rebellion (See Romans 8: 7-8).  These men hated Christ, and their hated revealed itself in their resistance to the authoritative teaching of the Lord.  Luke employed a very strong verb, translated “confronted” in verse one.  The word means “bold defiance.”  Their insolence manifested itself in two poignant questions (See v. 1), both related to the issue of authority.

B.     Jesus’ answer (vv. 3-8); At first reading, it may appear that the Lord did not answer their question, but careful examination reveals that he nailed their query right on the head!  Did these leaders regard John the Baptist as a prophet?  What had John said about Jesus?  His message was unmistakable concerning the identity of Jesus.  Furthermore, Jesus’ baptism, at the hand of John, occasioned the Father’s approval of the Son and the blessed presence of the Holy Spirit who descended like a dove upon the Savior.  What greater testimony could Jesus enjoy?  The father, the Spirit, and the prophet all bore unmistakable witness to the identity and, thus, the authority of Jesus. The religious leaders, of course, saw the implications of Jesus’ answer, and they refused to pursue that line of reasoning.  The Lord, then, also refused to continue this portion of the conversation (See v. 8).


II.                The Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers (Luke 20:9-19)

A.     The setting of the parable (vv. 9-10): A certain man owned a vineyard, and he determined to travel to a far country (reminiscent of Luke 19:12).  While away, the landowner entrusted his vineyard to tenant farmers.  They were, of course, to tend the master’s land and, in due time, give him something of the fruits of his vineyard.  At the appropriate season of the year, the master sent servants to receive some of the fruit.  Note: though the vinedressers benefited greatly from the generosity of the master, the vineyard did not belong to them.  They simply acted as stewards of another man’s inheritance.

B.     The three servants (vv. 10-12):

1.      The vinedressers beat the first servant and sent him away empty handed.  Again, Luke used a strong verb (to beat, tear the skin, flay) to describe the mistreatment of the servant.

2.      The second servant was treated with even greater contempt. Luke added that they treated him shamefully.

3.      The third servant met with an even more cruel reception.  They gravely wounded him and cast him out.

                   Application:  Clearly Jesus meant for his hearers to recall the shameful treatment that the prophets had received from the people of the Old Testament.  Like Jesus’ contemporaries, the Israelites had gravely mistreated those whom the Lord sent. The servants had no authority of their own, but they came on the name of their master, and the vinedressers, in their rebellious and violent deeds, demonstrated their disregard and disrespect for both the servants and their master.

C.     The arrival of the master’s son (vv. 13-15): As a last resort, the master sent his beloved son to settle accounts with the wicked husbandmen.  Surely, he reasoned, these men would honor the very son of the master!  Nevertheless, the cruelty and violence of these men reached its apex.  Their thieving hearts longed to possess a vineyard that did not rightfully belong to them; therefore, they threw the son out of the vineyard and brutally took his life.

D.     The master’s response (vv. 16-19): Jesus said the master would come to punish his wicked tenants.  He would destroy these iniquitous men and give the vineyard to others.  The Jewish religious leaders recoiled at the suggestion that the Lord would give the vineyard to others.  They clearly understood the meaning of Jesus’ parable. Like the men in the story, the Jewish leaders had misused the Lord’s vineyard and mistreated the Lord’s servants. Finally, the Master of the vineyard sent his beloved Son, and, true to form, these men plotted his death.  Jesus ended this particular episode by pointing his opponents to Psalm 118:22.


III.             Continued Efforts to Ensnare the Lord in his Words (Luke 20:20-47)

A.     The lawfulness of paying taxes to Caesar (vv. 20-26): The chief priests sent deceitful emissaries to catch Jesus at his words.  In particular, they quizzed him about the lawfulness of paying taxes to Caesar.  They knew that the Jews hated the occupation of the Romans and deeply resented paying taxes to the emperor.  These spies, no doubt, believed they could ensnare Jesus by means of flattery (See Psalm 5:9; Proverbs 19).  The Lord masterfully deflected their deceit by calling for a Roman coin and asking them whose image appeared on the coin.  Just as the money bore the likeness of Caesar, so men bore the image of God.  Therefore, Jesus reminded them to give to Caesar what belonged to Caesar and give to God what belonged to God.

B.     Marriage and the resurrection (vv. 27-40): Finally, the Sadducees contrived a ridiculous case study and a contorted question to discredit the Savior.  Recall that the Sadducees denied the resurrection of the dead; yet, they put this bizarre question to the Lord (See vv. 28-33).  Again, the Lord answered their query masterfully.  There will be, according to Jesus, no giving in marriage in the resurrection.  Apparently Jesus regarded marriage as a temporal institution.  Furthermore, Jesus quickly defended the doctrine of the resurrection in such a way that even his enemies yielded to his argument and commended the Lord for his reasoning.

C.     Jesus took the offensive (vv. 41-47): The Lord drew the Sadducees’ attention to Psalm 110:1.  In this wonderful Psalm King David acknowledged the lordship of the Messiah, the Messiah that these religious leaders wanted to discredit and kill. Luke concluded this section by recording Jesus’ condemnation of these wicked men.  The Savior listed their sinful traits, and in doing so, he shamed them before the people.  They love the pomp and splendor of the station, covet the praise of men, seek the company of other pretentious men, and desire all of the trappings of self-importance.  Furthermore, they treat the poor and helpless with cruel disregard and parade their piety for all to see.  They will, Jesus, predicted meet with a terrible and proportionate condemnation.