March 2, 2018
The Gospel of Luke
General Remarks on the Gospel of Luke
Some historians, both inside and outside the Church, have adopted the idea that the Gospel of Luke, and other parts of the New Testament, were written long after the Apostles’ deaths, from a few collections of the sayings of Jesus. These sayings, consisting mostly of moral and ethical teachings, were memorised and passed orally. They were were written much later, and were used as sources by the Church to compose the Gospels. According to this theory, the Church wrote the Gospels, and attributed them to the Apostles and well-known figures of the early Church. The Gospels were never intended to give an accurate record of the life and teachings of Christ. They were written to address issues the Church faced in the late first and early second centuries. These same historians often deny accounts of Christ’s miracles, including His resurrection, saying they are inventions of the Church to induce people to become Christians. This view seems to fail on at least three points.
First, the Gospel was entrusted to the Apostles by Christ Himself (Mt. 28:19, 20). He called them to follow Him and become fishers of men. After much prayer he set them aside to be His disciples. In that capacity, they witnessed first hand the acts of Christ recorded in the Gospels. and heard with their own ears the sermons and teachings of Christ. Thus, the Gospels and the New Testament are the Apostolic record declaring “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the Word of life” (1 Jn. 1:1). Or, as 1 John 1:3 say more succinctly, “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you.”
If the words in First John are true, the Gospel was not made up by the Church several decades after the time of Christ and the Apostles. It was the very foundation of the Church, the rock upon which Christ builds His Church. The early Church clearly believed the New Testament came from the Apostles, either directly from their pens or written under their direction. Several early Christian writers, including Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria testify to Luke as the author if this Gospel.
The Apostles, in the early days of the Church, mostly remained in Jerusalem, though they do seem to have made some journeys to the churches forming outside of Israel (Gal. 2:11), and to have sent emissaries to churches they could not personally visit. The need for an authoritative account of the ministry and teaching of Christ, from the pen of the Apostles who heard and witnessed them, would seem to be self evident, since, even in Apostolic times, wolves in sheep’s clothing infiltrated the Church and led many astray. How can these churches know they believe and follow the truth? They need the words of the Apostles, or those taught and sent by the Apostles. They also need written accounts and instructions from the Apostles, to counter the many false gospels and false teachings already arising in the the Church. We see in this the earliest form of the practice of Apostolic Succession, which accepts as valid only documents and doctrines from the Apostles and from those directly taught and ordained by the Apostles.
Second, this view fails to account for the transformation of the disciples from the men cowering in the upper room to the fearless preachers of Christ, who willingly gave their lives in His service. What gave them such courage? Was it a Christ without miracles? Was it a dead man, with no resurrection? Or were they transformed by what they saw and heard in their time with Christ, including the miracles and resurrection, as they were enabled to understand it at the coming of the Holy Spirit? I fail to see how anything but the risen Christ and power of the Spirt can account for this.
Third, these historians fail to account for inspiration. According to them, the Bible is the result of people thinking about God. Perhaps they were, in some way guided by God, but their founding documents remain essentially human works filled with what they call, “myths,” which seems to be a nice way of saying, “lies.”
If the Bible is a collection of man-made stories and human ideas about God, why should we bother with it? Why should we consider it to have any real authority? Such a Bible seems to be just another of the many competing philosophies, which we are free to follow or reject as we like. Worse, it becomes just another self made reality, which may be “true” to some, but not to others, who are free to construct their own “truths.” This, of course, means nothing is true, for if all views are equally true, they are also equally false, meaning, they are not true at all.
The New Testament claims to be absolute truth. It claims to be God’s truth given to humanity through Christ as surely as the Old Testament is given to humanity through the prophets. The New Testament claims to be entrusted to the Apostles, who recorded it in the Bible. Thus Peter wrote of Scripture (prophecy) coming not, “by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pet 1:22, 21). He includes the Apostle Paul in that body of holy men, and his writings in that body of inspired Scriptures. Referring to Paul’s epistles, Peter wrote of unlearned and unstable people who wrest (twist) them, “as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:16).
Luke is not an Apostle, and makes no claim to be an eyewitness to the words and deeds of Christ. He is aware of other works which “set forth in order a declaration of those things most surely believed among us” (1), and seeks only to add another orthodox account to enable Theophilus to better understand the Christian faith (Lk. 1:3). The same historians mentioned earlier claim Luke researched other works, on which he based his Gospel. On this point, they are partially correct. Luke even admits to having read and used such sources,. They are not made up myths, however. Luke identifies them as the works and teachings of those who were “eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” (2). In other words, his sources were the Apostles. At the time of his writing, sometime between 50 and 64 A.D., Luke would have had ample opportunity to hear Peter’s remembrances, and to consult the Gospels of Mathew and Mark. As a companion and fellow labourer with Paul, he would have learned much from him, as Paul, in turn, had learned much from the other Apostles through Barnabas, and through personal contact with them (Acts 9:26-28). Peter and Paul, because of their differences in Galatians 2:11-14 are often thought to have been bitter enemies, but in Galatians 2:9 Peter gives Paul the right hand of fellowship, and in 2 Peter 3:15, he calls Paul, “our beloved brother.” Thus, we know at least Peter and Paul had some contact and fellowship. In Acts 15 we see the Apostles and elders gathered in Jerusalem. It is highly likely that the Apostles gathered at other times for discussion, mutual edification, fellowship, and prayer, and that such meetings are not recorded in the New Testament. Knowing that Peter, John, and Paul all ministered frequently in Asia (modern Turkey), it would seem plausible that they would meet occasionally to encourage each other, and rest and pray together. Thus, Luke would have had several Apostles, the Gospel of Matthew, and, possibly, the Gospel of Mark to use as the sources for his own book. Furthermore, there is no reason to believe the Gospel of Luke was written independently of Apostolic oversight. Instead, it is highly likely that Luke worked under Paul’s direction as Mark worked under Peter’s.
Luke is often referred to as Luke the historian. This is probably due to his authorship of the book of Acts of the Apostles. His Gospel, like the others often presents events as they occur to him, following a topical, rather than chronological order, though his order usually fits that of Matthew and Mark, suggesting the three present the general outline of the true chronology of the life of Christ. But let the reader remember that Christ, not chronology, is the primary interest of all the Gospel writers.
While Matthew and Mark were written in the early days of the Church, Luke seems to be later than they, and written to an audience that includes Gentiles and Hellenised Jews. We would expect this from a companion of Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. No doubt this Gospel is intended to reach the Churches of Asia, planted by John, Paul, and Peter. Addressing Gentiles outside of of Israel, Luke emphasises the message that Christ came to save all who will accept Him in faith, Jew or Gentile.
It is noteworthy that Theophilus is a Greek name. Thus we see at the very start that part of Luke’s intended audience consists of Gentiles and Hellenised Jews. Yet, he does not portray a Greco-Roman Christ. He shows Jesus as He is, a Jew, squarely in His own time and place in first century Israel. He is equally serious about showing Jesus as the son of David, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, and the long awaited Messiah of the Jews. Like the other Gospel writers, Luke also shows Him as largely misunderstood by the Jews, and, ultimately rejected and killed by them. This is due to their misunderstanding of the nature and ministry of the Messiah, who came not to deliver Israel from Rome, but to save people of all nations and races from their sins.
Luke 1:5-80 relates the conception, birth, and early life of John the Baptist, as the one who prepares the way of the Lord. These verses give more information about Zachariah and Elisabeth than we find in the other Gospels.
