V. Ministry in Jerusalem (Luke 19:28–21:38)

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V. Ministry in Jerusalem (19:28–21:38)

19:28-35 As Jesus and his disciples drew near to Jerusalem, he had two of his disciples go into a village. There they would find a colt . . . on which no one [had] ever sat (19:28-30). If anyone were to ask them why they were taking the colt, all they needed to say was The Lord needs it (19:31). As the disciples obeyed, everything happened exactly as the Lord told them (19:32-34). Then Jesus climbed on the animal and rode toward his destination (19:35).

Three things are clear from these events. First, Matthew informs his readers that these actions fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 (see Matt 21:4-5). Jesus was publicly presenting himself as the Messiah. Second, Jesus’s knowledge of what would happen demonstrated his omniscience to his disciples. Third, a colt that had never been rid-den would not accept a rider easily. But Jesus showed himself to be the Master over creation. He came not on a horse as an emerging military king but as a humble servant of peace, represented by the colt.

19:36-40 As Jesus made his way on the colt, people spread their clothes on the road in honor of him (19:36). The crowd also began to praise God joyfully and shouted, Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord (19:37-38), quoting from Psalm 118. The people openly acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, and he received their praise. But this was too much for the Pharisees. They demanded that Jesus rebuke his disciples (19:39). It was their way of saying, “Surely you don’t believe this yourself, do you? Stop them!” But Jesus assured the Pharisees that if the crowd remained silent, the stones would cry out (19:40). God’s long-waited Messiah had finally come, and he deserved all honor and glory. If the Jewish leadership and the nation refused to accept him (see Matt 23:37), God would bring to life those who had died (indicated by the visible gravestones that surrounded the Mount of Olives) to bear testimony to Jesus (19:37-40).

19:41-44 When the city of Jerusalem finally came into view, Jesus wept for it (19:41). If its inhabitants would have accepted him nationally, they could have known peace (19:42). But they would soon reject him. As a result, God would hand the city over to judgment. Jerusalem’s enemies would surround her (19:43). This would be fulfilled in AD 70 when the Romans decimated the city. Jerusalem failed to recognize her Messiah, even when he was in her midst (19:44).

19:45-46 Upon his arrival in the city, Jesus entered the temple and was filled with anger. Business activities were taking place inside, hindering worship and taking advantage of the people. So Jesus threw out the sellers and condemned them for making God’s house of prayer into a den of thieves. Communicating with God had been replaced by religious activity for profit. The absence of the priority of prayer in the church is a significant indication that it has abandoned its primary calling.

19:47-48 Every day after this, Jesus taught the people in the temple. This provoked even greater opposition from the religious leaders who wanted to kill him (19:47). But they were unable to do anything since the crowds were captivated by him and constantly surrounded him (19:48). Ultimately, Jesus’s enemies would resort to using a traitor and the cover of darkness to accomplish their wicked plans (22:47-48, 52-53).

20:1-4 During one occasion as he was teaching in the temple, the religious leaders demanded to know the source of Jesus’s authority for everything he was doing (20:1-2). He had received messianic praise from the crowds (19:36-38) and cleansed the temple as if it were his own (19:45-46). Who authorized him to do such things? Jesus answered their question with a question (20:3). He would respond to their query if they answered his: Was the baptism of John from heaven or of human origin? (20:4). In other words, did John act on God’s authority or on his own?

20:5-6 Before they would respond, though, they discussed it among themselves—a good indication that responding truthfully wasn’t high on their priority list. They laid out their options and the possible repercussions of their answers. If they said that John’s baptism was authorized by heaven, Jesus would ask, Why didn’t you believe him? (20:5). After all, John had called all Israel to repent and be baptized—something the religious leaders didn’t do. John had also pointed to Jesus as the Messiah (see John 1:29-33)—something the religious leaders refused to believe. On the other hand, if they said John’s baptism was of human origin, they would probably be stoned to death by the people, since they believed John was a true prophet of God (20:6).

