Invitation to Luke
Introduction to the Writing of Luke
From the beginning, the Christian movement was a missionary movement. The events of Jesus Christ were so important that they had to be proclaimed. Luke, the “beloved physician” and companion of the apostle Paul (Col 4:14; 2Tim 4:11; Phlm 24; cf. the famous “we” passages: Acts [11:28 D]; 16:10–17; 20:5–21:18; 27:1–28:16) and probably also the “Lucius [of Cyrene]” (Acts 13:1; Rom 16:21) was a part of that movement from its earliest days. By writing his two-volume work (Luke-Acts), Luke became a major contributor to the New Testament. Although the final publication of the completed volumes had to be after Paul’s house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:30–31), Luke began writing much earlier. A hint in Paul suggests that the writing of the Gospels was already beginning in his time (cf. 2Tim 4:11, 13). Paul apparently quotes the Gospel of Luke (1Tim 5:18; cf. Luke 10:7), and, at least according to an ancient tradition, “the brother who is famous in the gospel” (2Cor 8:18) not only referred to Luke but also to his written Gospel (Origen, Hom. 1. in Luc.; Ephraem; cf. Collect for St Luke’s Day). No evidence demands that the Gospels were written late in the piece, and it makes little sense of the historical context to say that they were. The work of the “last days” Christian mission was the context out of which, and for which, the four Gospels were produced. Luke-Acts is no exception.
The Gospel of Luke was always intended for the widest audience possible. At least in the first instance, Luke’s works were addressed to “O most excellent Theophilus” (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1), who was probably some kind of literary patron. Although this name is well attested in Rome but not so frequently amongst Jews, one possible candidate for receiving Luke’s writings amongst the few prominent Jews worthy of the title “excellent” was Theophilus, son of Annas. After serving as high priest from ad 6–15, Annas continued to exert an influence in Jesus’s day and beyond through having five sons occupy the high priestly office (Josephus, Antiquities 20.198), as well as one son-in-law, Joseph Caiaphas (see Luke 3:2; Acts 4:6; John 18:13, 24), and a grandson. After Caiaphas (ad 18–37), Annas’s son Jonathan held the office for a couple of months (ad 37; Josephus, Antiquities, 18.95) before being replaced by his brother Theophilus, who held it until he was dismissed by Agrippa I (ad 37–41). Was this prominent Jewish leader amongst the “large group of priests” turning to Christ (Acts 6:7), or at least an open-minded inquirer?
But beyond Theophilus, Luke was not addressing some small group of Christians in a tiny corner of the first-century world in order to meet their particular needs by writing this elaborate narrative. Such matters would be best dealt with by means of a letter—as the writings of Paul adequately demonstrate. While the intended audience was broad and open-ended, the task was narrowly defined by the last stage in God’s redemptive plan. Once the Lord Jesus had risen from the dead, the final Scriptural imperative was that the gospel message had to be proclaimed to the nations of the world (Luke 24:45–47; cf. Acts 1:8). Like the other Gospels, Luke’s Gospel arose out of, and in turn served, this most significant final purpose.
Introduction to This Commentary
Luke writes to help his readers engage with Jesus and have certainty about who he was and what he did for them. A commentary should help its readers listen well to the text; a commentary on Luke, therefore, ought to speak not just about Luke, but with Luke, so that Luke’s account of Jesus might be heard for all it is worth. Unlike many other biblical texts, Luke himself assists the commentator’s task by saying exactly what his narrative was about (“the things brought to completion amongst us,” 1:1) and what the narrative seeks to achieve (“certainty,” 1:4). This commentary therefore explains Luke as a narrative about Jesus rather than the needs of some hypothetical Christian community. It attempts to explain each part in terms of the narrative context and the overall narrative thrust. Since the narrative is about “the things brought to completion,” it seeks to be alert to the Biblical-Theological context. This entails not only identifying key Old Testament passages informing the Gospel but also setting them and the Gospel itself in the flow of biblical history which narrates the self-revelation of God over time climaxing in his Son (4:21; 24:27; cf. Heb 1:1–4). Because Luke’s account narrates the things brought to completion by Jesus Christ “amongst us,” the commentary therefore listens to the text as a product of the mid-first century that speaks about events earlier in the first century. Because Jesus of Nazareth himself and these events in particular are the climax of God’s plan, they have foundational and ongoing significance for all peoples at all times. Luke’s Gospel therefore has immense contemporary relevance, but that relevance is not determined by present needs or how Luke may or may not serve contemporary ideological positions. It is determined by the significance of Jesus Christ himself, who is coming at the end of time and for all time.
Even when not explicitly mentioned, the narrative’s impact upon the reader of Luke is always in view. As it provides a running commentary on the experience of reading Luke’s narrative, this commentary is meant to be read with Luke’s Gospel open at the same time. Quotations from Scripture are from the ESV or the CSB, or my own translation. By attending to the careful reading of Luke’s narrative in its original historical context, the commentary aims to reproduce the Gospel’s intended impact upon readers from all nations and all times: certainty about Jesus Christ and what he accomplished in the past and promises for our future. Such certainty about Jesus Christ is life-transforming.
Luke’s Gospel provides certainty about Jesus Christ, which brings certainty about life in the age to come and purpose in the here and now.
“And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
— Luke 24:46–47 ESV
Like any narrative, the details of Luke’s words, sentences, and paragraphs give rise to—and can be read within—an overall flow from beginning to end. The major movements within this narrative flow can be described as follows:
1:1–4 The Nature and Purpose of Luke’s Narrative
1:5–25 A Prophet Announced
1:26–56 A Son Announced
1:57–80 The Prophet Is Born
2:1–52 The Son Is Given
3:1–4:13 The Son Arrives
II. Word and Deed
4:14–9:50 The Good News Proclaimed
9:51–19:46 The Day of Lifting Up Draws Near
19:47–21:38 Last Days Teaching
III. The End
22:1–23:49 The Messiah Suffers
23:50–24:53 The Son of Man Enters His Glory
The Nature and Purpose of Luke’s Narrative (1:1–4)
1:1–4 Luke opens what will be a two-volume work (see Acts 1:1) with an explanation of his reasons for writing and a description of his method. Like many others before him, he undertakes to write a narrative account of “the things that have been fulfilled among us” (1:1). Thus, from the beginning his readers know that Luke’s Gospel is reporting on how the promises and patterns of the Old Testament, and the hopes and expectations they generated amongst the people of Israel, have been fulfilled in the events about to be narrated. This is a statement about real historical events, read from the perspective of God’s promises fulfilled. Writing as a doctor with an empiricist approach, Luke draws upon eyewitnesses and those who reported their testimony to put the facts before his readers in the belief that, in the light of God’s plan, the facts will speak for themselves.
Theophilus is the primary addressee, but he is a literary patron for wider circles around and beyond him. He has been a close observer of these events previously (1:4), and now he will be able to read them laid out in orderly succession according to God’s eschatological timetable. If he can be identified as Theophilus the high priest (ad 37–41), then Luke’s narrative presents Jesus to a man who was at the centre of the Jewish circles that were largely responsible for rejecting Jesus. It is an “apologia” (defence) as well as a “kategoria” (accusation/critique).
Luke’s orderly account aims to produce “certainty.” The eyewitness evidence is ordered well in a narrative to persuade the readers of the facts so that they might confidently know that in the Lord Jesus Christ, God has fulfilled what he promised. Such certainty will be revolutionary for them in everything, touching both their word and deed.
A Prophet Announced (1:5–25)
1:5–7 It all began with an announcement to a priest called Zechariah, who would be known to Theophilus the high priest. Zechariah experienced a remarkable visitation while on duty in the temple. Like all historical events, this encounter can be dated: in the days of Herod (1:5), while serving in the temple, as part of the division of Abijah (1:5, 8). Since the days of Solomon, each of the twenty-four divisions of priests served for one week, thirteen times across a six-year period, with each year reckoned as 364 days. Even if later generations cannot determine an exact date, because the division of Abijah served eighth (1Chr 24:10), the week that Zechariah was in the temple would be precisely known in Israel at the time. Because it was the hour of incense (Luke 1:9–10), the encounter was either in the morning or the evening (Exod 30:7–8; 2Chr 13:11).
Zechariah was married to Elizabeth, who was also from an Aaronic priestly family (and so also known to Theophilus?), and both were pious Jews described as “righteous before God,” showing that Luke has a divine perspective on them. They were justified because of their faith (see 18:14). However, despite being in good standing with God, Elizabeth was barren, which was regarded as a curse (1:25), and, because both were old, there was little prospect that this would ever change—unless God once again worked the impossible (cf. Gen 18:1–15; 1Sam 1–2).
1:8–17 The incense was burned in front of the curtain just before the Holy of Holies (Exod 30:7; 40:5; 1Chr 28:18; 2Chr 2:4). On the day of the event, Zechariah was chosen by lot—an indicator within the Bible’s framework that he had been chosen by God (cf. Prov 16:33; Acts 1:26). The crowd was praying, indicating perhaps that the encounter was part of the Lord answering their prayers. An angel appeared—or was it the angel of the Lord, a visitor of the patriarchs of old (e.g., Gen 16:7, 9, 11; 22:11, 15; Exod 3:2)? Zechariah became agitated and afraid, but the angel calmed his fear and announced that his prayers had been answered—they will have a son and call him John. But in this son the prayers of the people will also be answered. Many will rejoice at his birth, and his life will be marked by outward devotion and the inner endowment of the Holy Spirit from the womb, and he will turn many back to the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah—as Malachi had promised for before the Judgement Day (cf. Mal 3:1; 4:5). He will prepare people for the Lord’s arrival as judge and Saviour, before the ultimate arrival of the kingdom of God.
1:18–25 Asking for assurance, Zechariah raises the obvious question about his age, as if it makes the angel’s prediction impossible. The angel reveals that he is Gabriel, the archangel, who came from the very presence of God with this message (Dan 8:16; 9:21). No proof is needed other than that introduction, but because Zechariah requested it, his proof will be that he will be silent until the prophecy is fulfilled in its time (cf. Exod 3:12). Outside, the people were wondering why Zechariah was taking so long. It caused quite a stir when he came outside, struck dumb, and the people surmised that he had seen a vision, but they too must now wait until the angel’s word comes to pass in order to know what that vision entailed. After Zechariah went home from his duties, Elizabeth conceived. She kept herself hidden for five months, rejoicing that the Lord had visited her and helped her conceive, thereby removing her reproach in the eyes of others (Gen 21:6; Isa 54:1, 4–5).
A Son Announced (1:26–56)
1:26–38 Tying his next event into the divine plan, Luke uses the months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy to report yet another visitation from Gabriel. This time he came to Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to Joseph of the house of David, whose name was Mary. While Elizabeth had been excluded from childbearing by her barrenness and age, Mary was excluded from childbearing because she was a virgin, an unmarried young girl (cf. Isa 7:14). Gabriel announced that she was highly favoured by God and that she will bear a son whom she will call Jesus, which means “the Lord saves.” He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and he will inherit the throne of David (1:32; cf. 2Sam 7; Ps 2) and reign over the house of Jacob forever, because his kingdom will be without end—which means he will be the Son of Man promised at the end of days (1:33; Dan 7:13–14). When Mary raised the obvious objection that she was a virgin, Gabriel told her the child will be a product of the Holy Spirit, as is suitable for the one who will be Son of God (Ps 2; Isa 42:1–7). To demonstrate the promise, Gabriel mentions Elizabeth, who, despite her old age, is now six months pregnant after a lifetime living under the reproach of barrenness. This is a demonstration amongst Mary’s own family members that the Old Testament maxim is still true: “nothing will be impossible with God” (1:37; Gen 18:14; Zech 8:6). As Mary bowed before the Lord’s purposes for her life, the angel left her.
1:39–45 Mary immediately went to visit Elizabeth, and when she arrived, Elizabeth’s baby leapt in her womb and Elizabeth spoke by the Holy Spirit, asking why “the mother of my Lord” should have come to her (1:43), declaring Mary blessed for believing the word of the Lord through Gabriel. As Zechariah had learned the hard way, this is the appropriate response to the word of YHWH (Gen 15:6), whether it comes by angels, prophets, or by any other human being—such as those “servants of the word” upon whom Luke draws and who therefore lie behind his narrative (1:2).
1:46–56 In these successive accounts of Spirit-inspired prophetic speech, Mary is the next to be moved to a prophetic song (cf. 1Sam 2:1–11). She rejoices in God for looking upon her in this way—a girl in humble circumstances rather than one of the great ones of the world. But her joy is not just for herself—she also rejoices that the Lord in his mercy has visited her for the sake of the people of Israel who, just like Mary herself, were humbled before the forces of the “beasts” who rule this world (Dan 7:1–8). In his mercy, the Lord is rounding off the promises he made to their ancestors, as far back as Abraham (1:55; Gen 12:1–3). Luke is writing about events “fulfilled amongst us” (1:1), and this is what Zechariah, Elizabeth, and now Mary experienced. They praised God that the promises first given to the patriarchs are finally being fulfilled. Mary stayed three months before leaving, which means that she must have left just before Elizabeth gave birth (1:56; cf. 1:26).
The Prophet Is Born (1:57–80)
1:57–66 After Elizabeth gave birth, others shared her joy at the birth of her son. According to custom, on the eighth day people gathered for his circumcision (Lev 12:3). When they were about to call him Zechariah after his father, Elizabeth announced that he would be called John—a name not shared by any relative. They asked his father, Zechariah, who wrote down his agreement that the boy would be John, astonishing them further. As predicted by the angel Gabriel (1:20), Zechariah was once again able to speak, and he blessed God. However, before reporting what he actually said, Luke reports the impact of his words on those at the circumcision and beyond. True to those who recognise a divine visitation (Exod 20:18), fear descended on the neighbours, and the word spread throughout the Judean hill country. All who heard the report treasured it up in their hearts, wondering what will become of this child and waiting to see the outcome of his life, for clearly “the hand of YHWH is with him” (1:66; cf. Ezra 7:6; Isa 41:20; Ezek 3:22; 8:1; 33:22; 37:1).
1:67–80 Luke closes his opening chapter by reporting the words of Zechariah that had made such an impact on the people at the time, enabling his readers to feel the power of the word of God through the lips of this man. Zechariah first praises God for what he had done (1:68–75), speaking as if it is all over already. The Lord has visited and redeemed his people (Ps 130:7–8; Isa 52:9). A horn of salvation is raised in the house of David, just as the prophets promised, so that his people will be saved from their enemies for the sake of the promises to the patriarchs, so they might serve YHWH without fear all their days.
Zechariah then addresses his newborn son (1:76–79). John will be called a prophet, preparing the way for the Lord (Isa 40:3–5; Mal 3:1; 4:5) to bring the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins, because of the mercy of God, to those under the shadow of death in order to guide them into the way of peace (Isa 9:1–7; 11:1–10). Zechariah and Elizabeth already knew personal deliverance from the living death of barrenness, and this is emblematic of what John the Baptist will announce to barren Israel (Isa 54). This baby, so obviously with the hand of God upon him (1:66), will be the forerunner of the Lord himself, who will bring salvation not only to Israel, but also to the nations (Isa 49:6).
While the people remembered these words and waited for their fulfillment, John grew up (1:80), moving towards this moment too. As he became strong in spirit (i.e., as a prophet), he went to the wilderness (cf. Isa 40:3) until the day he publicly appeared to Israel. Now the reader also awaits the commencement of his activity.
But what of Mary and her child, who once caused John to leap in the womb?
The Son Is Given (2:1–52)
2:1–7 The days of fulfillment began (1:1) with the announcement of the birth of John the forerunner (1:5–80). The next series of events in the fulfillment of God’s plan took place during the reign of the great Caesar Augustus (27 bc–ad 14). Ever the careful historian, Luke dates the beginning of this sequence in the usual fashion, by referring to the people in charge at the time and significant events in their reign. Although its details remain obscure to later generations, Luke reports that a census decreed by Augustus and associated with Qurinius, governor of Syria, required the people to register in their own town.
Although Joseph, the man to whom Mary was betrothed (1:27), was resident in Nazareth of Galilee, as a descendant of king David he was required to return to Bethlehem to register. He was connected to David not through the royal line, but through one of David’s minor sons, Nathan (3:31; 2Sam 5:13–14; 1Chr 3:5; 14:4). The royal line had ended in disgrace, but amongst circles of Jews like those who lived in Nazareth, hope was held out for “the Branch” to arise from Jesse of Bethlehem (1Sam 16:1; 17:58; Isa 11:1, 10). A descendant of David, this Messiah would come from a different line than the corrupt kings, bringing hope to both Israel and the nations.
Without any fanfare, Luke reports that Joseph took with him Mary, his betrothed, who was expecting a child. The reader, however, knows the back story. Here was the fulfillment of Gabriel’s word which, in turn, would bring about the fulfillment of God’s plans and purposes across ages past. While they were registering in Bethlehem as part of the census of Augustus, Mary gave birth to “her son, the firstborn” (2:7; cf. Exod 4:22–23; Zech 12:10), and because there was no guest room to be found, the baby was placed in a manger. Consistent with the divine reversal experienced in the lives—and echoed in the songs—of Elizabeth (1:25, 36–37, 58), Mary (1:34–35, 46–55), and Zechariah (1:67–79), the one who was announced by the angel as the fulfillment of God’s plan, “the Branch” Messiah, entered the world in obscurity. If he had any greatness, it was according to standards other than those of this world, and now only in potential. Nevertheless, “to us a son is given” (Isa 9:1–7).
2:8–20 But in God’s plans, in this backwater of the Augustan empire, in the town of the ancient Messianic forebear David (2Sam 7:11b–16), a great fanfare now takes place in yet another very ordinary setting. After Zechariah and Mary, some unnamed shepherds were the next to receive an angelic visitation. As they cared for their sheep, an (or the) angel of the Lord announced good news which spells great joy for the people of Israel. While the Romans proclaimed Augustus as the Saviour of the world, the heavenly messenger brought joyful reality: “Born today! The Saviour, Christ the Lord” (2:11). Born in the city of David, the sign that will identify him for the shepherds is that he is lying in a manger. At this point, the angel was joined by a host of heavenly angels glorifying God and wishing peace on those favoured by him. According to prophetic promise, this son will be the “Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6), “the Branch” from Jesse who will reverse the Fall (Gen 3) and bring the great time of peace that will encompass the earth and that was expected to accompany the last days (Isa 9:1–7; 11:1–10). They went into Bethlehem to see “this word that has come about” (2:15). Having found the baby in the manger, their words caused others to wonder. They added to the treasures already laid up in Mary’s heart after Gabriel’s words to her. When the shepherds left, they were praising God that, with their own eyes and ears (2:20), they had witnessed “Today” (2:11) the very beginnings of the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies and the angelic words.
2:21–24 The baby was circumcised on the eighth day (cf. 1:59), in fulfillment of the laws of the firstborn (Exod 22:29b–30) and of purification after childbirth (Lev 12:1–3). They gave him the name the angel had prescribed, Jesus, which means “the Lord saves” (1:31–33; 2:11). God’s new day was dawning. Thirty-three days later, the specified time for the purification of mother and child (Lev 12:4), they went to the Jerusalem temple to make the purification offerings (Lev 12:6–8) and to present Jesus, their firstborn, to the Lord as his firstborn (Exod 13:2, 12, 15; Zech 12:10).
2:25–32 As the next fulfillment event, while in the temple they were met by a man called Simeon, described as “righteous and devout,” which is further explained by the fact that he was “waiting for the consolation of Israel” (2:25). Isaiah had promised that Israel would be comforted in the coming age through the forgiveness of their sins (Isa 40:1–2), which would be brought about by the suffering of the Lord’s Servant (Isa 52:13–53:12; 66:12–13). Since that time, “pious and devout” Israelites had looked forward to, longed for, and prayed for the coming of that glorious messianic age (e.g., Dan 9:1–27). Like the ancient prophets, the Spirit of God was upon Simeon, and he had revealed to Simeon that he would not die before he had seen “the Lord’s Christ” (2:26). At just the right time, the Spirit moved him to enter the temple as Jesus was about to be presented as the Lord’s firstborn. He took the forty-day-old infant in his arms and blessed God, saying he could now die because, by seeing the firstborn, he has seen God’s promised salvation, not only for Israel, but also, as Isaiah promised about the Servant of the Lord, he had seen “a light of revelation for the Gentiles” (Isa 49:6). Now that the consolation of Israel has begun, it will overflow to bless all the peoples of the earth, issuing in a whole new Eden-like creation (Isa 2:2–5; 11:1–10; 65:17–25).
2:33–35 Yet, as Simeon blessed Jesus’s marvelling parents, he also spoke of difficulties ahead. Appointed “for the fall and rising of many in Israel” (2:34; cf. Isa 8:14–15; 28:13–16), this child will be opposed, and Mary herself will suffer from what follows. Nevertheless, this is the way in which “thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (2:35; cf. Dan 2:29–30); that is, God will exercise his process of judgement through the suffering of her firstborn son, who is his firstborn Son (Zech 12:10; Ps 2).
2:36–38 An extremely old prophetess named Anna was habitually in the temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer, longing and praying for God to fulfill his promises. At the very moment that Simeon was blessing Mary’s infant, Anna came up and began thanking God, recognising that his promises and her prayers were about to be fulfilled. In turn, she spoke about the baby “to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (2:38). Because of their ancestral sins, Jerusalem was languishing under the judgement of God, but he had promised that in the last days he would redeem her (Isa 40:2; 52:3, 9; Ps 130:7–8), and this is what the “pious and devout” Israelites like Simeon and Anna were waiting and praying for. As this little baby was carried into the temple to undergo one of the thoroughly ordinary events in an Israelite’s life, Anna began telling others that this redemptive event was about to arrive (cf. 1:68; 21:28; 24:21). In the midst of an ordinary day in Israel, the long-awaited day of redemption had suddenly become imminent, when Jesus was presented as the Lord’s Son.
2:39–40 Once Joseph and Mary had made their offerings according to the Law, they took the Lord’s firstborn back home to Galilee, to their hometown of Nazareth. Just as John had grown in spirit and stature before entering the wilderness until the day came for his manifestation (1:80), so now Jesus “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favour of God was upon him” (2:40). His time of manifestation was also yet to come.
2:41–52 When Jesus was twelve, Joseph and Mary took an annual journey to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, as did many other Galileans. Realising Jesus was not with their relatives and friends who made up the party of travellers on the homeward journey, his parents returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days of looking, they found him in the temple interacting with the teachers and astounding everyone with his understanding of the things of God. When his mother expressed her great distress, Jesus responded with surprise, saying: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (2:49). They didn’t understand what he meant. But as soon as Jesus was born, they had given him to the Lord. Now Jesus was simply acting consistently with their gift. He was in his Father’s house where he belonged, learning his Father’s ways. But being submissive to them, he returned with his earthly parents to Nazareth. While his mother continued to treasure up all these experiences, “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and man” (2:52). With John and Jesus both being prepared in their own places, God’s promises are now poised for fulfillment.
The Son Arrives (3:1–4:13)
3:1–6 Once again displaying his great concern for accuracy so that the facts might speak for themselves, Luke carefully dates the next fulfillment event in the usual manner, by listing those in power at the time—here, sevenfold. But in addition, he provides a specific date, enabling precision that is unique in the New Testament. In ad 14, after Augustus died on 19 August, Tiberius was installed in his place on 17 September, which means that the fifteenth year of Tiberius was ad 28/29.
|Pontius Pilate||ad (18? or) 26||Late ad 36|
|Tetrarchy of Herod Antipas||4 bc||ad 39|
|Tetrarchy of Philip||4 bc||ad 34|
|Tetrarchy of Lysanius||ca ad 28||ad 37|
|Annas, high priest
[ca. ad 40]
|Caiphas, high priest||ad 18||Late ad 36|
|Tiberius 15th year||September ad 28||September ad 29|
After his precise dating, Luke reports the event itself. The “actor” is “the word of God,” and the action is quite simply stated: “came to John” (3:2). It came to John while he was in the wilderness waiting for the moment he was to appear to Israel (1:80). Once he was moved by the word, John went into the region along the Jordan, proclaiming “a baptism of repentance with a view to the forgiveness of sins” (3:3). Luke cites Isaiah 40:3–5 to explain John’s activity, identifying him as “the voice in the wilderness” (3:4) that would prepare the way of the Lord, with the result that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (3:6).