Zechariah’s words to Gabriel express doubt (20). It is as though he is asking, How can I believe this? How he can know Gabriel’s words are true (18). Therefore, he is struck dumb until the child is named. The main point Luke makes is that John is the one foretold in Scripture, who will go “before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways.” The One John identifies as the Christ will give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins,” and accomplish the glorious things promised in the song of Zechariah (67-79).
Mary’s words express faith. She does not, ask how she can know, or, believe the words of Gabriel. She asks how such a thing will happen. How is God going to accomplish this? (34). The young maiden has more faith than the priest in the Temple. But let us not judge Zachariah too harshly. He must be shocked by Gabriel’s presence, which would naturally lead to confusion and doubt. We might have the same reaction in his place.
It is also important to note Mary’s words, “I know not a man” (34). Mary was chaste, a virgin (27), as obedient to the seventh commandment as to the rest of God’s law. This does not mean Mary was sinless. You may have heard people talk about the “Immaculate Conception.” This is a view added to the faith in the early Middle Ages. It is not found in the Bible, and is, in reality, impossible. It is the belief that Mary was conceived without Original Sin, and that she remained sinless throughout her life. This is the only way Jesus could have been born without Original Sin, according to those who hold this view. And only One born without Original Sin can suffer for the sins of others.
Original sin refers to the sinfulness that is part of human nature, and has been since the Fall. It is an inclination of human nature toward sin. We naturally follow that inclination as water naturally goes downhill. The Bile uses much stronger language to describe this condition. It describes us as lost, separated from God, prisoners of sin, and children of the devil Therefore, we are not born innocent. Sin is part of us from the moment of conception, and remains so until the moment of death. Because of this inherent sinfulness, we are by nature children of wrath, and can only be reconciled to God by a miraculous work of grace that remakes our nature. This work of grace goes by many names in the Bible. It is called salvation, transformation, and being born again.
The idea behind the Immaculate Conception theory is that Jesus had to be born of a woman who is free of Original Sin. She must be Immaculate, wholly without any kind of sin, else she would pass her Original Sin on the Jesus. But, we must ask, how was Mary conceived without Original Sin? If Jesus would have inherited it from her,wouldn’t she have inherited it from her parents? Thus, all of Mary’s ancestors would need to be free of Original Sin. The Bible never suggests that this is so. Just the opposite, it insists that “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23).
The Bible does not talk about an Immaculate Conception of Mary. It speaks of the virginal conception of Christ. He was supernaturally conceived by a special work of God in the womb of Mary while she was yet a virgin. Because of His supernatural conception, not because of the lack of sin in Mary, sin is not part of the nature of Christ.
Luke includes Gabriel’s words that the Son of God will reign over the house of Jacob and the throne of David (32, 33). He locates Christ in history and humanity. He is a first century Jew.
The Old Testament time of Promise is drawing to a close; the New Testament era of fulfillment is at hand. From man’s perspective Christ’s birth in Bethlehem seems mere coincidence. The Romans demand taxes, which requires Joseph to take Mary to their ancestral home of Bethlehem to be registered and pay the tax. While there, Mary gives birth. It could have happened to anyone in similar circumstances, and Matthew. 2:16 seems to imply other children were born in Bethlehem during that same time. But this birth is the result of the hand of God guiding the course of history and the lives of people to accomplish His will. 1 Peter 1:20 reminds us Christ “was foreordained before the foundation of the world.” Isaiah 7:14, seven hundred years before Christ, tells us He will be born of a virgin, and Isaiah’s contemporary, Micah, foretells that the Ruler, “whose goings forth have been from old, from everlasting,” comes out of Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2). The Priests and scribes in Matthew 2:4 are the Bible scholars of that day, and their quotation of Micah shows they believe Micah’s words foretell the Messiah, the hope of Israel.
Our lives also are directed by the hand of God. The woman at the well was going about her ordinary routine, not knowing God had brought her to that time and place to meet the Saviour. David did not know his time as a shepherd was God’s plan to train him to be king. The sister and mother of Moses did not know they were following God’s plan to lead Israel out of Egypt. We may do well to look for the hand of God in our own lives: how He enabled us to hear and believe the Gospel, enfolded us in a Biblical church, and surrounded us with those who love us. Far from accidents, these are God working all things together for our good.
It is Luke who tells us of the taxes, and Luke who tells us Jesus was laid in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn (7). In Luke we learn of the shepherds and the angels.
The glad tidings are for all people. This is very significant, for the Jews believe the Messiah is for them alone, and the privileged classes believe He is especially for them. The angels’ words, “all people,” reminds us that the Saviour’s love reaches across all man made boundaries. Jews and Gentiles, male and female, all races, nations, and economic levels throughout all time are included in the glad tidings. “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (11).
The angels emphasise that the child in the manger is the Saviour. In eternity it matters very little whether a person was a wealthy king or a poor shepherd in life. It only matters that he knew the Saviour. Thus, the angels do not speak to the shepherds about the child having the throne of David and ruling the house of Jacob, as Gabriel does to Mary (Lk. 1:32, 33). They speak of Him as the One who makes them right with God; who forgives their sins and welcomes them into His Kingdom, who buys their salvation with His own blood and life. Even Mary calls Him “God my Saviour” (Lk 1:47). Thus, in the womb, and from His birth, the cross is ever before this manger child. No wonder the shepherds leave, “glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen” (20).
According to the Law, Christ is circumcised and presented to God in the Temple (8). He will often criticise people who strenuously keep the letter of the Law, but fail to keep its spirit. But He never negates the letter of the Law. Instead, He keeps it fully, both in letter and in spirit. One point made here is that Jesus is a real Jew, and fully compliant with the laws of God. Yet this important point is overshadowed by another, the naming of the manger child. He is named Jesus, which is given in all upper case letters in the King James Version to signify that the name, rather than the circumcision, is the true emphasis of the passage. He is so named because that is what the angel said to name Him. His name also expresses His nature and mission. It means Saviour.
Mary, too, follows the Law, and comes to the Temple after the days of her purification, meaning, after her body heals from the labour of giving birth (22). Again we see that the entire family is Jewish to the core, and faithful in every detail.
Simeon and Anna seem to know the Messiah is more than a military king. Simeon is waiting for the consolation of Israel (25), which, according to Arndt, et al, means the Messianic salvation of Israel. Specifically, it refers to the arrival of the Messiah in Israel. Yet, Simeon sees Christ as coming for more than the Jews. He is “prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel” (31). How He will be the light of the Gentiles is hinted at in verse 35. The sword that pierces Mary’s heart is the crucifixion of the child she has carried in her womb and nursed at her breasts. Though He is much more than her son, she loves Him as any good mother loves her own, natural child. To see Him suffer and die will be almost like dying to her.
Anna’s husband died in the seventh year of their marriage (36). Fourscore means eighty years, and may mean Anna has lived eighty years after her husband’s death. This would put her in her nineties. Though not unusual in our time of modern medicine, it was considered “great age” in first century Israel. She has spent those decades in the Temple, serving God with fastings and prayers night and day (37). A prophetess, she recognises Jesus as the Messiah, and “spake of him to all of them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (38). Here, again, His role as Redeemer is clearly emphasised, and the role of a military conqueror is not even mentioned.