20:7-8 Thus, as far as the religious leaders were concerned, Jesus’s question was one that they couldn’t prudently answer. So instead they replied, “No comment” (20:7). That was exactly what Jesus had anticipated. They weren’t interested in the truth. All they wanted was incriminating evidence so that they had cause to condemn him. Therefore, he wouldn’t answer their question either (20:8). If you won’t speak the truth, don’t expect to receive the truth.

20:9 Jesus followed this encounter with the religious leaders with a parable about a vineyard owner. As Israel’s leaders moved steadily toward rejecting their Messiah, Jesus wanted to make clear to them what they were doing. In the parable, a man planted a vineyard, leased it to tenant farmers, and went away for a long time. The vineyard owner represented God, and his vineyard was Israel. Isaiah the prophet had spoken of Israel as a vineyard too (Isa 5:1-7), so this would have sounded familiar to Jesus’s listeners. In Isaiah’s song, the vineyard produced worthless grapes. In Jesus’s parable, the vineyard doesn’t fare much better.

20:10-12 At harvest time, the owner sent servants to the tenant farmers to give their master fruit from his vineyard. But the farmers simply beat them (20:10). They assumed they had nothing to fear: the owner was far away and probably wouldn’t return. The vineyard owner continued to send servants, but each time they treated them shamefully, assaulted them, and sent them away empty-handed (20:11-12). Over the centuries, God had sent his servants the prophets to warn his people to bear fruit—to keep his covenant and to live righteously. But Israel repeatedly rejected God’s Word spoken by his messengers.

20:13-16 Finally, the owner sent his own beloved son, expecting him to be respected and obeyed (20:13). But the tenant farmers saw this as their chance to be rid of the owner forever. The son was the heir. With him out of the way, the inheritance would be theirs (20:14). So they killed the owner’s son (20:15).

Jesus asked his listeners, What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? (20:15). Then he answered his own question: He will come and kill those farmers and give the vineyard to others. This declaration of judgment on Israel for her rebellion against God was too much for the religious leaders. They rejected his story and shouted, That must never happen! (20:16). They were unwilling to entertain the possibility that they had been unfaithful to God and were rejecting his Son.

20:17-18 Jesus made it clear to them that their rejection of him was a rejection of God and a fulfillment of Scripture. He quoted from Psalm 118:22: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone (20:17). Though the religious leaders scorned Jesus as a worthless stone, he was the most important part of the building, the key element of the kingdom. One cannot reject him and go unharmed (20:18). Reject the cornerstone, and your building falls to ruin. Reject the Messiah, and your eternal condemnation is certain.

20:19 The scribes and the chief priests knew that this story was about them. They were the villains in Jesus’s tale, and they hated him for it. So they plotted a way to get their hands on him. But they were still incapable of seizing him because they feared the people.

20:20 Their hatred for Jesus kept the religious leaders going. They weren’t willing to give up. This time they sent spies who pretended to be righteous to attempt to trip him in his words. Perhaps if they could trick him into saying something treasonous, they could hand him over to the Roman governor to be tried.

20:21-23 The “spies” approached Jesus under the guise of desiring a truthful answer from a God-honoring teacher on a complex, controversial subject (20:21). They asked, Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not? (20:22). But, as we’ve seen before, you can’t hide anything from Jesus because he can see the motives of your heart (see 5:22). He could see their craftiness (20:23). If he answered, “Yes,” the crowds (who hated the Romans) would be angry with him. But if he answered, “No,” the religious leaders would have reason to accuse him of treason against Rome.

20:24-25 Jesus requested a denarius, the Roman coin used to pay taxes. When someone produced one, he asked them whose image and inscription were on it. Everyone knew the answer: Caesar’s (20:24). Well then, Jesus told them, give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s (20:25). They had expected a yes or no answer, but Jesus had a better one. The coin with Caesar’s image on it belonged to Rome, so it was right to give Caesar what belonged to him for the services the empire provided. On the other hand, human beings bear God’s “image” (Gen 1:26-27), so they are to give themselves in humble obedience to him. Thus, Jesus affirmed both the civil and religious obligations of people.

