This section begins with a discussion about fasting, which I have covered previously elsewhere. The second part of the scripture then looks at the parable of putting new wine into old wineskins and the potential damage that can cause.
We often here about people who are set in their ways. There are sayings like, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” and so on. This is what Jesus was alluding to in this section of scripture.
When he speaks of old and new wine he is referring to the teachings of the Old and New Covenants. There were methods and processes for worship under the Old Covenant, but many of these were changed under the New Covenant. The worship at the temple is a classic case. When Jesus met the woman at the well she said to him, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” (John 4:20) But Jesus responded saying, “Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” (John 45:21) Here is a clear indication that the place and mode of worship would change, and this would be difficult for the Jews to accept as their religion and forms of worship were built around the temple. Consider today that they still worship at the “wailing wall” which was the foundation of the original temple.
However Jesus shows the woman and us too, that this was going to change. The method of worship would also change from a worship based on law to one based on faith. Again, a very difficult change for some people, and part of the reason why Jesus was so strongly opposed by the scribes and Pharisees in his day. In effect the method of worship under the New Covenant was going to undermine the power base of the scribes and Pharisees for every man now has access to God directly with the intermediary of priest or clergy.
This is the new wine that was being introduced to the world in the gospel of Jesus Christ. To try to change the ways of the “old wineskins” that is, those who had the old forms of worship instilled in them, was going to be difficult. Like when new wine is put into old wineskins, it ferments and expands and because the skins are old they have little or no elasticity and burst. So too those people instilled in the old teachings will struggle and may “burst” when exposed to the new teachings. That is why Jesus came and first introduced the teachings to “common” people rather than the priests and religious people. He knew that the “common” people (e.g. fishermen, tax collectors and so on), would not have the same difficulties as the religious people of the day. These “new wineskins” could and would accept the new teachings because they were not indoctrinated in the old ways, at least not to the same extent as the scribes and Pharisees.
Could an old wineskin take the new wine? Absolutely. Anything is possible with the Lord and we saw this exact scenario with the Apostle Paul. Paul was a Pharisee and was well versed in the law and rituals of the Pharisees, but when the Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus, he turned from the old and embraced the new. But it was not without difficulties which he describes quite well in Romans 7. So it is possible for this to occur, but in most cases the Lord is showing that some will be lost if this were attempted.
Does it matter if someone does not accept the new teachings? Yes and no. The old covenant certainly has in it the promise of life to those who keep it, and they will live a good standard of life. But the Old Covenant cannot perfect a person which is possible under the New Covenant. So the “Old is good” as Jesus said, but the New Covenant is better for it is based on better promises.