Luke goes from the Temple to Nazareth of Galilee, skipping over the visit of the magi and the flight into Egypt, which Matthew records in detail. Some Bible scholars believe this could be a time period of two to three years. Why does Luke omit them? No one knows. But his omission does not mean he does not know of them, or that those events are simply an invention of Matthew. It means what John clearly states in John 21:25, that if everything Jesus said and did were written, “even the world itself could not contain the books.” Therefore, each Gospel writer has to choose what events to include, and what events to omit. Luke chooses to omit the magi and Egypt. Or, we should say, he was not directed by God to write them. Verse 40, therefore, takes us to Nazareth, where our Lord spends His life until He takes up His Messianic calling around the age of thirty.
The Jewishness of Christ, and the piety of His household is seen in their annual trips to Jerusalem for Passover. This would be an expensive trip taking about two weeks time, and requiring great devotion and careful planning to be able to afford and attend. Yet Joseph faithfully takes his family every year. Our Lord was given the blessing of growing up in a devout home.
What did Jesus do in these twenty some years between the Temple and His baptism? We know He worked as a carpenter. Joseph does not seem to be present at the crucifixion. If he had been there, Jesus would not have commended Mary to the care of John. We may surmise, then, that he has died prior to Christ’s baptism. Jesus ran the shop and provided the family income But what of His childhood and youth? Bishop Ryle sagely wrote:
“How many things a Christian would like to know about the events of those thirty years, and the daily history of the house of Nazareth! But we need not doubt that there is wisdom in the silence of Scripture on the subject. If it had been good for us to know more, more would have been revealed” (Expository Thoughts on Luke).
Yet Scripture’s silence does not silence human speculation. People have thought Christ went to live with the Pharisees, or the desert ascetics, or traveled to India and Tibet to study Hindu and Buddhist mysticism or even lived in Britannia. But the frank honesty of the Gospels about the doctrinal/moral failures of the Israelite elites, misunderstanding of the general populace, and repeated failures of the disciples to grasp the meaning of Christ’s teachings, would not have omitted Jesus’ time among such people and places, if they had occurred. Their influence on Christ would have been too important to leave out. Furthermore, there is no indication of such influence in the life and teachings of Christ as recorded in the New Testament. Had He been a desert ascetic, like John the Baptist, a Jerusalem Pharisee, a Buddhist monk, or a Celtic Druid, the experience would be clearly evident in His words and life. But they are completely lacking. He is Jewish to the core, for all of His life.
We may be assured that He spent these years in Nazareth, and that, along with rigorous study of the Old Testament, he worked as a carpenter in Joseph’s shop. This is easily proved by the reactions of the people when He returned to Nazareth during His ministry. No one knew Him to be anything but the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of the children of Mary and Joseph (Mk. 6:3).
The childhood and youth of Christ, then resembled that of the other children in Nazareth. He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, went to the synagogue school, studied and learned the Scriptures, and learned the trade of woodworking in Joseph’s shop. He kept the feast and fast days, and the annual festivals, and, according to verses 41 and 42, kept the Passover every year in Jerusalem.
During this time, our Lord grew in His understanding of the Scriptures, and His own unique being and purpose. Luke makes a point of this, saying He, “waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him” (40), and “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (52). Yes, Jesus had to grow spiritually as well as physically. He was not born knowing His identity and mission. He grew into it as the Holy Spirit led Him in the understanding of the Scriptures, and of His Divine person and being. While Christ never ceased being God, He did not use His Divine knowledge and power for Himself during His earthly life. Instead, He lived by faith, the way we ordinary mortals have to do. He did not grant Himself any special favours, privileges, or knowledge not available to the rest of us.
Some early Christians had trouble understanding this. They decided Jesus was not really human the way the rest of us are. He only appeared to be human so we could see and hear Him. As we can see, that would have given Jesus a tremendous advantage over us. His temptation would not have been real temptation. His prayers would not have been real prayers. His suffering and death would not have been real. They would have only affected the body, which would be something like a mask or article of clothing in which Christ dressed, not Christ Himself. Christians who doubted the full humanity of Christ quickly left the faith. Their error caused many of the heresies that troubled the early Church.
The Incarnation, then, was not only God becoming flesh to dwell among us (Jn. 1:14). It was also God the Son laying aside His Divine power and knowledge in order to live as we live, and thus overcome the world, the flesh and the devil by the power and wisdom of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote of this in Philippians 2:7. After stating Christ’s full equality with God, he wrote that He, “made Himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” The words, “no reputation” mean Christ emptied Himself and became as a man in order to obey as we must obey, and to suffer the death of the cross for us (Phil. 2:8). Dr. B.B. Warfield’s The Person and Work of Christ, gives a good and succinct explanation of this in his chapter on “The Person of Christ.”
By the age of twelve Christ’s realisation of Himself is maturing. He is beginning to realise He is not an ordinary human. He is related to the Father in a way no mere human can ever be. He is in fact, the Son of God. He and the Father are one. Thus, when Mary, finding Him with the doctors (Bible scholars and clergy) in the Temple, chastises Him, calling Him “son” and Joseph and His father, our Lord gently chastises her. “I must be about my Father’s business” (49) reminds them that God the Father is His Father, and He is doing what He came to earth to do.
The historical details in verses 1 and 2 are part of the reason Luke is often called Luke the historian. He is very concerned to put the life of Christ into the broader historical context of the Roman Empire and Israel. Many have noted that one of the major differences between Biblical faith and other religions is that Biblical faith is historical. It involves real people in real places and real settings.
The fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar would be about the year 29 A.D., which fits perfectly with Luke’s report that the Lord was baptized and began His public ministry when He “began to be about thirty years of age” (3:23). This would also date the Crucifixion and Resurrection in 33 A.D. Herod the tetrarch is the son of Herod “the great,” who attempted to kill Christ by exterminating the male children of Bethlehem. He continues his father’s murderous legacy by ordering the execution of John the Baptist.
John is called the son of Zechariah here. We are thus reminded that John is of the priestly line, who is called to prepare the way of the Lord (1:76). His mother is Elisabeth, the relative of Mary (1:57). His ministry seems to be primarily conducted near Jerusalem, but he also travels to spread his message. Verse 3 says “he came into all the country about Jordan.” John 3:23 says he was in Aenon near Salim, which are in Samaritan territory close to Galilee. John 1:28 shows him in Bethany beyond Jordan, a small village about four miles north of the Dead Sea and east of the Jordan River.
It is in Bethany beyond Jordan (also called Bethabara) that our Lord comes to John to be baptized (21). Luke gives much detail about John’s preaching, but does not mention John’s protest, probably because he knows Matthew has already recorded it. Here is something we might want to ponder; Jesus was baptized outside of the boundaries of Israel. Is God using this to tell us that He came for more than just the Jews?
Luke does include the Father’s confirmation of Christ after the baptism. But the words Jesus hears are different from the words heard by the people. The people hear, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The Saviour hears, “Thou art my beloved Son: in thee I am well pleased.” Thus, the Father Almighty sends the appropriate message to God the Son, and to the people He came to save.
Verses 23-38 trace the genealogy of Christ. Matthew has already done this, but he stopped at Abraham. In fact, showing Christ as the son of Abraham seems to be the point in Matthew’s Gospel. Luke traces Him back to Adam, and Adam to God. His point seems to be to identify Christ with all humanity, emphasising again that His coming is “glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (2:10).
The temptations of Christ 1-13, attempt to turn Christ from the Saviour to a worldly king. The first one is an attempt to get Christ to come out of His mode of living by faith and live by His own Divine power. It is as though Satan is saying, You don’t have to be hungry. You are the Son of God, so use your power instead of depending on and obeying the will of the Father. Our Lord responds that it is the word of God, not mere bread, that gives life.