3:7–14 With the Judgement Day just around the corner (Mal 4:5), John warned the crowds of Israel to “flee from the wrath to come” (3:7) by genuinely turning back to God. Now is not the time to rest content with being in the bloodline of Abraham, for “the axe is already laid at the root of the trees” (3:9). When they asked, “What then shall we do?” (3:10), he spoke of generosity to others, non-exploitation for the tax collectors, and no extortion from the soldiers. As they prepared for the life to come, they had to be done with the money-grabbing practices so well-known as a feature of ordinary life in this world.
3:15–17 An ancient prophecy predicted that a ruler would arise amongst the descendants of Judah who would be the “anticipation of nations” (Gen 49:10 LXX). Now the crowds were in anticipation, debating in their hearts as to whether John might be the long-awaited Christ (Messiah). Responding to their anticipations, John told them that his role is to come before the Mightier One, who will bring a judgement of “Holy Spirit and fire” (3:16; cf. Isa 66:14–16). In fact, continuing his agricultural metaphors by drawing upon the process of separating wheat and chaff, John declared the imminence of the Messiah’s arrival by saying that his winnowing fork is already in his hand.
3:18–20 With many such exhortations, John proclaimed the good news to the people of Israel, before he fell afoul of Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, who locked him up in prison (cf. Josephus, Antiquities 18:116–119).
3:21–22 At the time when all the people were being baptised by John, and towards the end of his public activity (3:20; cf. Acts 13:24), the next remarkable fulfillment event came about (cf. 1:1). Isaiah had longed for the Lord to open the heavens and come down to make himself known to his enemies by acting on behalf of his people to bring in the new age (Isa 64:1). While Jesus was being baptised by John and praying, the heavens opened and the Spirit descended upon him, marking him out as the Servant of the Lord through whom that future age would come (Isa 42:1–7; 49:1–7). A voice from heaven declared that Jesus was “my beloved Son” (3:22), the long-awaited Messiah who would rule the world (Ps 2:7). But God’s voice also declared that Jesus was the one “with whom I am well-pleased” (3:22), Isaiah’s Servant (Isa 42:1). From now on, the course of Jesus’s life was clear. As the Servant, he will endure tremendous suffering and give his life as a sin-offering to justify many, before being lifted up in a glorious victory that he will share with others (Isa 50:4–9; 52:13–53:12). This way of suffering and death is the way that he will rule over all nations as the mighty Son of God.
3:23–38 When Jesus was beginning his work, he was about thirty years old, the same age that David became king (2Sam 5:4) and the Levites entered active service (Num 4:3, 23, 30, 35, 39, 43, 47; 1Chr 23:3). At this point Luke provides Jesus’s family genealogy that traces his ancestry to king David, but via the non-royal line of Nathan (3:31; 2Sam 5:13–14; 1Chr 3:5; 14:4), as expected for “the Branch” (Isa 11:1, 10). In addition, just as Jewish apocalyptic circles divided time into periods before the End, the genealogy is highly structured in eleven groups of seven generations, a total of seventy-seven (cf. Dan 9:24–27), to indicate that human history has been carefully unfolding according to the plan of God, and that it has now reached its climax.1 The prophets looked towards the End (Dan 12), and now, with the commissioning of the Servant, the Son of God, the End has drawn near.
4:1–13 In prophetic and apocalyptic expectation, in order to reverse the effects of the Fall and the reign of death in this world, the End would be accompanied by the final defeat of the devil (Isa 14:4–20; 49:25; 53:12; Zech 13:2; cf. Dan 7:11–12, 23–26; 11Q Melchizedek). Returning to the thirty-something Jesus commencing his work as the Servant-Son (3:23), Luke reports that after his commissioning at the Jordan, he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days being tested by the devil—as the Son of God, who was the righteous remnant of Israel. When Jesus was hungry and the devil told him to turn stones into bread, Jesus quoted Scripture that “man shall not live by bread alone” (4:4; cf. Deut 8:3). The devil promised to give him all the kingdoms of the world, if only Jesus worshipped him. As Son of God, this is his rightful inheritance (Ps 2), but he is not to take it from the devil and avoid the suffering of the Servant that lay ahead of him in the plan of God. Jesus again affirmed the Scriptures, that only God is to be served (4:8; Deut 6:13). Finally, the devil told him to force God’s angels to protect him, but Jesus refused to put the Lord to the test in this way. After Jesus endured being tested as “Son of God” (v4:3, 5 [cf. Ps 2:8], 9), the devil left him “until an opportune time” (4:13; cf. 22:3).
Word and Deed
The Good News Proclaimed (4:14–9:50)
4:14–15 With the devil’s testing behind him, equipped by the Spirit of the Servant (3:21–22; cf. Isa 42:1), Jesus returned to Galilee, and the report about him spread throughout the whole of the surrounding area. As he taught in the Galilean synagogues, he was being glorified by all, a response usually given to God alone (2:20; 5:25; 7:16; 13:13; 17:15; 18:43; 23:47). The time had come for the people of Israel to hear the long-promised good news of their impending redemption (cf. Isa 40:9; 52:7; 60:6; 61:1).
4:16–21 But then he came to his hometown, Nazareth, where, as the firstborn of God, he had been brought up and had grown in wisdom (2:51–52). During his customary attendance at the Sabbath synagogue, he read from a passage in Isaiah related to the Servant of the Lord (Isa 61:1–2; 58:6). Equipped with the Spirit, the Servant would come proclaiming good news to the poor, liberty to the captives and oppressed, and sight to the blind. In Isaiah, these were all metaphors for the people of Israel in need of God’s salvation, which would come as the “year of the Lord’s favour” (4:19; cf. Isa 61:2), the Jubilee year expected at the end of time (cf. Lev 25:10; Dan 9:24–27; 11QMelchizedek). As all waited for his exposition of the Scripture reading for the day, Jesus stated, simply and clearly, “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (4:21).
4:22–30 Initially, they spoke well of him, noting that he was Joseph’s son, which, for Luke’s reader, identifies him as the descendant of David who has come as Israel’s Saviour and Messiah (2:4, 11; 3:31). But Jesus pre-empted their looming objection by saying that they will no doubt ask him to do the things he was rumoured to have done at Capernaum, presumably to demonstrate the truth of the claims he has now made in his hometown. Jesus reminded them of a well-known proverb, that no prophet is welcome in his own hometown, as exemplified in the accounts of the northern prophets Elijah and Elisha, whose benefits were experienced by Gentiles. At this, all in the synagogue were infuriated and took him out to throw him from a cliff. Although Luke does not explain how, Jesus passed through their midst and went on his way.
4:31–37 No doubt passing down the valley behind Mount Arbel, he came to Capernaum on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, where he had already done great things that were rumoured more widely (cf. 4:23; 10:15). After stunning everyone with his teaching in the synagogue, he encountered a man “with the spirit of an unclean demon,” who cried out, “Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God” (v4:33–34). Jesus cast the demon out, leaving the question unanswered and the man unharmed. But the crowd was even more amazed at his word. Just as the prophet Zechariah had promised for the last days, Jesus spoke, and the unclean spirits were sent out (Zech 13:2). Little wonder that the reports about him were spreading far and wide (cf. 4:14–15).
4:38–41 After leaving the synagogue, he went to Simon’s house. Simon’s mother-in-law had a high fever, which Jesus banished simply by rebuking it. With rumours running rife after what had happened in the synagogue, as soon as the Sabbath was over, people started bringing those sick with a variety of illnesses, and Jesus healed them all. As he encountered demons, these beings recognised that he was the Son of God, but, not needing testimony from the underworld, he silenced them. He would let it be known that he was the Christ in his own way and in his own good time.
4:42–44 After this string of dramatic events across those two days, he arose early and went to a solitary place, but the crowds nevertheless found him. Aware of his larger purpose, Jesus told them: “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose” (4:43). The voice from heaven had declared him to be the Servant-Son, and the Servant had good news to proclaim to Israel, with a view to the rest of the world as well (Isa 49:6). Despite the good that might be done in any one place if he stayed, he had to press on, given the urgency of the times in which they now found themselves. Having preached in the synagogues of Galilee (4:14–15), now he was also preaching in the synagogues of Judea, though Luke was content to provide no further details at this point. The remainder of this section of the narrative (5:1–9:50) provides snapshots of this phase of Jesus’s activities.
5:1–11 Due to the size of the crowds, on one occasion Jesus got into Simon’s boat, put out from the shore, and taught from the water. When he finished, he told Simon to go to the deep water for a catch. Simon, a professional fisherman, had already fished all night and caught nothing, but he nevertheless agreed to do as Jesus asked. They caught such a huge number of fish that Simon had to call his partners in the other boat, and both boats were filled to a sinking point. Realising he was in the presence of greatness, Peter fell to his knees. According to the regular human fear, Simon couldn’t imagine that God would tolerate such a sinful man as he knew himself to be, and so he begged that Jesus would leave, for his own survival (cf. 8:37; Isa 6:5–7). They were all astonished at the miracle—Simon, and his partners James and John, the sons of Zebedee. However, Jesus told him not to be afraid, and far from him being wiped out in judgement for his sins, the judgement process will be put into Simon’s hands, for “from now on you (singular) will be catching human beings” (5:10; see Hab 1:13–15; Jer 16:16; Ezek 47:6–12). Once the boats were landed, there was only one direction to take—they left everything and followed him.
5:12–16 A leper came to him, well-used to being isolated because of a skin condition that the Law declared unclean (Lev 13:45–46). Though he was convinced of Jesus’s power, he doubted Jesus’s willingness to cleanse him. Isaiah had promised that when the Lord came with both retribution and salvation, it would be a time for miracles of healing, and a highway would open up in the desert leading back to Zion that will be a highway of holiness upon which the unclean would not walk, but only the redeemed (Isa 35; cf. 52:1–3; 64:6). Jesus’s action, however, showed that this was not an exclusion, but an embrace. Jesus assured him of his willingness, and, with a simple command, immediately the leprosy left him. By cleansing him, he included him amongst the redeemed and set him on the way towards the kingdom of God. Jesus told him not to say anything to anyone until the priest had confirmed he was clean (cf. Lev 14:1–32). This would also be a testimony to the priests that Jesus was doing what the Law could only recognise, not perform. However, even though the word about him had gone out before (4:14, 37), now it went out even more so, and multitudes were coming to hear him and to be healed. As they came, Jesus would withdraw to unpopulated areas and pray, with his eyes on his larger work of proclaiming the kingdom of God (4:42–43).
5:17–26 On one of those days, when he was teaching and healing, a paralysed man was laid before him after being lowered through the roof to get around the crowds. When Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven,” the scribes and Pharisees who were present thought he was blaspheming, for “who can forgive sins but God alone?” (5:21). Perceiving their question (cf. 2:35), Jesus asked them whether it would be easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven” (as he had said), or to say, “Rise and walk” (which everyone had expected him to say). It was a double-sided puzzle. Declaring the man forgiven is easier to say, for it entails no concrete demonstration that he had the authority to do so, unlike commanding the man to walk. But, to follow the direction of their questioning hearts, declaring forgiveness is actually harder, because only God could do that, just as only he could heal (Deut 32:39; Hos 6:1). Without waiting for their answer, he declared, “that you may know that the Son of Man has authority in the land to forgive sins” (5:24) and ordered the man to get up and go home. To the amazement of everyone present, immediately the man did exactly that, solving both sides of the puzzle at once. For the first time in the Gospel, Jesus refers to himself as “the Son of Man,” showing that he is the one promised by Daniel who, at the Judgement Day, will come to the Ancient of Days to receive the kingdom of God (Dan 7:13–14). But, as the Servant of the Lord already operating within Israel, this Son of Man is already bringing forgiveness to the land of Israel. The great time of forgiveness—the Jubilee promised by Isaiah, which, according to Daniel, would precede “the end of days” (4:18–19; Isa 40:1–2; 58; 61:1–3; Dan 9:24–27; cf. 11QMelchizedek)—was now unfolding in their midst.
5:27–32 After this event left people marvelling, Jesus called Levi the tax collector to join his growing band of disciples. Like the first few (5:11), Levi left everything and followed him. When Levi invited Jesus to a feast at his house with many of his fellow tax collectors, the Pharisees and their scribes, having resisted his authority to forgive sins (5:21), grumbled against Jesus now mingling with “tax collectors and sinners” (5:30). In reply, Jesus applied a vivid proverb to his actions: just as a doctor moves amongst the sick to bring them healing, so he moves amongst the people that the religious men despise (18:9). “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (5:32). John had issued the same call for Israel to turn back to God (3:3, 8), with a view to the arrival of the great time of forgiveness. Now, with the Servant of the Lord doing exactly what he was commissioned for, that time of forgiveness is now here—whether those who were righteous in their own eyes recognise it or not.
5:33–35 When the Pharisees and their scribes ask him about fasting, their question not only attempts to draw him into their own religious practices— it also divides him from his forerunner, John. But Jesus replies with a simple observation from ordinary life: wedding guests don’t fast when the bridegroom is with them. Fasting is associated with mourning, and feasting with celebration. Like the prophets before him, John was mourning Israel’s sin while praying for and announcing the promised age of forgiveness (7:33; Dan 9:3). Using prophetic language associated with God’s coming judgement, Jesus admitted that “the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away” (5:35) and his disciples will therefore mourn. But that time still lies in the future.
5:36–39 To address the problem preventing the religious men from truly seeing what is happening around them at this very moment, Jesus turned again to parables (cf. 5:31). No one destroys a new garment to patch the old. No one puts new wine into old wineskins. The dawning new age should be celebrated for what it is, not stifled by practices appropriate only to the old age. To keep mourning instead is refusing to drink new wine, declaring that the old is good, as if the joy of the harvest has not yet arrived. But that is where they are totally wrong.
6:1–5 When Jesus’s disciples plucked grain to eat as they passed through a grain field, the Pharisees objected. Although the Law permitted eating some of the fruit of the fields while travelling through (Deut 23:25), reaping was forbidden on the Sabbath (Exod 34:21). Thus, the Pharisees determined the disciples were performing an illegal Sabbath activity. Jesus used the opportunity to remind them of David also doing what may have been a technical breach of the Law (1Sam 21:1–6; Lev 24:5–9). Jesus was the Messiah on God’s mission, the Son of Man who would reign over the kingdom of God (Dan 7:13–14). If he will be the master of that future heavenly rest, then he was also the master of the weekly Sabbath which pointed ahead to that coming new age.
6:6–11 In the synagogue on another Sabbath, the scribes and Pharisees watched Jesus closely. There was a man with a withered hand in attendance, and they were suspicious that Jesus might heal him. According to their view, this working on the Sabbath would give them grounds to accuse him of wrongdoing. But in another example of God’s judgement process in operation, Jesus knew their thoughts (2:34–35; 5:22). Even so, he called the man up in front of the gathering, as if to heal him. But then he paused to ask the religious men a question: “On the Sabbath, is it lawful to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” (6:9). With no apparent answer forthcoming from his opponents, he demonstrated his own by asking the man to stretch out his hand. With the man’s hand restored in front of their very eyes, now emblematic of the saving of life such as would happen on the great Day of Resurrection, “they were filled with fury” (6:11) and plotted together about what they might do with Jesus.
6:12–16 With Jesus’s popularity increasing along with these concerted efforts to get him out of the way, Jesus expanded the number of his disciples beyond the initial five already following him. After a night in prayer—an expression of his urgency and intensity of purpose—he called twelve, whom Luke numbers and names, indicating that it was a closed group. As “apostles” their special role was to be sent out with Jesus’s authority to fulfill his purposes. As this expansion of Jesus’s messianic activity comes into view, the last named disciple casts a shadow over the events to come, for Judas Iscariot, Luke notes, “became a traitor” (6:16).
6:17–19 When he finished calling the Twelve, he settled on a level place to address the great crowd, made up of people from every part of the surrounding territories. They had come to hear him and be healed, and, as expected from the Messiah in the last days, those with unclean spirits were healed (Zech 13:2), and as the crowd touched him, the power that came out of him healed them all (Isa 35:5–6).
6:20–23 Surrounded by all this activity, Jesus lifted his eyes to his disciples and, as if distinguishing them from the listening multitude, blessed them by referring to them in terms drawn from Old Testament descriptions of pious Israelites needing and waiting for the Lord’s salvation (cf. 2:25, 39). As “the poor,” they will have the kingdom of God; as “those who hunger now,” they will be satisfied; and as “those who weep,” they shall laugh (6:20–21; cf. Jer 31:25; Ps 126:5–6; Isa 61:3). As they long for the messianic age, they will experience its blessings.
But as Simeon announced at Jesus’s presentation as the Lord’s firstborn, he was “appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed” (2:34–35). This will have implications for his apostles, but, strangely, this too will be part of their blessing. As they are hated, excluded, reviled, and spurned as evil “for the sake of the Son of Man” (6:22), they should rejoice “in that day” (6:23), that is, in the coming Day of Judgement presided over by the Son of Man (Dan 7:13–14), with the assurance that their “reward is great in heaven” (6:23), even while being treated as badly as former generations of Israelites treated the prophets.
6:24–26 After mentioning those who oppose the ones sent to do the work of God, Jesus pronounces a series of woes on those who stand in marked contrast to the Israelites longing for God’s new day. In this present age, those who are “rich,” “full,” and “laughing” now have already received their consolation (cf. 16:25), and in the next age they will “be hungry,” “mourn and weep” (6:24–25)—metaphors indicating that they will miss out on the blessings of the kingdom of God. In this world all people might speak well of them, but Jesus warns this is also how their ancestors treated the false prophets.
According to Jesus, those who find their rewards and are treated well in this world will miss God’s blessings in the next, but his disciples, even if mistreated in this world, will enter into the glorious kingdom of God. This eternal perspective ought to encourage them to continue to engage in the task for which Jesus had commissioned them to bring about his purposes.
6:27–36 Even in the face of the inevitable hostility that will come against them as those who bear Christ’s name, the disciples must act differently to the ways of the world that is against them. They are to love, bless, pray, and give to those who are enemies, to those who hate, abuse, and deprive them of their property. Rather than retaliate in kind, they are to operate on the “Golden Rule,” to do to others as they wish others to do to them (6:31). This counter-cultural behaviour will be a distinctive mark of following Jesus. Even sinners behave with civility to those they love, but loving and doing good to enemies is a mark of the children of the Most High, who will appropriately reward them in the kingdom of God. His children know that he has been merciful to them, and by receiving mercy, they are enabled to reflect his mercy to others.
6:37–42 To act otherwise is to treat the enemy as if that is their permanent state, rather than treating them in the light of the coming of the Christ. It is to judge and condemn, rather than to forgive. Aware of their own need for forgiveness, facing the enemy gives the disciple an opportunity to forgive as they are forgiven, and this will not escape the notice of their Heavenly Father in the final judgement. In this matter they are not like a blind man following another blind man to ultimate disaster, but they are following Jesus, and they ought to expect to become like him. Aware of their own failings, their task is not to deliver the final judgement on their enemy, but to realise that they themselves also need the mercy that their master delivers.
6:43–45 Just like a good tree produces good fruit, the good person from the good treasure in their heart produces good. Here the product of the heart that Jesus has in mind is what is expressed in speech, “for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (6:45; cf. Ps 116:10 [LXX]; see 2Cor 4:13). By turning to Christ, the disciples have tasted the forgiveness of God and look forward to the coming kingdom of God. This treasure in their heart will overflow to others around them (cf. 2:34–35). Even as others oppose them, they will always have a gospel to say in return.
6:46–49 Jesus closes with a call to do what he says, despite the radically counter-cultural nature of his teaching. If they call him, “Lord, Lord” (6:46), then why wouldn’t they do what he says? Those who come to him, hear his words, and do them are as solid as a house built on a good foundation, but those who do not do them are as shaky as a house without a foundation. With the arrival of Jesus, Israel needs to be ready for Judgement Day, which has now drawn near. In order to withstand that coming “disaster,” all that is required is to take hold of his words, and to receive the forgiveness he brings.
7:1–10 After finishing his teaching and entering Capernaum, Jesus met some of the Jewish elders, who pleaded with him to heal the valued servant of a local centurion, who was at the point of death. The elders told Jesus that the centurion was worthy of his healing touch because his love for the Jewish people had already been concretely expressed by him building the Capernaum synagogue. After Jesus started towards the man’s home, he encountered friends of the centurion sent with a message from him. Despite the elders’ estimate of the centurion, he didn’t consider himself worthy of Jesus’s presence at all. But being a man with authority, he knew that when he gave his word of command, it was fulfilled by those under his authority. Rather than coming to his home, he requested that Jesus simply “say the word and let my servant be healed” (7:7). Jesus marvelled at him and declared to the crowd, “not even in Israel have I found such faith” (7:9). When the delegation arrived back at the centurion’s house, the servant was well. Just as the centurion believed, Jesus had the authority to command the illness that had brought his servant to the brink of death, and to make him live again.
7:11–17 The very next day (ESV n.3), Jesus and his disciples went to Nain, followed by a huge crowd. Going into the town, he met a funeral procession coming out, bringing its own crowd towards this encounter (7:12). The deceased man was the only son of his mother, who, as a widow, now suffered a double loss. Jesus was moved with compassion, just as was expected of God in the last times (Isa 54:7–8; Dan 9:18; Zech 10:6; Mal 3:17; T.Zeb 8:1–3; 9:7–8; T.Naph. 4:5). Just as the prophets had promised that in the last days Israel’s mourning would be turned into joy (Jer 31:13), Jesus told the woman not to weep, touched the bier, and told the young man to arise. When the dead man sat up and spoke, Jesus then gave him to his mother. In the strange mixture of fear and excitement, the thoughts of this circle of witnesses from both crowds surrounding this great event turned to the long-awaited fulfillment of prophetic expectation: “A great prophet has arisen amongst us!” After centuries of waiting: “God has visited his people” (7:16) The promises concerning the End were becoming reality in their very midst. This remarkable encounter between Jesus and the dead man could not be kept to themselves, and neither could their deduced conclusion about the significance of what was happening with the arrival of Jesus: “this word about him” spread to others (7:17). Although this event took place in Galilee, the whole of (the Roman province of) Judea to the south and “all the surrounding region” now heard what Jesus had done as a visitation of God, and how “a great prophet has arisen amongst us.” In fact, as promised way back in the time of Moses, he was the great prophet (Deut 18:15). The only appropriate response would therefore be to “listen to him.”
7:18–23 When the news reached John the Baptist, who had been imprisoned by Herod Antipas (3:20), he knew the right questions to ask. He sent two disciples to inquire of Jesus, “Are you ‘the one who is to come’, or shall we look for another?” (7:19). At the very time they were with Jesus, he was healing the diseased and the afflicted. They were ear- and eye-witnesses of the facts that provided the answer for John: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard” (7:22). Isaiah had promised a day of “good news” would come (Isa 40:9; 52:7; 60:6; 61:1; cf. Luke 4:17–19), when the Messiah would do marvellous healing miracles (Isa 35:5–6), and this time of future healing was expected by many of their contemporaries. Those who lived at Qumran echoed Isaiah’s promises as they expected the Messiah to come “freeing prisoners, giving sight to the blind, straightening out the twisted,” as “the Lord will perform marvellous acts such as have not existed, just as he said, for he will heal the badly wounded and make the dead live, he will proclaim good news to the meek” (4Q521). But Jesus sent the two disciples back to John, not with some message about the far-distant future, but with the report of having seen and heard the promises being fulfilled at his hand: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them” (7:22). Now was not the time for John to lose heart, for “blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (7:23).
