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Things are never quite as they might be. Or if for a brief moment they are as good as you can imagine them, if for a while you seem to suck in the nectar of life itself with every breath you breathe, you know as well as I do that such highs cannot last. Tomorrow you go back to work. You may enjoy your job, but it has its pressures. Your marriage may be well-nigh idyllic, but in a sour mood you may marvel at how much you cannot or will not share with your spouse. The warm west wind that tousles your hair metamorphoses into a tornado that destroys your home. One of your parents succumbs to Alzheimer’s; one of your children dies. There is so much around you to enjoy, yet just as you begin to chew on a filet mignon that your children have bought for you for your birthday, you remember the millions who starve every day. There is no escape from the brute reality that, however wonderful your experiences in this broken world, others suffer experiences far more corrosive, and you yourself cannot ever believe that what you are experiencing is utterly ideal.
That restlessness is for our good. It is a design feature of our makeup, of our nature as creatures made in the image of God. We were made to inhabit eternity; by constitution we know that we belong to something better than a world (however beautiful at times) awash in sin.
Paul understands this point perfectly (2 Corinthians 5:1–5). He anticipates the time when “the earthly tent” (our present body) will be destroyed, and we will receive “an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands” (2 Cor. 5:1)—our resurrection body. “Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling” (2 Cor. 5:2). It is not that we wish to “shuffle off our mortal coil” and exist in naked immortality: that is not our ultimate hope, for “we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Cor. 5:4).
Then Paul adds: “Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Cor. 5:5). God made us for this purpose, i.e., for the purpose of resurrection life, secured for us by the death of his Son. Moreover, in anticipation of this glorious consummation of life, already God has given us his Spirit as a deposit, a kind of down payment on the ultimate inheritance.
Small wonder, then, that we groan in anticipation and find our souls restless in this temporary abode that is under sentence of death.
By this stage in Jesus’s ministry, the tensions between him and the authorities have become acute. Some are overtly theological; others have pragmatic overtones and elements of turf protection. Every unit in Luke 20 reflects some of this increasing tension.
We shall focus on the parable of the tenants (20:9–19). The story becomes more comprehensible to Western minds when we recall that these “tenant farmers” in the first-century culture were not simply employees (in the modern sense), but workers tied to an entire social structure. They owed the owner of the vineyard not only a percentage of the produce, but respectful allegiance. Their treatment of the servants he sent was not only harsh and greedy, but shameful. That he should send his son would not be thought of as a stupid act on his part: it would simply be unthinkable for them to kill him. But in the story that Jesus tells, that is just what they do: they kill him, hoping somehow that the land will become theirs not that the rightful heir is dead.
What then will the owner do? Jesus answers his own question: “He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others” (20:16).
The people grasp the point of the parable. The main lines were clear: God was the vineyard owner, the tenant farmers were Israel, the servants rejected by the farmers were the prophets, and eventually God sends his “son” (doubtless a slightly ambiguous category for them)—and the result is that the land and prosperity that the owner provided are stripped from them and given to others. Small wonder they exclaim, “May this never be!”
That was exactly the response Jesus expected from them. He had set them up for it. But now he looks at them steadily and cites Scripture to prove that that is exactly how things will turn out, exactly how things therefore must turn out. For doesn’t Scripture say, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone” (20:17; Ps. 118:22)? That “stone” finally wins; those who fall on it are broken to pieces, those on whom it falls are crushed. But the fact of the matter is that the stone is initially rejected by the builders.
Doubtless Jesus’s hearers did not understand all of the ramifications of this parable. But the scribes and chief priests understood enough to know that they themselves did not figure too well in it: they must be included among the people who beat up on prophets and finally reject God’s Son. Politically, this is one more step to the cross; theologically, Jesus teaches his followers what kind of Messiah he is, and how his death is as inevitable as the scriptural prophecies that predict it.
17:1 All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 And the LORD said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the name of the place Massah1 and Meribah,2 because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”
8 Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. 9 So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” 10 So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11 Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12 But Moses' hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. 13 And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.
14 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” 15 And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The LORD Is My Banner, 16 saying, “A hand upon the throne3 of the LORD! The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”
20:1 One day, as Jesus1 was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up 2 and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” 3 He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, 4 was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” 5 And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ 6 But if we say, ‘From man,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” 7 So they answered that they did not know where it came from. 8 And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
9 And he began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. 10 When the time came, he sent a servant2 to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. 13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ 15 And 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 they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” 17 But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone’?3
18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
19 The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. 20 So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. 21 So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality,4 but truly teach the way of God. 22 Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” 23 But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius.5 Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar's.” 25 He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” 26 And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent.
27 There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, 28 and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man6 must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. 30 And the second 31 and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. 32 Afterward the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.”
34 And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36 for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons7 of the resurrection. 37 But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, 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 to him.” 39 Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” 40 For they no longer dared to ask him any question.
41 But he said to them, “How can 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 your footstool.”’
44 David thus calls him Lord, so how is he his son?”
45 And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 47 who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
35:1 And Elihu answered and said:
2 “Do you think this to be just?
Do you say, ‘It is my right before God,’
3 that you ask, ‘What advantage have I?
How am I better off than if I had sinned?’
4 I will answer you
and your friends with you.
5 Look at the heavens, and see;
and behold the clouds, which are higher than you.
6 If you have sinned, what do you accomplish against him?
And if your transgressions are multiplied, what do you do to him?
7 If you are righteous, what do you give to him?
Or what does he receive from your hand?
8 Your wickedness concerns a man like yourself,
and your righteousness a son of man.
9 “Because of the multitude of oppressions people cry out;
they call for help because of the arm of the mighty.1
10 But none says, ‘Where is God my Maker,
who gives songs in the night,
11 who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth
and makes us wiser than the birds of the heavens?’
12 There they cry out, but he does not answer,
because of the pride of evil men.
13 Surely God does not hear an empty cry,
nor does the Almighty regard it.
14 How much less when you say that you do not see him,
that the case is before him, and you are waiting for him!
15 And now, because his anger does not punish,
and he does not take much note of transgression,2
16 Job opens his mouth in empty talk;
he multiplies words without knowledge.”
5:1 For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed by putting it on1 we may not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. 12 We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. 13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.2 The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling3 the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.