The second tempts our Lord to forgo the cross and win the world by forsaking the Father and joining Satan. Jesus could do much good as King of the World. And Satan would not care because all the world would go to hell and Satan would have won the ultimate victory. He is perfectly willing to allow people to enjoy life, if he can have their souls forever. Again, our Lord responds by quoting Scripture. His response tells Satan God demands that we worship none but Him, but Satan already knows that. More importantly, Christ’s words affirm that He is going to live by those words. He will worship only God, and He will worship Him fully and gladly, even at the cost of the cross.
The third tempts Christ to test God’s faithfulness. God says His angels will bear you up, not even letting you “dash thy foot against a stone.” Satan is saying, Since you are determined to live by the will of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit, even including death on the cross, why not try a little experiment here, just to see if You really can trust Him? Throw yourself down and see if He rescues you. If He doesn’t, you can always save yourself by your own Divine power. But if He won’t help you here, how can You trust Him with the cross? Jesus’ response means something like, don’t try experiments on God. Don’t try to put Him to the test. Remember that you are the human and He is God, and don’t try to reverse the roles.
Verse 14 does not mean the Holy Spirit supernaturally places Jesus in Galilee. He has to walk, just like we would have in that time. It means Christ is filled with the Spirit, living and ministering by His power in obedience to God.
Luke is not led to write about the Lord’s time in Bethany and Judea after His temptations. The Gospel of John supplies the record the Baptist’s disciples leaving him to follow Christ, and Andrew bringing his brother, Peter (Jn. 1:35-42). Instead, Luke takes us to the beginning of our Lord’s long and merciful ministry in Galilee.
Our Lord seems to preach in many synagogues in Galilee before making His way to Nazareth (15, 16). Luke records His custom of attending the Sabbath services of the synagogue, showing again that our Lord is Jewish, and faithful, to the core. This day is special, for the Messiah makes a bold and shocking statement about Himself. Reading Isaiah 60:1 and 2, He states, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” Our Lord is saying three things. First, the things Isaiah wrote of are happening in the presence of the people of Nazareth. Second, they are happening through Him because He is the One anointed to accomplish them (21). Third, He is the Messiah. The Jews know these verses refer to the Messiah, and Jesus’ claim to fulfill them are a direct claim to be the Messiah.
The people are first astonished by His words, but instead of worshiping Him, or even attempting to see if His words are true, some are so enraged they take Him to a cliff, intending to throw Him over to His death (29). This is nothing but blind, unreasoning mob violence. It is ugly, ignorant, and cruel hate. But it is not the Lord’s plan to die that way, so He easily passes through the midst of them and goes on His way (30). He will return to Nazareth again, (Mt. 13:54), and will again be rejected. How sad that His own people fail to recognise the Lord.
The Saviour moves now to Capernaum, where He continues His ministry of teaching and healing. Matthew, Mark, and Luke record His time there in very similar reports. He preaches in the synagogue on the Sabbath days, (31) amazing the people because “his word was with power” (32). On one Sabbath He cleanses a demon possessed man, causing the people to exclaim, “What a word is this! for with authority and power he commandeth the unclean spirits, and they come out” (36). “And the fame of him went out into every place of the country round about” (37).
In 37-41, He goes to the home of Simon Peter’s mother in law, where He heals her and many others, and drives out many demons. But rising up early the next morning, He goes to a private place to pray. As He does, people gather at the house seeking healing and deliverance, but our Lord does not go to them. In the sovereign will of God, some are healed and some are not, and we cannot always discern His reason. Our Lord says only that He must leave Capernaum to preach the kingdom in other cities, “for therefore am I sent” (43). He is saying He came to preach the word of God, not to be a mere healer. Therefore, he travels through Galilee preaching in the synagogues (44).
The calling of the disciples seems to have been more a process than a one time event. Andrew and Peter become followers of Christ in Bethany beyond Jordan, shortly after Christ’s baptism and temptations (Jn. 1:35-42). Thus, in Luke 4:38, our Lord visits the home of Peter’s mother in law, where He heals her and many others. But Peter is not yet a disciple, meaning, one of the twelve Jesus calls to see His works and learn His doctrine, so they will be enabled to build the Church as His Apostles.
As chapter 4 closes, Jesus leaves Capernaum to preach in the synagogues of Galilee. How long He is gone is unknown, but in the first verse of chapter 6 He is back in Capernaum. A large crowd follows Him, but Simon Peter, James, and John, who are partners in a fishing business, have been working at their trade, and even now are mending their nets rather than attending the preaching of Christ (2, 5, 8-10). This means, Christ has come to them, they have not come to Him. He tells Peter to take Him a little way from shore in his boat. From there, He continues to teach the people (3). When He is finished, He tells Peter to take Him away from the shore and let down the nets. Peter says they have fished all night and caught nothing, but obeys. The result is a catch so large the net cannot hold it and Peter cannot bring it in (6, 7)).
In the presence of such power, Peter realises he is unworthy of the Lord’s blessing. He is, in fact, “a sinful man” (8). The Lord tells him “from henceforth thou shalt catch men” (10). There is no doubt that the large catch somehow shows the Church Christ will build, and the large numbers of people brought into it by His power and grace. The true Church will always look small and weak to the world. God’s way is the narrow way, a few there be that find it. But in the Heavenly city we will see a great multitude of people worshiping and serving the great Lamb of God who takes away their sins and gives them eternal life. Even in the Apostles’ time, the Church becomes so large they need help to properly care for the people (Acts 6:1-7).
Peter seems to partially realise the significance of the large catch and the prophecy that he will catch men. Jesus is calling Him to follow Him, and, in some way, not yet understood, become a part of His ministry. He has no idea the Christ will die on the cross, or fulfill the Old Testament and begin the New Covenant. He simply knows Christ is calling him. Knowing this, he, and the others, “forsook all and followed him” (11). How different their discipleship is from the many “Christians” today, who cannot even forsake their amusements to attend a Biblical Church.
The leper (12-15) is unclean, and, therefore, an outcast who is forbidden to participate in the synagogue, Temple, or the spiritual life of Israel. It is noteworthy, then, that he does not ask for healing, he asks to be made clean. He knows Christ can do this, if He is willing. The Lord’s answer is perfect: “I will: be thou clean.”
It is not coincidental that the cleansing of the leper is followed by the clear declaration of Christ’s authority to forgive sins (16-26). This is the main point of the healing of the man with palsy. Nor is it accidental that Pharisees and doctors from every town of Galilee, as well as from Judea and Jerusalem are present to hear Christ’s words. Our Lord wants them to hear Him say, “Man thy sins are forgiven thee.” Why? “that ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins” (24).
Our Lord even seems to equate the words, “Rise up and walk” with “Thy sins be forgiven thee.”
If this is so, then the healings recorded in the New Testament are not just physical, they have a spiritual meaning and effect, which is far more important than the physical. All of the bodies Jesus healed during his ministry died. All of the bodies He raised from the dead died again. But the souls He saved live forever, and the most important words we can hear from Him are, “thy sins be forgiven thee.”
Levi, also known as Matthew, is called to follow Christ in 27-29. As a tax collector for the Romans, he, too, is a hated outcast. Yet Jesus seeks him and calls him to come with Him. Like the fishermen, this unlikely disciple, “left all, rose up, and followed Him.”