7:24–28 As John’s messengers left him, Jesus spoke to the crowd about John’s previous ministry to them, which, as Luke’s readers recall, prepared for the commencement of Jesus’s ministry (3:15–17). Jesus reminded them that they didn’t go out into the wilderness to see something trivial, like a reed blowing in the wind, and neither did they go out to see one of the kings of the earth (like Antipas?) with all their finery and foppery. What they saw was “a prophet, and more than a prophet” (7:26). In the long line of prophets sent by God to Israel, John was the last before the greatest. As Isaiah and Malachi promised, he was the messenger who would prepare the way for the Lord himself, bringing his salvation and his judgement (Isa 40:3; Mal 3:1; 4:5–6). After building up John’s reputation, Jesus then told them something truly remarkable. There is no human being greater than John, but “the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (7:28). By this he was certainly not denigrating John, and neither was he declaring that this great prophet would not be a part of the kingdom of God when it comes. The difference in greatness comes from the dramatic change in the state of affairs that will come about when the kingdom of God arrives. Even the greatest of those born in this world will be exceeded by the least of those in that future kingdom. Those raised from the dead to enter it will “shine like the stars forever” (Dan 12:3).
7:29–30 John’s ministry prepared the people for Jesus’s ministry. If a person accepted John’s ministry, then they also received Jesus’s ministry rightly. But if they rejected John, then they also rejected Jesus. At the end of this flashback to the ministry of John, Luke reports that, in response to Jesus’s words, those who had been baptised by John, even the despised tax collectors, declared God to be just, whereas the respectable Pharisees and the lawyers, who had not been baptised by John, “rejected the purpose of God for themselves” (7:30). The fulfillment of God’s purposes occurred in its proper sequence at “the end of days” (cf. Dan 12:13). First was the forerunner, the last prophet before the greatest prophet, and then the Great Prophet (Deut 18:15), who was the Lord himself.
7:31–35 But the people of Jesus’s day did not all realise the significant time in which they lived. When first John and then Jesus exercised their ministry amongst first-century Israel, the people of “this generation” (as Jesus called them, 7:31; cf. 11:29–32; 11:50–51; 17:25; 21:32) acted like petulant children who expected everyone else to dance to their tune. Clearly with the Pharisees and lawyers who rejected him particularly in view, Jesus spoke of those who demonised John for his ascetic-like ways while condemning Jesus as “a glutton and a drunkard” because he ate with “tax collectors and sinners” (7:34; cf. 5:30). Yet those who received both John and Jesus are the ones who are truly wise, and, seeing God’s purposes at work, they justified his wisdom in sending both of these prophets to “this generation” (7:31)—the last generation before the End.
7:36–40 One of the Pharisees, however, invited Jesus to dine at a feast in his house. Because she heard he was there, “a woman of the city” (7:37) turned up and stood behind him while he was reclining on the dining couch. Known as a sinner, she wept, dripping tears on his feet and wiping them with her hair, then kissing them and pouring expensive ointment over them. Jesus’s host questioned to himself what was going on. If Jesus was a prophet, surely he would know this woman was a sinner—and not put up with her! With his uncanny way of understanding what was going on inside others (cf. 2:34–35), Jesus turned to the Pharisee and said, “Simon, I have something to say to you” (7:40), and the Pharisee asked him to say it.
7:41–47 First, lapsing into parabolic mode, Jesus told him about a moneylender with two debtors, one owing five hundred denarii and the other fifty. Neither could pay, and the moneylender cancelled both debts. Jesus asked Simon to reflect upon which would love him more. He praised Simon for judging rightly: the one with the larger debt. To bring Simon to the point of his parable, Jesus then turned to the woman and contrasted her behaviour with that of Simon. Despite being a guest in his home, Simon brought him neither water for his feet, a kiss of greeting, nor anointing oil for his head. The woman, however, even exceeding the normal expectations of hospitality, had wet Jesus’s feet with tears and wiped them with her hair, had not ceased kissing his feet, and had anointed them with expensive ointment. Like the debtor who loved much in the parable, because her actions show great love, they also show that she has been greatly forgiven. In contrast, Simon’s lack of action shows little love and so little awareness of being forgiven. Like other Pharisees who had not been baptised by John and so rejected God’s purposes for forgiveness through Jesus (7:30), Simon appears to have missed the point of what is going on in his own household. And he is not alone in being a part of the stubborn and unbelieving last generation before the End.
7:48–50 Presumably to put the woman’s evident hopes into the open, Jesus turned to her and announced, “Your sins are forgiven” (7:48). The other guests at the meal, presumably friends of the Pharisee and evidently very much like him, began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” (7:49). Without recognising God’s wisdom lying behind the coming of first John, and then Jesus (cf. 7:35), they only had their own opinions to rely upon. When Jesus declared a man’s sins forgiven on a previous occasion (5:20), the Pharisees and scribes were similarly outraged, for “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (5:21). Now, once again, the friends and associates of this group—lacking divine wisdom and rejecting God’s purposes for themselves—are outraged at Jesus’s temerity! As the scene bristles with hostility, Jesus’s actions convey a sense of calm. Ignoring the dinner guests, he told the woman what she needed to hear: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (7:50). The prophets had looked towards the coming of God’s salvation in the last days, grounded in God’s forgiveness, the release of debts in the final Jubilee, issuing in God’s lasting age of peace. Thoroughly aware of her own sins, this woman had loved Jesus greatly and so displayed her faith. Just as other sinners and outsiders had declared God to be just (7:29), having seen his wisdom firstly behind John and then embodied in Jesus, now this woman has found the Great Prophet is also her Saviour.
8:1–3 As the next event in sequence (cf. 1:3), Jesus passed through the region city by village, continuing to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom of God. Along with the Twelve, some women accompanied him. One of them, Joanna, was the wife of Herod Antipas’s chief steward, showing that Jesus’s growing influence had even penetrated the household of the Tetrarch of Galilee who was responsible for the demise of John the Baptist (3:19–20; see also Acts 13:1 [Manaen]; Rom 16:11a? [Herodion]). Having been previously healed by Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna now found themselves amongst his movement, which they were supporting out of their own private means. By naming these three, Luke most probably indicates that they were amongst the eyewitnesses who gave him information for his Gospel, and that they played a significant role in the earliest period of the Christian mission (see also 24:10; Rom 16:7, Junia = Joanna?).2
8:4–8 Large crowds were already with Jesus (7:11), and as more came to him with each city that he passed, he told them a parable. As a sower sowed seed, some of the seed fell on the path, only to be eaten by birds; some on the rock, only to wither; and some among thorns, only to be choked as it grew. But despite these losses, some seed fell into the good soil and produced a hundredfold bumper harvest (cf. Gen 26:12). Jesus called upon the crowd to puzzle over his message and get its meaning: “Anyone with ears to hear, let them hear” (8:8).
8:9–10 When his disciples asked him to explain, he told them that they were privileged to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but others receive parables so that they might see and hear, but still not understand. That is, that they might be like Israel in the time of Isaiah. In response to Isaiah’s ministry, God deliberately intended to harden Israel so that he might go through with his judgement, before he brings about his salvation (Isa 6:9–10, 11–13). The hardening of some will also raise up a remnant of others, which is called “the holy seed” (Isa 6:13).
8:11–15 Jesus explained that the seed was the word of God (cf. Isa 55:10–11). Luke has already clearly shown Jesus as the one “sowing” the word about God’s coming kingdom, and the spreading of this word in ever-widening circles will continue to be portrayed in his Gospel and into the book of Acts. Jesus uses this parable to help the disciples reflect on what is already going on around them as the crowds are flocking to him. Like Isaiah, his word will have differing effects, depending upon how the hearers hear it. Some will have the word snatched from their hearts by the devil, so that they might not believe and be saved (cf. 4:1–13). Others will initially rejoice at what they hear, but crumble as they enter the time of testing (cf. 11:4; 22:31–32). Some will become so entangled in “the cares and riches and pleasures of life” (8:14) that they don’t reach the word’s intended outcome (cf. 7:30; 12:45; 17:27; 21:34). But, despite these losses, others will hold fast to the word “in a noble and good heart” (8:15) and endure into God’s good future. The differing responses to Jesus’s preaching are not surprising, for they are integral to how God’s plan is coming to its fulfillment (2:34–35) and exactly what is expected from his parabolic teaching.
8:16–18 Parables are meant to encourage Israel into active listening. A lamp is lit to bring light, and now that Jesus has come, hidden secrets will be brought into the light. Through Jesus’s preaching, God’s judgement process has commenced exposing the things of the heart (2:35). It is therefore imperative to “take care how you listen” (8:18). The parables are like riddles: the more you grasp, the more you understand. But without active listening you get nothing—you see but don’t see; you hear but without understanding (8:10).
8:19–21 Jesus’s family arrive, but they couldn’t reach him because of the crowd. Jesus used them to further illustrate the point. As he proclaims the word, it creates outsiders and insiders. The true insiders to his movement are “those who hear the word and do it” (8:21; cf. 8:8, 15, 18).
8:22–25 On one of those days when he was proclaiming the kingdom of God in city and village (cf. 8:1), he suggested they leave Jewish territory to go to the other side of the lake. While he slept as they were crossing, a violent storm arose, endangering their lives, and the disciples shook him awake with the cry, “we are perishing!” (8:24), fearing the ultimate human lostness. At Jesus’s rebuke, the raging elements became calm, and he asked them, “Where is your faith?” (8:25). Already afraid, now they marvelled, asking each other, “Who then is this?” (8:25), knowing only God commands obedience from the sea (Exod 15:1–21; Job 9:8; Pss 65:7; 89:9; 107:29–30; Isa 51:15; Jer 5:22; 31:35; Zech 10:11). He is the One who kills and makes alive (Deut 32:39; 1Sam 2:6; Hos 6:1–2). As he once subdued the sea in the exodus from Egypt, he had promised to do the same on the future day of redemption (Zech 10:6–12). As well as raising questions about his true identity, Jesus’s actions hint towards the new exodus promised for the last days.
8:26–39 Across the lake in the Gentile territory of the Gerasenes, Jesus met a man so disturbed by demons and a danger to himself and others that, though alive, he endured a beast-like existence amongst the dead (8:27; cf. Dan 4:19–37). After Jesus learned that the man’s name was “Legion,” for many demons had entered him, the demons asked Jesus to permit them to enter a herd of pigs, rather than being banished to the lower regions of the underworld. At his permission, they did so, and the whole herd rushed over the cliff and drowned in the sea. As the herdsmen spread the news, people from the city came to find the man “clothed and in his right mind” (8:35) after years of derangement, and they became afraid (cf. 8:29). Hearing from the herdsmen how the demoniac had been “saved,” the Gerasenes en masse asked Jesus to leave them, because, as if experiencing the presence of the living God, they were in the grip of “great fear” (8:37; cf. 5:8–9; Jonah 1:10, 16). As requested, Jesus got in the boat to leave. Just as the women whose afflictions were removed by Jesus now followed him in support (8:1–3), the man so dramatically “saved” also wanted to go with him. But instead, Jesus told him to go back home to declare “how much God has done for you,” with the result that the news about Jesus spread further into Gentile territory, as he proclaimed “how much Jesus had done for him” (8:39).
8:40–42a When Jesus re-crossed the lake to Capernaum, unlike the Gerasenes, the crowd welcomed him. Just as the ancient prophecy had predicted the Messiah from Judah would be the anticipation of the nations (Gen 49:10 LXX), they were “waiting for him” (8:40; cf. 7:19–20). A man named Jairus, the synagogue ruler, implored him to come to his house because his twelve-year-old daughter was dying.
8:42b–48 As Jesus went, a woman in the pressing crowd—who had been bleeding for as long as Jairus’s daughter had been alive—touched his garment, and immediately her discharge ceased. Jesus asked who touched him, perceiving that power had gone out of him. Realising that “she was not hidden,” the trembling woman “declared in the presence of all the people” her action and how she had been healed (8:47). As a concrete instance of God’s judgement process at work (2:35; 8:17), Jesus responded, “Your faith has saved you! Go in peace” (8:48).
8:49–55 Just as Jesus was saying these words, news came from Jairus’s home that his daughter had died, and there was no point troubling the teacher any further. But Jesus immediately told Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe, and she will be saved” (8:50). Sure enough, after reaching the dead girl and commanding her to arise, “her spirit returned and she arose immediately” (8:55), astounding her parents. In her own body, the bleeding woman had already received an anticipation of the future Age of Peace (Isa 11:1–10). Now this little girl and her parents had experienced a foretaste of the future Age of Resurrection (Hos 6:1–2; Dan 12:1–3).
9:1–6 Having previously called the Twelve (6:12–16), Jesus now gave them authority over demons and disease and sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal, that is, to extend his ministry as the Servant-Messiah. He stressed the urgency of their mission to Israel, travelling light and staying where they were first received. After leaving him, they went through the villages of Galilee, preaching the gospel and healing.
9:7–9 When the Tetrarch of Galilee heard of these things, he was perplexed. Luke previously reported that Herod Antipas had arrested John (3:19–20), but now the reader learns from Herod’s own mouth that he had had him beheaded. Recognising that Jesus was behind the disciples’ mission, Herod suspected that he was operating as a magician who had raised the spirit of John from the dead to work his purposes, and he sought to see him (cf. 23:8). Having already brought about the death of John, Herod’s curiosity about Jesus appears ominous.
9:10–17 When the Twelve returned, they withdrew from Herod’s territory to Bethsaida, but the crowds followed them, and Jesus spoke about the kingdom and healed them. At the end of the day, when the crowd of 5,000 men (9:14; and presumably also their women and children) were in need of food, Jesus fed them from five loaves and two fish. They were all satisfied, and the disciples even gathered leftovers. With Ezekiel 34–37 in the background, and in contrast to Herod the bad shepherd, Jesus is acting as the promised Good Shepherd who would feed the sheep, rather than destroying them, as a foretaste of the future Day of Resurrection.
9:18–20 While he was praying apart from the crowd, he asked the disciples to report the crowd’s opinions about him, and then to report their own. This interchange forces Luke’s readers to reflect upon Israel’s response to Jesus proclaiming the good news thus far (4:14–now). Whereas the crowd (and Herod!) were saying he was John the Baptist, Elijah (cf. Mal 4:5–6), or another prophet (cf. Deut 18:15?), Peter answered clearly: “the Christ [Messiah] of God” (9:20).
9:21–22 Telling them to keep this to themselves, Jesus informed them that “the Son of Man must suffer many things,” being rejected and killed, but then “on the third day be raised” (9:22). The figure promised by Daniel (Dan 7:13–14) for the end of days will fulfill the role of the Suffering Servant promised by Isaiah (Isa 52:13–53:12), in order to bring about the promised resurrection day and the eternal kingdom of God (Dan 12).
9:23–27 Since that is what now lies ahead, those who follow him need to reckon with the implications for their own future. They must daily expect to die shamefully, but with the realisation that they will be losing their life in this world for the sake of gaining life in the next, which is the only sensible thing to do. For when the Son of Man comes in judgement, the decisions made about Jesus and his words in this world will have repercussions in the next. And the decision is urgent—“daily” (9:23)—for some of those standing listening to Jesus would not die before they see the kingdom of God arriving with the coming of the Son of Man (Dan 7:13–14). After this review of responses so far, Jesus’s future comes increasingly in view.
9:28–36 About eight days later, taking Peter, James, and John, Jesus went up “into the mountain” (9:28) (probably Mount Hermon) to pray. As his appearance changed, they saw him talking with Moses and Elijah about “his departure” (9:31), that is, “his exodus.” Just as God had brought the people of Israel out of Egypt in the first great exodus, Isaiah had promised that God would bring about another exodus in the future that would be so great it would overshadow the first (e.g., Isa 43; 52:12). This last and greatest exodus would come about through the Servant, and the redemption achieved by his sin-bearing death (Isa 52:13–53:12). Now the disciples overhear the conversation about this exodus, which Jesus “was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (9:31). As a cloud encompassed them, the disciples heard a voice from heaven, repeating the experience that Jesus had at his baptism (3:21–22), declaring, “This is my Son, my Chosen One” (9:35). He is the promised Messiah, who will fulfill the role of the Servant (Ps 2:7; Isa 42:1–4; and the Son of Man, see 1Enoch 45, 49, 51, 55, 61). But in doing so, he is also the last great prophet promised by Moses, and so they must “Listen to him” (9:35; cf. Deut 18:15). When it was all over, they told nobody in those days. But after all Jesus’s predictions became reality, the testimony of this voice was also proclaimed (cf. 2Pet 1:16–18).
9:37–45 The next day, as they rejoined the crowds of Israel, a man begged Jesus to help his son who was afflicted with a spirit. The disciples could not help, and Jesus bewailed the tragedy of Israel, “a faithless and twisted generation” (9:41), aware that his time with them was now extremely limited. What can be achieved in such a brief period? When he was brought to Jesus, the spirit attacked the boy. Jesus rebuked this “unclean spirit” (9:42), healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. Zechariah had promised that in the last days, as a fountain opened in the house of David bringing forgiveness, the land would also be cleansed of “the unclean spirit” (Zech 13:2). Even though the faithless and twisted last generation of Israel failed to see the urgency of the moment, Jesus was using his limited remaining time to complete the messianic healing (cf. Isa 35:5–6) as a foretaste of the kingdom to come. As the crowd was marvelling at the majesty of God now manifest amongst them, Jesus strongly reinforced his previous predictions about his future (9:22): the Son of Man will be “delivered into the hands of men” (9:44), that is, he will be treated as deserving of the wrath of God (see 2Sam 24:14; 1Chr 21:13). They didn’t grasp his meaning—because it was concealed from them, and because they were afraid to ask.
9:46–48 A dispute arose amongst the disciples about which of them was the greatest. Knowing their thoughts, and so once again displaying the messianic judgement process already operative in their midst (2:35; 5:22; 6:8; 8:10, 17, 47), Jesus brought a child to his side. Whereas, by human standards, “greatness” involves mingling with those deemed great, it was this child that illustrated the values associated with the divine plan. In the world’s value system, greatness would not accrue through welcoming children, who hold no status or prestige at all. However, to welcome a child in Jesus’s name—that is, in pursuit of his mission—is the same as receiving Christ himself. What is more, to receive Christ is to receive the one who sent him—the greatest one of all (cf. 9:43). As the Servant who will be despised, rejected, and killed, Jesus is now operating amongst them as “the least,” but because he is sent to bring about the purposes of God and will be the Son of Man, he is truly great (9:48b; 1:49).
9:49–50 The disciples were aware of their special status in the divine plan. John reported that the Twelve had attempted to stop a man casting out demons in Jesus’s name because he was not part of those specially commissioned by Jesus (6:12–16). However, Jesus told them not to hinder him, for in these last days when those who follow Jesus will be opposed on many sides (2:35; 6:22–23, 27–29; 8:13; 9:5), “the one who is not against you is for you” (9:50). Everyone operating “in Jesus’s name” (cf. 6:22) is supporting the one whose name means “Yahweh saves” (1:31; 2:21), who is now moving towards the great exodus in Jerusalem (9:31). Comparisons and rivalries in pursuit of personal greatness must be replaced with values shaped by the messianic mission that is now rapidly coming to its conclusion.
The Day of Lifting Up Draws Near (9:51–19:46)
9:51 At this point in his narrative of “the things fulfilled amongst us” (1:1), Luke reports Jesus reaching a significant turning-point. In the first half of the Gospel, although clearly recognising that time had changed with the arrival of John (3:9, 16–17) and the commencement of Jesus’s ministry (4:21), when Luke summarised Jesus’s or the disciples’ preaching, he simply reported that they proclaimed the good news of the kingdom (4:43; 8:1; 9:2, 11; contrast Mark 1:15). But after the transfiguration, with its discussion about the great exodus about to occur in Jerusalem, the narrative begins to stress the imminence of the coming kingdom, and the closer Jesus gets to Jerusalem, the more imminent its arrival becomes (9:23 [“daily”], 27, 31, 41, 44, 51, 59–62; 10:9, 11, 18, 23–24; 11:2, 20; 13:32–33; 16:16; 17:20–21, 23–25; 18:31; 19:11).
Having conversed on the mountain about “his exodus, which he was about to fulfill in Jerusalem” (9:31), Jesus now “set his face” to go there (9:51). The next major section of Luke is structured by this final journey (9:52, 56, 57; 10:1, 38; 11:53; 13:22, 32–33; 17:11; 18:31–32; 18:35; 19:1, 11, 28–29, 41, 45). From a geographical and prophetic point of view, the journey itself ends when Jesus enters the temple (19:45–46; cf. Mal 3:1b). However, and more significantly, in regard to God’s eschatological timetable, it will only be complete when “the days for him to be taken up” are fulfilled (9:51).
According to Isaiah, the Servant of the Lord would be lifted up and glorified because he gave his life in order to justify the many (Isa 52:13; 53:10–12). Taking up where the Servant promises left off, Daniel’s vision showed the Son of Man coming to the Ancient of Days to receive his glorious kingdom (Dan 7:13–14). After his resurrection, Jesus will explain the final events of his life as the fulfillment of the promises associated with these two great figures, declaring that the Messiah had to suffer before entering his glory (24:26). Here, at this major turning-point where the narrative begins to tell of Jesus’s final journey towards Jerusalem and the “exodus” he will accomplish in the holy city (9:31), Luke looks towards the ascension/exaltation that will conclude Jesus’s earthly ministry (Acts 1:2, 11, 22) and see him come to the Father’s right hand as the Son of Man, to reign as both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36; 7:56). This goal now becomes Jesus’s determined purpose, and he sets his face like flint as he strides towards achieving it (cf. Isa 50:7; Ezek 3:9).
9:52–56 As this final journey begins, he sends messengers ahead of him to prepare his way, just as John had prepared his way at the beginning. But the Samaritans did not receive him because of their prejudice against Jerusalem. Evoking Elijah’s memory, James and John requested permission for them to call fire down upon the village (2Kgs 1:10–14)—no doubt expressing the same prejudice as the Samaritans in reverse! But Jesus rebuked them, and they kept moving village by village towards his goal. There will be no interim judgement now that the final judgement is in view.
9:57–58 Someone came up to Jesus and declared, “I will follow wherever you might go” (9:57). Standing out from expressions of unbelief he has already encountered, this is an exceptional declaration. The reader knows that true following will be to follow Jesus to the death (9:22–27). Jesus informed the man that his expressed commitment will mean a rootless existence, like that of the disciples, leaving home and family with only the prospect of their potential death ahead of them—a decision justified in view of the imminence of the arrival of the kingdom of God (5:11, 28; cf. 18:28–30).
9:59–60 To another, Jesus said: “Follow me” (9:59), but the man requested permission to first remain with his father until his father dies. He misses the urgency of the times in which Jesus gave him this call. In the final stage of God’s eschatological timetable, there is no leisure for these usual protocols of life to be fulfilled. The call is now, with the kingdom imminent, and Jesus’s suffering and glorification draw nearer with every step towards Jerusalem. Jesus’s reply reiterates the priority of the times: now is the time for the kingdom of God and its imminent arrival to be proclaimed.
9:61–62 Another man also had good intentions but missed the urgency of the times. Jesus reset the urgency of the commitment in the light of the imminent kingdom. Now is not the time to have a foot in two worlds (cf. 1Kgs 19:19–21). You follow now without looking back, because that is the only step that positions a person well for the kingdom that is just about to arrive.
10:1–12 Since the End was now drawing closer by the footstep, “the Lord” appointed seventy-two others and sent them out in pairs to prepare his way (cf. 9:52). Given the urgency of the times, he urged them to pray for even more labourers in the Lord’s harvest and warned them of the inherent danger involved (10:3; cf. 2:34–35). As with the mission of the Twelve (9:1–6), they were to travel lightly and quickly, without fussing about accommodation arrangements. Sent to extend the reach of Jesus’s ministry (cf. 10:2), he commissions them to heal and—as he, John, and the Twelve had already done—to preach the kingdom of God (4:43; 8:1; 9:2, 11). But now, with the End in sight, that same message had an extra note of urgency (9:27, 31, 51). Whether a town receives them or not, they were to proclaim that the kingdom of God was no longer in the far-distant future, but it “has come near” (10:9, 11; 9:27; contrast Dan 12:4–13).
10:13–16 After warning them of the towns that will not accept them, Jesus pronounced “Woe” upon Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, where his mighty works had been performed but without sufficient repentance in response. If the ancient enemies of Israel had experienced his messianic works, then they would have repented long ago, and so they will find it more bearable in the coming judgement than those who are currently not responding to Jesus’s last-days mission. If Jesus himself has encountered resistance, then so will the seventy-two, for they go out in his name, on his mission, and as people hear and reject them, they hear and reject Jesus, and they also hear and reject the Father who lies behind it all (cf. 9:48).