20:26 Once again Jesus had outsmarted the religious hypocrites, and once again they had failed to catch him in his words. Amazed at out how he had answered them, they fell silent.

20:27 The Sadducees were a group with a lot of power since they were associated with aristocratic families and the high priests. They differed from the Pharisees on a number of theological issues. For example, they rejected belief in the resurrection and only believed in the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch) as Scripture.

20:28-33 Since everyone else had failed to trap Jesus, the Sadducees decided to give it a try. They reminded Jesus of the law of Moses in Deuteronomy 25:5-6, which required that if a Jewish man died, his brother was to marry his widow and raise up a son for his brother, in order to carry on his brother’s name (20:28). Given this law, they proposed a scenario. A woman married seven brothers, each one of them dying successively. None of them had any children (20:29-31). When the woman died, whose wife would she be in the resurrection because she had been married to all of them? (20:32-33). The Sadducees believed that their hypothetical situation proved how ridiculous the idea of the resurrection was.

20:34-36 But their scenario only proved one thing to Jesus: the Sadducees were foolish, and they didn’t know their Bibles well. First, he explained that those who experience the resurrection in the age to come do not marry (20:34-35). Though marriage is part of God’s design for his creation, it will not be a feature of the new creation. So questions like, “Whose wife will the woman be?” are irrelevant. Resurrected believers will no longer die (20:36). So there will be no need for procreation.

20:37-38 Second, Jesus pointed to God’s declaration to Moses in Exodus 3:6 that he was the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. To say that he was still their God—after they had died—indicates that the dead are raised (20:37). Existence does not end with physical death.

20:39-40 Hearing Jesus respond to the Sadducees, the scribes said, Teacher, you have spoken well (20:39). After that, no one dared to ask him anything (20:40). Jesus had proven himself a formidable adversary. His understanding of the Scriptures and teaching authority were vastly superior to that of these religious leaders. They finally realized that challenging him in such ways wasn’t working.

20:41-44 Once his opponents were silenced, Jesus had a question for them: How can they say that the Christ is the son of David? (20:41). This was a universally accepted notion. Then he quoted from Psalm 110:1, a passage in which David (the author and highly revered king), speaking of the Messiah sitting at God’s right hand, calls him my Lord (20:42-44). A son would honor his father, but a father wouldn’t call his descendant “Lord.”

Jesus wasn’t denying the fact that the Christ would be descended from David. The Old Testament makes that clear in many places. Rather, Jesus was emphasizing the fact that the Christ was much more than merely the son of David. Though he would be human, he wouldn’t be merely human. He would also be God.

20:45-47 Jesus warned his disciples to beware of the hypocrisy of the scribes (20:45-46). They loved to exalt themselves and attempted to look spiritual in public. But their wickedness—in light of their privileged position as religious leaders—would earn them a harsher judgment (20:47). Thus, just as there will be degrees of rewards for believers, there will be degrees of punishment for unbelievers.

21:1-4 Jesus had just censured the scribes for devouring “widows’ houses” (20:47). Now he would further condemn their greed by contrasting it with one particular widow’s virtue. As the rich were dropping their offerings into the temple treasury, a poor widow put in two tiny coins (21:1-2). To the casual observer, it appeared that the widow had given next to nothing. But Jesus said she had put in more than all of them (21:3). They gave out of their surplus; she gave out of her poverty. The percentage of what she gave, in relation to what she had, exceeded all the rest. The wealthy showed little dependence on God, since they gave out of their excess. But the widow’s willingness to give her livelihood demonstrated her great reliance on God as her source of blessing and provision.

21:5-6 The temple, which had been rebuilt and expanded by Herod the Great, was grand and beautiful (21:5). The disciples admired it. But Jesus stunned them with his prediction that this magnificent structure would be destroyed—not one stone would be left on another (21:6). This prediction would come true a few decades later in AD 70 when the Roman general (and later emperor) Titus conquered Jerusalem and leveled the temple.