The scribes and Pharisees murmur because this One who claims power to forgive sins (which is the same as claiming to be God), eats with publicans and sinners, like Levi and his friends (30). They believe He should be eating with them instead, because, in their own minds, they are not sinners. One of the greatest powers of the human mind is also its most destructive. That is the power to convince a person he is not a sinner. Many have scoffed at the Biblical teaching on sin in times past, and today it is almost completely eradicated from our collective self image. Atheism and spiritualism have replaced it with ideas of moral relativism and diverse harmony achieved by accepting almost everything as good and acceptable, except the Bible and Christian living. The Pharisees, of course, did not reject the Bible in theory. But, in practice, they replaced it with their own traditions and rules. Comparing themselves to their own rules, instead of the Law of God, they became convinced of their goodness. They grew blind to their hypocrisy, and the many ways they break God’s law in their minds and in their actions every day. But our Lord does not debate this matter with them here. He tells them He is the great Physician of Souls, and He has come to make sinners well. “I came not to call the righteous,” those who believe they are good enough already, “But sinners,” those who know they need God’s grace, “to repentance.”
After dealing with the question of fasting (33-35), which is really about the Pharisaical rules, Christ makes the point that they are like old wine bottles which cannot contain what He has come to accomplish on earth. The old bottles are actually skins used to hold the wine during fermentation. They have to be able to stretch and expand with the wine. An old skin has already stretched to its limit, therefore it will burst if used to ferment new wine. The New Covenant in Christ’s blood is new wine that will go beyond the old wineskins of the Pharisees, the Temple, the sacrifices, and Israel herself. It will cross the line between Jew and Gentile. It will fulfill the Temple and sacrifices, and open the way to God apart from them. This new wine will actually fulfill the Old Testament and Israel, even though it breaks out of the old forms of Temple and sacrifice. At the same time, it will burst those, like the Pharisees, who refuse to recognise the Messiah and the New Covenant.
“When thou comest into the standing corn of thy neighbour, then thou mayest pluck the ears with thine hand; but thou shalt not move a sickle unto thy neighbour’s standing corn.”
This verse from the Old Testament Law allows the poor and the travelers to gather a limited amount of grain from the field of a fellow Jew in time of necessity. Though “corn” refers to a specific type of grain today, it referred to all grains at the time the King James Bible was written, and, we may suppose it refers here to the wheat of the Mediterranean area here. The Pharisees know the Law of Deuteronomy 23:25 well, and their concern is not that the disciples are plucking the wheat, but that they are doing it on the Sabbath. According to them, the grain should have been gathered before sunset on Friday to prevent having to pluck it on the Sabbath. Christ’s response is that works of necessity to supply legitimate need, are allowed on the Sabbath. He uses David as an example (1 Sam 21:1-6), and makes the same point again in the healing of the man with the withered hand (6-11).
But the Lord’s main point is not about the Sabbath. It is His authority as God. He is Lord of the Sabbath, as He is Lord of all else. Therefore, He tells the Pharisees what it means; they do not tell Him.
Our Lord comes now to one of the most important tasks of His earthly ministry. Out of the many men who follow Him, He must “choose” twelve to train to become His Apostles, and carry on His work after His ascension. It may appear accidental that the twelve follow Jesus. It may appear they are chosen because of their talents and readiness to learn more of Christ. In reality they have been brought to this point by the grace of God working providentially in their lives. Has the Holy Spirit already revealed who Christ must choose? Does He spend the night praying for them, for strength and faith in their task, knowing they will face opposition and death? Or is He seeking confirmation from the Father about who to call? It may be both, and is probably much, much more that leads our Lord to a night of prayer. He carries burdens we cannot know or comprehend. But we can follow His example of prayer. On the next morning, He calls the twelve (13-16). From now on, eleven are Apostles in training, thus the Bible usually calls them disciples. One is there to betray Him.
When Christ and the disciples come down from the mountain, a vast crowd waits for Him (17-19). The Lord of Mercy immediately begins the work of healing and exorcism, not resting until He has “healed them all” (19). Even then, He does not rest, but begins to teach them in the well known words of the Sermon on the Plain. Many have noticed the similarities and differences between this sermon and the Sermon on the Mount, and some have feared the Bible gives conflicting accounts of the same event, which undermines the Bible’s reliability. We need not fear, however. It would be natural that our Lord’s sermons convey similar thoughts in similar words. John the Baptist’s sermons were very similar because different people came to him in different places and on different days, and they all needed the same message. Our Lord also was a traveling preacher, addressing different people in different places. They also needed to hear His message, and it is no wonder that He uses the same ideas and words in several sermons.
Since the two sermons are so similar, commentaries on them by the same writer would also be similar and repetitive. Thus, rather than reproducing previous comments here, the author suggests reading them in the corresponding comments on Matthew 5-7.
The story of the centurion’s faith comprise verses 1-10 of this chapter. In the minds of many Jews of Christ’s time, Gentiles are considered unclean people, fit only to be subjugated in a great war led by the Messiah. A centurion is even worse than the average Gentile because he is also a Roman soldier, and an enforcer of Roman rule. He commands a unit of one hundred Roman soldiers, who will kill Jews on his orders.
But this is no ordinary centurion. He, “loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue” (5). He is probably not a full convert to the Old Testament Church, but he is kind to the Jewish people, and fair in his treatment of them in his capacity as a Roman soldier. He is especially attracted by the God of Israel. He has a servant, a slave, who is both dear to him and deathly sick. Naturally he seeks the help of this Man known for healing, and whom he probably believes to be the Messiah. The elders tell the Lord of his charity toward them (5) but that does not change the fact that he is a Gentile and a Roman. Will the Messiah help him and his servant?
Yes. The Lord goes toward his house, but is met on the road by the centurion’s friends with a message confessing his unworthiness of help, or of having the Christ enter his home (6). He knows Christ can heal the servant, and does not need to be in the same house, or to lay hands on him to do it. Jesus “marveled at him,” saying, “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” Bishop Ryle wrote of this man:
“He regards our Lord as one possessing authority over diseases, as complete as his own authority over his soldiers, or a Roman Emperor’s authority over himself. He believes that a word of command from Jesus is sufficient to send sickness away. He asks to see no sign or wonder. He declares his confidence that Jesus is an almighty Master and King, and that diseases, like obedient servants, will at once depart at His orders” (Expository Thoughts on Luke).
On the day following the healing of the centurion’s servant, our Lord travels to a small village about six miles south of Nazareth called Nain. There He meets the funeral procession of a widow’s only son. The loss of her son is a terrible sorrow, and is compounded by the widow’s loss of his income and support. But the Lord of Mercy is there, having compassion and saying to her, “Weep not” (13). To the dead man, He says, “Young man, I say unto thee, Arise” (14).
The One who has power to lay down His own life, and take it up again, also has the power to restore life to others. By this act of grace we see Him as the Lord of Life, having power only God can have. Thus the Bible affirms His identity, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, God with us. Our faith in Him is also affirmed. He, who is able to raise this young man can also raise us to life with Him forever. And He who can give such life to the body, can give the soul that eternal life of unity and peace with God, purchased for us at the price of His life.
John the Baptist, son of Zechariah and Elisabeth, is in prison, not for crime, but for warning Herod he is committing grave sin by taking his brother’s wife. He is beginning to believe he will die there, very soon, and he wants to be sure he is not giving his life for one of the many false messiahs (17-35). Christ’s answer tells John He does what the Bible says the Messiah will do (22). This assurance is considered by Christ to be enough, and John is left to face his death in faith and in the promise of eternal life with God. A fuller explanation of this can be found in the comments on Matthew 11:1-19.