10:17–20 These “lambs sent among wolves” (9:3) returned rejoicing that even the demons were subject to them since they came in Jesus’s name. In this assault on the demonic realm, which further cleansed the land (cf. Zech 13:2), Jesus saw the anticipation of Satan’s downfall, which was expected before the End and will ultimately be accomplished through his death (cf. Isa 14:1–27; 52:10–12). Engaged in his mission, the seventy-two experienced the same power and protection that the Father promised his Messiah (cf. 4:1–13; Ps 91). But, pointing to something even more significant, Jesus urged them not to rejoice in the spirits being subject to them, but to “rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (10:20; Dan 7:10; 12:1–3). The kingdom of God is near, and what is of ultimate significance is to be a part of it when it comes. To have the certainty of knowing their names are already written on the register ought to be the cause of their greatest joy.
10:21–22 Jesus, the Servant of the Lord equipped by the Holy Spirit (3:21–22; Isa 42:1–4; 61:1–3), entered into their joy by thanking God, addressing him as “Father, Lord of heaven and earth” (10:21). Whereas the things of God remain hidden from “the wise and understanding” (in their own eyes, and the eyes of the world; cf. 7:29–30; Isa 5:21), he thanked God for revealing his truth to “little children,” in an outworking of the same pleasure the Father had already declared he had in his Son (cf. 3:22; 9:35). The truth revealed is as simple as it is profound: it is to experience Jesus as the Son, because of the Father, and, therefore, to experience the “Lord of heaven and earth” as the Father, because the Son chooses to share his own relationship with the Father with others (2Sam 7:14a; cf. Dan 7:13–14, 22). Despite the promised opposition, the seventy-two returned rejoicing at being involved in the messianic mission. But the greater joy was their share in the kingdom (cf. 22:28–30), and even now that future prospect caused both Father and Son to rejoice greatly.
10:23–24 So close to the core of his mission, the disciples had a particularly significant experience of this Father-Son revelation. He turned to them privately and declared that they were more blessed than prophets and kings of the past, for they were seeing what the ancients had longed for. What was way off in the future for David and Daniel (2Sam 7:1–14; Dan 7:13–14; 9:24–27; 12:4–13; cf. 1Pet 1:10–11) was unfolding right now in the mission of the Son, in which the Twelve were intimately involved.
10:25–29 With the promised End drawing near, even though he was putting Jesus to the test, a lawyer asked Jesus exactly the right question, for how is it possible to have the assurance that your name is written in heaven (9:20)? Missing the fact that the things of God are revealed by the choice of the Father and the Son, this man used a very human question to inquire about his own potential performance: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (10:25).
Jesus plays along. Because the Law is concerned with what Israel should do, he asks this expert to answer his own question: what does the Law say? The lawyer goes to the summary expressing the heart of the Law: love God and love your neighbour as yourself (Deut 6:5; Lev 19:18). Jesus commends his answer as correct, before reinforcing the path now before him: “do this, and you will live” (10:28). The lawyer presses back, perhaps not wanting to look stupid and fearing that his test had backfired. Wanting “to justify himself,” he suggested that things are not as simple as they might seem, for “who is my neighbour?” (10:29). He apparently assumes that he knows who God is, but if his neighbour cannot be properly defined, how can he do the commandments at the heart of the Law, which he must do if he is to enter eternal life in the kingdom of God?
10:30–37 In reply, Jesus tells him the famous Parable of the Good Samaritan, which has frequently been misread in a way that causes its tremendous significance and power to be lost completely. It is vital to read its every element as part of Jesus’s reply to the lawyer’s second question (10:29), in order to supply the answer to his first (10:25).
The story is simple. A traveller is stripped and beaten by robbers and left by the side of the Jerusalem-to-Jericho road “half-dead” (10:30), that is, in a life-threatening predicament, unable to help himself anymore. Jesus’s parable then parades before the lawyer two characters he would be impressed by and from whom he would expect good things. Instead, on coming upon the man in need and seeing his helpless state, first a priest and then a Levite passed by on the other side of the road. Even if the lawyer agreed with their decision, necessary perhaps to protect their own purity (Num 6:6; 19:4, 18), their actions would have caused him some distress, for Jesus told the story in such a way as to place him on the opposite side of the road, viewing his two colleagues through the eyes of the half-dead man in desperate need, as they go on their way not caring whether he will live or die.
From the same point of view, the lawyer then hears Jesus introducing a third character. Although from amongst the traditional enemies of Israel’s life and religion, this Samaritan shows the half-dead man a God-like compassion (7:13; 15:20). He tends to his immediate wounds, brings him to a place of safety for further care, and promises to continue to provide for him as he recovers. Entangled with this half-dead man and already experiencing distress at being abandoned by his two colleagues, the lawyer’s inner tension would have only increased as he vicariously experienced this great compassion from someone he perceived as an enemy.
Jesus snapped him back to current reality with a simple question, forcing him to draw his own conclusion from the parable in regard to his own circumstances: “Which of these three seems to have become a neighbour to the man who fell among the robbers?” (10:36). The question has the same structure as the lawyer’s second question (10:29), but with a twist. Jesus framed the question from the same viewpoint as the parable, excluding the half-dead man from being the neighbour himself, but asking which of the other three became a neighbour to him. After all, he was in no position to do anything for anyone else but was at the mercy of others to care for him in his desperate need. The lawyer grasped the point of Jesus’s parable but couldn’t even name the hated Samaritan: “The one who showed him mercy” (10:37a).
Jesus concluded the encounter with an instruction that now echoes the lawyer’s original question, but, again, with a massive twist: “you go, and do likewise” (10:37b). Having forced the lawyer to listen from the point of view of the half-dead man, Jesus is not now asking him to switch to the opposite viewpoint by saying that he ought to go out and act like the Samaritan, showing mercy to everyone in need. Jesus’s point is far more profound. By sustaining the previous viewpoint, he urges the man to see that he can do nothing at all, except receive mercy from another. Jesus urges him to go out and “do” that. The lawyer had come to Jesus to test him (10:25)—a hostile act towards someone he considered to be an enemy, and someone his associates were already seeking to destroy (6:7, 11; cf. 7:30; 9:22, 44). The only thing anyone can do to inherit anything is to be related to the right father. The only thing he can “do” to inherit eternal life is to receive mercy from the person he currently deems an enemy. The mercy of the Son will introduce him to the Father (10:16, 22), who will write his name in heaven (10:20) to guarantee his eternal future at the coming Day of Resurrection (Dan 7:10; 12:1–3).
10:38–42 As Jesus and his party continued towards Jerusalem, they entered one of the villages, which was presumably already primed for his arrival (9:51–53; 10:1) by the disciples’ message that the kingdom of God is near (v10:9, 11). A woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. While she busied herself with the expected duties of a host, her sister Mary sat at Jesus’s feet “hearing his word” (10:39). Like seed in good soil grows towards the coming harvest (8:11, 15, 18), this is the essential posture (cf. 9:62) of someone desiring to enter the coming kingdom. When Martha complained about Mary not assisting her in serving Jesus with hospitality, Jesus answered that Martha was “anxious and troubled about many things” (10:41; cf. 8:14), but there is only “one real need” (10:42). Just as he instructed the lawyer, it is not about doing for others, nor is it even about serving him. Instead, it is about receiving his mercy and being served by him (9:46–48; 22:27). All the merit earned in this world through meeting customary standards of behaviour is fickle and fleeting. Mary has chosen “the good share” (10:42), that is, she has chosen to inherit not the accolades of this world, but the things of God in the world to come (cf. 10:20, 25). By hearing the word of Jesus, she is well-positioned for the kingdom of God now rapidly drawing near.
11:1 Observing Jesus praying, a disciple asked him to teach them to pray, as John the Baptist had taught his own disciples. Nothing specific is known of the content of John’s prayers, but it would have been related to his special role as the messenger, preparing the way for the Lord to come and bringing the judgement and salvation promised for the last days. His prayers would also be charged with urgency and expectancy, for he was the last prophet to come before the greatest prophet, and then the End would come. His eschatological prayers would have focused on the End, praying for the one thing necessary in these last times: for people to turn to God in repentance with a view to the forgiveness of sins (cf. Dan 9), so that they would be ready when the axe finally fell (cf. 3:9).
11:2–4 In response to the disciple’s request, Jesus taught a prayer charged with the same eschatological focus, urgency, and single-mindedness. Addressing God as “Father” (11:2; cf. 10:21–22), it asks him to fulfill his promises for the future and to allow the one praying to experience the fulfillment of those promises in their own lifetime (cf. 9:27, 31, 51). Even though it has enjoyed widespread popularity and extended application since Jesus taught it, “the Lord’s Prayer” is of particular relevance for those listening to Jesus—the last generation before the End.
It asks for the Father to let his name be “hallowed” (11:2): “sanctified,” set apart from, and revered above all other names. This hallowing would come through the vindication of his people, through saving them from their sins and the plight those sins had brought (Pss 25:11; 79:9; Isa 48:9; Ezek 20:44; 36:22; Joel 2:17). In the exile, this plight provoked Daniel to pray that God would act for the sake of his name by restoring the fortunes of Jerusalem (Dan 9). God’s redemption would hallow his name. In Luke’s portrayal, Jerusalem was corrupt and still under the judgement of God, putting it in need of both redemption (1:68; 2:38; cf. 21:28; 24:21) and comfort through forgiveness (2:25). Jesus’s prayer asks for this to come about.
But Daniel also received a series of visions showing that the hallowing of God’s name would issue in the end of human kingdoms (Dan 2:44), to be replaced by the kingdom of God, which would be given into the hands of one like a Son of Man (Dan 7:13–14). This kingdom of God would be heralded by a final Jubilee (Dan 9:24–26), that is, a time of debts being forgiven. It would be preceded by a time of distress as never before experienced and inaugurated by the resurrection of the dead at the end of days (Dan 12:1–3). The second request of Jesus’s prayer asked for this future to arrive: “your kingdom come” (11:2). Let the cluster of preparatory events on God’s eschatological timetable all come about, so that the Son of Man might receive the kingdom of God and reign over his people forevermore!
Jesus’s prayer also asked for the Father to fulfill his eschatological promises within a definite timeframe: “our bread of the next day, give us as the bread of this day” (11:3). Just as the Israelites in the wilderness were supplied the Sabbath-day manna the day before and commanded to gather twice as much as they did on other days (Exod 16:5, 22–3, 25, 29), Jesus’s disciples are to request that the “bread” to be shared at the heavenly banquet (Isa 25:6–8; 55:2; cf. Joel 2:24–26; 3:18), the blessings of the age of resurrection, will become part of their own present experience. This would mean that, as those already engaged in bringing this forgiveness to others, they would also share in this blessing of the final Jubilee: “forgive us our sins, for we also are forgiving every debtor to us” (11:4). At the beginning, Jesus was tested in the wilderness by the devil, who had then left him “until an opportune time” (4:13), for the final test was yet to come (see 22:3). With the example of the wayward wilderness generation in the past, and the imminent arrival of God’s promised future, the final petition asks that they might not be tested in such a way as to make them miss out on God’s promised rest (cf. 8:13): “lead us not into testing” (11:4)—that is, ensure that we make it through the final distress and enter the kingdom (Dan 12:1–3).
11:5–8 After delivering his bold prayer for the eschatological promises to arrive now, Jesus used a parable and a series of metaphors to assure his disciples that this prayer will most certainly be answered. Addressing his closest circle, who are already engaged in extending his Jubilee mission of forgiveness, he asks a very long question: “which of you” will go at midnight to a friend, seeking bread for an unexpected guest, to find the friend refusing to give it? None of them would expect this. Indeed, says Jesus, even if he wouldn’t do it as a friend (which he probably would), because of “your shamelessness,” that is, his utter confidence in the relationship between them, he would rise and give him “as much as he needs” (11:8).
11:9–13 How much more will the Father supply the “one real need” (cf. 10:42) in regard to the coming kingdom! The disciples simply need to ask, seek, and knock at the door, and they will receive. Why? Because if even earthly fathers (“being evil,” 11:13) give good things to their children, then the heavenly Father will surely give the promised Holy Spirit to those who ask. The Old Testament had two promises of the Spirit for the last days. The coming Messiah would be anointed with the Spirit (Isa 11:2; 42:1) and, consequently, the Lord’s people would also be endowed with the Spirit (e.g., Num 11:29; Isa 32:15; 44:3; 59:21; Ezek 11:19; 18:31; 36:26–27; 37:14; 39:29; Joel 2:28–32). The disciples’ prayer for their share of the kingdom in the present time is assured of a positive answer, for the Spirit has already descended upon Jesus Christ, marking him as the Messiah.
After John prepared the way for the Mighty One who will baptise “in Holy Spirit and fire” (3:16), Jesus was declared the Son of God and the Servant of the Lord, anointed by the Holy Spirit to complete his task (3:21–22) and led by the Spirit to be tested as Son of God (4:1) and to begin his teaching in Galilee (4:14). He declared to Nazareth, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” claiming that he was the Servant bringing in the eschatological Jubilee year of the Lord’s favour (4:18–19). As time for his “lifting up” as Isaiah’s victorious Servant and Daniel’s Son of Man drew near (9:51), he headed for Jerusalem, sending the seventy-two (10:1–16), just like he had previously sent out the Twelve (9:1–6), in a final mission to Israel before the End. As they returned rejoicing in the results of the mission, he saw a foretaste of the final victory over Satan that would portend the End (10:19), and he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit that, through the word of his messengers, people were coming to the Son and through the Son to the Father (10:21–22). The Spirit promised for the age to come is already at work in their midst. This is exactly what Jesus’s opponents fail to understand (11:20).
11:14–16 After yet another messianic miracle (cf. Isa 35:5–6; Zech 13:2), the crowds marvelled—although this was not entirely positive. Some of them concluded that he was a magician, in league with the devil himself—“he casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons” (11:15)—while others wanted him to prove himself further by giving them “a sign from heaven” (11:16). Once again showing that the judgement process was already operating through his presence with Israel (cf. 2:35), Jesus knew their thoughts and responded to each group in turn (11:17–28; 29–54).
11:17–23 Jesus responds to the first charge by pointing to its illogicality. If true, then Satan is divided against himself and his kingdom will not stand. And besides, are those amongst the Jews who also cast out demons similarly doing the work of the devil? He then proposes a dramatic alternative: if he is casting out demons by “the finger of God,” like the defeated magicians of Egypt recognised in Moses (Exod 8:19), then “the kingdom of God is upon you” (11:20). This is because the Servant of the Lord is at work, and the next thing to come on the prophetic timetable will be the Son of Man and his kingdom. Through a parable, he hints that he is the stronger one spoken about by John (3:15–17), now engaging in the attack on Satan’s kingdom which will ultimately result in dividing his spoil (Isa 53:12). His presence is currently dividing Israel, and those who are not with him in his mission to gather together the lost sheep of Israel are against him and causing further division (2:34–35).
11:24–26 By not receiving him as the Servant, the people of Israel are placed in a precarious position. The Messiah was to cleanse the land of the unclean spirit (Zech 13:2), which Jesus has just now been doing. But once he has done that, if Israel does not respond properly (cf. 7:29–30), then they are in danger of finding themselves in a worse place than previously.
11:27–28 At that point, in fulfillment of Mary’s prophecy (1:48), a woman cried out that his mother was blessed, perhaps recognising the wisdom with which he was speaking. But as blessed as his mother might be, just as his power and wisdom didn’t arise from the underworld, neither did it come from his human origins. Jesus responded by repeating what he had previously stressed, that those who are truly blessed, just as his mother was (1:38, 45), are “those who hear the word of God and keep it” (11:28; 6:46–49; 8:21; 10:42). The blessed are those who hear the word of Jesus as the word of God, for the great promises of the Father are now being fulfilled in the Son.
11:29–33 To those who wanted to test him further by asking for “a sign from heaven”—even though Jesus himself is that sign (2:34)—he spoke in terms of the “generations” expected to arise across the years as God’s plans unfolded towards fulfillment. On some schemes promoted amongst first-century Israel, the final generation before the coming of the Messiah would be corrupt, especially in regard to the religious leadership (e.g. T.Levi 17–18). In the wilderness and as the righteous remnant of Israel, Jesus declared to the devil that it was not right to test God (4:12). The fact that “this generation” now tests Jesus by requesting a sign from heaven indicates that they are “an evil generation” (11:29; cf. 9:41). The only further sign that they will get is “the sign of Jonah.” Just as Jonah “became a sign” to Nineveh, so “the Son of Man will be a sign to this generation” (11:30). Since she travelled from the ends of the earth to learn the wisdom of Solomon (1Kgs 10:1–13), the Queen of the South will rise up and condemn “this generation.” “Something greater” than Solomon is here (11:31), and yet “this generation” rejects his wisdom. The people of Nineveh will do the same, having repented at the preaching of Jonah, and yet Israel has not responded in the same way, even though “something greater than Jonah is here” (11:32).
11:33–36 Drawing further on his parable of the lamp (8:16–18), Jesus observed that a person needed a working eye in order to receive its light, and if the eye is bad, then the person will be left in darkness. It is not about getting more signs; it is about responding to the Messiah now amongst them. The people of “this generation” need to have ears that hear and eyes that see (8:10), lest they are left in their darkness and miss out on the light of God’s salvation that the Messiah is now rapidly moving towards bringing about (Isa 9; 46:9).
11:37–44 The religious leaders were a big part of the problem of “this generation,” and Jesus continued the judgement process by exposing their hearts (cf. 2:34–35). When invited to dinner at a Pharisee’s house, Jesus’s host was astonished that he did not engage in the customary ritual washings before the meal. Jesus indicted the Pharisees for being so obsessed with cleansing external things, when they should pay attention to cleansing what is inside. If they gave as their “alms” the “things within” (11:41), then this would make everything clean for them. But as it is, all Jesus can do is pronounce a series of “woes” upon the Pharisees. Obsessed with religious minutiae, they “disregard the judgement [process/day]” (11:42; cf. 10:14; 11:31, 32), which was promised at the end of time (Dan 7:13–14) but is now already operative in the work of Christ. Their religiosity has also led them to disregard “the love of God” (11:42), which, according to their Law, is the key to eternal life (10:27–28), but which now must be shaped by the positive reception of the forgiveness of sins brought by Jesus, the Son of God and Servant of the Lord (cf. 7:47–50; Ps 2:12; Isa 49:7; 52:13). Instead of living life with the judgement of God in view, they court the accolades of human beings, and, in the process, instead of teaching others to love God, like unmarked graves they infect the unwary with their own corruption.
11:45–52 A lawyer objected that Jesus’s sayings about the Pharisees also insulted their associates, the lawyers. In response, Jesus also indicts the lawyers for loading other people with burdens too great to bear and participating in their ancestors’ rejection of the Lord’s prophets. They are part of “this generation,” that is, the final generation before the End, which will be held accountable for all the blood of the prophets from Abel to Zechariah (cf. 2Sam 4:11; Gen 4:1–16; 2Chr 24:17–22)—not through inheriting their fathers’ guilt (Ezek 18), but by failing to learn from their judgement. For rather than repenting to gain a “new heart and a new spirit” (Ezek 18:31), they continue the sins of their fathers by rejecting God’s messengers, now including the last prophet, John, and the greatest prophet of all, Jesus the Christ of God. And, like the Pharisees (11:44), rather than assisting the people of Israel to find the key to the knowledge of God, having not found the way into the kingdom themselves, they also hinder others attempting to find it.
11:53–54 In response to Jesus’s harsh words, the Pharisees and lawyers prove them to be true. Rather than responding to him as their Messiah, they began to press him with further questions in an endeavour to catch him out, and so open himself up to their condemnation and his destruction. The corruption of the final generation brings Israel’s past corruption to its nadir. The Servant of the Lord is in their midst, bringing the long-awaited age of forgiveness, just before the lifting up of the Son of Man to receive the kingdom of God and to share it with the suffering people of God. But these teachers of Israel do not have the ears to hear, the eyes to see, or the heart to respond, and so they bring the entire history of human rebellion to its worst moment by rejecting the Son and so rejecting the Father (10:16). The only hope now is for the Lord to continue to show his characteristic mercy.
12:1–3 With the religious men already actively testing him in their attempt to catch him out and destroy him (6:11; 10:25; 11:16, 54), the ever-growing multitudes not only represent the growing success of his mission, but they also begin to constitute a threat. In their failure to lead Israel into true knowledge (11:44, 52), the hypocrisy of the religious teachers will spread to others like leaven, making everyone a potential threat (cf. Mic 7:5–6). Jesus urged his disciples to beware, for with the Pharisees and scribes ready to ambush and trap him, even what his disciples say in secret will become widely known. Yes, their words will be those of the kingdom of God, but this is exactly the message that is being opposed. Jesus is not urging them to be silent but warning them that the proclamation to which they are committed may bring unpleasant consequences.
12:4–7 But they are not to be afraid of these hypocritical opponents of Jesus’s growing movement. Unlike the Pharisees (11:42), they are to bear in mind the future Judgement Day. The most that human beings can do is to kill the body, but, as the one with the authority to cast people into hell, if there is anyone to fear, it is God. There is no need for them to fear him, however, for through Jesus they know God as Father, and because of Jesus he values them more than the many tiny sparrows he cares for so well.
12:8–12 At Judgement Day, those who acknowledge Jesus before men will be acknowledged by the Son of Man before the angels of God, but those who deny Jesus in this world will be denied by the Son of Man in the next. Since, at the time Jesus was speaking, the Son of Man was yet to come into his kingdom, even a word spoken about that glorious figure will be forgiven, but not so for those who speak against the Holy Spirit. If Israel refuses to recognise that Jesus is now operating as the Servant of the Lord equipped by the Spirit to fulfill his ministry amongst Israel (3:21–22; Isa 42:1–4), then in rejecting him, they are also rejecting the forgiveness he brings. This is extremely dangerous, because it means that if they reject this last-days work of the Spirit, then they will never be forgiven. So, as the disciples are hauled before various human authorities, they are not to fear, but in that hour, they are simply to say what the Holy Spirit has already taught them through the Servant. This will ensure that the opponents have another opportunity to hear Jesus’s word about the coming kingdom.
12:13–15 When someone attempted to draw him into a squabble about family inheritance, Jesus asked the man who made him a judge or arbitrator over him? This was not so much a denial of having this function at all, but an adjustment of its timing and purview. When he comes as the Son of Man, Jesus will be the judge of all, but his judgement will not be about ultimately trivial matters of inheritance in this world. He will be judge and arbitrator over all in relation to the inheritance of the kingdom of God. To reset the man’s sights, he warns him against covetousness and advises him that life does not consist of the abundance of possessions.
12:16–21 He continues to shift the man’s perspective by telling a parable about a man who had sufficient this-worldly goods to presume he would have a charmed existence for many years. He looked forward to his future using the well-known slogan “Eat, drink, and be merry,” but he overlooked its second part: “for tomorrow you die” (Isa 22:13). Requiring his life from him that night, God asked him who will now benefit from all his goods (Eccl 2:21). This “fool” epitomises everyone who lays up treasure in this world and is not “rich toward God” (12:21). To be wise, one must reckon with the brevity of life and the certainty of death (Ps 90:12; Eccl 7:2, 4).
12:22–31 Behind the inner drive to acquire possessions is a profound anxiety aroused by human mortality. Jesus told his disciples not to be anxious about the necessities of life, for life is more than food and clothing. His children are of more value to God than the birds that he adequately feeds. Anxiety doesn’t add a single day to your lifespan, so the problem of mortality remains. Even the grass is arrayed in God’s finery, and yet its existence is fleeting, just like that of human beings (Pss 37:2; 90:5–6; 102:11; 129:6)—won’t he clothe his people too? Human beings live a fragile existence, but the word of God is lasting and permanent (Isa 40:6–8), and after it came to John in the wilderness (3:1), the kingdom of God is now being proclaimed by Jesus for all to grasp for themselves (cf. 16:16). Instead of anxiously seeking these staples of existence just like people of any nation of the world, they should be assured that the Father knows they need them. These things will simply be given to them as they seek his kingdom, for seeking his kingdom is what life ultimately is about.
