Did you know that life in Bible times necessitated wineskin use for the average family, similarly to an average family’s need today for milk jugs, for example?
In Jesus’ day, wineskins were common, necessary, and multi-faceted. They could be shaken to churn yogurt, butter, or cheese. They also held water or wine for the thirsty. Usually, wineskins were made from the hides of animals, especially goats.
Women would put milk in them, leaving it for a couple of days to spoil. Then, they would be able to shake it for a few hours, making yogurt, milk, or cheese for their families. Fresh-squeezed juice or water could be contained inside these goatskins and carried to provide drink when they journeyed for the festivals or for other reasons.
Grape juice could also be allowed to ferment within the wineskins, causing the animal’s hide to expand. As the yeast inside did its job, the hide must be able to stretch without bursting. Else, the wine was spilled and all of the potential of the juice wasted.
Jesus spoke of this well-known fact to His hearers in Luke chapter 5. Just before His discourse involving wineskins, He was questioned about His disciples and fasting. Jesus made clear that the time when a bridegroom is present with his friends postpones the time for fasting and mourning, which comes once the groom departs. Jesus clearly is the bridegroom here, so fasting at this point was unnecessary. (Also see Matthew 9 and Mark 2.)
He then immediately gave this parable in Luke 5:36-39, where he spoke of spiritual truths using two everyday examples: cloth and wineskins. The imagery depicted here carried a powerful punch to His Words, driving home the spiritual understanding of them. Jesus clearly explained how a new patch of cloth on an old garment would pull and shrink, thereby creating a tear. In the same manner, new wine poured into brittle, hardened wineskins would cause them to burst as the fermentation process occurred.
Therefore, He declared, “But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved. And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, ‘The old is better.’” (Luke 5:38-39)
Wineskins that were not massaged or soaked regularly in oil, but rather set aside for extended time periods, became brittle and cracked. When new wine was poured into them, the old hides would attempt to expand but be unable to do so, due to the inflexibility of the hardened skins. The result: the skins would burst. Both the skins and the wine would be wasted, completely ruined.
Therefore, new wine required a new wineskin, or an old one made new through reconditioning. Old wineskins did not have to be thrown away. Some could go through a process to be made new. A process of soaking to soften them up. Once renewed, they would be supple and soft again. In this renewed state, they could receive the new wine, having been made pliable and expandable anew.
With this fundamental understanding of the condition of the wineskins of Jesus’ parable, the next logical question might be, “What is the new wine?”
Wine in Scripture often symbolizes the Holy Spirit. For instance, notice the immediate contrast used by both Peter and Paul in two different examples where natural wine and spiritual wine are distinguished. In Acts 2, mockers in the crowd assumed that these disciples of Jesus were “drunk with wine,” a mischaracterization that Peter immediately corrects in verses 14-17. He attests that this outpouring fulfills Joel’s prophecy from hundreds of years earlier, which spoke of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Later, Paul instructed believers in Ephesians 5:18 not to be “drunk with wine, wherein is excess,” but rather to be “filled (continually “being filled” in Greek) with the Spirit.” Again, showing the contrast between natural wine and the Holy Spirit, Paul explained more about the “new wine” of which Jesus prophesied.
I believe the “new wine” of Scripture can easily be understood as the fresh work of the Holy Spirit, perhaps even breaking from traditions of the past to enliven the new things God is bringing. Not to discount all of the past, however, because the past works of God form the foundation upon which the new can be built. As with any house construction, a foundation must be laid in order to have a solid building erected, one which can stand and provide benefit for years to come.
I see the old wine as metaphorically representing the basis and foundation, with the old wineskins being those steeped well in the old ways of God: the foundational truths of prior Scriptures and tradition. In other words, Jesus arose on the scene with the new wine, the fresh works of God. However, they are not baseless. Jesus always attested, and never violated, the Old Testament Scriptures. Rather, He showed the richness of them as He completed them all and brought them to their fulfillment. Every type and shadow from the Old find realization in Yeshua the Messiah of the New. The Old Covenant pointed the way to Jesus in the New, bringing to full completion Jeremiah’s prophesy of this New Covenant God was making. (See Jeremiah 31:31-35)
However, Jesus recognized a problem here.
