In Matthew 21:43, Jesus says the kingdom of God will be taken away from the chief priests and Pharisees. This implies that the sinful Pharisees had authority in the kingdom of God. How could those who didn’t believe in Jesus have such authority?
This statement was made in the context of Jesus giving the parable of the wicked tenants (Matt. 21:33-41), and before that the parable of the two sons (vs. 28-32). Matthew and Mark’s accounts show that Jesus was speaking to the chief priests and Pharisees in response to challenges they had given to him (Matt. 21:23-27; Mark 11:27-12:1), but Luke’s account brings out that he was also speaking to the Jewish crowds (Lk. 20:9). Since this took place in the public setting of the temple (Matt. 21:23), it makes sense that crowds of Jews were present and listening (cf. Matt. 21:26).
In the parable of the wicked tenants, the owner of the vineyard sent servants to the vineyard repeatedly to get its fruit, but the tenants continually harmed and killed those servants (vs. 34-36). Finally, the owner of the vineyard sent his son, and the tenants killed him also (vs. 37-39). At this point Jesus asked, “When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” The chief priests and Pharisees replied, “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” (vs. 40-41). At this point Jesus told them, “…the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits” (v. 43). Thus, the owner of the vineyard is God, the son is Jesus, and the servants would be the prophets who had continually been sent to the Jews and rejected and killed. This would make the tenants not only the chief priests and Pharisees, but also the Jews as a whole; it would also make the Gentiles to be the “other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons,” the ones to whom Jesus said the kingdom of God would be given, the “people producing its fruits.”
When the gospel of the kingdom (Acts 8:12) was preached in the Christian age, it was first proclaimed to the Jews (Rom. 1:16; Acts 3:25-26; cf. Acts 1:8). Yet the Jews as a whole rejected the gospel, and so the apostles and prophets proclaimed it to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46-47; 18:5-6; Rom. 11:7-12), who tended to be more receptive to it than the Jews (Acts 13:48). Thus, when Jesus told the chief priests and Pharisees, as well as the Jews who were listening, that “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits,” he was referring to how the gospel would first be preached to the Jews but then would be preached to the Gentiles who would be more open to obeying it after the Jews as a whole rejected it. The perceived implication that the sinful Pharisees would have authority in the kingdom of God is thus mistaken.
One thought on “Bible Q&A: Did the Pharisees Have Authority in the Kingdom of God?”
This is an important verse in Mt that shows how Israel loses their place as God’s people. The gospel is all about the church as the new expression of the Kingdom. Thanks for drawing attention to the verse.