As Jesus’ popularity grew, so did the opposition He received from the contemporary Jewish leadership (Luke 12:1; 14:7-14; 18:9-14). Jesus opposed the Pharisees’ selfishness and used His debates with them to instruct His disciples in kingdom values, especially financial generosity. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because of their selfishness and misapplication of the Old Testament. Since the Jewish leadership neglected the demands for mercy present in the Law and the Prophets, they were unable to comprehend the greater demands for unselfishness and generosity that Jesus set forth as means of participation in God’s kingdom. Jesus admonished the Pharisees for not recognizing His unique relationship with the Old Testament.
(1) In Luke 15:1-2, the Pharisees grumbled because Jesus showed hospitality to sinners, setting aside Mosaic commands related to ritual purity. In Leviticus 11 Moses catalogued animals that were unclean, commanding Israel to abstain from touching or eating them lest the nation compromise its pure status before the Lord. Moses reiterated these commands in Deut 14:3-21. The Pharisees interpreted Moses’ commands as a basis for separating from Gentiles and ceremonially unclean individuals at meals. The righteous should not associate with the unrighteous, they thought. Even the Psalms begin with the righteous happily separating themselves from the wicked: “How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path of sinners, or join a group of mockers!” (Ps 1:1). Accordingly, Luke reported, “All the tax collectors and sinners were approaching to listen to Him. And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!’” (Luke 15:1-2). The misplaced pride of the Jewish leadership occasioned Jesus’ parables of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, and Lost Son (Luke 15:3-32). While the Jewish leadership rejoiced over their separation from unclean sinners, heaven rejoiced over the lost being found.
(2) In Luke 16:16, Jesus said that the Law and Prophets were until John and that the kingdom of God had arrived in Himself. In essence, Jesus announced that a new standard of judgment had arrived; no longer could one point to a passage of the Law or Prophets to show their righteousness (Matt 11:12-13//Mark 13:31//Luke 16:16-17). God knows the heart, and Jesus’ ministry revealed people’s hearts in a way that the Law and the Prophets could not. The Pharisees—thinking they could employ the law to acquit themselves—were all the more guilty because the law actually pointed to Jesus and they should have recognized Him. Jesus thus reinforced the place of the law as the arrow pointing to Him, saying, “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter in the law to drop out” (Luke 16:16-17).
(3) In Luke 16:29-31, Jesus taught that if someone rejected the witness of the Law and the Prophets, they would not repent even if someone rose from the dead to testify of God’s judgement. The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) illustrated Jesus’ point in Luke 16:16-17 that the Old Testament witnessed to Himself. The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus reinforced the theme of financial stewardship that Jesus introduced in the Parable of the Lost Son and was still on the minds of the Pharisees after the Parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:14). In the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, a poor, ill man was left at the rich man’s gate. Both men died, but in the afterlife their circumstances were inverted. Abraham said to the rich man, “Remember that during your life you received your good things, just as Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here, while you are in agony” (Luke 16:25). In the context of Jesus’ diatribe with the Pharisees in Luke 15-16, Abraham’s statements in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus reinforced what Jesus taught about money and salvation history. Jesus’ point was that the Pharisees were guilty by their own standard; they used the Old Testament as an excuse for their greed and selfishness. Since the Pharisees had rejected the Old Testament pointers to Jesus, they would certainly not accept the witness of His resurrection.