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LIFE > Life in the World > Drinkers of Wine > Jesus and Wine > Wineskins


While Mark and Luke include the Pharisees in the exchange, according to Matthew it was the disciples of John who approached Jesus. They, perhaps Pharisees and disciples of John, came to Jesus questioning His conduct, particularly His fasting; He was not religious enough for their traditionalism and legalism, meaning that He did not meet their standards. He refused to conform to their expectations.

Whereas the Old Testament called for one fast on the annual Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29-34; 23:27; Acts 27:9 refers to “the Fast”), the Pharisees of Jesus’ day fasted twice a week, on Monday and Thursday (Lu. 18:11-12). They pointed out to Jesus that they fasted and John’s disciples fasted. But the disciples of Jesus did not fast, and He, as their teacher, was responsible for their conduct. They wanted to know why Jesus did not force His disciples to fast.

They were concerned because Levi had just left all and followed Christ; and Levi had made a great feast, inviting other tax collectors to the meal. Even sinners came and ate with the One who claimed to be the Lord. At the feast Jesus and His disciples ate and drank; obviously, wine was served and enjoyed, as was the custom. The Pharisees desired to know why Jesus would do such a thing and not fast; they thought Him to be too indulgent. His religious practices were too loose and free. He was not sufficiently austere, and His conduct did not please them.

Jesus informed the Pharisees that the friends of the bridegroom do not fast, they feast (see Jo. 2:1-12; see: The Wedding in Cana). To fast during the time of a wedding would be unthinkable. A fast symbolizes brokenness, sorrow, repentance, and self-abasement; and these sentiments are not appropriate for a wedding, which is a time of joy and festivity.

Jesus is the Bridegroom, and there is no need to fast while He is with his disciples. The presence of the Lord with His people is the basis for their joy and gladness. Thus, He rejected their legalistic and ritualistic fasting. But He was not opposed to a proper fast, for He taught fasting in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:16-18).

In response to their questioning, Jesus gave them two illustrations concerning clothes and wineskins. First, He spoke of garments. He pointed out that new and old garments don’t mix, for old clothes do not hold the stitch with new clothes. He said: “No one puts a piece from a new garment on an old one”; He added: “The piece that was taken out of the new does not match the old” (Lu. 5:36).

Thus, He was teaching them that the old garment of ritualistic Judaism would not accept the new garment of the righteousness of Christ. They could not be fitted. The new must replace the old; they cannot be made to fit together.

Next, He spoke of wineskins, which were a vital part of the viticulture of the people of Palestine. They were formed from the skin of an animal, usually a goat or sheep. The skin was tanned; and all the openings, feet and tail, were tied with cords, with the neck left open to receive the wine.

New wineskins were always used for new wine. You would not “put new wine (oinos) into old wineskins” (Matt. 9:17). For the new wine as it finished its fermentation would burst the old, dry, and stretched wineskins. Old wineskins could not contain new wine. “New wine must be put into new wineskins” (Mk. 2:22) that are flexible and stretchable.

Jesus was saying that the old age is passing away, and the new age is coming. The old cannot contain the new. Judaism would not be able to contain the new light and liberty brought by the Gospel. Jesus is proclaiming that His ministry will not fit into their legalistic stretched religion; therefore, He would not submit to their pious expectations. They understood exactly what Jesus was saying because wineskins were used every fall during the grape harvest, and each fall new wineskins replaced old wineskins.

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