It has already been noted that Jesus was “proclaiming the Gospel” (20:1) in the Temple courts, thus provoking the challenge as to His rightful authority to do and say what He was doing and saying. What was the Gospel?
The recipient of Luke’s narrative, as well as those that would be the primary audience for his record of the life and ministry of Jesus, would have already understood that the Gospel message was that Jesus is the Lord of all (in a world where the regularly pronounced and well understood gospel message was that Caesar is lord of all). Backing up into the nineteenth chapter to find support for the idea that this was part of Jesus’ Gospel pronouncement (as He was now openly challenging the Temple authorities, and doing so in a way that would provoke a response by the civil authorities as well), one reads about Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem, in which it was pronounced “with a loud voice” (19:37), “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (19:38)
To that, Luke adds that “some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, ‘Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if they keep silent, the very stones will cry out!’” (19:39-40) Here, Jesus allows Himself to be voiced as the king. By His own words (using rather obvious hyperbole about the ability of stones to make a point---perhaps an ironic point about the stones of the Temple itself, which Jesus will soon say will be “thrown down”?---stones are a recurring theme here in the latter part of Luke), Jesus indicates that this pronouncement of His Gospel will never cease.
Quite interestingly, though the Pharisees (along with the experts in the law) have composed one half of the chief antagonists to this point in Luke’s telling, they drop out of sight after this statement. From this point on, the antagonists are only going to be the chief priests and the experts in the law, with an appearance by the Sadducees coming later in the twentieth chapter. What is it that accounts for this turn of events? How is it that the Pharisees, according to Luke’s presentation, have no hand in the events of the twentieth through twenty-fourth chapters of Luke?
While the Gospels of Matthew and John have the Pharisees involved, at some level, in Jesus’ arrest and execution and the plot to counter the story of the Resurrection, Luke does not. Neither, for that matter, does Mark. Though one cannot know precisely why the Pharisees drop out of Mark at a point that is roughly equivalent to the time that they drop out of Luke (apart from the fact that Luke is said to rely heavily on Mark in the construction of his narrative), one can confidently surmise as to the reason why the Pharisees, who have been the constant companion of the experts in the law, drop out of Luke precisely as the events that will lead to Jesus arrest and crucifixion begin to unfold.
It is possible that this has to do with a number of Pharisees, following the Resurrection and in the formative years of the church, being won to the claims of the Gospel and joining the growing community of adherents to the covenant rooted in the confession of Jesus as Lord of all. As it relates to Luke’s work, evidence of this can be seen in the book of Acts. In the fifteenth chapter of Acts, it is reported that the Pharisees have a role in the church community, as Luke there records that “some from the religious party of the Pharisees who had believed stood up and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise the Gentiles and to order them to observe the law of Moses.’” (15:5). Though the opinion that would be rendered by the church council would come to weigh against that opinion, it does demonstrate that some Pharisees had joined the Jesus movement. This may serve to explain why Luke withdraws the Pharisees from his narrative at the point of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.