The old wineskins He mentioned had become crusted and brittle, steeped in their rigid tradition and unable to accept the Messiah who walked among them. They couldn’t receive the new building God was doing, even though the foundation remained intact. He didn’t come like they expected. He didn’t look like they thought He would. He didn’t act or respond as they desired. And, He didn’t appear to be intent on delivering them from their oppressive rulers of the day.
He spoke more of love, humility, and relationship than they could swallow. His disciples seemed to break their “rules” without any reprimand. And Jesus challenged their understanding of God’s previous Word. So, instead of allowing the oil of the Holy Spirit or the water of the Word to massage them and make them pliable, they became hardened and resistant to this spiritual new wine.
The issue at hand proved this point. They questioned Him concerning the “fasting” matter, showing their rigid traditional understanding and their judgmental nature. Clearly, they were brittle and would burst were any new wine poured into them, in this condition.
But, notice Jesus’ answer, and see His love anew. In His answer, we surmise a depth of care – not just for the new wine. But, also for the old wineskins. Jesus did not want either of them to be wasted and ruined.
Tucked into this answer, Jesus offers an opportunity for the old wineskins to escape ruin, see their true condition as rigid, and become pliable again so they can be preserved and receive the new wine later. Jesus did not desire any waste and preferred that all join Him and receive His fresh work joyfully. He longed for all His people to welcome His new work of the Holy Spirit. He even made provision for this to occur.
We even see this in His further explanation. When He says the new wine requires new wineskins, He makes it clear that both are preserved. I see a glimpse of His heart here. The new wine is to be poured into those who are ready and willing to accept it. But also the old can be made new. The old skins can be softened – and both be preserved.
Looking a bit deeper, we see that the Scriptures clarify further Jesus’ declaration that the new wine requires new wineskins. In this revelation, we see the “why.” Why did Jesus say it’s necessary for the new wine to be poured into new wineskins? Why is He so concerned that the new wine and the old wineskins both not be ruined and wasted? Let’s consider these two questions in reverse order, which will lead us to appreciate Jesus’ emphasis.
Concern for the Old Wineskins and New Wine
In Jesus’ parable, I found an obvious, and a non-so-obvious, issue raised by Jesus concerning old wineskins receiving new wine. The obvious comes from the natural understanding that His Jewish audience would clearly comprehend. Old wineskins would burst in the fermentation process. In that condition, they would be ruined and good for nothing but to be thrown away at that time.
In their current condition, rigid and crusted, old wineskins still had a chance to be softened. There remained an opportunity to be made new again. They didn’t have to be discarded due to complete ruin.
Jesus’ desire for them here shines in this statement. He was willing and able to soak and massage them with His Word and His Holy Spirit so that they could receive His fresh works and not be rejected. Do you hear the loving heart of Jesus here? I do. I believe this was His way of attempting to open their eyes to their true condition, as well as reveal to them His heart’s desire for them to repent and receive Him. He didn’t just reject them without giving them an opportunity to change. And He still doesn’t today. He loves all people and offers everyone this same invitation. This just proves how much He sincerely does not desire that “any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
The Necessity of New Wineskins
The reason Jesus declares that new wine can only be poured into new wineskins is because of the importance of the new wine! His emphasis derives from the purpose and mission of the new wine.
So, what is the importance of new wine? What exactly is it, and why is it so vital that great care should be taken so that it is preserved?