12:32–34 They should not even be afraid about the future. It is the Father’s good pleasure to give them the kingdom (22:28–30). They can even dispense with their possessions to the more needy, as they seek the treasure in heaven that is absolutely secure. The future kingdom should shape all of life, for “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (12:34).
12:35–40 The disciples need to be constantly ready, like servants expecting their master to come at any minute, or a master taking action against the constant threat of being robbed. They need to be ready for the kingdom of God, for it will arrive when the Son of Man comes to the Ancient of Days (Dan 7:13–14), and that moment will arrive at an unpredictable hour.
12:41–48 When Peter asked whether this parable was for the disciples or for everybody, Jesus extended the theme of a master returning. He will come unexpectedly, and when he does, he will reward those servants engaged in their duties and punish those who are not. Those who were clear about what he wanted may be more accountable, but even those who were not will be called to account for any reprehensible actions. Everyone needs to be ready, but those who have been given much (like the disciples) should be ready all the more. Similarly, when the Son of Man comes to the Ancient of Days, he will be the judge of all, and those who have heard Jesus’s teaching ought to be expecting that imminent event and giving themselves to the proclamation of the coming kingdom (9:60).
12:49 Jesus explained that he had come “to cast fire on the land [of Israel],” adding that he wished that fire was already kindled. In the Old Testament, fire from heaven was associated with God’s punishment, or a definitive demonstration of his presence with his people (cf. 9:54; Gen 19:24; Exod 9:23; 1Kgs 18:36, 38; 2Kgs 1:10, 12, 14; 1Chr 21:25–26; 2Chr 7:1–3; Job 1:16). Looking towards the last days, the prophet Joel pictured the Day of the Lord as a judgement of fire (Joel 2:1–21) after which the age of the Spirit would come (Joel 2:28–32).
12:50 Switching metaphors, Jesus spoke of the coming judgement as “a baptism” that he was “to be baptised with.” Engaged in his own water baptism, John had spoken of the Mighty One to follow him bringing judgement, using the metaphor of a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire (3:9, 16–17). The idea behind “baptism” is not simply a cleansing; it also denotes being overwhelmed with water (literally) or some other trouble (metaphorically). The concept of being overwhelmed with metaphorical floodwaters is found fairly often in the Old Testament, where the Greek versions also occasionally use the actual vocabulary of baptism (Pss 9:15 [Gk: 16]; 42:7; 49:3, 15; 69:2; Job 9:31; 22:11; Isa 30:27–28; 43:2; Jer 38:22 [Gk: 45:22]; Jonah 2:3–6). This metaphorical usage lies behind Jesus’s statement, with Psalm 69 being particularly informative for his meaning. The Psalmist uses the image of being overtaken by the floodwaters (69:1–2) in parallel to him being threatened by his enemies (69:14), entering the grave (69:15), and experiencing what amounts to the wrath of God (69:17–18). Jesus’s death will be his baptism, the moment when he endures the wrath of God (Luke 23:44–46). His death will be the last judgement out of which the age of the Spirit will come (cf. Acts 2:14–36). Thinking of his own involvement in this final great event for the world, Jesus spoke with great emotion: “how I am constrained until this goal is completed!” (12:50).
12:51–53 He asks whether they think he is bringing “peace in the land [of Israel]” (12:51). As the Messiah, he will certainly bring the eschatological age of peace (1:79; 2:14; cf. 2:29; 7:50; 8:48; 10:5; 14:32; 19:38; 24:36), but as they are, the people of Israel are not ready for it (cf. 19:42). To bring about the age of peace in the kingdom of God, judgement must fall, and, as a separation process, judgement means that he will bring division in the land (3:17; 2:34–35). As predicted for the last days, even households and families will be divided (Mic 7:6). But now it is apparent that this last-days judgement has already begun with Jesus’s presence, and he is under constraint until it is finally completed.
12:54–59 But the final generation of Israel still does not see (8:10) the urgency of their current situation. Jesus berated the crowds because they were able “to prove” weather signs, by acting on what they observe in the sky, but they cannot do the same for “this time” (12:56). Otherwise, why wouldn’t they judge for themselves the right way to act, as they would when facing a merely human court? And yet, the coming judgement will be far more exacting, demanding payment of “the very last penny” (12:59).
13:1–5 At that very time, some in the crowd told him about an atrocity committed by Pilate, unknown from other sources. Evidently at Pilate’s command these Galileans had been killed while in Jerusalem to make their sacrifices. In his reply, Jesus referred to another disaster, also unknown from other sources, when a tower in the Pool of Siloam fell, crushing eighteen people. The first group died for being on the wrong side of politics and the other for being on the wrong side of nature. Jesus drew the same lesson from both groups of victims who were in the wrong place at the wrong time: Do you think they were worse sinners than other people? Some might have thought so, but Jesus denied that they were. Precisely because they were sinners like the rest of humanity, they brought a warning to those who survived. It is only possible to turn back to God while alive. If you don’t repent, then you may also perish in the accidents of history and nature, dying suddenly and unprepared. If you haven’t turned to God, what then will be your eternal state?
13:6–9 By means of a parable about a man seeking figs from a fig tree for three years and finding none, Jesus told his fellow Israelites that they are already on borrowed time. The fig tree was an Old Testament image associated with the eschatological age (1Kgs 4:25; 2Kgs 18:31; Isa 36:16; Mic 4:4; Zech 3:10), and the “three years” may be an echo of the present time since first John and then Jesus began calling for Israel to repent (3:1–9; 4:14)—even if it meant “time sufficient” rather than the exact period. Coming to the last wicked generation before the End, their preaching assumed the need for Israel to repent in order to receive forgiveness of sins and enter the imminent kingdom of God. Some had heard the word and responded well, but the leadership were still opposed to it, and many others still stood with them rather than responding to the call of John and Jesus while time remained.
The time remaining is the point of the parable. The owner wanted to cut down the tree, but the vinedresser intervened. “Give it another year,” he said (13:8), promising further nurture, but if that came to nothing, then he should cut it down. In Jewish apocalyptic circles a “year of grace” was expected with the atonement to come at the End (Dan 9:24–27; 11Q Melchizedek). John has come and gone. After generations of rebellion against their God, the Messiah is now in the midst of Israel’s final generation before the End, nurturing them for just a little longer (9:41). Lest they find themselves like the victims of politics and nature, suddenly swept away and unprepared for the Judgement Day, this limited time of grace now surrounds them. Of all times, this is the time for Israel to turn back to God by embracing the Messiah already in their midst who is bringing the promised Jubilee forgiveness before the resurrection day and the eternal kingdom finally arrives.
13:10–17 Continuing his messianic healing in this time of grace, one Sabbath Jesus healed a woman previously bent over by a disabling spirit for eighteen years, and as she stood up straight after his healing touch, she glorified God (Isa 35:5–6). Becoming indignant, the ruler of the synagogue told the people to come for healing on the other six days of the week when it is legitimate to work, not on the Sabbath when it is not. Jesus answered this indirect criticism by charging the religious leaders with hypocrisy. Everyone tends to their animals on the Sabbath, so why shouldn’t this woman bound by Satan for eighteen years be released from this bond on the Sabbath? The rest enjoyed on the weekly Sabbath had always pointed ahead to the defeat of Satan and the arrival of God’s rest in future times (Isa 11:1–10; Zech 13:2), and with the Messiah already at work and the kingdom of God now imminent, this particular Sabbath was especially appropriate for his work of healing. His reply shamed his adversaries and caused the people to rejoice at the glorious works happening through him.
13:18–21 Using two more parables, Jesus reinforced the need for Israel to respond to his message, even if it came without the fanfare that some were expecting (cf. 17:20–21). That three-year-fruitless tree would sit for another year, and it would only become obvious at harvest time whether or not it will bear fruit. The kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus and his messengers (4:43; 6:20; 7:28; 8:1; 9:2, 11, 60; 10:9, 11) is presently not the radical change in the state of affairs promised by Daniel (Dan 7:1–14; 12); it is simply an item in a message proclaimed that must be believed, but which can nevertheless be rejected or ignored or simply overlooked. For it is like a tiny mustard seed growing quietly in a man’s garden. In time, it will grow into an enormous tree that would encompass the world, when the Son of Man begins to rule over all nations and peoples of the earth (Ezek 17:22–24; Dan 4:10–12; 7:13–14). Or, again, it is presently like unseen leaven, quietly working through a batch of dough and bringing about a result that is only obvious at the end. Without “sight,” Jesus is saying, Israel’s present time of grace requires faith to be ready for the promised End when it suddenly arrives.
13:22–30 As he continued to press towards Jerusalem (9:51), his message about the imminent kingdom provoked a question about whether only a few would be saved. Rather than speculating about numbers, Jesus urged them to make a decision while this time of grace is theirs. Once the door is shut, it will be too late. It is not enough to be part of the last generation with the Messiah in their midst. Without repentance and faith in him, despite being the descendants of the patriarchs, they will find themselves outside the kingdom, while even Gentiles will be feasting at the heavenly banquet table with others who trusted in God and so were saved by him (Isa 25:6–9).
13:31–35 Precisely when Jesus was urging the people not to miss out on the coming kingdom, some Pharisees arrived and told him to move on because Herod wanted to kill him. The Pharisees were those who rejected Jesus because they had already rejected John (7:29–30), and Herod was the one who had killed the forerunner (3:19–20; 9:7–9). This is not a friendly word from Jesus’s allies, but a threat from his enemies. Having no legal power to kill him themselves (John 18:31), they have joined forces with the political power of Antipas (with his connections to Rome), who has already proven useful in removing an unwanted prophet. Now they gloat that Herod is also after Jesus (cf. 9:7–9; 23:7–8). Jesus sends his own message back to Herod through the Pharisees, the immediate audience for his words. Across the next days, he will continue to “cast out demons and complete healings” (13:32, Zech 13:2; Isa 35:5–6), for the plan of God will not be thwarted and the divine timetable—now counted in days—will continue to unfold until “on the third day I will reach my goal” (13:32). Nevertheless, he will be moving from Herod’s territory, for it is unimaginable that a prophet would perish outside of Jerusalem (9:31, 51). As the Pharisees threaten him, they exemplify the tragedy facing the people of Jerusalem, the city which kills the prophets and others sent to it. Jesus has often wanted to gather them like a hen gathers her brood—an image of a pending new creation (cf. Gen 1:2)—but Jerusalem was not willing. Now she is forsaken, and she will not see Jesus truly until she says, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (13:35; Ps 118:26). This is what they didn’t say for the prophets of the past and what they have refused to say about Jesus so far by not acknowledging him as their Messiah. Will Jerusalem recognise the coming king now in this time of grace and receive his benefits? Or will they only recognise him when he comes as their judge, when it will be too late for forgiveness, and they find themselves cast out, with others—even Gentiles—taking their place at the feast.
14:1–6 When a ruler of the Pharisees invited him to a Sabbath meal, they were watching him closely, but the occasion gave Jesus the opportunity for a series of conversations with various people associated with the meal.
Looking back to Creation itself and the exodus from Egypt (Gen 2:1–4; Exod 20:8–11; Deut 5:12–15), and forward to the heavenly banquet (Isa 25:6–8), the Sabbath meal was a most significant occasion. Having been criticised previously for healing on the Sabbath (13:10–17), when a man with the dropsy had been placed in front of him at the table, he asked his critics (the lawyers and Pharisees watching him) whether it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not? From the previous incident, he evidently thought it was, but one of their number had spoken strongly against it (13:14). On this occasion, when they remained silent, he healed the man and sent him on his way. When he told his adversaries that if their son or ox fell into a well on a Sabbath they would pull him out, they were not bold enough to respond.
14:7–11 Noticing the jostling for positions of honour at the banquet (those closest to the host), Jesus told the other guests a closely related parable. If they are invited to a wedding and take a place of honour, then the host asks them to move, they will be publicly shamed. It is better to take one of the lowest-ranked places so that when the host moves you up in the rank-order, you are publicly honoured. Jesus concluded with the maxim that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (14:11), looking to the reversal of fortunes that will come with the kingdom of God.
14:12–14 Caught up in the contemporary system of reciprocity, the host had his own way of courting the honour of others. Jesus told him not to invite friends, relatives, and rich neighbours who would then be obligated to reciprocate with a later invitation. Doing so was a way they could all be seen mingling with the right kind of people, thus mutually enhancing each other’s status in the community. Instead, he should invite “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” (14:13), that is, those who cannot repay the invitation. This reversal of usual custom can only take place with eyes on the reward of blessedness to be given at “the resurrection of the just” (14:14)
14:15–24 After hearing this, a fellow guest declared the blessedness of everyone who will eat in the kingdom of God. This is more in line with what the Sabbath is all about, but it begs the question of who these people will be. Responding with another parable, Jesus told of a man giving a great banquet and inviting many, each of whom declined for a variety of excuses related to the practicalities of ordinary life. Jesus’s point would be readily understood, for nobody would refuse such an invitation because they had bought a field, or had to try out a yoke of oxen, or even because they had recently married. In the background, the reader recalls that it would be exactly these kinds of everyday concerns that choke out the word of God, causing people to miss out on the coming harvest (8:14). In the parable, the host grew angry at his servant’s report and sent out a forceful invitation to the poor, crippled, blind, and lame, and anyone at all that they might come across, compelling them to come to the feast. The host is adamant: the banquet table must be filled with guests, and none of those originally invited will be a part of that grand occasion. In this parabolic form, Jesus is reiterating his reply to the man who asked how many would be saved (13:22–30). To share in the heavenly banquet the leaders and the people of Israel need to respond to the invitation that is right now being issued to them by their Messiah, before the invitation goes out beyond the boundaries of Israel to the nations.
14:25–33 Great crowds of people had accompanied him to the meal, and, presumably, as was the custom with such events, they were still gathered outside the house while the banquet was going on inside, probably in their view. Having addressed everyone at the meal, Jesus turned to the crowds and spoke about the great cost of being a disciple. They must be prepared to be accused of hating those close to them, and even their own life, in comparison to their commitment to him. But because he is going to the cross, to follow him may also involve a cross of their own. If they do not want to reckon with the fact that they will lose all their relationships in this world and even their own life through embracing that potential cross, then they cannot be his disciple. That is the only direction in which he is going, and he is heading there relentlessly (9:21–27, 31, 51–53; 13:32–33). When he reaches his goal, it will be the climactic event in God’s eschatological timetable, which will issue in the long-awaited kingdom of God (cf. 9:27). The crowds need to calculate the cost of following him (cf. 9:24–25), just as the builder of a tower calculates what is needed to complete it, or a king facing an oncoming army calculates the numbers he needs to win. To make it crystal clear for them, Jesus concludes by saying that anyone who does not renounce all they have in this world (for the sake of the next; cf. 9:24–27) simply cannot be his disciple. His call is to follow him into the kingdom of God, by way of the cross.
14:34–35 Just as salt is good if it makes a difference to food but is useless if it becomes tasteless, all the differences created in human life through the criteria of honour and shame, possessions, bodily states, or even simply the relationships within which people ordinarily exist, are useless if they do not serve “the one true need” (10:42). Such customary distinctions were hindering Israel’s leadership recognising their Messiah, whereas those with no social esteem were coming to him readily and finding healing and salvation as a foretaste of the good things to come. Such tasteless salt should be thrown away, so that the word being sown by the Sower can be heard and believed. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (14:35; 8:8–18).
15:1–7 While the tax collectors and sinners were drawing near to hear him, the Pharisees and scribes were still grumbling that he was welcoming sinners and eating with them (5:30; 7:34). He told them a parable stating the obvious, that a man with one hundred sheep will leave the ninety-nine to seek after one lost sheep. When he finds it and brings it home, he will call his friends and neighbours to celebrate. Jesus drew the lesson that, in the same way, heaven is filled with more joy over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine people who consider themselves righteous with no need of repentance (cf. 18:9).
15:8–10 Or again, possessing ten coins, a woman will nevertheless search diligently for one coin that is lost and call others together to rejoice that it is found. Similarly, “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (15:10).
15:11–32 Or again, a man had two sons, the younger of whom asks for his inheritance and then goes to a far country and squanders it. When famine comes, he finds himself tending pigs, so hungry that even the pig food has started to look good. This was a picture of how lost he truly was. Like those who left the half-dead man untended (10:31–32), despite the boy’s obvious need, no one gave anything to this human being who had been reduced to a beast’s existence.
But then Jesus announces the turning point of the story. When the boy “came to himself” (15:17), he recalled how well his father treated his own hired servants, and he formulated a plan to return home and say to his father, “I have sinned against heaven and before you” (15:18)—he aligns the offence and dishonour he has caused his father with the offence and dishonour he had caused God. Feeling that he is no longer worthy to be a son, perhaps his father will take him in as a hireling.
Remarkably, when his father saw him approaching, filled with God-like compassion he rushed out to embrace him (cf. Jer 31:20). Before the boy can get his prepared speech finished, he is swept up by the father’s overwhelming joy at his return. The father calls for a feast because, “this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” (15:24). Just like heaven celebrates when a sinner repents, everyone celebrated this wayward son’s return.
When the older son heard the celebrations, a servant told him his father had ordered a feast because his brother had arrived home. Rather than entering his father’s joy, he became angry and refused to go in, like some petulant child (cf. 7:31–35). But, as a second great marvel in this story, his wrath about his father’s compassion shown to his brother actually brought a further display of his father’s great love. This son who seemed to be always close, constantly experiencing the bounty of his father, now needed his love all the more. When his anger made him refuse to enter his father’s joy, the father entreated him further. The elder son spoke as if he were a slave, not a son, resenting the festivities over his wayward brother. His father reminded him, “You are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (15:31), but, that said, what could be more fitting than to celebrate because “your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found” (15:32). The lesson for Jesus’s grumbling opponents (15:1–2) is clear.
16:1–13 Following the parables about the lost, Jesus told his disciples about a rich man who received charges against a manager who was squandering his property. He summoned the manager and told him to turn in an account, for he cannot be a manager anymore. The man wondered what he would do if his employment ceased, for he was not strong enough for labour and too ashamed to beg. So he formulated a plan so that, upon his dismissal, people would welcome him into their homes. He called the debtors and reduced their debts to something they could presumably pay, which would naturally please them and, at the same time, bring in some revenue for his master. The plan was so shrewd that even the master, despite his losses, praised him. Noting how “the sons of this world” (16:8) are shrewd in their this-worldly dealings, Jesus urged his hearers to “make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous Mammon” (16:9) in order to be received into the “eternal dwellings.” Even the things of this world should be harnessed towards the coming kingdom of God. Serving God with undivided commitment will entail using such worldly goods for the sake of God’s kingdom work.
16:14–18 This difficult paragraph indicts the Pharisees for having the wrong focus and values. As part of the wicked final generation before the end, the Pharisees were “lovers of money” (T.Levi 17:11). They justify themselves before men, like the lawyer who was given the parable of the half-dead man (10:29; cf. 18:9–14), and yet God knows their hearts (cf. 2:34–35) and finds their self-exaltation abominable. If they are ever to find eternal life in the age to come, then they must receive mercy from this hated “Samaritan,” whom they are now ridiculing. With the coming of Christ, the world has come to its most significant turning-point. The “Law and the Prophets” (16:16), that is, the time of promise, lasted until the preaching of John the Baptist. But since his coming, the era of fulfillment has arrived. Now “the good news of the kingdom of God is being proclaimed” by Jesus and his disciples, and “everyone is forcing his way into it” (16:16), that is, eagerly rushing to be a part of it. This is what is happening in Israel at that very moment, as the crowds are flocking to the Messiah and praising God for the things that are being fulfilled amongst them. But these religious men are not part of this rush forward to the imminent future, for they resisted John (7:29–30), and now they are mocking Jesus. They exalt themselves as the true interpreters of the Law, and yet “it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void” (16:17), and that Law was always pointing forward to the new era, when the Messiah would come. Now that he has arrived, fulfillment will be as complete as it is certain. The only question is whether in this last period of grace (cf. 13:6–9) they will ever “see” and embrace him before it is too late. A man who divorces his wife to marry another, or a woman who gets divorced with the same intention, uses God’s legitimate provision of divorce (Deut 24:1–4) wrongfully and so use the good Law of God to become adulterers. This is a picture of the Pharisees, who exalt themselves as the true interpreters of the Law, but their resistance to the Messiah, now that he has come, shows that they have missed its very core. These religious leaders of the final generation are just as idolatrous as the wayward people of Israel in the past, who left their true husband to become adulterers with other gods (Jer 9:2; 23:10; Hos 2:1–13; Mal 3:5). Despite their self-justifying posturing before the people, their mockery of the Messiah shows their true state (2:34–35). They may honour God with their lips, but, untouched by the ministry of John (1:17; 7:29–30), their hearts are far from God (1:51; 5:22; 6:45; 8:12; 12:34; cf. Isa 29:13).
16:19–31 Jesus recounts another story to reinforce the serious danger his opponents are facing. Appealing to the Pharisees’ love of money (16:14), he told of “a rich man,” “clothed in purple and fine linen,” and “feasting sumptuously every day” (16:19). At the other end of the social scale, a poor, sore-ridden man named Lazarus lay at his gate. The poor man died and went to Abraham’s side, in the heavenly banquet of the age to come (13:28–29; Isa 25:6–8), but the rich man died and went to torment in Hades. He looked up and saw Abraham far off with Lazarus at his side and called out for mercy, asking Abraham to send Lazarus to soothe him in his tortured state. Abraham reminds him that he had his good things in his lifetime (6:24–25), but Lazarus did not. Now Lazarus is comforted in the afterlife, but he is in anguish, and, besides, there is no crossing between the two afterlife zones. The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers, lest they suffer the same fate. But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them” (16:29). When the rich man insists that if Lazarus comes to them from the dead, they will repent, Abraham says, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (16:31).
While charging Jesus with breaking the Law, the Pharisees and the lawyers have not heard the true message of the Law that points to him. Because they resist him and rejected John, they remove themselves from God’s purposes and are in danger of enjoying human praise in this life while missing out on God’s good things in the next. If they fail to see Jesus, who is now proclaiming the imminence of the kingdom of God in this last generation as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, then they will never repent, even if they see the Son of Man, at the end of his last journey to Jerusalem, rise from the dead (9:21–22, 44; cf. 17:22–25; 18:31–33; 24:7, 26, 46).
17:1–6 Since his disciples were so thoroughly surrounded by the last generation of Israelites and their leaders who were resistant to the plans and purpose of God unfolding in their midst in John the Baptist and Jesus, Jesus issued them with a warning. The pathway towards the kingdom is now clear, and the need to walk in it urgent, but things that will hinder them in this direction are also certain. Woe to the one who brings these distractions, for it would be better to be drowned in the sea than to cause “these little ones” (17:2) to stumble. Jesus urged his disciples to watch themselves (pl.), lest one of them introduce a stumbling block—that is, other than Jesus himself, the stone of stumbling (2:34; cf. Isa 8:14–15; 28:13–16). If your (sg.) brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If a person specifically sins “against you (sg.)” (17:4) seven times a day and repents seven times, then keep on forgiving.
The apostles (6:12–16) said to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” (17:5). It takes faith to forgive—faith in Jesus’s word about the certainty of the coming kingdom with its preparatory Day of Judgement. But quantity of faith is not the issue. Faith the size of a mustard seed could uproot a tree and cast it into the sea! That is, forgiveness over and again is not impossible for someone whose faith is in Christ, the “one true need” required to receive his mercy and a share in the coming kingdom of God (10:42). What seems impossible as part of ordinary life in this world becomes possible for those who know his mercy.
17:7–10 Jesus reinforced his lesson by drawing upon common practice. Servants finish their work when their work is finished. Duty must be done. There is no need for great faith, because any faith is faith. They simply need to keep moving forward to complete their discipleship when they enter the kingdom of God and, in the meantime, not hinder others from doing so as well.
