Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Let the Games Begin
When Jesus came riding into Jerusalem, the people thought He was going to overthrow Roman rule over their nation—freeing them from slavery to a pagan nation. They hailed Him as king. But in reality, Jesus came to overthrow the religious leaders of Israel—freeing Israel from slavery to a system that had co-opted God’s original plan—one which pointed directly to a Messiah who would come and die before returning to rule.
Jesus needed to put the current “owners” of Judaism on notice. He did so in grand fashion by throwing out the moneychangers and marketeers from the Court of the Gentiles in the Temple complex. He was signaling that He was removing barriers to a relationship with Yahweh put in place by the religious aristocracy.
He replaced a marketplace with a Bible study, as He taught and preached the gospel in a now restored area of the Temple where Jew and Gentile alike could hear Him. It got the attention of those in power in Jerusalem. Verses 47 and 48 of Luke 19 say the chief priests, scribes, and leaders “were looking for a way to destroy Him.” That motivation drives their every move from now on.
Today we see the first in a series of traps they try to bring Jesus into as a way of discrediting Him with either the people, who loved Him at this point, or the Romans who no doubt were watching with some curiosity from the Antonia Fortress, which overlooked the Temple complex.
1 – 8
From Mark’s account (Mark 11) we discover that this was Tuesday of Passion Week. Jesus was both teaching and proclaiming—the two facets of communicating about God that we still do to this day. We teach God’s Word and we proclaim the good news of the gospel. Since it was nearing Passover I imagine there were throngs of people listening to Him.
Among them were the members of the ruling council of Israel—the Sanhedrin, made up of the Chief Priests, the Scribes, and the elders. It consisted of 70 men, following Numbers 11:16 and Deuteronomy 16:18, where God told Moses to appoint 70 elders to help rule the people. They were considered the Supreme Court of the nation, as well as the legislative branch. They actually met in the Temple area every day except for the Sabbath and on festival days. Two opposing political parties made up the Great Sanhedrin: Sadducees (the priests) and Pharisees (the elders). Also present were scribes, who were basically bureaucrats serving in various levels of government, so they could be thought of as the executive branch of Israeli government.
In throwing out the money changers, Jesus has challenged their authority. They must respond and so come to stomp out this potential rival. But they have to be very careful. If not done right, they could get themselves stoned by the people.
So their first challenge is over Jesus’ authority to throw out the businesses who’d set up in the Temple. They confront Him directly and demand to know by what authority He acted—since in Israel they were the authority, not Him.
I think it is brilliant that Jesus does not answer them directly. To have done so would have moved His timetable forward too quickly, and could have gotten Him sent to the cross before the Passover. Instead, He turns the tables and asks them to first acknowledge the authority of John the Baptist—the last Old Testament prophet who was the forerunner and introducer of his relative Jesus.
Jesus wanted to know whether they would acknowledge John’s mission as having come from God or did they consider him to be just a poser? The group huddles and looks at the options. Notice they are not interested in truth; they only want to discredit Jesus. But they end up in a “no win” situation, realizing that Jesus had put them into His own trap. If they said God had given him the authority to speak, then the question is why didn’t they respond, repent, and prepare for the coming of the Messiah? If they say he acted on his own, the people would rebel because they “were convinced” that John was a prophet.
So they take the cowards way out and say: “Duh, we don’t know.” Because of their refusal to answer, Jesus also refuses to answer their question. It’s no light matter, though. In the end we must all wrestle with whether John, and Jesus, spoke with the authority of God or not. We cannot take a pass like the religious leaders. It is actually a binary choice with serious consequences, as we’ll see in a bit.
9 – 19
This is just one in a string of stories that Jesus tells aimed at the religious leaders of Israel. I said earlier that they had co-opted God’s original plan for Judaism by layering on top of the Law a series of regulations that were man-made schemes to give and maintain power to the leaders, masquerading as attempts to make the people more righteous.
Isaiah 29:13 (ESV) And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men”
Other parables Jesus taught about them are the 10 Minas in Luke 19, and the Parable of the Large Banquet from Luke 14. This one is pretty clear.
The vineyard represents Israel (Isaiah 5:7). The tenant farmers represent the people of Israel but specifically the religious leaders. The slaves represent the prophets, whom God sent into His vineyard to call for repentance and a return to faith in Yahweh. Instead the leaders persecuted, tortured, and killed the prophets (Matthew 23:31) while not repenting at all. Finally, God sent “my beloved son” which represents Jesus.