In reading through the Scriptures a few days ago, I was truly arrested by a verse in the prophet Isaiah that supplied me a deeper understanding into the answer for these questions. Isaiah 65:8 states, “Thus says the LORD: As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one says, ‘Do not destroy it, for a blessing is in it,…”
The Lord foretells with that verse that He is going to deliver a remnant of His people and bless them again. But, notice, some key facts about the “new wine” that Isaiah gives us:
The new wine that Jesus brings contains the great treasure of a “blessing.” God throughout Scripture is a Blesser. How many passages prove this point to us? For instance, in Genesis, God blessed creation and mankind (1:22, 28), the Sabbath day (2:3), Noah (9:1), Abram (14:18-19), Jacob (32:22-32), and Joseph (39:20-23).
The pattern continued all through the Old Testament Scriptures with Moses, David, Solomon, Ezra, and Nehemiah, just to name a few. God even dictated a blessing to be released over His people every day. (See Numbers 6:22-27)
To fully grasp the depth of the “blessing” that Jesus’ new wine carries, we need to understand the concept of “blessing.” The Hebrew word (“barak”) implies a kneeling to provide a gift or benefit. Paul Wilbur brings deeper insight through a series of teachings he shared recently on his mobile app, Wilbur Ministries. He emphasized the word’s treasured meaning as “to be endued by God with power for success, prosperity, long life, fruit that remains. All of this wrapped up in that one Hebrew word…Anything that God blesses, He empowers.”
The blessing signifies a special touch by God upon what He blesses so that it prospers and has success to accomplish its good work. God equips people who receive the blessing so that they can overcome. Understanding the blessing that the new wine contains shows us how precious the new wine is. It must be treasured and handled with care. The core of its importance lies in the precious cargo it contains.
Jesus demands new wineskins because He longs to get the blessing of the new wine to everyone who is thirsty. To everyone who will receive it.
To accomplish that, He prophesies that He is pouring new wine into new wineskins so that it can be given to those thirsty souls, who will then receive the blessing He intends to give them.
Another Scripture from the Old Testament further defines the blessing. Psalm 133:3 says, “…For there the LORD commanded the blessing: Life forevermore.” God, the Blesser in heaven, sent Jesus Christ to the earth to deliver the blessing contained in the new wine to every person who will receive it. This requires that He pour it into new wineskins, those who are pliable and have a soft and open heart. His fresh work of grace is all about the delivery of eternal life to those who are hungry for it.
The Gospel of John focuses on this core of Jesus’ mission. He speaks often of eternal, or everlasting, life as the end goal and the reward for all. He even defines it as his purpose in writing his gospel in John 20:31 where he states, “but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”
John also records Jesus’ prayer in John 17, where He defines eternal life for us: “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.” Eternal life can be summed up by knowing Jesus – the highest calling and invitation of men or women. To enter a covenant relationship with Jesus by faith through salvation remains the highest honor and privilege of life. Paul concurs in Philippians 3:8, where he defines the most excellent thing in all of life, the superior goal above any other, as knowing Jesus Christ.
Knowing Jesus in covenant translates into a vibrant and growing relationship with Him, similarly to that of a newlywed couple who marries one another. Although not in a human sense, yet the knowledge of Jesus is taught as a marriage: Christ is the groom, and the Bride is His Church, whi includes every believer in Yeshua Jesus, both Jew and Gentile. As a bride with her groom, so we can grow in a relationship with our Groom, Jesus. Daily spending time with Him in prayer and worship. Reading His love letter to us, the Scriptures. These build a bond of relationship that we can thrive from.
The new wine of the fresh grape cluster from Isaiah’s writings contains a blessing that Jesus doesn’t want spilled.
That blessing is eternal life, a real relationship with Jesus, the Son of God. Jesus came to fill us and others with His new wine. But He needs soft and pliable vessels in us for our benefit and to carry it to others.
He expects His followers, His Bride, to be soft and pliable wineskins, able to preserve the blessing in the wine and then pour it out. May God find us to be new wineskins, even if He has to make us new and soft again!