17:11–19 As Jesus passed down the Jezreel Valley that divides Galilee to its north from Judea to its south, ten lepers, who were keeping their distance, cried out to Jesus to have mercy on them. As previously (5:12–16), he told them to go to the priests, and as they were going, they were cleansed. One of them came back, praising God for what had happened and falling at Jesus’s feet in thankfulness. He was a Samaritan. Jesus responded by asking where the other nine (Jews) were. Was this stranger the only one to return to praise God? He told the Samaritan, “Your faith has saved you” (17:19). Outsiders continue to grasp what Israelites overlook.
17:20–37 The Pharisees asked him when the kingdom of God would come, perhaps cynically, as a denial of his message of urgency. Jesus responded that the question cannot be answered by empirical observation of the world around (cf. 11:16). In fact, they have already engaged in such close observation (6:7; 14:1; cf. 20:20) and, despite observing, they have failed to see (8:10)! What they need to realise is that the kingdom of God is already in their midst in Jesus himself. Because John the Baptist has come (and now gone), and the Coming One (3:16; 7:19) is now operating as the Servant of the Lord in Israel’s midst, the final stages of history are here, and the kingdom of God is just around the corner (11:20). But how will they ever see if they ignore and oppose the one true sign from God (2:12, 34; 7:29–30)?
Using the language of the End, he told his disciples that “days are coming” (17:22) when they will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man. The last great distress before the Day of Resurrection is coming (Dan 12:1), and the turmoil and division of these last days will build to a climax in the greatest distress of all time, just before the End. It will be so severe that they will long for the coming of the Son of Man to put an end to the distress and bring in the eternal kingdom of God (Dan 7:13–14). There will be potential “stumbling blocks” (cf. 17:1–2) as people point to events or persons other than Jesus. But the disciples are already on the right path by following Jesus. They are well-positioned to enter the kingdom (9:62), and any departure from their current direction will only lead to disaster. Despite the troubles, when the Son of Man comes it will be evident to all, even though, according to God’s eschatological timetable, “he must first suffer many things and be rejected by this [final] generation” (17:25; 9:22, 44). As in the days of Noah and Lot, when ordinary life was suddenly interrupted by the judgement of God, “so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed” (17:26; 12:35–40). When the great distress arrives (Dan 12:1), it is imperative not to turn aside at this very last minute of human history out of fear for your life, because even if Jesus’s followers lose their life, they will find it in the coming kingdom of God (17:33; cf. 9:24–27). In Jesus’s infancy, Simeon had declared that he was “appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed” (2:34), as the judgement process that divides one Israelite from another on the basis of the truth of their hearts (2:35). When the Son of Man comes, this division will be utterly apparent as close companions in this life are separated from each other in regard to the life to come (17:34–36), and those opposed will fall under the judgement of God (17:37; cf. Gen 40:19; 1Sam 17:44; 1Kgs 14:11; 16:4; 21:24; Ps 79:2; Ezek 32:4; 39:17).
18:1–8 With the final distress looming, Jesus told them a parable to encourage them to keep praying at all times and not lose motivation to keep pressing through into the kingdom (cf. 2Cor 4:1, 16–18). There was a judge who respected neither God nor man, yet when a certain widow persisted in asking him to vindicate her against her opponent at law, he did so. He granted her petition because he didn’t want to be bothered by her continually. Jesus drew a contrast: if this is what the unrighteous judge did, then how much more will God vindicate the elect who cry to him day and night. “Will he delay long over them?” he asked (18:7), before answering his own question with a solemn declaration. No—”I tell you he will vindicate them speedily” (18:8). Judgement Day will come, and it will come very soon. The long-awaited answer to Israel’s prayers (cf. Dan 9) is about to arrive, so keep praying. There is no doubt that God will fulfill his promises, and since the Messiah is in Israel’s midst already, he will do so very soon. If there is any doubt, it lies elsewhere. Will Israel be ready for the arrival of the End? When the Son of Man comes (Dan 7:13–14), “will he find faith on the land [of Israel]?” (18:8).
18:9–14 With the prospect of an imminent Judgement Day, the question of their standing before God becomes urgent and most significant (cf. the one thing needful, 10:42). To those who were convinced in themselves that they were righteous (cf. 10:29; 16:15), and so despised others (cf. 5:30; 6:7, 22, 41; 7:33–34, 39; 11:37; 13:14; 14:1; 15:2; 16:14), Jesus told a parable of a Pharisee and a tax collector praying in the temple. In the light of the coming Judgement Day, the two men had two different self-perceptions. The Pharisee was praying “standing by himself” (18:11) or perhaps better, “standing praying to himself,” because although purportedly addressing God, this was an exercise in parading his own virtues in comparison to others—namely, the tax collector. The tax collector “standing far off” (18:13) with downcast eyes, paraded no virtues of his own, but simply beat his breast as one truly penitent, requesting only one thing: “God have mercy on me, the sinner.” Jesus concludes that it is this man who went to his house justified, rather than the self-professed righteous man. The sinner saw nothing about himself except his great need. Like the half-dead man (10:29–37), he could do nothing to save himself. He needed to be saved. If ever he would be justified at the Judgement Day and enter the kingdom of God, he would need God’s great mercy. Praying for forgiveness means that he is well-positioned for the coming kingdom.
18:15–17 Two further events allowed Jesus to reinforce the same lesson. When parents brought their children to be blessed by him, the disciples turned them away. But Jesus urged that the children be permitted to come, making the remarkable statement that the kingdom of God belongs to those like them. For the only way to enter the kingdom of God is to receive it as a child, that is, having no merit or action upon which to base a claim. An infant’s total dependency becomes a picture of everyone’s need for mercy.
18:18–25 A man at the other end of the social scale asked Jesus the same question as the lawyer seeking to justify himself (10:25, 29): “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (18:18, emphasis added). Luke’s readers already know the answer: do as the half-dead man—receive mercy from Jesus, the hated neighbour (10:29–37). Jesus answered the ruler in his own terms. If you want to do, then go to the Law and commandments. With breathtaking outer self-confidence, the ruler claims to have kept them all. So why does he lack the inner confidence that he will survive the Judgement Day? When Jesus asked him to renounce all he had to find treasure in heaven by becoming his disciple (cf. 9:23–24; 14:33), the man became sad. Luke explains at this point that the man was very rich—he had acquired much that brought him security in this world (cf. 9:25). Responding to his dismay, Jesus declared it difficult for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. Mercy cannot be bought. They, like anyone, need to come as a child, as a half-dead man who receives mercy from a despised neighbour. Because the rich are well-used to fending for themselves, this is as impossible as threading a camel through a needle’s eye.
18:26–30 Shocked at this radical dismissal of those who were often the public benefactors in this world, those who heard Jesus cried out: “Who then can be saved?” (18:26). Jesus directs them to the God of mercy, who will make possible what is impossible for human beings—not through human achievement, but through the provision of his Messiah. When Peter declares that they have left all they had in this world to follow him, Jesus affirms that this is exactly the right thing to have done and gives them a word of assurance. There is no need to be anxious. Anyone who has responded to his call to renounce everything and follow him for the sake of the kingdom of God will “receive many times more in this time” (18:30), that is, the time when the Messiah is present amongst Israel (cf. 12:56). But in the age to come, they will also receive eternal life—what others are longing for but are seeking to gain through their own actions rather than by receiving the mercy of God (10:25; 18:18).
18:31–34 Having hinted at this possible impossibility, Jesus then speaks for the third time about its certainty (9:22, 44). Everything written about the Son of Man will be completed in Jerusalem (9:31, 51). He will be handed over to the Gentiles—which is equivalent to being handed over to the wrath of God (Lev 26:27–28, 32–33, 38; Ezra 9:7; Ps 106:41; Hos 8:10). But after being mistreated, flogged, and killed, on the third day he will rise—for the sacrifice of the Servant to justify the many will result in him being lifted up (Isa 52:10–12), and the coming of the Son of Man will bring about the resurrection day (Dan 7:13–14; 12:1–3). Once again, they did not understand what he meant, because it was hidden from them (9:45). Understanding comes only through revelation (10:21–24). Subsequent events must occur before what is now hidden will be revealed (see Luke 24).
18:35–43 The need for divine intervention in order to truly see (8:10) was concretely demonstrated as they drew near to Jericho. Hearing them passing by, a blind man cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” (18:38), repeating his cry even more as others tried to silence him (cf. 18:15–17). When asked by Jesus what he wanted, he wanted to see again. Jesus replied, “See again. Your faith has saved you” (18:42). His sight returned and he followed Jesus, glorifying God along with all the people. As expected, the Messiah opens the eyes of Israel’s blind (Isa 35:5–6) as he moves towards the End. Once he reaches his goal, this revelation will continue, even beyond the borders of Israel (1:79; Acts 26:18).
19:1–10 Jesus entered Jericho to pass through it to Jerusalem, where he will bring the plan of God to its conclusion with his “exodus” as the Servant (9:31) and his “lifting up” as the Son of Man (9:51). At this point, Luke draws attention to a rich man named Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector. This description is somewhat confusing for Luke’s readers. Being identified by his profession gives him a (the?) prime position amongst those who have been welcoming Jesus, despite being despised as “sinners” by Israel’s religious leaders (3:12; 5:27, 29–30; 7:29, 34; 15:1; 18:9–14). However, being identified by his wealth puts him amongst those who are so well-off in this world that they will find it difficult to enter the next without God making the impossible possible (18:24–27). Where will Zacchaeus ultimately stand?
As the account proceeds, Zacchaeus is characterised positively, for, like others of his profession, he wanted to see Jesus. As Jesus passed by, Zacchaeus, who was too short to see over the crowd, ran ahead and climbed a tree for a better view. According to the world’s values, this makes him appear undignified, but according to the positive norms of Luke’s narrative, he acts like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son (15:20)—a picture of God himself. Expecting to see Jesus walk by, instead he sees him looking up and hears him inviting him to act as his host (see 10:5–8). Now, in the final stages of Jesus’s urgent mission, Zacchaeus will be the last to host him before Jesus brings the plan of God to a conclusion. Zacchaeus hurried down and received Jesus joyfully. But others grumbled that Jesus became the guest of a sinner (cf. 5:30; 15:2). The grumblers are left behind as the reader enters the house with the “sinners,” where they hear Zacchaeus address Jesus as “Lord” (19:8) and pledge to give away half of his goods to the poor and restore any defrauded funds fourfold. These are clear signs of his repentance in a form entirely suitable for the debt remission expected in the great eschatological Jubilee (4:16–21; 5:24; Isa 61:1–3; Dan 9:24–27). In response, Jesus declares: “Today, salvation has come to this house” (19:9). As a true son of Abraham, this wealthy sinner who welcomed the Messiah’s mercy and then repented will now share in Abraham’s inheritance in the age to come (1:55, 73; 3:8; 13:16, 28; 16:19–31; cf. 20:37). As such, he becomes the paradigmatic recipient of Jesus’s ministry. Concluding the account, the readers hear Jesus issue a statement that reiterates and sums up the purpose of his entire ministry: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (19:10). He is the one who brings about what is impossible for human beings but possible for God, to great joy on earth and in heaven (19:6; 15:7, 10, 24, 32).
19:11–27 For Jesus’s hearers, witnessing the conversion of Zacchaeus and hearing Jesus speak of the eschatological realities of salvation and the Son of Man generated an intense expectancy that the kingdom of God was about to appear immediately. This is exactly what the flow of Luke’s narrative has also led his readers to expect. In response, Jesus tells a parable which does not deny their expectation but aims to get them ready to meet their king.
Modelled closely on Herod Archelaus’s (failed) attempt to gain the title of king (ad 4; Josephus, War 2.14–39, 80–100; Antiquities 17.299–314), the main character is a totally ruthless, exploitative, and dislikeable nobleman who went away to a far country to receive the title of king, leaving ten servants ten minas each to continue his exploitative profiteering while he was away. Hated vigorously by his people, a delegation was sent to oppose his application for the kingship. But, unlike Archelaus (and so creating a great historical “what if . . . ?”), the delegation failed, and the nobleman returned with the kingship. Now the full extent of his corruption and inhumanity could emerge untrammelled. Calling his servants to give an account of their trading, the first two revealed they had made inordinate profits from his money (contrast 19:16, 18, even with 19:8b), probably only gained through further oppression of the people. They were both rewarded by being placed over cities, presumably with the opportunity to continue to harvest such profits from the citizenry (probably as tax collectors). The only exemplary character in the whole scenario was the third servant, who did what was considered the honourable thing to keep his master’s money safe and refused to engage in his exploitation of the people through usury (Exod 22:25; Lev 25:36; Deut 23:19–20), thereby writing a protest narrative with his own actions. Despite this servant’s honourable actions, the wicked ruler castigated him for unfaithfulness, even though faithfulness to such a master would have been a clear act of wickedness in the light of any proper value system. For his righteousness, the servant was condemned as wicked. The returned ruler stripped the servant of the little he had and gave it to reward the greatest exploiter. To complete his reign of terror, he then ordered the citizens who had exercised their legitimate right of protest through proper channels to be slaughtered in front of him.
What is Jesus teaching with this complex parable? It does not present an allegory to be solved, but a contrast by which to be moved. The despicable nobleman simply operates as one of the rulers of this world, whom Daniel’s vision exposed as bloodthirsty beasts (cf. 22:25; Dan 7:1–12, 16–22). He is a repulsive character who ought to frighten anyone who lives in this world created by such people. Across the centuries, this kind of world generated in the people of Israel a longing for something better, and God had promised that those better things would one day come. At the End of Days, the Son of Man would come to the Ancient of Days, to receive the kingdom of God and rule over it forever. The great distress of the people of God would finally issue in the resurrection of the dead and eternal life in the coming kingdom (Dan 7:13–14; 12:1–3). If the kingdom of God is about to appear (19:11), then this will spell the end of the kingdom of the beasts. Jesus’s parable seeks to disconnect his hearers from the human kingdoms offered as a gift by Satan (4:5–6) so they will be ready for the glorious kingdom of God, which is about to arrive when the Son of Man comes to the Ancient of Days to take his throne. An entirely new kind of kingdom is about to break in, for an entirely new kind of king is rapidly moving towards Jerusalem to achieve his goal (9:31, 51).
19:28–40 After raising these questions to prepare his hearers for what will come about in Jerusalem, he went ahead to reach his goal and to bring about the End. Reaching the villages just to the east of the summit of the Mount of Olives, in preparation for his arrival in the Holy City, he sent two disciples to find a colt, previously unridden and so entirely suitable to transport a king. They brought it to Jesus and set him on it, honouring him as a king by spreading cloaks upon the road. For those with eyes to see, he was entering Jerusalem as her king and bringing his messianic age of peace (Zech 9:9–10). As he drew near to the city, on the eschatological Mount of Olives (cf. Zech 14:4–7), the crowd recalled all his mighty works, allowing Luke’s readers also to revisit the events recounted by the narrative. They praised God in the words of Psalm 118:26 and appeared to praise him as the coming king. Some Pharisees called upon him to stop this acclamation, but the time for silence about his true reality was over. If he stopped the crowd’s overflowing joy, then the cosmos itself would take up the cry against the exploitative corruption upon which the present Jerusalem was built (Hab 2:5–11). As he brings judgement on the final generation (and the leadership especially), he is bringing about the goal of all creation, and nothing can stop this king taking up his kingdom.
19:41–44 But the tragic irony of these final events in God’s timetable is that the city herself failed to see what was happening. Despite prophetic expectation, and despite John the Baptist and Jesus preaching to get them ready, the city did not see that this was the hour of her final visitation. As he approached the city, Jesus wept at its sight, wishing that she had known the way of peace that still lay hidden from her eyes (8:10; 14:31–32). It was as simple as receiving the Messiah when he came, instead of rejecting the purposes of God for themselves (cf. 7:18–23, 29–30). All that remains now is the great apocalyptic battle predicted by the prophets for the end of time, with Jerusalem’s redemption paradoxically coming out of her destruction (Zech 14; see below on 21:20–24). God’s eschatological salvation comes only through his eschatological judgement. Knowing the terrible events about to take place as he brings in the kingdom of God, the Messiah weeps over Jerusalem’s blindness and at what is both her End and her redemption.
19:45–46 As a fitting end to his journey to Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple. In an extremely truncated description, Luke dramatically reports that he “drove out the sellers” (19:45). As Jesus drove them out, he reminded them of two passages of Scripture. Opening with “my salvation is close at hand,” the first passage looked to the last days, when people previously regarded as outsiders will be drawn to the Lord’s holy mountain to experience joy in his house of prayer (Isa 56:1–7; cf. 2:2–4; 66:12–13, 18–21). The second described Jeremiah’s proclamation that the End had come for Jerusalem, for its corruption and idolatry had infested even the practices in the temple, and God’s wrath was about to sweep it all away (Jer 7:1–29; Ezek 7:22)—which it did in the destruction of the city in 586 bc as the people went into the Babylonian exile. For Jesus, as he arrives at “my Father’s house” (19:46; cf. 2:49), God’s eschatological salvation will arise out of his eschatological judgement, and “the sellers” in the temple epitomised the corruption of this final generation upon whom God’s judgement was about to fall (cf. Jer 7:29). So he drove them out.
But if these two passages of Scripture combine to justify why the sellers had to go, then Luke’s truncated description of Jesus’s action itself gains further significance by its allusion to a third. Depicting the eschatological judgement as a final battle in Jerusalem between God and his enemies, the book of Zechariah closes with the promise that “on that day there will no longer be a Canaanite in the house of the Lord of Armies” (Zech 14:21), in which the word “Canaanite” not only means “trader” but also evokes the Canaanites’ long history as the arch-idolators of the Old Testament era. Zechariah had already promised that when the Messiah came, he would remove both the idols and their attendant unclean spirits from the land (Zech 13:2; cf. Deut 32:17; Pss 96:5; 106:37; Isa 65:3, 11; Bar 4:7; 1Cor 10:20; Rev 9:20). After he began to move relentlessly towards Jerusalem and the completion of his goal (9:31, 51), Jesus had described the final stages of his activity as casting out demons and bringing healing to completion (13:32). Now, to close the long account of Jesus’s journey to Jerusalem, Luke uses the same language previously used for casting out demons (9:40, 49; 11:14–20) to indicate that this final cleansing was required at the heart of Israel’s religious life. Now that the Messiah has arrived in the city, the Lord has come to his temple as the prelude to the imminent Judgement Day (Mal 3:1; 4:1, 5), and “he drove out the sellers” (19:45). The End has come. The final eschatological battle is about to be fought so the kingdom of God can be established at last.
Last-Days Teaching (19:47–21:38)
19:47–48 Having driven out the sellers, and as if taking their place, on each of the next four days Jesus was teaching in the temple. He used his last days to teach about the last days according to God’s plan, for his last days coalesced with those last days, and his end would bring about the End. Even though the religious authorities in league with the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him as he taught right under their noses, they could not find what to do with him, for all the people hung on his every word.
20:1–8 On one of those days of teaching and proclaiming the good news in the temple, the chief priests, scribes, and elders came to him. This cannot be viewed as neutral, for Luke has just told the reader that these men were seeking to destroy him, as they had been for a long time (19:47–48; 6:11). Though they were blocked by his popularity with the people, they were still searching for a way to remove him. This is their next attempt.
This hostile delegation from those in authority asked who gave him the authority to do these things—that is, casting the sellers out of the temple. Jesus agrees to answer, but only if they first answer him: was the baptism of John from heaven, or merely a human movement? Luke’s readers know that the destiny of these two men is intertwined and a person’s response to Jesus is determined by their prior response to John (7:24–35), and the religious leaders were resisting both, whereas the people were “hanging on his words” (19:48). In this discussion about who was operating with the highest authority, Jesus’s questioners saw the trap, so they chose to say nothing either way (cf. 6:9–10). True to his promise and in response to their own silence, Jesus also refused to answer their question. But everyone present in that transaction knew the answer, as do Luke’s readers: John the Baptist was sent from heaven, and Jesus was endorsed by heaven (1–2; 3:2, 21–22; 9:35). Everything he is doing as the Servant who will be the Son of Man arises from the authority of God himself, and he is equipped by the Spirit of God to bring it all to completion.
20:9–18 But his silence in regard to their question was not Jesus’s major response. He went on the offensive with another of his riddles. This time Jesus reworks a parable of Isaiah’s (Isa 5:1–7) for his contemporaries in the final generation. An absent landlord sent a servant to request a share of the harvest, but the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Then he sent another, with the same result. A third they wounded and cast out, and still no harvest was forthcoming. The owner then formulated a plan to send his “beloved son” (20:13), which, when considered in the light of their previous actions, appears to be sheer foolishness. But that is according to human values. Luke’s readers immediately hear the echo of the description of Jesus from the heavenly voice (3:22; 9:35). The grace of God appears to be foolishness to those on the outside, but his “folly” is the cause of abundant joy for those saved by it (7:35; 1Cor 1:18–31).
When the tenants saw the “beloved son,” they figured rather strangely that they would kill him to gain the vineyard as their own inheritance. So, they killed him. Jesus asks his audience for a conclusion. What will the master do to those tenants? The answer is obvious within the honour-and-shame paradigm of their culture, but Jesus answers it nevertheless: he will destroy them. The paradigm makes this predictable, but the audience cries out in horror. Here they evidently see the point of Jesus’s parable, and their horror is expressed at the thought of God rejecting his ancient people because of their leaders’ mistreatment of the Messiah. But, says Jesus, this too is found in the Scriptures (Ps 118), as is the fate of those who reject him (20:18; cf. 2:34; Isa 8:14–15; 28:13–16). Judgement falls not because of just any sin, but because they reject the only source of forgiveness (11:14–23), for as God’s “possible impossibility” (18:27), Jesus is the only key to entering the kingdom.
20:19 The scribes and chief priests had no trouble getting the point of the parable. Perceiving it was about them, they sought to lay hands upon him “in this hour” (cf. Dan 5:5 LXX). His parable provoked them to bring their long-standing plans to a conclusion (6:11; 19:47–48; 20:1–8), despite having no legitimate reason to arrest him as yet. The one thing constraining them was the crowd (19:48). Previously we learned that the crowd blocked their desires because they hung on Jesus’s every word. Now we learn why that was a blockage. The religious leaders were afraid of the people, for Jesus appeared to have the allegiance of the populace, and the chief priestly party was few, even if well-connected. Ironically epitomising Jesus’s parable (14:28–32), they reckoned with the odds, and their fear of defeat restrained them from acting at the present moment. If the crowd was the restraining force, then they needed either to sway the crowd away from him, to get rid of the crowd, or to solve the Jesus problem secretly in some other way.
20:20–26 They launched their first plan of attack immediately, secretly sending spies with the crowd to listen to his teaching so they could trap him in his words and deliver him over to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate (3:1). Evidently, they were hoping that the sway his words held over the crowds would make him appear to be a threat to the Roman occupying forces. But they didn’t leave it to chance. With a flattering introduction, the spies asked him a politically charged question about whether the Jews should pay Caesar his tribute. If Jesus said yes, then it would separate him from a portion of the Jewish crowd who believed the tax should not be paid. But if he said no, then he could be represented to the Romans as seditious, rallying a rebellion around the non-payment of the Roman tribute. But Jesus perceived their craftiness (cf. 2:34–35) and retorted in kind. Despite the coin being extremely rare at the time, Jesus called for a denarius, which was probably specifically introduced into the region by the Romans for the purpose of enabling their own taxes to be paid. Although Jesus had to call for it, his questioners readily found one of the offending coins. Jesus asked whose inscription and portrait it had, and they identified it as belonging to Caesar (i.e., Tiberius, 3:1). Then, said Jesus, the answer is simple: give Caesar back his property, as befits the coin’s intended purpose. But then he added the sting in the tail: and give God his things too. The image of Caesar was stamped upon the coins. The image of God was embodied in every human being and especially in the people of Israel, the son of God (Exod 4:23). These spies were out-clevered by Jesus and, in the presence of the people, they were (shamefully) unable to catch him in his words. Instead, they found themselves marvelling at his answer, and they fell silent. Jesus’s opponents’ initial assault had failed.