This passage is devoted entirely to the woman who anoints the Lord in the house of Simon the Pharisee, and a parable that explains the nature of Christ’s mercy and the gratitude of the woman. The Pharisee desires to talk with Christ, thus he invites Him to his house for a meal. Durning the visit, a woman comes to Jesus weeping. Some of her tears fall on His feet, which she dries with her hair. Still weeping, she anoints His feet with an ointment she carries in an alabaster box (37). The event is similar to Mary anointing the Lord in the home of Simon the leper on the Saturday prior to the crucifixion in Mark 14. But they are different events and different women.
The Pharisee seems to want to know if Jesus really is the Messiah. When He accepts the ministrations of the sinful woman, he becomes convinced He is neither the Messiah or a prophet (39). He reasons, “This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him; for she is a sinner.” Our Lord shows that He knows who and what the woman is, and the thoughts of Simon.
The parable of the creditor in verses 41 and 42. is about the woman and Simon. One debtor owes very much, the other owes less, but still a large sum. Both debts are forgiven by the creditor. The woman is the one owing five hundred pence. Simon owes fifty. The money is the penalty of sin. The creditor is God, and the forgiveness of debt is the forgiveness of sin. Simon correctly notes that the greater debtor will have the greater gratitude, but does not yet see himself in the parable.
Jesus explains it. The woman is a terrible sinner in Simon’s eyes, and he, though not perfect, he believes he is much less of a sinner than she. Therefore, he does not love and thank God with the same devotion and love. She knows she is a sinner. She knows the debt she owes is very great, one she could never repay. Yet God has forgiven her, as shown by Christ accepting her worship, and by His words to her, “Thy sins are forgiven” (48).
Simon has other guests at the meal, who ask themselves who Jesus is, since He thinks He can forgive sins (49). If the Lord answers them, or has further discourse with Simon, it is not recorded for us. But His words to the woman are, recorded, and, in a sense, they are His answer to the other guests. “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.”
Faith here does not mean the woman saved herself by having faith. It means her faith has accepted the salvation offered in Christ. Her faith trusts God to forgive her sins and restore her to Him.
The Parable of the Sower is one of our Lord’s best known. It is not really about the Sower, however. It is really about the soils. Each soil receives the same good Seed, which is the Gospel of Christ. Each soil receives the Seed from the same good Sower, which is Christ, working through the Bible and the Church, and which is applied by the Holy Spirit. But the same good seed yields different results in different kinds of soil. Most of the soils produce no real results. The seed they receive is smothered by weeds and thorns, eaten by birds, or withers and dies in the heat.
Jesus is making a terrifying but important point: people hearing the Gospel are like those soils receiving the seed. It will never take root in some people. It will take root and sprout in others, who will appear to have faith for a while, but fall back into unbelief when facing trouble, or turn away from Christ to embrace worldliness and sin. Only a few will be good soil in which the Gospel takes root and yields the fruit of Biblical faith and life. There is, then, an unspoken, but very real question in this parable; what kind of soil are you?
The short parable of the Candle (16, 17) expands the theme that those who truly receive Christ’s words are changed by them. In the Parable of the Sower, they bear good fruit. In the parable of the candle, they give light, meaning, they believe the Gospel and live accordingly. We could say, candles act like candles, and Christians act like Christians. Candles give light; Christians live Godly, righteous, and sober lives to the glory of God. We could say, the Parable of the Sower is about hearing the word of Christ, and the Parable of the Candle is about doing what His words teach.
Thus, after these parables, our Lord concludes, “Take heed therefore how ye hear.” The words of James 1:22 are very relevant here. “be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only.”
Bishop Jerry Ogles, Presiding Bishop of the Anglican Orthodox Church expounds another primary theme of the Parable of the Sower, which applies equally well to the candle. He writes:
“The unlikely soils, or different types of hearts, are capable of being changed. The hardened wayside may be broken up, the rocky ground cleared of stones, and the thorns pulled up by the roots or burned by fire” (Sermon for Sexagesima 2018).
The Bible gives many examples of such changes. Saul, persecutor of the Church, by the grace of God becomes Paul the Apostle and author of fourteen books of the New Testament. The priests of Jerusalem were some of Christ’s most bitter opponents during His earthly ministry, yet Acts 6:7 tells of a “great company” of them becoming “obedient to the faith” after Pentecost. We may be praying for someone who is, as yet, what Bishop Ogles calls, ‘unlikely soils.” Let our prayers be like the prayers of Anna (Lk. 2:37). May our candle give light to all in the house. The One who changed the hearts of Saul and the priests, may yet change theirs.
We may excuse Mary for not yet understanding the Person and ministry of Jesus (19-22). She has already shown great faith in obeying God, even in trying times. And Nazareth was a trying place. We remember that the people of Nazareth rejected Christ when He taught in their synagogue (Lk. 4:28-30), and Mary and her children probably faced much anger and ridicule from the same people over Jesus. We can almost hear the scoffers ask disdainfully, “How’s the mother of God today?” “Had any virgin births lately?” Who knows what our faith would be like in similar circumstances?
Our Lord uses the event to teach that the family of God is not formed by the usual earthly bonds. It is not even defined by descent from Abraham, as the Jews seem to think at the time. It is defined by faith in Christ. Those who “hear the word of God and do it” are His family (21).
Verses 22-39 relate the deliverance of the Gadarene, 40-56 are about the healing of the woman with the issue of blood and the raising of Jairus’ daughter. Comments on these events may be found in the corresponding comments on Matthew 9 and Mark 5,
The disciples are being sent on what they would consider an impossible mission (1-6). They are to cast out devils, cure diseases (1), and preach the kingdom of God (2). In addition, they are to depend on God to enable them to accomplish their mission and to provide for their every need (3-5). Each of these demands seems impossible alone. How can mere men heal the sick? Even more frightening, how can they cast out devils in a face to face encounter with the forces of evil? And to do this without money, without places to stay, without means to buy food or sustain themselves is demanding more than most of us are willing to give. The disciples are probably imagining hunger, sleepless nights on hard, damp ground, danger from robbers, and embarrassing failures like the one in verse 40. Yet this is a necessary part of their education to become Christ’s Apostles. They are things they will be required to do after our Lord ascends to Heaven as they build His Church. Therefore, they must begin to trust God now.
Like them, we have a mission in life. Christian, Church member, parent, spouse, children, work, and citizenship are all part of the mission, to honour God and live according to His word. We, too, must learn to trust God to supply our physical and spiritual needs, and to enable us to accomplish the mission. It will not be easy. It will require every ounce of faith the Holy Spirit gives us. There will be sacrifices and hardships. But we must obey, and must learn to trust Him.
After the record of Herod’s thoughts about the Baptist and Christ in verses 7-9 (see comments on Matthew 14:1, 2, and Mark 6:14-16), Luke tells of the apostles’ return and Christ’s desire to take them into a desert place near Bethsaida (10). This trip is made by boat, traveling northeast from Capernaum. But the people, wanting healing and deliverance, walk along the shore, probably calling to Him as the disciples row the boat (11). The Lord of mercy commands the disciples to turn toward he beach, where He “received hem, and spake unto them of the kingdom of God, and healed them that had need of healing” (11). We see the gracious love of Christ, who denies Himself rest and food, hears the cries of the needy, receives sinners, and tells them of of His Kingdom.