21:7 The disciples couldn’t believe it. They wanted to know when these events concerning the destruction of the temple would happen and what sign would precede them. They believed the temple’s destruction was linked to the start of the messianic kingdom (see Matt 24:3). They didn’t yet realize that there would be a gap of time between these events. So Jesus began to explain to them the signs and events that would precede his return.

21:8-19 Many momentous happenings would take place in the years to come. But Christ’s followers are not to be deceived by them. False christs will appear, and wars will take place. But the end won’t come right away (21:8-9). Many disturbing events will occur (21:10-11). Here Jesus began to describe the first half of the seven-year tribulation period prophesied by Daniel (see commentary on Dan 9:24-27). Followers of Christ will experience severe persecution—even at the hands of relatives and friends (21:12, 16). But this will provide an opportunity to bear witness to the truth (21:12-13). Yet, through God’s sovereign protection and provision, they will be able to endure (21:17-19). While many of Christ’s followers throughout history have experienced persecution and death, Jesus spoke here primarily of the suffering of those who become believers during the tribulation.

21:20-24 When he mentioned Jerusalem surrounded by armies, Jesus returned to the disciples’ question about the destruction of Jerusalem (21:20). At that sign, those in Jerusalem must flee, and those outside must not enter it (21:21). It would be a time of great distress in the land, resulting in many Jews being killed and Jerusalem being trampled by the Gentiles (21:23-24), resulting in the times of the Gentiles when Israel would no longer possess or live in peace in their homeland and the Messiah would not yet sit on the throne of David. Such could have been averted by the nation’s repentance and acceptance of the Messiah.

Jesus had the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 in view here, but he also extends this to the future “abomination of desolation” (21:20) mentioned in Daniel 9:27, when the antichrist will set up his image in the Jerusalem temple and require everyone to worship that image (see Rev 13:4-8). Anyone who does not worship it will be persecuted (see Rev 13:15).

21:25-28 Next Jesus described events prior to his second coming to set up his millennial kingdom. Distressing signs will be evident to all—both cosmic signs and terrestrial signs (21:25). Great upheaval will take place in the natural world. The enemies of God will be overcome by fear at all these things and especially when they see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and glory (21:26-27; see Dan 7:13-14). When these things occur, the end of evil will be close at hand. Redemption and the deliverance of God’s people and the promised kingdom blessings will be near (21:28).

21:29-33 Jesus used a common agrarian feature of the region—the fig tree—to illustrate the need to be watchful (21:29). When leaves sprout on the fig tree, summer is already near (21:30). One doesn’t have to be a farmer to reach this conclusion. Nearly anyone can interpret this sign. In the same way, Jesus told them, when his followers see the signs he described, they need to recognize that the kingdom of God, the earthly rule of Jesus’s messianic reign in the millennium, is near (21:31). Such events will continue uninterrupted till the conclusion of Christ’s second coming. This generation is a reference to those who will be alive during the great tribulation. They can be certain that all these things will take place. Though heaven and earth will pass away, Jesus’s words will never pass away (21:32). He claimed absolute sovereignty and authority over the fulfillment of his prophetic words.

21:34-36 Jesus warned that his followers would need to be ready at all times in light of the coming day of God’s judgment. They were not to become entangled in the desires and affairs of the world so that the day comes on them unexpectedly (21:34). Rather, believers must be ready for the kingdom when it arrives. For it will come on all who live on the face of the whole earth (21:35). The coming of the kingdom of God and the judgment that precedes it will have a universal affect. No one will escape. And those not prepared for God’s judgment will not enter the peace and joy of Christ’s millennial reign. Believers need to be alert at all times, praying for strength to be prepared for his second coming (21:36). What will be true for believers in that day is still true for his disciples today. We must be alert, ready, and living in anticipation of the coming rapture that will precede the period of the tribulation (see 1 Thess 4:13-18), when Christ will come in the clouds to summon believers to “always be with the Lord” (1 Thess 4:17).

21:37-38 During the day, Jesus continued to experience the favor of the people as he taught in the temple. He would spend the night, though, outside the city on the Mount of Olives (21:37). Eventually, the religious leaders would find out where Jesus was staying each night—led there by a traitor (22:47-53).