Episode 120 - Passion Week: Tuesday, part 2
Hi I’m Josh Hawkins, this is Episode 120 of Opening Up the Gospels. Since Episode 115 we’ve been looking at Passion Week, the final week of Jesus’ life before His crucifixion in 29AD. In the last episode, I started to detail the events of Tuesday, starting with Peter seeing the withered fig tree that Jesus had cursed on the previous morning. I talked about how the fruitless fig tree was an object lesson for the disciples to show that unrepentant Israel was fruitless as well. Israel as a nation had not responded to Jesus’ message, and thus the covenantal curses would continue to be upon them. Yet just as He had done several times before, Jesus encouraged His disciples to continue steadfastly in prayer and reliance on what God had spoken through the Law and the Prophets - that He would indeed be faithful to bring to pass everything He promised.
Today I want to continue our look at Tuesday’s events. This day in Passion Week is probably the most significant of them all in terms of Jesus’ discourse and teaching. There’s so much recorded about this day in the synoptic Gospels, which makes it very difficult to determine an exact chronology. Alfred Edersheim says:
“The record of this third day is so crowded, the actors introduced on the scene are so many, the occurrences so varied, and the transitions so rapid, that it is even more than usually difficult to arrange all in chronological order. Nor need we wonder at this, when we remember that it was, so to speak, Christ’s last working-day – the last , of His public mission to Israel, so far as its active part was concerned…”
Edersheim, A. (1896). The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Vol. 2, p. 380). New York: Longmans, Green, and Co.
Now though we can’t get an exact chronology, let’s look at our timeline so we can see how the Gospels lay out these events. Each of them are narrated in Matthew 21-24, Mark 11-13, and Luke 20 and 21, with a few of them only recorded by just one or two of the Gospels. First, we see Jesus being questioned by the chief priests and the elders about the authority He has to do the things He has been doing. Matthew then inserts a parable about two sons asked by their father to go to work in the vineyard. Then we see another parable about wicked tenants of a vineyard beating and killing servants and even the son sent to them by the master. Then, another parable about a great wedding supper that a king gave for his son where those who were invited didn’t come. Then, Pharisees question Jesus about paying taxes to Caesar, and Jesus’ answer leaves them dumbfounded. Then, a group of Sadducees come to Him and ask Him about marriage and the resurrection. Afterwards, the Pharisees had heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, so they came to ask Him a question about the greatest commandment. But then Jesus asked them all a question and stumps them - it’s the question about Psalm 110 and how David calls his son his Lord. Then, Jesus speaks a series of intense woes over the scribes and Pharisees. Matthew’s Gospel details the woes much more than Mark and Luke. Then Luke jumps in with a story about a widow and her two mites. And then we end this day with what many have called “The Olivet Discourse” where Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple and talks about the signs of the end of the age.
Now I won’t be covering every single detail of these events as that really isn’t the point of this video series, but I do want to highlight the major points for you. We must constantly keep the context in mind, because some of these events are perhaps familiar to us already but out of their context. If you’ve been tracking with me throughout this series, you know how much I’ve focused on the larger story of the Gospels. We can’t forget that context as we look at this day, Tuesday, the final day of Jesus’ public ministry. As we’ll see, the parables and events taking place today are His final confrontations with the Jewish authorities as they challenge His authority and ministry. There are many attempts by them to catch Jesus in His words and ultimately to trap Him and kill Him. All of these themes come to a climax at the end of the day when Jesus speaks what is often known as the “Olivet Discourse”, the time when Jesus speaks about the destruction of the Temple, the signs of His coming, and His future kingdom, all in line with what was prophesied in the Old Testament. Now the parables Jesus gives on this day are not meant to be applied individually. They are corporate in nature and have to do with the nation of Israel and the future messianic kingdom that Jesus will establish when He sits on David’s throne in Jerusalem. If we take the events of this final day of Jesus’ public ministry out of their historical and narrative context, we not only miss their significance but we end up horribly distorting them.
Well, let’s take a brief look at a few of them. In this first scene from Matthew 21:23 through 27, Jesus enters the Temple and the chief priests and elders confront Him, asking Him about His authority to do what He has been doing. Let’s remember what’s happened publicly the last couple of days. On Sunday, Jesus entered the city and the Temple as the crowds hailed Him as the son of David, the promised king that Israel had been looking and hoping for. Then on Monday, He drove the money changers and merchants out of the Temple. These weren’t the only instances where Jesus has demonstrated His unique authority in front of the chief priests and lawyers though. He had forgiven sins, He had called tax collectors to become His disciple, and He had condemned the traditions of the elders, just to name a few. The Jewish authorities were asking him, “what gives you the right to do what you’re doing? Who is authorizing and endorsing your actions?” Jesus answers them with His own question, which was a common practice with rabbis of the day. He says: “The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” Now at first glance, this question seems to be pretty strange. What does John’s baptism have to do with Jesus’ authority? Well if you remember back to Episode 41, we looked at Matthew 3 where John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan. The heavens were opened, the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus like a dove, and a voice from the heavens was heard saying “this is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased”. God had openly designated Jesus as the promised Son, and that is what gave Him the authority to do what He had been doing. Now if the Jewish authorities were to answer Jesus’ question by saying that John’s baptism was from God, they would be guilty before God as they had not submitted to the baptism. But if they were to say it was from man, they would risk an uproar from the crowds, because the crowds believed that John was sent from God and that his baptism was most definitely from heaven. The Jews answer Jesus by saying “we don’t know”, and so Jesus refuses to answer their question about His authority.
