Jesus Defends His Disciples

Written by Pastor James Dorman


Matthew 9:14-17; Mark 2:18-22; Luke 5:33-39

 1. Thoughts from Matthew, Mark and Luke:

Matthew 9:14–17 (NIV84)  “Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. 16 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. 17 Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

 Mark 2:18–22 (NIV84)  “Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” 19 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. 20 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. 21 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. 22 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.”

Luke 5:33–39 (NIV84)  “They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.” 34 Jesus answered, “Can you make the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? 35 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.” 36 He told them this parable: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’ ”


2. Passage Outline

Jesus Defends His Disciples”

Matthew 9:14-17; Mark 2:18-22; Luke 5:33-39

 I. John’s Disciples Question the Feasting of Jesus’ Disciples (Matt. 9:14; Mk. 2:18; Luke 5:33

II. Jesus’ Offers His Defense via a Parable (Matt. 9:15; Mk. 2:19-20; Lk. 5:34-35)

III. Jesus Provides Examples (Matt 9:16-17; Mark 2:21-22; Luke 5:36-39):

a. New Patch for an Old Garment (Matt. 9:16; Mark 2:21; Luke 5:36)

b. New Wine and Old Wineskins (Matt. 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37-39)


 3. Information to Consider

Fasting (5:33–39)

33. Jesus’ disciples were too cheerful. They did not practice mournful fasts and this puzzled some. Though the only fast prescribed in the law was that on the Day of Atonement, fasting was practiced by John the Baptist’s followers and by those of the Pharisees. So they asked Jesus why his disciples did not conform to this widespread practice. The reference to offering prayers probably means set prayers at fixed hours. Luke makes it very clear that Jesus and his followers prayed often. And indeed here, though Jesus agrees that his followers do not fast, he does not say the same about prayer.

34–35. ‘Wedding guests don’t fast’ is the gist of Jesus’ answer. His presence brings joy like that of a wedding party. Really to follow him is to enter a happy experience. While he is with them his disciples cannot fast; but he does envisage a day when he will be taken away from them. This surely refers to the cross (there may be the notion of violence in the verb aparthē). When this happens they will fast. Jesus does not say ‘will be made to fast’ (cf. the question in v. 34), and he seems to refer to voluntary fasting.

36. He adds a parable (the word can denote a short, pithy saying as well as a story). He takes it from the homely practice of patching clothes. To patch an old garment with a piece torn from a new one is to spoil both, the new by being torn and the old by having a patch that does not match. Mark’s version is slightly different. He speaks of a piece of ‘unshrunk cloth’ used as a patch, when its greater strength will make it tear away from the old, thus making a worse tear than the one it mended. Clearly the illustration was used more than once in slightly different forms.

37–39. Another illustration is taken from wineskins. The flesh and bones of animals, usually goats, were removed, leaving the skins intact. They could then be used as containers for liquids. At first they were fairly elastic, but when old they lacked this quality and could easily burst under stress. Jesus says that new wine put into old skins means burst skins and spilled wine. New wine must be put into fresh wineskins. Both this and the previous illustration drive home the point that Jesus is not simply patching up Judaism: he is teaching something radically new. If the attempt is made to constrict this within the old wineskins of Judaism (e.g. by imposing fasting), the result will be disastrous. He sees that this teaching will not be palatable to some. A man drinking old wine does not want even to try the new. The old is good, he says (not ‘better’, as the margin). He is not even comparing them. He is so content with the old that he does not consider the new for a moment. ‘It’s the old that’s good!’[1]


4. Questions to Ponder

a. What was the effect on Jesus’ Disciples re Jesus’ saying found in Luke 5:35

b. Explain the three figures Jesus used.

c. What is the force of Luke 5:39

d. What precedent is established here for Christians’ re Christians fasting today?


5. Author’s Comments

From the moment of Adam’s and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden, humanity has sought to experience the relationship with God they experienced and enjoyed.  A type of relationship the disciples may have experienced during Jesus’ time with them on Earth.

Within the Gospels, we find numerous references regarding the lifestyle of Jesus, His disciples, and the relationships they experienced with one another.  In these three Gospel passages, we find criticisms being levied against Jesus and the disciples by the Pharisees.  Criticisms based upon their understanding of what they believed to be the godly life and where Jesus and His followers deviated from their expectations.

The Pharisees were a devout group of Godly followers who sought to connect with God based upon their understanding of what represented a Godly lifestyle.  The Pharisees based their understanding on what they had learned from the Torah (Scripture) and the Mishnah (oral interpretation established by Rabbis).  In this case, they believed Jesus and His disciples had not dedicated themselves enough to the spiritual discipline of fasting.  In response to the criticism, Jesus reveals feasting is as much a spiritual discipline as fasting and used a “wedding feast” to further explain His reasoning.

As we pursue our Christian lives today, we face the some of the same challenges as the Pharisees.  To ensure we are pursuing a Godly life today, we need to be sure we are eliminating any activities engaging libertinism (behaviors beyond Godly parameters) or reflecting legalism (behaviors which limit our full participation in the Christian life) – behaviors which take us away from what God desires us to experience in our connection with Him.

To experience the best relationship, we can have with God, we must seek to develop our relationship with God through an orthodox exploration of Scripture and an ever-deepening personal walk with the God who loves us.  A process which will call us to seasons of both fasting and feasting – a connection built on a foundation reflecting key elements of relationship rather than religion.


6. Closing Prayer


As we pause to reflect upon all You mean to us, please know how much we love and revere You.  You are our Creator – the person for whom we owe our very existence.

We ask You to help us establish, develop, and enjoy our ever-deepening connection with You.  Thank you for connecting with us!  Thank you, Jesus, for doing everything necessary to allow our connection with God to occur.  And, may we pursue our love for you until we see you face-to-face.

In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!


7. Answers to “Questions to Ponder”

a. The disciples followed the example of Jesus in their joyful attitude toward life. They had been becoming more engaged in experiencing the joy and freedom from the slavery of Rabbinic tradition.  The day of God’s Kingdom had come and the disciples were experiencing a new and genuine joy in the fellowship in this new season of God’s Kingdom!

b. (1) The Bridal Party – the sons of the bride-chamber are the disciples. As such, they were unable to mourn because of the presence of the Bridegroom, Jesus.  Upon his departure, the party would initiate a season of fasting and mourning.

(2) Patch on the Garment – The New Covenant cannot become just another aspect of the Old Covenant.  The Old Covenant cannot become the basis for the New Covenant.  Once the New has been initiated the Old will fade into history.

(3) Wineskins – new wine must be put into new wineskins. If not, as the new wine ferments, it will burst the old wineskins.

c. Man tends to disparage change.  This tendency allows most people to establish a traditional vs.  orthodoxy view.  We must strive for truth and eliminate traditional pursuits in our desire to remain true to Christianity.

d. Christians today have the freedom to fast. They have the choice whether to participate in fasting or to abstain.  There is no clear NT ordinance, But, Jesus has left us and we may choose to pursue seasons of mourning in His absence.




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[1] Morris, L. (1988). Luke: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 3, pp. 141–142). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.