(Matt. 9:16-17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37-38)
The disciples of John the Baptist were upset with Jesus’ disciples because they did not fast. Fasting was one of the three most important religious duties, along with prayer and almsgiving. Jesus gave a simple explanation.
There is a time for fasting and a time for feasting (or celebrating). In the narrative, fasting of which the Pharisees made much, was an old garment, for which a new piece of cloth was useless. It was like trying to put new wine into old wineskins. The whole system Jesus came to create was not something to be crowded into an old order but was something new. He goes on to warn his disciples about the danger of the “closed mind” that refuses to learn new things. Jesus uses the images of mended garments and wineskins to make plain His teaching on the nature of the Kingdom.
The Parable Explained
In this parable, Jesus is contrasting the old Mosaic covenant with the new covenant as foretold by the prophets and revealed in the New Testament. The old covenant is a performance-based salvation. One is saved if they live up to a certain level of performance. The new is a salvation-based performance. One is saved through the forgiveness of sins, which requires only faith in Christ’s atoning work. Having been saved, God regenerates the person, causing them to live a lifestyle consistent with that of a child of God. The old covenant is made ineffective by man’s innate sinful nature. Man has holes in his garments due to sin. But although sinful man fails to keep God’s standards, he believes that Christ came simply to help him become a better person so that he can be justified by his performance. He then tries to cut a patch out of the gospel and attach it to his old garment which does not work.
As for the second analogy, in Jesus’ times, wine was stored in wineskins, not bottles. No one would think of putting new wine into an old skin. New wine poured into skins was still fermenting. The gases exerted gave pressure. New wine skins were elastic enough to take the pressure, but old wine skins easily burst because they could not withstand the fermentation process. Unfermented wine must be put into new bottles. Wine, when fermentation is complete, can be put into any bottle, whether new or old, without harming the bottle, and without harm to the wine. However, the Pharisees of old, persisted in believing that the old wine of the Law was better (Luke 5:39).
The Parable Amplified
The interpretation of this parable is clearly identifiable. Christ virtually supersedes the old Levitical law and offers a charter of a new freedom. To force His teachings into the old formula would bring decomposition and ruin. To take His truth and try to press it into some other form than His would be to make it deteriorate, as unfermented wine. The same principle applies to sewing new cloth on to old, frayed garments. The old garment of our sinful, selfish life cannot be mended. It must experience regeneration or the production of a new garment or creation. By “new cloth” we are to understand a piece of unshrunk cloth in its freshness and strongest state. Because such a piece of cloth does not agree with the worn-out garment, to patch it on to such would tear the cloth around it and result in a worse rent.
As we look at the parable of The New Cloth and New Wine, there are some symbolic truths to be gleaned from the passage to take personal inventory for our lives.
The Parable Applied
Are we to reject the old in place of the new? Just as there is a right place and a right time for fasting and for feasting, so there is a right place for the old as well as the new. Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old (Matthew 13:52). How impoverished we would be if we only had the Old Testament or the New Testament, rather than both. The Lord gives us wisdom so we can make the best use of both the old and the new. He does not want us to hold rigidly to the past and to be resistant to the new work of His Holy Spirit in our lives. He wants us to be clothed in the new garments of his righteousness. He wants our minds and hearts to be like the new wine skins — open and ready to receive the new wine of the Holy Spirit.
Applicatory Truth: Righteousness by faith is independent of the Law of Moses.
The Climax of the Kingdom
God’s complete rule will one day come!