The next scene, only in Matthew 21, follows naturally. Jesus tells a parable about two sons and a father who asks them both at different times to go work in the vineyard. The first son said that he wouldn’t go, but then decides to go later. The second son said that he would go, but doesn’t actually follow through. Jesus then asks them: “which if the two did the will of his father?” and they respond by saying “the first”. Now let’s not forget who Jesus is talking to - the seemingly faithful Jewish leaders who claim perfect obedience and adherence to God’s will. They are like the second son who said “yes, I’ll go to the vineyard”. They are like the son that promises obedience, and then fails to honor his father. Jesus then talks about John the Baptist again, saying that even tax collectors and sinners have repented and will enter the kingdom. Unless the Jewish authorities repent and acknowledge Jesus as being the sent messiah from God as well, they won’t inherit the kingdom.
The third event we see on Tuesday is another parable, recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Just as in the previous parable, this one is full of examples of life in first century Israel. Jesus again tells a story of workers who don’t fulfill their responsibilities and follow through on their commitments. Instead of a father and sons, He tells a story of a landlord and tenants who are managing his vineyard. The time for picking the fruit of the vineyard came, and the landlord sent servants to the tenants to gather the fruit. But the tenants would beat, kill, and stone the servants that the landlord sent to get the fruit. Finally, the landlord sent his son, believing that they would respect him more than the servants. But the tenants plotted to kill the son too, thinking that they would obtain his inheritance. Now with the broader story of the Gospels in mind, doesn’t this sound familiar? The imagery of a vineyard in this parable has strong parallels with Isaiah chapter 5, so undoubtedly Jesus is referring to Israel as God’s vineyard. God chose His people Israel to be a light to the rest of the nations, to be the nation through which all the others would be blessed. He made a covenant with them at Sinai and then entrusted them with the Law, leaving them to do His will and obey it so that the nations might come to know the one true living God through them. Yet when God sought the fruits of repentance from them - an acknowledgement of their covenant breaking and a turning back to obedience - they rebelled and killed the prophets that He sent to them. And now, they’re very close to killing the promised son. Jesus then asks them a question, so let’s read their response from Matthew 21:
"When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “ ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet."
(Matthew 21:40–46 ESV)
The chief priests and Pharisees indict themselves here. They say that when the owner of the vineyard comes, he will put to death the irresponsible, murderous tenants and give the vineyard over to others. Jesus goes on to quote Psalm 118 verses 22 and 23, which He applies to Himself as the rightful head of the nation of Israel. He is the long-awaited Messiah, the king, and the current leadership has rejected Him as such. Though they would go on to kill Him, His death would not be the end of Israel’s story. There would be a faithful remnant who would bear the fruits of repentance and inherit what God had promised.
Matthew says that the chief priests and the Pharisees understood that Jesus was speaking this parable against them. As we’ve seen throughout the Gospels, Jesus came for the division of Israel, to expose and lay bare the hearts of the people, to make a clear contrast between repentant tax collectors and sinners and unrepentant scribes, Pharisees and Jewish authorities. Now the next verse after this that we just read, about the kingdom being taken away and given to a people producing its fruit, is commonly misunderstood because it’s often taken out of its narrative and historical context. I want to be clear here - the “people” to whom the kingdom of God will be given to is NOT talking about Gentiles or the church. Yes, Gentiles will participate in the age to come, but Jesus is not revoking His promises to Israel here because of their unrepentant leadership. If Jesus was actually saying that, it would mean that the Old Testament promises to the ethnic descendants of Abraham now apply to anyone and everyone, and therefore can be given some “spiritual” interpretation to mean whatever we want them to mean. Jesus is not reinterpreting the promises of the Old Testament, He’s not reimagining the story and creating a new spiritual Israel and rejecting the covenants He has made with the Jewish people. Jesus is simply saying something He’s said often throughout His ministry - that the ones in Israel who think they are perfectly obedient will not inherit the Jewish messianic kingdom or participate in its leadership. But those who have responded to the message and have borne the fruits of repentance - like the tax collectors and sinners and prostitutes - will be the ones who receive it. Does that make sense? This is a very important point that we must not miss.
Well I’m out of time for today, but in the next episode we’ll look at some more of Tuesday’s events. If you’ve missed any of the past episodes in this series, find them all on my website at www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. God bless, see you next time.