20:27–33 Next, the Sadducees attempted to drive a question into the heart of his teaching. The kingdom of God was to be introduced by the Resurrection Day and would be, in fact, the age of resurrection (Dan 12:1–3). But even before Luke narrates the Sadducees’ question, he tells his readers the essential piece of information that they didn’t believe there would be a resurrection of the dead (cf. Acts 23:8; Josephus, War 2.165; Antiquities 18.16). Quite clearly, their question was not an inquiry but an attack. They realised that without a future Resurrection Day, all of Jesus’s teaching would fail. In their attempt to ridicule the whole idea of resurrection, they drew on the Book of Tobit, a famous story which propagated Pharisaic hopes. Under the laws of levirate marriage (Deut 25:5–10), an unlucky woman married seven brothers as one after another died and left her widowed. When she dies, whose wife will she be in the resurrection?
20:34–36 Jesus was unabashed. To “marry,” for a man, and to be “given in marriage,” for a woman, is a key feature of the ordinary life of this age. But there will be no new contracting of marriages in the age to come, so the question is misguided. The Tobit story was, in fact, not as apt as the Sadducees thought. In telling the story of this particularly unlucky woman, it spoke of the great tragedy of death in order to highlight the hope of resurrection. Levirate marriage was an attempt to solve the issue of inheritance in this death-ridden world, but it cannot ultimately do so, for it does not deal with the inheritance of the age to come. However, because those who enter the age of resurrection are “sons of God” and “sons of the resurrection” (20:36), they are heirs of the world-to-come (see 10:25–37; 18:18–30). After entering that inheritance, as with the angels, it is no longer possible for them to die.
20:37–38 If they really wanted to know that the resurrection was a sure and certain hope, then they needed to go back to the Law that the Sadducees supposedly respected so greatly. According to the ancient beliefs of Israel, God is the one who “kills and makes alive” (Deut 32:39; 1 Sam 2:6; 2Kgs 5:7). The resurrection hope is based firmly upon the nature of God himself. He is the Creator and sustainer of life, and even though death resulted from human rebellion against him (Gen 3), he is powerful enough even to make alive those who have died and departed from this world. That is why, in the Law, God spoke of the Patriarchs as if they were still alive in his presence, “I am the God of [. . .]” (Exod 3:6, emphasis added). Jesus drew the conclusion: “he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him” (20:38). The only way there would be no resurrection was if there was no God of Israel, and it is the God of Israel who has sent Jesus as his Servant.
20:39–40 Some of the scribes present immediately spoke in favour of Jesus, “you have spoken well” (20:39). For the Sadducees and the scribes, who had been humiliated in public by his superior wisdom and scriptural agility and understanding, no longer dared to question him anymore. This is tantamount to acknowledging their defeat. In these public debates, Jesus was the superior and had spoken well. Their first plan (20:20) had failed. If they were to succeed, they would have to find another way to get him to fall foul of the governor, the one who had the authority to kill him.
20:41–44 With his opponents silenced and the scribes impressed by his superior abilities in debate, Jesus took the opportunity to question their teaching. How can the expected Messiah be David’s son if in Psalm 110:1, David himself addressed the Messiah as “my Lord”? His question forces them to reflect upon the relative greatness of the ancient ideal king and the future Messiah who would come from his line, and their own perceptions of both. Jesus’s genealogy traced his ancestry through the non-royal line of Zerubbabel and Nathan (3:23–38), and in a world obsessed with greatness through power, position, and prestige (cf. 22:25), it would be easy for Israel’s leadership to overlook “the Branch,” even as he stood in front of them displaying his superior wisdom (Isa 11:1–10; 42:1–4; 52:13–53:3).
Luke reports no answer, either from Jesus’s opponents, or from Jesus himself. The question of how the Messiah will fulfill Psalm 110 therefore hangs over the subsequent narrative waiting for an answer. How can the Messiah become greater than his famous ancestor from whom he draws his own life? As will be explained later, this will come about through Jesus defeating the last great enemy of humanity that had even brought the mighty David to the grave, after which he will be exalted to the right hand of God as Lord and Christ (Acts 2:24–36; 13:32–39).
Even if they do not yet recognise their Messiah, by quoting Psalm 110:1 Jesus alerts them to yet another part of Scripture that he will fulfill in a matter of days. Now that he has reached Jerusalem, he will accomplish the goals set for him to bring the plan of God to its conclusion. As the Servant of the Lord, he will bring about God’s greatest exodus as he redeems his people from their sins and is lifted up victorious for doing so (9:31; Isa 52:13–53:12). As the glorious Son of Man, he will be lifted up to receive the kingdom of God from the Ancient of Days (9:51; Dan 7:13–14). And as David’s son, vindicated from his unjust suffering, “the Branch” will be exalted to the right hand of God, where he will wait until all his enemies are put beneath his feet (20:42–43), as the gospel of forgiveness is proclaimed to the nations (24:26, 46–47).
20:45–47 In the hearing of the crowd, who hung on his every word (19:48) and were therefore feared by Israel’s leadership (20:6, 19), Jesus went on the attack. He warned his disciples, “beware of the scribes” (20:46). Despite the attempts to have him fall foul of Pilate (20:20), it wasn’t the Romans he was against—it was the Jewish religious leaders. They were the real danger to the people of Israel, for they epitomised the final corrupt generation of Israel of the last days. Jewish apocalyptic circles expected this corrupt priesthood to be replaced by the Messiah, who, according to Psalm 110, would be a priest from outside the regular Aaronic priesthood, according to the priesthood of Melchizedek (Ps 110:4; T.Levi 17–18; 11QMelchizedek). Jesus itemizes some of the features of the scribal corruption—they were doing everything for show and, rather than protecting widows as both the Law and God’s own character prescribed (Exod 22:22; Deut 10:18; 24:17; 27:19; cf. Jas 1:27), they “devoured” (20:47) their houses while making pretense of piety through offering lengthy prayers. Jesus is quite clear: “they will receive the greater condemnation” (20:47). It would therefore be foolish to ignore his warning against such men, for to follow their leadership would be to arrive at the same place—“the greater condemnation.”
21:1–4 Seeing the rich putting gifts into the offering and “a destitute widow” (21:2) putting in two copper coins, Jesus commented that she offered more than them all. For they gave out of abundance, but she gave “all her life” (21:4). No matter how commendable the widow might be for this gift, because the temple system has taken her life, she becomes a dramatic illustration of the corruption of the scribes, who “devour widow’s houses” (20:47). Rather than caring for Israel’s widows, the religious leaders are destroying them. This is a further manifestation of the “evil and corrupt generation” of Israel, operating just before the arrival of the End.
21:5–7 Whereas Jesus saw its inner corruption (19:45–46), some were impressed with the temple because of its outer adornments (cf. 4:5–6). Jesus used the prophetic language of judgement to say that “days will come” (21:6) when it will be completely thrown down. Despite appearances, there is nothing special here. Even this magnificent building, like all human buildings, will one day be just a heap of ruins. It is part of a fallen world that will one day all be gone, rolled up and discarded like a used and damaged old garment (Isa 51:6–8). Here Jesus is hinting towards the future kingdom of God, which will arrive to do away with all human kingdoms and bring with it the restoration of all things (cf. Acts 3:21). Realising that he must be talking about the End of the world as they know it, in response to Jesus’s shocking dismissal of Herod’s magnificent temple, his disciples ask him two questions: “When will these things be?” and, “What will be the signal that this End is about to come?” (21:7).
21:8–11 As the first part of his answer, he repeats the warning he gave previously, that they should not be led astray by people pointing to something or someone other than Jesus himself (17:21, 23). They must not be distracted by divining signs from empirical observation of the world and its events (17:20), for they have already chosen the good portion by recognising Jesus to be the Messiah and the key to the kingdom (17:21, “in your midst”). This will become all the more essential when the Messiah suffers terribly as part of the “great distress” before the End (Dan 12:1), during which time they could easily turn their eyes elsewhere (cf. 22:54–62; Isa 52:14; 53:2–3). In fact, as they “hear of wars and tumults” (21:9), they must not get frightened, for although such things are part of the usual fabric of this fallen world (Dan 9:26), the End is not immediately tied to such events. They signal nothing.
21:12–19 After his preliminary warning against the disciples being led away from following him, Jesus began to answer their questions. They asked about the signs when “these things” are about to take place (21:7), and he spoke about what will happen “before all these things” 21:12). The need for his opening warning now becomes clear, for as the End draws near, the disciples will find themselves under intense pressure. He had previously warned them to be daily at the ready to face their own death because of their allegiance to him (9:22–27). Now he issues the same warning in apocalyptic mode. His movement will face opposition in the highest places, but this will provide an opportunity for witness, and he has already prepared them for this. They will personally be caught up in the internal divisions within Israel predicted for the last days, with the cause now revealed to be hatred of Jesus’s name (cf. 12:49–53; Mic 7:1–6). But despite being caught up in this last great distress, Jesus assures the disciples that they are ultimately secure, and “in your endurance you will acquire your souls” (21:19). Their names are written in the book of life (10:20), the arrival of the kingdom of God is now imminent, and despite what might be done by those who can only kill the body, they are of great value to God (12:4–7), and their future life is simply waiting for them to acquire (9:24).
21:20–24 Rather than being distracted from following him, Jesus tells his disciples what to look for and how to respond when the coming distress overtakes them. This portion of his speech (as also 19:41–44) has been frequently read as a plain language prophetic prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem, which was subsequently fulfilled in ad 70 at the end of the Jewish wars with Rome. By missing Jesus’s apocalyptic imagery along with its Old Testament allusion(s), this common reading not only misunderstands the function of the paragraph within Jesus’s discourse in the context of Luke’s narrative, but it also therefore completely misses its significance for understanding Jesus’s own person and work for the sake of Israel and the nations.
Instead, and firstly, Jesus is getting them ready for the End that is just about to come by reminding them of the end that had already come in the history of their nation. To prepare them for the judgement of God that is about to fall, he reminds them of the last great judgement that fell on Jerusalem.3 In 586 bc, as an expression of God’s wrath against Israel’s long-standing rebellion, the city was left desolate and its people were taken into exile in Babylon for the prophetic “seventy years” (Jer 25:11–12; 29:10; Zech 1:12; 7:5; 2Chr 36:21). The exilic and post-exilic prophets used language and imagery associated with this devastating event to speak about the final judgement of God at the End, which would usher in his eternal kingdom, with its reign of righteousness, peace, and everlasting security that was part of the prophetic messianic hope more generally (e.g., Isa 11:1–10; 2:1–5; 65:17–25). In a prime example, Zechariah pictured “that day” as the nations attacking Jerusalem and the Lord going into battle against them (Zech 14:2–3) and creating a way of escape for his people who then share in his final victory (14:4–5). As a result, Jerusalem becomes the new Eden, watering the entire earth with its “living waters” (14:8; Ezek 47; Gen 2:10–14), as the Lord is firmly established as king over all the earth (14:9) and Jerusalem exalted over all the earth (14:10–11, 14, 16; Isa 2:1–5; 65:17–25) as his holy dwelling place (14:20–21).
Jesus has already evoked Zechariah’s apocalyptic imagery and expectations of the End when he outlined the final steps in completing his goal (Zech 13:2; recall Luke 13:32), and when he finally rode towards Jerusalem (Zech 9:9; recall Luke 19:28–40), wept over it (19:41–44), and then “cast out the sellers” from the temple (Zech 14:20–21; recall Luke 19:45–46). Now, as he speaks of Jerusalem under siege (Zech 14:2–3) before her desolation (Jer 4:7; 7:34; 22:5; 25:18; 44:6, 22; a desolation to last seventy years: Jer 25:11–12; 29:10; Zech 1:12; 7:5; cf. Dan. 8:13; 9:2, 18, 27; 11:31; 12:11), urgent flight (Ezek 7:16; Zech 14:5; 1Macc 2:28), days of vengeance (Hos 9:7; Jer 26:10, cf. Jer 26:21; 28:27, 31), great distress upon the land (Isa 9:1; Zeph 1:14–15; Zech 14:13), wrath against the people (2Chr 24:18; Ps 77:21; Zeph 1:14–15), falling by the sword (Jer 20:4–6; 21:7; cf. Jer 16:4), being taken captive by the nations (Amos 5:5), and the city trampled underfoot by the Gentiles (Zech 12:3) until their time is over (cf. Dan 7:25; 9:26–27), he not only draws upon a common stock of apocalyptic imagery for the judgement of God, but he also particularly stands with Zechariah’s apocalyptic perspective as he evokes the fall of Jerusalem in 586 bc to speak of God’s final judgement at the End. For Jesus, that End was about to arrive.
For, secondly, Jesus exceeds Zechariah’s prophecy by speaking of its imminent fulfillment. From Jesus’s perspective, since Zechariah spoke of events associated with the coming Messiah, his prophecies of the End looked forward to their fulfillment in what Jesus himself was now doing, as did the rest of the Old Testament (21:22; cf. 1:1; 4:21; 18:31–33; 24:25–27, 32, 44–47). As other great signs from God (1:20; Exod 3:12), the “sign” will come as the fulfillment of the prophecy. When they see “Jerusalem surrounded,” then they can know that “its desolation has come near” (21:20)—that is, when Zechariah 14 is fulfilled, this will be the final judgement. But when Jesus uses this Old Testament imagery to evoke the promised End, what did he have in mind? What shape will these apocalyptic expectations actually take as they are “fulfilled amongst us” (1:1)? What will be the “days of vengeance to fulfill all that is written” (21:22)?
To anticipate the closing of these expectations within Luke’s subsequent narrative, the expected judgement will come when the innocent Messiah is crucified as the sin-bearing servant (22:37; Isa 52:13–53:12). Just like Job described the judgement of God upon him using the military symbolism of a siege (Job 19:12), and the Lord made Jeremiah symbolically become “a fortified city” against his enemies (Jer 1:18–19; 15:20) and later symbolically took on the persona of the besieged city (Lam 3:1–9), so too, at the crucifixion, Jesus was “surrounded by armies” (21:20; cf. 23:35–39; Acts 4:25–28; Ps 2), and was “shut up in a besieged city” (cf. NRSV: “beset as a city under siege”; Ps 31:21, a Psalm that only Luke records Jesus as quoting from the cross: 23:46, cf. Ps 31:5). The later narrative of Luke reveals that his death was the day of vengeance on Israel (21:21–24; cf. 23:26–31, 48–49) in which the apocalyptic pictures of the Old Testament rightly find their fulfillment (Acts 2:16–24; Joel 2:28–32).
21:25–28 After speaking of this day of vengeance, Jesus continues utilizing apocalyptic imagery to declare that it will also be Israel’s day of redemption (1:68; 2:38; 24:21; cf. Ps 130:7–8; Isa 49:8–13; 52:3, 9; Dan 9:24–27). To set the apocalyptic context for the second event they will see (for the sequence, see 21:20, 27; cf. Isa 63:4), Jesus continues to draw upon Old Testament imagery for the Day of Judgement. There will be signs in the sky (Isa 13:10; 24:23; Ezek 32:7; Joel 2:10; 3:15), anguish on earth at the roaring of the waves (Pss 42:7; 46:2–3; 65:7; 88:7 [cf. Luke 12:50]; Isa 17:12; 28:2; 29:6; Ezek 38:22; Joel 2:30–31) and the powers of the heavens being shaken (Isa 34:4; Hag 2:6, 21). The key event in signalling the End will be the coming of the Son of Man. In Daniel’s central vision, in the midst of the chaos of human history, Daniel sees the Judgement Day, with the Ancient of Days (=God) on the heavenly throne and the books of judgement being opened (Dan 7:10). Then he sees “one like a Son of Man” coming to the Ancient of Days, and the Ancient of Days gives him the kingdom of God to reign over forever and ever (Dan 7:13–14). Jesus stresses that while “these things” (that is, the “day of vengeance” of 21:20–24; and the “coming of the Son of Man” of 21:25–27) are beginning (as he speaks!), it will be the moment to “straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption has drawn near” (21:28). Many things take place in this world that do not signal the End (21:9), but these are the two events that do, for as the fulfillment of the Old Testament expectations in regard to the completion of God’s purposes in this world, they actually constitute the End.
Despite being frequently read as if Jesus is speaking of his “second coming,” whenever Jesus refers to the “coming of the Son of Man,” he refers to that event as Daniel depicts it, namely, the coming of the Son of Man to the Ancient of Days to receive Lordship over the kingdom of God. When the “second coming” is clearly in view in the wider New Testament, it is never linked with the language of the Son of Man, and this is also the case for Luke, as the book of Acts confirms (Acts 1:11; 3:21; 17:31). Jesus has already clearly associated the Son of Man with his coming death and resurrection (9:22, 44; 18:31–33; cf. 24:7) and heavenly judgement (12:8; cf. 11:29–32; 21:36; 22:69), and Luke has shown that his goal to be completed in Jerusalem consisted of his “exodus” and “lifting up” (9:31, 51). Fulfilling Isaiah, he will suffer as the Servant of the Lord, but because he is willing to suffer and die in order to “justify many,” he will then be “lifted up” to receive the spoils of victory (Isa 52:13–53:12). Drawing on Isaiah’s Servant, Daniel’s Son of Man is overlaid upon Isaiah’s expectations of the Servant’s vindication, and the one who dies as the Servant will be “lifted up” as the Son of Man to receive the Lordship over the kingdom of God (Dan 7:13–14). For Jesus, this lifting up clearly begins with his resurrection from the dead, and this is exactly what Luke’s narrative portrays, as Jesus is raised from the tomb and ascends to heaven, exalted to the right hand of the Father in order to reign as both Lord and Christ (20:41–44; 22:69; 24:50; Acts 1:2, 9, 11; 2:25, 33–36; 5:31; 7:55–56; cf. Ps 110:1). For those living after the resurrection and the exaltation of the Christ, the Christian hope of the “second coming” is already firmly grounded upon the “coming of the Son of Man.” For we look back on that event (Acts 1:11; 7:56) as one already completed in the first century. In Luke’s terms, it was the climactic event of “the things fulfilled amongst us” (1:1).
21:29–33 Jesus reinforced the imminence of this event with a parable asking the disciples to reflect upon their common experience of “the fig tree and all the trees” (21:29). When the trees come out in leaf, you see it and know that the summer is already near—the signal arrives with the event (cf. Exod 3:12). So it is with the kingdom of God. When you see these things—that is, the coming of the Son of Man (21:27), preceded by the “days of vengeance” (21:22)—you will know that the kingdom of God is near. For, according to Daniel, when the Son of Man comes to the Ancient of Days, he is given the kingdom of God to rule over forever. With a solemn affirmation, Jesus sustained his previous perspective that “this generation” was the final generation in God’s eschatological timetable, and it will not pass away until “everything has taken place” (21:32)—that is, until the Son of Man has come and the kingdom of God has arrived (cf. 9:27). With further apocalyptic language evoking the end of all things, Jesus declares that “heaven and earth will pass away” (21:33; cf. 21:25–26; Isa 34:4 [note the comparison with the fig tree]; 51:6; Ps 102:25–28; Hag 2:6, 21), and (rather than “but”) so his words “will never pass away.” He is not saying simply that his words about the End will come true, but that the salvation that they speak of will become the only lasting reality, as the kingdom of God arrives and endures forever under the reign of the Son of Man.
21:34–36 Now that their question is answered and the disciples know the two eschatological events that will bring about the new era, and as they prepare to survive the “days of vengeance” (21:22) and stand ready for their redemption, it is imperative that they don’t miss out at the very last minute. Jesus echoes what he told them initially (21:8), that they must “watch themselves” (21:34), lest they are overcome with a hangover and drunkenness and the worries of life (cf. 8:14), and “that day” (i.e. the Day of Judgement) comes upon them like a trap suddenly springing closed. In explanation of the need for his warning, Jesus tells them, “for it will come upon all those dwelling on the face of the land [of Israel]” (21:35), since it is about to arrive in the final events in Jerusalem (9:31, 51; 19:44). No one will avoid it, so it is therefore imperative to be ready in order to endure through to the End (21:19), while continuing to pray for the End (11:1–13; 18:1), so that they might safely come through the “days of vengeance” and “stand before the Son of Man” (21:36). He is the judge of all, but they are justified before him as “sons of the kingdom” ready to enter the inheritance granted to them by his saving work.
21:37–38 Concluding this narrative section (19:47–21:38), Luke reiterates that Jesus was teaching daily in the temple (cf. 19:47–48). The content of his teaching—the words upon which the crowds were hanging—has now been made clear. Already in his own last days, Jesus once again urged the final generation to recognise the urgency of the times they were in (cf. 12:54–56). God’s eschatological timetable has now unfolded almost fully. The two events that will signal and embody the End are now so imminent that they must be watched for, and the present generation must watch themselves to ensure they are not on the wrong side of them as they come. Will the Son of Man find faith in the land of Israel when he comes (18:8)?
Luke also reports that every evening Jesus left the city to lodge on the Mount of Olives. After the many echoes of Zechariah in this section, this cannot be simply a topographical note. “On that day,” the Lord will set his feet on the Mount of Olives ready to fight the final battle, and “then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him” (Zech 14:4–5). After teaching about the last things all day, Jesus leaves the city, where he is well-positioned for those last things to arrive, with his feet already on the Mount of Olives.
The Messiah Suffers (22:1–23:49)
22:1–2 Although technically different, the Feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread ran into each other as a seven-day festival—with the Passover dominating. This is natural given the connection between the original events they commemorated (Exod 12:1–20), which commenced the exodus from Egypt (Exod 12:51–15:21), the founding event of Israel as the Lord’s holy nation (Exod 19:1–6). At this annual season in which Israel remembered the exodus event when God showed their ancestors grace and mercy, the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to kill Israel’s Messiah. The reason they were searching for a particular method is that “they feared the people” (22:2).
22:3–6 But there was a deeper spiritual backdrop to these human intrigues. Satan had tested Jesus at the beginning, but he left until “an opportune time” (4:13). That time had now come, and Satan entered Judas, one of the twelve (6:12–16). While the nation celebrated and its leadership plotted, the last battle between God and the devil—expected by the prophets and elaborated by apocalyptic writers—was about to be waged (see on 4:1–13; 10:18). When Judas conferred with the chief priests, they gladly gave him money, so he agreed to seek an opportunity to betray Jesus. The devil had waited for an opportune time, and now the betrayer also waited for his opportunity, figuring that it would be best when the crowd, feared by the chief priests, was not around.
22:7–13 The day of Unleavened Bread was the evening of the fourteenth day of the first month of the year (Exod 12:18), and, significantly, the day the Passover lamb was sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John to make preparations for the Passover meal he would share with his disciples in a large upper room he had previously arranged to use (as in Luke 19:29–34). After finding the room, they prepared the Passover meal.
22:14–23 The hour came that is, firstly, the hour of the Passover feast. But this hour is also the opportune time for Satan to act through Judas—which raises the expectation that it will also be the opportune time for the final intervention of God. For, with the approaching imminence of the End, “the hour” is also an eschatologically loaded term (2:38; 7:21; 10:21; 12:12, 39–40, 46; 13:31; 14:17; 20:19; 22:53). Jesus’s apostles—that is, those he had sent out once before (9:1–6; 10:1–16) and whom he will send out once again (24:44–49)—assembled with him. In this poignant scene, he told them he greatly desired to eat the Passover with them before he suffered, for this will be the last Passover he would eat before it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God. For centuries, this annual feast looked ahead, and was typological of the future kingdom of God—the final feast celebrating the Lord’s deliverance and redemption in a place of rest and safety.
Why was the Passover so significant for Jesus? Because he wanted to show them not the re-interpretation, but the true meaning of the Passover all along. As he distributed a cup for the disciples to share, rather than speaking of God’s deliverance in Israel’s formative past, he stressed that the coming of the kingdom is now so imminent that he would not drink wine again before it came. As he broke the bread, instead of remembering the first Passover sacrifice that preserved Israel (Exod 12), he spoke of his own body being given for them. He explained the cup poured out after the meal not in terms of the exodus from Egypt that brought about the old covenant, but of the new covenant promised by Jeremiah and founded upon the forgiveness of sins (Jer 31:31–34). His death would be the great exodus (9:31), bringing the forgiveness of the eschatological Jubilee and issuing in the kingdom of God.