Feeding the multitude (12-17) is a sign of His Divine power. He who created all things out of nothing can easily multiply the fish and bread to feed the people. There is another message here for the disciples. They have just returned in triumph from their journey through Galilee (10) during which they have seen God work through them in healings and exorcisms and preaching. They have grown in their faith through their experiences. Yet they do not think about asking Christ what to do about the hungry people. They think, as we would in that situation, that it is time for them to go home to eat and rest, so the disciples may eat and rest also. But our Lord says, “Give ye them to eat” (13). They have already healed the sick and cast out demons, and God sustained them with the necessities of life during their journey, and Jesus seems to imply they can feed this multitude if they trust the power of God. If they don’t, it is due to lack of faith. Maybe this is part of the meaning of the words of Mark 6:52, “they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened.” Apparently Christ is teaching them still more that the Father who sends them into the world to establish the Church, also enables them to accomplish the mission He gives to them.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all make a point of recording the responses of the disciples regarding the impossibility of feeding more than five thousand people with the scanty food on hand. Twelve men look equally insufficient for the task of taking the Gospel to a needy, but often, contrary world. Even today, with mass communication and armies of missionaries, the Church seems small and insufficient. But the Lord who makes the fish and loaves suffice, can also accomplish His will through the seemingly small and weak Church. Let us, therefore, consider the miracle of the loaves.
Jesus moves into Gentile territory north of Galilee known as Caesarea Philippi (Mt. 16:13, Mk. 8:27). Matthew gives the fullest account of this event. Luke’s account is short and stark, but has great impact.
First, Luke tells us Jesus is praying alone (18). This is a major part of the reason for leaving Israel. He needed time to rest, and to teach the disciples, but He needed time to pray. If the Son of God needed to set aside times to devote to prayer, should we frail sinners do less?
Second, Christ asks the disciples who people say He is ( 18). Teaching the disciples is part of His reason for moving away from the crowds in Galilee. He will soon be taken from them, and they have much to learn before they are ready to assume their calling as Apostles and builders of Christ’s Church. His question is not a request for information. It is a common teaching device used to get the disciples to think about the issue. Who is this man they follow? What is His mission? What is He trying to teach them? What mission is He preparing them for?
Christ must be a very perplexing Person to these men who still think the Messiah has come to form an army and conquer Rome. He is not teaching military tactics or gathering weapons.or doing any of the things they expect Him to do. Instead, He is healing the sick, driving out demons, and teaching about forgiving and loving enemies. Therefore, our Lord wants them to think about who He really is.
Third, Peter answers; “The Christ of God” (20). Luke could have given more details, but he is inspired to get right to the very heart of this conversation. Jesus is the Christ of God, the Messiah. The disciples do not understand what this means, but the Lord wants them to understand that is who He is.
Fourth, our Lord begins to teach about the Messiah and His followers. Thus, verses 22-27 are the point of this passage. This is what He brought them there to tell them. This is what Jesus wants all of His disciples, in all ages, to understand about the Messiah, and about what it means to be in the Messiah’s Kingdom.
Christ wants them to know about the Messiah’s death and resurrection (22). He does not challenge their hopes of armies or conquering Rome. He does not even speak yet about paying the debt of our sins on the cross. He simply and bluntly tells them of His coming death and resurrection.
He also shocks the disciples by telling them His death will be accomplished by the very people God has given the task of teaching the Scriptures and overseeing the Temple and synagogues. These should be the most devoted followers of Christ, but their corruption has turned the House of Prayer into a den of thieves. And they will kill the Messiah in order to keep their positions of wealth and power.
Those who follow the Messiah must expect the same treatment. The world is corrupt. We readily see this in business and government, but it also exists in the Church. Those who hold the power in these institutions will not simply give up their wealth and control because of the testimony that their deeds are evil (Jn. 7:7). They will band together to keep themselves in power. Therefore, followers of the Messiah must expect resistance and hate from the world. They must be willing to take up their own crosses and follow Him. All but two who heard Christ’s word’s that day died horrible deaths of torture under the official decrees of the ruling powers. Countless more have endured the cross, the stake the colosseum, and the sword for the sake of Christ, also enforced by the official ruling powers.
Therefore, Jesus is warning the disciples to be strong. Those who lose their lives for His sake will save them (24), for they shall be with the Lord in paradise. Those who save their lives, meaning to give up the faith to avoid being martyred, will lose them. They deny the Lord before men, and He will deny them before the Father (Mt. 10:33). Their destiny is the eternal flame of hell.
There are other ways to deny Christ before men. The elders, chief priests and scribes in verse 22 are examples of such denials. Business, society, and government, leaders who profess Christianity, but use people as tools to increase their own wealth and power, without concern for the safety and well-being of the people or the clear teachings of Scripture are another. But it is not only the rich and powerful who deny Christ before men. Following false gospels in churches that have become synagogues of Satan, professing orthodox faith while living in unGodliness, and neglecting the Word and house of God are ways ordinary people deny Christ every day. It was not just the priests and Pharisees who shouted to Pilate, “crucify Him.” Many of the poor and powerless called for His blood, also.
Coming in glory (26) does not refer to Christ’s Second Coming, for He says some standing there with Him in Caesarea Philippi “shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.” The Lord refers to His redemptive work by His death, resurrection, and ascension. He also refers to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church at Pentecost. His words also contain a veiled reference to the fall of Jerusalem, which ends the Old Testament Temple and sacrificial system.
The comments for Matthew 17 and Mark 9 deal with the Transfiguration and related events recorded in Luke 9:28-50, and may be consulted if desired. But Christ’s words in verse 44 are striking, and Luke is the only Gospel to record them. “Let these sayings sink down into your ears.” Almost no one is listening to Christ’s teaching with any intent of hearing, understanding, and obeying His word. The Romans, except for a few like the centurion who asks healing for his servant, are not. The Gentiles around Israel, except for a few, like the Syro-phenician woman, are not. The Jewish social and religious elites, except for a few like Nicodemus, are not. The crowds who come to Him for healing, with few exceptions, are not. Even the disciples refuse to hear the real meaning of Christ’s teachings. All hear only what they want to hear, and all respond according to their own desires. Christ uses a very memorable phrase to encourage intent hearing and understanding. “Let these sayings sink down into your ears.”
Verses 51-62 turn again to our Lord’s approaching death and His journey to Jerusalem. The time “that he should be received up” refers to His ascension, but may also refer to the Father receiving His death as the sacrifice for our sins. The journey to Jerusalem takes Him through Samaria, where He is again rejected (53).
The disciples, remembering the healing and exorcisms they have done, believe they now have power to command fire from heaven to fall on the Samaritan village (54). Jesus’ answer reminds them that, even if they had such power, that would be an abuse of it. It is not their place to execute such judgement, and Christ Himself has not come for that purpose. Their angry, spiteful attitude only shows they still do not understand Christ, or their own calling. “The Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”
The chapter closes with more teaching about following Christ. Verse 58 is easily understood as a warning that following Christ may mean going without some of the things we take as our natural due. Letting the dead bury their dead is hard to understand. Surely the One whose law commands us to honour our mothers and fathers, is not telling this man to break that commandment. On the other hand, the fact that the father is already deceased seems to mean there is not much more he can do for his father. Chrysostom suggests the burial refers to wills and estates and legal matters to attend beyond the funeral. If he is correct, our Lord is saying other family members are able to care of such matters. There does seem to be a strong implication that following Jesus often requires us to free ourselves from some of the world’s entanglements. Perhaps that is part of the Lord’s meaning here.
The same is probably true of verse 62. There will be time for farewells and explanations. But looking back, as in having a desire to preserve the old life instead of following Christ, makes one unfit for the kingdom of God.