Here the tenant farmers agreed to kill the son to obtain the vineyard for themselves. This was something that could happen at that time. If there were no heirs, those in possession could own the land. This represents the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah and the religious leader’s plot to destroy Him.
The result is in verse 16 where God will actually destroy those who sought to destroy His Son and focus His attention on the Gentiles (“others” in verse 16).
The leaders understood that He was talking about them but they simply didn’t believe that God would do such a thing. So Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22. The builders are again the religious leaders who rejected the cornerstone, the very heart of what God was doing with humanity. Then comes verse 18 which is significant and worthy of meditation.
We really have two choices. We can throw ourselves on God’s mercy—on the Rock which is Jesus Christ—and be broken. What does that look like? We must see ourselves as lacking the ability to be right with God on our own. We must humble ourselves before Him and seek His salvation and rescue from our sinful condition. If we do that we will be rescued. The other option is to have the rock fall on us—which represents God’s judgment against those that reject His plan and His Son. The result is like the vineyard owner who comes back to destroy His enemies—God will “grind to powder” those that reject His Son Jesus.
This so incensed the scribes and chief priests that they wanted more than anything to “get their hands on Him” but were so afraid of the people that they needed another way. They needed a trap He could not get out of. They thought they found one and it involves a favorite topic: taxes.
20 – 26
This scheme is actually very crafty. Instead of a frontal assault, they attempted to infiltrate the ranks of the disciples, butter Jesus up, then set Him up to be discredited either with the people or with Rome.
Fools! Jesus is way too smart for this trap. He asks to see a denarius, which was a coin used to pay the Roman poll tax. By saying “give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” It’s interesting that Jesus appears to say that we have an obligation to cooperate with civil governments.
Paul echoes this in Romans 13:1-7:
7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
But Jesus goes on to say that the things you owe to God should be paid as well. What belongs to God? Our very souls and our loyalty above all. But that doesn’t take away our responsibility to be good citizens.
The leaders were “amazed” at His answer. He didn’t fall into their trap but managed to make an important point. The result: they became silent, still fuming no doubt.
They aren’t done, but tag out to the Sadducees next time.
There are two points I want to make in conclusion here: what’s your relationship to the Rock and what’s your attitude about civil government.
- 1.The Rock – will it break you, or crush you?
There’s a saying: “The wheels of God’s judgment move slowly but grind thoroughly.” The God of the universe is both loving and just. He’s loving and not only does not want anyone to perish but actually desires a personal relationship with every human. But He’s just and if you have any evil in you, you will indeed perish in His presence (an example is Leviticus 10:1-3 where God’s holiness showed in the form of fire that consumed Aaron’s two sons, who disobeyed the Lord). He is that good. It’s a goodness that destroys evil. God cannot just accept evil. The only way to exist with God is to be as good as He is. And the only way to get that is to throw yourself on God’s Son Jesus who stood in your place before the Father and received on Himself the punishment for your sin. He took on your sin and gave you His goodness. When you fall on Jesus you will find your pride being broken as you change your mind about the evil in your soul and pledge loyalty and trust in His lordship in your life. Otherwise you have to face Him with your own goodness, which means He rolls right over you. Be broken, not crushed.
- 2.Do everything for the Lord, not the government.
Paul the Apostle said: Colossians 3:22-24 (HCSB) Slaves, obey your human masters in everything. Don’t work only while being watched, in order to please men, but work wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ.
So does that extend to obeying human government institutions? Yes.
Titus 3:1 (HCSB) Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work
There are more Scriptures on this like Romans 13:1-7 (which we already saw earlier):
1 Peter 2:13-15 (HCSB) Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the Emperor as the supreme authority 14 or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. 15 For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good.
Paul and Peter wrote these things in an empire where governments could get away with a lot more than they can in a democracy. By being honest and good citizens, we can actually help move people towards the gospel. Now of course that doesn’t mean you disobey God to obey man (see Acts 4:19), and I would also encourage you to vote for the people least opposed to the gospel and be involved as an agent for good. Think of yourself as an ambassador who lives in a foreign country. Your role is to be a good citizen and live your life in a way that brings glory to God!