Luke 20:41–21:4 . . . Bible Study Summary with Videos and Questions

Jesus Stops the Pharisees' Questions by Asking Them His Own

Last week's passage, Luke 20:27–40, covered yet another argument between Jesus and the Jewish leaders about the Torah. Therein, the Sadducees asked Jesus a question about resurrection and marriage. It wasn't a truth-seeking question; instead, the purpose of the Sadducees' question was to stump Jesus, thereby furthering their dogma. Today's argument or contest (presented in Luke's first of three segments for this passage) is again different than earlier challenges or arguments (shown in this list) wherein Jesus and his conversation partners went back and forth. Now, instead of answering Jewish leaders' difficult questions, Jesus poses to them his own question.

Segment 1 (vv. 41–44): Whose Son Is the Messiah?

In the context of people crying out, "Hosanna to the Son of David," Jesus asked the Pharisees a question about the meaning of Psalm 110, which David had written by the Spirit's power about a thousand years earlier. Here's the actual text from David, beginning with vv. 1–2, which might confuse those of us who are first-time readers: "The Lord said to my Lord: 'Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.'"

Paraphrasing Psalm 110, Jesus appears to have asked the nearby Pharisees: How is it that you say that Christ [Messiah] is David's son? After all, everyone agreed that Messiah would come from the physical line of David, and thus he was called the son of David, testifying to his humanity. But Messiah had to be more than just a son because David called Messiah "my Lord," which gave testimony to his deity. He wouldn't only be an earthly king, he'd be a divine Savior. So Jesus questioned the Pharisees again, in effect asking: If David called Messiah 'my Lord,' how can he be his son? He was saying, You understand that I'm from David's lineage. How come David, who's supposed to be my father, turns to Jehovah God and calls Messiah, 'My Lord'? What Jesus did in one stroke was to show the Pharisees — yet again — that they didn't know the Scriptures, nor the power of God either. Messiah was to come as God-Man, fully God and fully human.

The Pharisees used the term "Son of David" to refer to the Christ, the Messiah. David was revered as Israel's greatest king, and the Messiah was seen by the Jews as restoring David's kingdom to its original glory. But Jesus points out to them what David, the author of the clearly Messianic Psalm 110, says: "The LORD (that is, God or Yahweh) said to my (i.e., David's) Lord (i.e., Jesus). . ." David is clearly referring to the Messiah as his superior, as his Lord. Here the Messiah is worthy of the allegiance of his own ancestor, David. So Jesus asked the scribes, "How then can he be his son?"

If the Pharisees and scribes were to take too much glory from Jesus' defeat of the Sadducees, Jesus seems to be saying to them that they didn't really understand the Messiah, nor the age to come, any better themselves. After this, Jesus was no longer asked trick questions. His opponents were intimidated by his superior understanding of the Scriptures and his ability to articulate them clearly. The Pharisees were between a rock and a hard place. They knew that Jesus and the people were proclaiming him as the long-promised Messiah. They also knew that if they said that David was calling Messiah his Lord because he was God, then they couldn't object to the claim of Jesus — the son of David according to the flesh — to be the Son of God, and they should all fall down before him and worship him. So the Pharisees refused to answer Jesus. Our Lord, the God-Man and Servant-Leader, looking forward to his own resurrection, understood the promise of his Father that, after his ascension and glory, he'd be seated at the right hand of the Father, and all his enemies would become a footstool at his feet.

Segment 2 (vv. 45–47): Warning Against the Teachers of the Law

In Luke's next segment of today's three-part passage, we see that our Lord Jesus warned his disciples about the hypocritical scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. He was saying: When they teach the law correctly, listen and obey, even though you mustn't walk in their hypocritical lifestyles. But at this moment the Sadducees are wrong in their view of the resurrection, and the Pharisees are wrong in their view of Messiah, looking only for the human seed of David, not God in the flesh.

The "teachers of the Law" (v. 46) are probably the same group as the "scribes and Pharisees." Jesus was teaching his disciples to be wary around the teachers of the Law, preventing themselves from becoming like them. The word translated "beware" is Greek prosecho, "to be in a state of alert, be concerned about, care for, take care." Here it means, "beware of, be on one's guard against something." In Luke, Jesus characterizes these "teachers of the Law" in these six ways: (1) They like to walk around in flowing robes, attempting to proudly be seen and recognized as scholars; (2) they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, as "great ones" because they're rabbis who suffer from excessive pride; (3) they want or love to have the most important seats in the synagogues, which emphasizes unnecessarily their authority and influence; (4) they love to have places of honor at banquets, beside the master of the house or the host; (5) they devour widows' houses, epitomizing the harmful capacities of unscrupulous but pious Pharisees; and (6) for show, they pray lengthy prayers, albeit for appearance sake, prayed only to impress people, not God.