With the positive side of the meal over, Jesus had another item on the agenda. He announced that one of those eating with him right now would betray him. With his “lifting up” in view (9:51), he declared that “the Son of Man is going as determined,” but “woe to the man by whom he is betrayed” (22:22). While the disciples questioned which of them it would be, Luke’s readers already know (22:3–6; 6:16).
22:24–30 Their quest for the identity of the betrayer led to yet another dispute about who was the greatest (9:46–48). The quest for greatness resulted in the tyrannies so familiar to this world, as shown by the kings of the nations who lord it over their subjects while posing as their benefactors (cf. 19:11–27; Dan 7:1–8, 23–25). But this is not the way amongst Jesus’s followers, where the greatest—Jesus himself—is the Servant of the Lord who will ultimately astound those kings by giving his life to justify the many (Isa 42:1–4; 49:1–7; 50:4–11; 52:13–53:12). But as those who have stayed with Jesus through his trials, just as the Father promised him a kingdom (Dan 7:13–14), so he will bestow that kingdom upon them (12:32; cf. Dan 7:18). They will feast in the heavenly banquet and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes. True greatness has already been granted by the true Benefactor.
22:31–34 Jesus tells Simon that Satan has asked to “sift you”—a plural referring to the disciples—“like wheat” (22:31; cf. Job 1–2). However, Jesus tells him “I have prayed for you (singular) that your (singular) faith might not fail” (22:32). For Simon will have a special role as he comes through the final test. When he recovers from the crisis, Jesus urges him to strengthen his brothers, that is, to reassemble the team (Acts 1:15–26). In response, Peter asserts his utmost loyalty, only to be told that he will disavow Jesus three times, this very day—in fact, before the rooster crows in the early morning.
22:35–38 In their previous times of mission (9:1–6; 10:1–12), they travelled light and yet lacked nothing. Now they are to supply their own needs, even a sword. In this dramatic way, Jesus is informing them that there will be no warm hospitality now as the final battle begins. They are his associates, and in order to fulfill Scripture, he will be “reckoned with the transgressors” (22:37) as the Servant of the Lord—explicitly quoting Isaiah 53:12. For, he says, “what is written about me is reaching its goal.” Missing his true intention, the disciples take him literally and note that they have two swords, which he declares sufficient. This will be no battle fought with merely human weapons.
22:39–46 According to his custom across these last days (21:37), he went to the Mount of Olives, the eschatological mountain. Jesus urged his disciples to pray that they might not enter into testing. Rather than meaning not experiencing the testing at all, this probably means not being overcome by it (cf. 11:4; 21:8, 12–19, 28, 34–36; 22:31–32). Withdrawing, and strengthened by an angel in his immense physical agony, Jesus prayed for his Father to remove the cup from him, that is, the cup of God’s wrath that he must drink on behalf of the many (cf. 12:50 and 22:20; Ps 75:8; Jer 25:15; Ezek 23:32; Isa 51:17, 22). Finding the disciples asleep, he again urged them to pray they might survive this final testing (cf. Dan 12:1).
22:47–53 As he spoke, the arresting party came through the gates, led by Judas—described as “one of the twelve” (22:47). After he kissed Jesus as a prearranged signal, Jesus forced him to reflect upon the heinous act of betraying the Son of Man with a token of affection. As if sensing the final battle was beginning, the disciples asked if it was time to use their swords, and one rushed forward and struck off the ear of the servant of the high priest (Caiaphas, cf. 3:2). But Jesus halted the human weapons and healed the ear. He asked the chief priests and temple officers and elders in the arresting party why have they come with swords and clubs as if he were a revolutionary, and why didn’t they arrest him when he was daily in the temple? Luke’s readers know that it was because they feared the people and that, seeking to take him in secret, they had become the instruments of Satan (19:48; 20:6, 19; 22:2). Seeing the final battle provoked by their actions, Jesus used apocalyptic language to declare, “this is your hour, and the authority of darkness” (22:53).
22:54–65 They seized him and took him to the high priest’s house. Peter followed at a distance and sat at the fire in the courtyard, where he ended up denying Jesus three times before the cock crowed. When the Lord turned to look at him, Peter remembered his prediction and wept bitterly. Though he will return, this final test caused even the most loyal disciple to fail (22:31–34). Ironically, as Jesus’s prediction proved true, his arresters mockingly called on him to prophesy. With his prophecies about Peter confirmed, Luke’s readers await the fulfillment of his larger predictions also to become reality. The End is near.
22:66–71 When day came, he was led before the council. They demanded, “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said, “If I tell you, you will not believe” (22:67). Instead of answering in words, Jesus promised an answer in their experience: “From now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of God” (22:69). They are on the brink of the final stages of God’s plan, when the Son of Man will receive the kingdom, and take up his position at the right hand of the Father until his enemies are made subject to him (Dan 7:13–14; Ps 110:1). Recognising the allusion to the Psalm, they asked, “Are you the Son of God?” and he replied, “You say that I am” (22:70), making them the witnesses to his true identity (cf. 5:14). Instead of believing their own testimony, they take his reply as an admission of guilt.
23:1–7 Luke doesn’t differentiate those individuals ultimately responsible for the decisions about Jesus. The whole of the official Jewish leadership took him to Pilate with their decision, hoping to secure the sentence of death (19:47; 22:2). But by taking him to Pilate, as Jesus predicted, the leadership of Israel hands him over to the nations. As the whole world is arrayed against him (Acts 4:27–28; Ps 2), this is tantamount to handing him over to the wrath of God (see on 18:32). Before the Roman governor, they accused him of subverting the nation, opposing taxation, and claiming to be the Messiah, which, they explain, is a claim to be a king. The first two charges were obviously designed to raise the ire of the Roman governor. They do not reflect what actually happened in the Sanhedrin, but they are implications of the real charge, that Jesus was the Messiah (cf. 22:70), and therefore an alternative king to Caesar. Pilate goes straight to the most serious charge and asks, “Are you the king of the Jews?” (23:3), and Jesus answers enigmatically that Pilate is the one who has said so. Apparently, Pilate did not take this answer as a real confession of kingship, for he announced to the chief priests, “I find no guilt in this man” (23:4)—the first official declaration of Jesus’s innocence.
Jesus’s enemies became more insistent, charging him with stirring up the people from Galilee to Judea. Luke’s readers recall Jesus attracting crowds at every point, from Galilee (Luke 4–9), moving towards Jerusalem (9:51–19:44), and finally arriving and entering her temple (19:45–46). However, what they have heard of him “doing good” (Acts 10:37–38) in both territories hardly amounts to him stirring up the people for evil purposes. With Judea directly under Roman rule, but Galilee under Herod Antipas, Pilate saw a way out of this awkward situation. While pleasing the Jewish powerbrokers, he could also be seen to dispense justice, without condemning an innocent man, by sending Jesus to Herod for a legal ruling. Thankfully, because of the Passover season, Herod was not only in Jerusalem, but was probably sharing the same residence in the palace built by Herod the Great on the Western edge of the city, which Pilate used as his praetorium when he was present in the city.
23:8–12 Herod was greatly pleased to see Jesus, having wanted to do so for a long time (9:9). Not only would he have known of Jesus’s Galilean and Perean ministry through his officials and his network of spies, but he also had members of his own court who had become enamoured by the Jesus movement originating in his territory (8:3 [Joanna]; cf. Acts 13:1 [Manaen]; perhaps Rom 16:11a [Herodion]). He couldn’t avoid hearing the reports of Jesus’s miracles, and he hoped to see some more of the same first-hand. He plied him with questions, but Jesus gave him no answers. At this point we learn that the chief priests and scribes had gone along too. As his accusers, Roman justice required them to be present for the trial (Acts 25:16). But Herod wasn’t going to be drawn into exercising judgement instead of Rome. Herod and his soldiers mocked Jesus by play-acting that he was king (cf. Ps 89:50–51), and then Herod sent him back. This greatly pleased Pilate, for it demonstrated that Herod was well aware of the protocols. This was Pilate’s case, and so back to Pilate he must go. This exchange turned these two former enemies into friends. According to Jesus’s prediction, it also meant that Herod too had handed him over to the Gentiles, delivering him over to the wrath of God (18:32; Acts 4:25–28).
23:13–17 Following the same Roman protocols (Acts 25:16), Pilate called together Jesus’s accusers who had brought their charges against him so he could deliver his judgement. Pilate repeats the charge (inciting the people to rebellion), but then recounts that when this was examined in the presence of the accusers (23:1–7, i.e., hearing their charges and their case), he had found no basis for their charges (23:14, cf. 23:4). Herod, likewise, had found Jesus innocent of any charge worthy of death. Perhaps as some kind of compromise, he says he will punish him (for what?) and release him.
23:18–25 Contesting his decision, the Jewish leaders and the crowd start to cry out for the release of Barabbas, a true revolutionary. Pilate wanted to release Jesus, but they keep shouting, “Crucify him” (23:21). As Luke specifically counts, “for the third time” (23:22; cf. 23:4, 14–15; Deut 17:6; 19:15) Pilate declared that he could find no charge for the death penalty, and again suggests that he will punish Jesus and release him (23:22, 16). But they shouted all the more, and Pilate capitulated. He released the true revolutionary and “delivered Jesus over to their will” (23:25)—that is, that he might be crucified, which was a clear sign to everyone that he was under the curse of God (Deut 21:22–23).
23:26–31 The soldiers seize Simon of Cyrene. This was evidently of immense significance for him and his family, who became well known in the early Christian movement (cf. Acts 13:1; Mark 15:21; Rom 16:13), and to Luke—especially if Luke is to be identified with Lucius of Cyrene. As Simon was forced to carry the cross, Luke’s readers recognise that he is forced into the proper posture of a disciple (9:23). Many others, disciple-like, also followed Jesus to the cross, including women who mourned and wailed. Jesus turned to the women in particular, calling them the “daughters of Jerusalem,” (23:28), which, as a prophetic term (Isa 4:4; 10:32; Lam 2:10, 15; Mic 4:8; Zech 9:9), sustains the readers’ expectations that prophecy is being fulfilled in these events. Jesus tells them to weep, for the fearful judgement of God is about to fall (Hos 10:8). By comparing a tree when alive to a tree when dead (cf. Ezek 17:22–24), Jesus asked, If the leadership of Israel could act so wickedly when the Messiah was amongst this final generation, then what will they do once he’s gone? It will only get worse now that they had achieved their desire. All that is left is the inescapable judgement of God.
23:32–38 Jesus was crucified between two rebels (cf. Isa 53:12), crying, “forgive” (23:34) as the Scriptures were fulfilled (cf. Ps 22:18). The bystanders watched and the rulers sneered, gloating in their victory. They knew his claimed status and mission, and now they mock him, thinking he had failed. The soldiers also mocked and demanded he save himself, but he didn’t, and this crucified man would die under the charge of being the king of the Jews. The Servant must die in order to bring about the long-awaited forgiveness for Israel and also for the nations (22:37; Isa 52:13–53:12).
23:39–43 One of the criminals also insulted Jesus by demanding he save himself and them, but the other criminal recognised him to be innocent, unlike the criminals, who were both guilty. He turned to Jesus and asked him to remember him when he comes into his kingdom (i.e., when Daniel 7:13–14 is fulfilled). Jesus replied that he would do this, and it would happen “today” (23:43). They would both be in Paradise.
Repeatedly, Jesus is declared innocent (23:4, 14, 15, 22, 41), but he dies as though guilty. Yet as he dies, he prays for the guilty to be forgiven and declares to one who admits his guilt that Paradise will be his. Just as the innocent Jesus was condemned but the guilty Barabbas went free, in this great exchange the innocent Messiah takes on the sins of others, so that the guilty can be justified before God by his innocence (Isa 53:4–6).
23:44–49 At noon, darkness fell, a well-established sign of the wrath of God (Exod 10:21–22; at noon: Deut 28:29; Job 5:14; Isa 59:9–10; on the Day of the Lord: Amos 8:9–10). The curtain of the temple was torn, as if the heavens were torn so that God could come down to make himself known to his enemies by intervening on behalf of his people (Isa 64:1). After committing himself into the hands of his Father (cf. Ps 31:5), Jesus breathed his last. At this very moment, the centurion gave a further declaration of his innocence. But for those with eyes to see, his statement is even more significant, for “the Righteous One” was a description of the Messiah, the Son of Man, the one who would bring the judgement of God in order to bring his salvation and kingdom (1 Enoch 46:3; Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14; cf. 1Jn 2:1). At the sight of what happened, the crowds left “beating their breasts” (23:48; Isa 32:12; Nah 2:7) as the land mourned for the one who was pierced (cf. Zech 12:10–14). The day of vengeance had come, and God’s wrath had been poured out. The sins of the world had been laid upon the Servant as the great Passover Lamb, “pierced for our transgressions” (Isa 53:5). The Redeemer had suffered to bring the forgiveness of sins. The greatest exodus had been achieved (9:31) in this day of redemption. This is the End.
The Son of Man Enters His Glory (23:50–24:53)
23:50–56 Joseph, who was a member of the council but a good and upright man, hadn’t voted to condemn Jesus. Even more significantly, he is described as someone who was waiting for the kingdom of God, just as Luke’s readers are by this final stage of the narrative (9:27, 60, 62; 10:9, 11; 11:20; 16:16; 17:20–21; 19:11; 21:31; 22:16, 18). Joseph asked for Jesus’s body and took it down, wrapped it in cloth, and laid it in a tomb, one in which no one had ever been laid. The women who had followed Jesus from Galilee (8:1–3) saw the tomb, but because it was Preparation Day, both for the Sabbath and for the Passover, after preparing spices, they took their Sabbath rest. With the burial of Jesus, all hopes for the coming kingdom seem to have died as well.
24:1–8 After resting on the Sabbath, the women go to the tomb early on the first day of the week to finish the burial of Jesus. Although Luke describes them simply as “the women” (23:55; 24:10), the other Gospels report that this group consisted of only three: Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James and Joses, and Salome (cf. Mark 16:1). Upon arrival, they find the stone rolled away and the body gone. Two angelic figures tell them that Jesus is risen and remind them that this is what he predicted while still in Galilee (cf. 9:22, 44; 17:24–25; 18:33). As they remembered, Luke’s readers also recall Jesus’s earlier teaching about these events that have now been fulfilled (1:1).
24:9–12 Luke himself may have been part of the group which first heard the three women report what they discovered at the tomb. On the way from the tomb, they had collected Joanna and some other friends, probably as they passed the palace that Herod the Great had built on the western edge of Jerusalem, but was now used by the Roman governor when he was in the city. Joanna’s husband was chief steward to Herod Antipas (8:3), and this was probably where Antipas was staying in this Passover season (see on 23:1–7). After accompanying Jesus in Galilee, Joanna probably also accompanied the apostle Paul on some of his missionary engagements (Rom 16:7, “Junia”). With the support of their Galilean friends, the three women reported their discoveries at the tomb, but the disciples as a whole did not believe it, for it sounded like nonsense. Peter ran to the tomb (as did John, according to John 20:1–10; cf. Luke 24:24) and found it empty, just as the women had reported. Like the women (24:4), Peter also went home wondering about what had happened. But what now? Peter will have to wait until the end of the day (24:33–49) to fully understand these events, which, despite the women’s report appearing to be nonsense, now seem to be true.
24:13–24 Later in the day, two of those who had been at the report-back take a short journey to Emmaus, talking about everything that had happened. One of them is identified as Cleopas (24:18), who was Jesus’s uncle and married to Mary mother of James who was at the cross and then went to the tomb (24:10; cf. John 19:25, Matt 28:1; Mark 15:40, 47; 16:1). As they talked about recent events, Jesus came up to them, but they were prevented from recognising him (24:16). When he asked them what they were talking about, they became downcast. Cleopas asked him whether he was the only visitor to Jerusalem who didn’t know what had gone on. At this point, Luke’s readers, having been told that it was Jesus (24:15), relish the delightful irony of Cleopas’s question. Of course, more than anyone else, Jesus knew what had happened in Jerusalem. He also knew why it had happened.
Nevertheless, Cleopas reports on the events as he (and the rest of the disciples, presumably; cf. 24:13) perceived them. As he reports, Luke’s readers are reminded of the entire account of Jesus so far in the narrative. He was a prophet powerful in word and deed (4:24; 7:16, 39; 13:33; 22:64). But the leaders of Israel handed him over to death and he was crucified, dying under the wrath of God (cf. 18:32). His followers and relatives were now downcast because they had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel (24:21a; cf. 1:68; 2:38; 21:28; Ps 130:7–8; Isa 63:4), that is, to bring in the Messianic Age and the kingdom of God.
This brings Cleopas back to the present day. This is now the third day, and what a strange day it had been so far. Three women, including his own wife, had amazed the disciples by reporting they had found the tomb empty (24:22–23; cf. 1–8, 9–12), and this had been confirmed by Peter (and John; 24:24; cf. 24:12), who found the grave empty, but didn’t see Jesus himself, leaving him wondering about what had occurred. The readers recall that Jesus predicted his resurrection on the third day (24:7; 9:22; 13:32; 18:33), which was exactly what the prophets also foretold about the great day of resurrection (Hos 6:2). When he did so, he had referred to himself as the Son of Man, thus aligning his resurrection with the expectation of the “coming of the Son of Man” (9:26; 12:40; 17:24, 26–30; 18:8, 31; 21:27, 36; 22:69).
24:25–29 The one who was a stranger to them then rebuked them for being so slow to believe the prophets, asking “Didn’t the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory” (24:26; cf. Isa 52:10–12; Dan 7:13–14)? Then, just as the angels had reminded the women of Jesus’s earlier teaching (24:6–8), he explained to them the Scriptures “concerning himself” (24:27). As Luke’s readers had also been reminded of Jesus’s teaching by the angels, and the rest of Luke’s account by Cleopas’s summary of events, now they recollect the many times the Gospel had explained Jesus by referring to the Scriptures, both at significant narrative moments and also in the details of the narrative tapestry.
24:30–32 Having pressed the stranger to stay with them, during the evening meal they suddenly recognised that their guest was Jesus. They reflected together how their hearts had burned while he had explained the Scriptures to them, for they now understood the events of the last days were exactly as God had intended, and everything Jesus had spoken about, as well as everything the prophets had promised, had now come to pass (1:1). Despite their disappointment at his death, he had taken on the wrath of God for the sins of others (Isa 53:4–6), proving he was the one to redeem Israel (24:21), a redemption that would then flow out to all nations, even to the ends of the earth (Isa 49:6; cf. Acts 1:8). As Luke’s readers hear of their burning hearts, they are also moved to wonder and rejoice at the fulfillment of God’s purposes in the suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ on the “day of vengeance” (21:22), the last step before entering into his glory as the Son of Man (9:22, 28, 44; 18:8, 31; 21:27, 36; 22:22, 48, 69; 24:7, 26).
24:33–43 Rushing back to Jerusalem, Cleopas and his companion found the Eleven assembled, and they learned that the Lord had risen and appeared to Simon. Peter no longer had to wonder about the empty tomb (cf. 24:12b), for it is now clear that it was empty because the Lord had risen from the dead as the Son of Man. Cleopas and his friend confirm this conclusion by reporting what had happened to them, especially how they had suddenly recognised the stranger to be Jesus. Their experience was then duplicated as Jesus came into the midst of this gathering and asked for some food to demonstrate that he was not a ghost, but a body, alive from the dead (24:36–41).
24:44–49 Then, just like the angels to the women (24:6–8), and Jesus to Cleopas and his friend (24:25–27), Jesus explained to the gathered disciples that all the events of the last few days were exactly as predicted by the Scriptures, the events that he himself had told them must be fulfilled (9:22; 13:33; 17:25; 18:31; 21:22, 28; 22:7, 37; 24:7, 26). As he had done on the Emmaus road, he opened the minds of the disciples by explaining the Scriptures. This time Luke’s readers are also able to hear what he said. According to the Scriptures, three things had to happen: being the Servant of the Lord, the Messiah must suffer, as he had done (24:39); being the Son of Man, the Messiah must rise again from the dead, as had happened; and finally, and as a consequence of those first two events, since he would sit at the Father’s right hand until all his enemies are made his footstool (Ps 110:1–2), starting from Jerusalem, repentance for the forgiveness of sins must be proclaimed to the nations, for on God’s eschatological timetable the redemption of Jerusalem would then flow out to all the nations of the earth (Isa 2:2–4; 9:1–7; 49:6; 52:13–15; Zech 14:16–19). This is the only item in the divine timetable yet to be fulfilled. For this to be achieved, Jesus commissions the eleven to be his witnesses (cf. Acts 1:8; 2:32; 3:15; 5:22; 10:39; 13:31) and promises they will be equipped for their task by receiving the promise of the Father, namely, the Spirit of God himself, promised for the messianic age (cf. Joel 2:28–32). Once Jesus comes as the Son of Man into his glory through his resurrection and exaltation to heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father as “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36; 7:56), he will pour out the promised Spirit (Acts 2:16–21, 33). This gift of the Spirit will empower the Eleven (soon to be the Twelve again, see on 22:32; cf. Acts 1:12–26) for their commissioning as witnesses, and all Christ’s people to take their place in his mission of the last days, so that both Jew and Gentile can be saved (Acts 2:21, 38–39). This one remaining task will now shape the priorities and activities of those within the Christian movement for all the time that remains “in these last days.”
24:50–53 As the final event in this special time in human history, after the Messiah was amongst the people of Israel, and after he had suffered, he would then enter into his glory (24:26). This final event is depicted in the last scene of the Gospel, as the disciples see Jesus taken up into heaven. This was his goal as he began his journey to Jerusalem (9:51), knowing that he would complete his ministry to Israel and the nations as the Son of Man who would come to the throne of the Ancient of Days to receive the kingdom of God, over which he would reign for eternity (Dan 7:13–14; Ps 110:1). Now that he has suffered and risen from the dead and been installed at the right hand of the Father (see Acts 2), he will direct his mission as his Spirit-empowered servants continue to proclaim the good news to the nations of the world—that the sins of the nations can be forgiven, and that they can share in the kingdom of God over which the Lord Jesus Christ will graciously rule forever.
More than two thousand years later, how does the one remaining task within God’s plan shape your own priorities and activities in life?
Bock, Darrell L. Luke. BECNT, 2 vols. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994 and 1996.
Edwards, James R. The Gospel according to Luke. PNTC. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015.
Tannehill, Robert C. Luke. ANTC. Nashville: Abingdon, 1996.
Wilcock, Michael. The Message of Luke: Saviour of the World. BST. Leicester: IVP, 1979.
Wright, N. T. Luke for Everyone. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2001.
Endnotes & Permissions
1. See R. Bauckham, Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church (London: T&T Clark, 1990, 2004), ch.7.
2. See R. Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), ch. 5.
3. See C. H. Dodd, “The Fall of Jerusalem and the ‘Abomination of Desolation,’” More New Testament Studies (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1968), 69–83.
The text of Luke, excluding all Bible quotations, is © 2023 by The Gospel Coalition. The Gospel Coalition (TGC) gives you permission to reproduce this work in its entirety, without any changes, in English for noncommercial distribution throughout the world. Crossway, the holder of the copyright to the ESV Bible text, grants permission to include the ESV quotations within this work, in English.In addition, TGC gives you permission to faithfully translate the work into any other language, but you may not translate the English ESV Bible into another language. If you wish to include Bible quotations with the translated work, you will need to obtain permission from a publisher of a Bible translation in the same language. All scripture quotations are taken from the ESV® Bible (the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®) copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. ESV Text Edition: 2016. All rights reserved. The ESV text may not be quoted in any publication made available to the public by a Creative Commons license. The ESV may not be translated into any other language. The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, is adapted from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A
Dedication to Theophilus
1:1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
Birth of John the Baptist Foretold
5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah,1 of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” 21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. 23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Birth of Jesus Foretold
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed2 to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”3 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”4
35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born5 will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant6 of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Mary Visits Elizabeth
39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be7 a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
Mary’s Song of Praise: The Magnificat
46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.
The Birth of John the Baptist
57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, 60 but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” 61 And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” 62 And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. 63 And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. 64 And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. 65 And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, 66 and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.
67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,
68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us8 from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.