What a scathing indictment of the "teachers of the Law"! Jesus warned his disciples, fearing that the leaders of the Christian church would become corrupted by pride, greed, and hypocrisy, saying, "These men will be punished most severely." Punishment for the teachers of the Law will be greater because they've led people astray. . . How are you, one of Jesus' disciples, doing at eliminating a connection with or participation in pride? How about greed? And hypocrisy? If you're unable to defend yourself against one or more of those indictments, beware Jesus' sobering seven-word warning (v. 47b).

Segment 3 (vv. 21:1–4): The Widow's Offering

Ever since Jesus neared Jerusalem (see our study of Luke 19:28–44), Luke's Gospel records one confrontation after another. This segment's four short verses about the widow contributing her meager offering comes to us like a breath of fresh air. From the list of challenges made against Jesus (found above, in the second paragraph), see a few verses from chapter 20 that show the extreme contrast between the wealth and pride of Jesus' adversaries and the simple piety of the poverty-stricken widow. Earlier, Jesus had contrasted a proud Pharisee with a repentant tax collector praying in the temple (see our summary of 18:9–14). Now he again contrasts the rich with the poor. This passage provides a lesson from which we hearty disciples can learn. Seemingly, these four verses were placed by Luke, following the two preceding segments, so as to contrast the Pharisees' attitudes and lifestyles, showing how God's ways differ so greatly from those men. The Pharisees loved riches; they viewed wealth as an evidence of piety. God, in their minds, would be impressed by their wealth and would be especially pleased by the size of their contributions. In these last verses, Jesus has condemned the "rich and famous" and commended the insignificant monetary gift of a widow. While the Pharisees have "devoured widows' houses," it's the gift of one such widow that's the focus of our Lord's praise and instruction.

People in the temple watched the rich ostentatiously depositing their large offerings. But no one saw or noticed the poverty-stricken widow who reached into her rags to withdraw two thin coins, depositing them into the collection box. No one saw the look of joy on her face as she gave to her Lord the little she had. Her offering to God was an insignificant amount of money, yet it pleased Jesus greatly because it meant a lot to her; it was her life, her livelihood, all that she had to live on. In giving her substantial offering of "two very small copper coins," she evidenced her trust in God to provide for her needs and sustain her life. Her trust was in her God, not in her money. Poverty was no reason to limit or prevent her giving to God. How many of us, on the other hand, wait to have all of our needs met first, before we give God our leftovers?

But God noticed her; so did God's Son, asking his disciples, Did you see that? They looked where he was pointing, but all they saw was a weary widow shuffling away from the collection box. But he continued, "All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." Jesus was and is talking about proportional giving. What a rebuke to those of us who excuse ourselves from obedience to God because we feel that we have so little to give him. It's not the size of your gift to God but the sacrifice and faith that prompted you to give it that Jesus praises.

Concluding Thoughts

The leaders of the nation Israel didn't reject Jesus' deity because they failed to understand his claim to be God, nor because the Old Testament failed to indicate that Messiah would be both divine and human, but because to do so would have required them to submit to his authority, to obey and worship him, to repent of their sinfulness, and to cease receiving the glory, praise, and preeminence that their leadership roles had provided them. They, unlike the humble widow, and unlike David, wouldn't place their trust in Jesus, nor render to him the worship and adoration he deserved. As did Satan, they'd glory in their position and power. Not content with what God had given them, they'd attempt to usurp that which belongs only to God. Their animosity toward Jesus was so great that they'd rather have a pagan (Caesar) for their king, than Messiah.

Besides limiting divine revelation to that which can be humanly grasped and understood, the Pharisees and Sadducees limited themselves and others to an "either/or" mentality. Either you obeyed God or government; surely you couldn't, shouldn't do both; thus, they asked about paying taxes (as highlighted in our summary of 20:20–26). Jesus' approach differed significantly by saying that both God and government should be obeyed. Sadly, in their minds, either Messiah was man or he was God; they never realized that Jesus might have been a God-Man.

It Makes You Wonder . . .
  • Q. 1  First segment: To whom did Jesus ask his question about the Messiah? What effect did his question have on them?
  • Q. 2  Second segment: In what way are church leaders susceptible to the sins of the "teachers of the Law" (vv. 45–47)?
  • Q. 3  Third segment: How large are your gifts to God in proportion to how much you have left after the bills are paid?

This Week's Passage
Luke 20:41–21:4 (Lukas)

New International Version (NIV)
[To view it in a different version, click here; also listen to chapter 20 and 21.]

 Watch this passage-specific video clip from Jesus Film Project titled "Widow's Offering."

Whose Son Is the Messiah?

41Then Jesus said to them, "Why is it said that the Messiah is the son of David? 42David himself declares in the Book of Psalms:       "'The Lord said to my Lord:
          "Sit at my right hand
      43until I make your enemies
          a footstool for your feet."'    [Psalm 110:1]

44David calls him 'Lord.' How then can he be his son?"

Warning Against the Teachers of the Law

45While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, 46"Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 47They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely."

The Widow's Offering

21  As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3"Truly I tell you," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."