It is probable that the real meaning of all three of these verses (58, 60, and 62) is found in the fact that Christ is on His way to Jerusalem to die. Because of this, there is very little time left to spend in His presence and sit under His teaching. Therefore the wise person will lay aside other matters to be with the Lord in these final days of His earthly ministry.
Our Lord Jesus Christ now sends seventy men on a mission similar to that of the twelve in 9:1-6. Their commission is also very similar to that of the twelve, as we see by comparing the corresponding verses in chapters 9 and 10. The villages appear to be places our Lord intends to visit during His remaining time in Galilee. The messengers of Luke 9:52 may be part of this group. Keep in mind that strict chronological order is not a goal of Luke or the other Gospel writers. Therefore, Luke could have recorded this before recording the sending of the seventy in chapter 10. The chapter opens with Christ en route to Jerusalem. By verse 25 He is in the city, and verse 38 finds Him in the home of Mary and Martha in Bethany.
Before leaving Galilee, He laments the hardness and unbelief of the people in verses 13-16. Chorazin and Bethsaida are northeast of Capernaum on the shore of the Sea of Galilee near the desert place where Christ fed the multitudes. Capernaum is the home of several of Christ’s disciples and the setting for much of His teaching and miracles. Though huge crowds come to Him in these places and consider themselves His followers, our Lord seems to indicate very little true repentance happens there. John even says many of the people, being offended at His hard sayings (Jn. 6:59-61), “went back and walked with him no more.” Jesus says, if the Gentile unbelievers of Tyre and Sidon had seen the miracles and heard the teaching seen and heard in Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, they would have “repented in sackcloth and ashes long ago (13). Therefore, eternal judgement will be more tolerable for them than for Chorazin and Bethsaida, who heard and saw them, yet rejected the Messiah. Capernaum, which has been exalted to heaven by opportunities to see and hear Christ, shall be thrust down to hell for rejecting Him (16).
The seventy (17), return to hear Christ say, “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven” (18). Some view these words as figuratively saying the work of the seventy was like casting Satan down from his exalted place. Others believe it means Christ saw Satan fall from his original glory in Heaven, therefore the seventy should not be surprised that his lower devils fall before them. The later is the view of Bishop Ryle and many ancient writers.
The disciples are not to rejoice in their dominion over evil spirits. That power comes not from within themselves, but as a gift from God (22). They are to rejoice because their names are written in Heaven, meaning, they are going to Heaven, which is also a gift of God, not a reward for their goodness or for preaching the Good News, or casting out devils.
Further emphasising the grace of God, Christ, in their hearing, gives thanks to the Father for hiding these things from the wise, and showing them to “babes” (21). The wise are those who wield power and wealth in politics and religion. They are wise in their own eyes. They don’t think they need a Saviour. They certainly don’t recognise Christ as the Saviour The babes are the poor, but believing people, who truly follow Christ as Saviour and God. The seventy are Old Testament saints at the time of this event, so they don’t understand everything about Christ yet. Like the twelve they do not know Christ will die and rise again. They do not know He will take their sins upon Himself and bear their punishment on the cross. But they know He is the Messiah, and they have turned to Him in repentance and faith. By the same grace that has revealed the Messiah to them, they will understand and trust Him in New Testament faith after Pentecost.
Look at verse 21 again. Christ says to the Father, “thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent.” Did He just say Father reveals the knowledge of Christ to some, and hides it from others? God is sovereign in all things, even in salvation. Though this is difficult to understand, it is Biblical truth, and we must accept it, knowing, one day, we will know even as we are known. The comments will discuss this more deeply when we move into the book of Romans.
The disciples in verse 23 are the twelve, to whom He gives a few quiet words of private instruction. Faithful people have longed to see and hear the things they see and hear. Many prophets and kings have looked for the Messiah, but did not see Him in their day. They saw only promises and shadows in the sacrifices and Temple. The disciples, and all who read the Bible, are blessed beyond measure in the opportunity to see and hear Christ.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son is probably the best known of our Lord’s many parables, followed closely by the Parable of the Sower. It is told to a lawyer/theologian, a Doctor of the Law in answer to his question, “who is my neighbour? (29). The Doctor is not asking for information or instruction. He is trying to justify the general direction of his life, which has been away from loving God or his neighbour in spite of his strenuous efforts to keep the Pharisaic rules (27).
Many have offered opinions why the priest and Levite pass the wounded man without stopping to help, but since their reasons are not given in Scripture we will not speculate on them here. The Samaritan, in the mind of the lawyer, is a sinner, while the priest and Levite are Godly and worthy men. Yet, it is the sinner Samaritan who actually keeps the law of God by loving his neighbour as himself. The Doctor of the Law, who considers himself righteous in spite of his many recognised failures, is forced to admit that the hated Samaritan is more righteous than the esteemed priest and Levite, and even more righteous than the Doctor himself.
It must be remembered, here that the lawyer believes he has kept the Law better than the average person, and even done well enough to earn eternal life (25). His question is really just another of the many attempts of the Jerusalem elites to catch our Lord in His words, destroy His credibility with the people and, maybe even give them a solid reason to accuse Him of blasphemy. The parable equates the lawyer with the priest and Levite, showing him to be a sinner and exposing his sin to all. “Go thou and do likewise” means more than to just do more good things and less bad things. It is to have a complete transformation of his self image, and his relationship to God. It is, in New Testament terminology, to be saved.
Martha and Mary live in Bethany, a village on the Mount of Olives just outside of Jerusalem. They are sisters of Lazarus, whom Christ raised from the dead. Martha busies herself preparing food and making the Lord and the disciples comfortable. We would consider that a good thing. Mary sits at the Lord’s feet, listening to His teaching. We would consider that a good thing. Jesus’ point is that time is short. He will be dead in a few days, and the opportunity to hear Him teach will have passed. This is why Mary “hath chosen that good part” (42). No one will be terribly inconvenienced if they do not eat that evening, or if the guests’ sleeping arrangements are not the most comfortable. But all will be deprived if they miss any part of these last few days with Christ.
The same is true of us. We often are “careful and troubled about many things” and some of them may be good and worthy things. But sometimes we are so busy with them, we don’t have time or energy left for God. The higher things of God should be our first priority, not things we get to, if we have time.
The Lord’s Prayer was given as part of the Lord’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. The prayer in Luke 11:1-4 is given on a different occasion and in a different place. The fact that our Lord uses the same words and phrases in both places indicates that He may have used it several times. It is given here in response to the disciples’ request, “Lord, teach us to pray.” They are not asking for a pattern to follow; they are asking for a prayer to pray together in a liturgical form as John gave to his disciples.
This was common in Israel. The rabbis of Christ’s time taught their students and congregations to memorise prayers to be said in public worship. The Jewish people even have a written collection of these prayers, containing the liturgy for their use in public worship. John the Baptizer taught his disciples a similar type of prayer, probably confessing sin and looking for the immediate advent of the Messiah. Since the Messiah, the greatest of all prophets and teachers, stands before them, Christ’s disciples want a prayer given by Him. This prayer has been carefully preserved, and, in its fuller form in the Sermon on the Mount, is still prayed daily in many nations and languages around the world.
Perhaps we also need to be reminded that, as the rabbis expected the prayers to be memorized and prayed, word-for-word, the Lord expected His Church to do the same with this prayer. Those who dismiss the Lord’s Prayer as simply a pattern for prayer, or an example after which we are to model our own prayers, miss the point. Jesus does not say, “make up your own prayers, but follow this outline.” He does not say, “Use this prayer as a pattern for your own.” He does say, “When ye pray, say….”
This does not negate extemporaneous prayer in public or private worship. Such prayer can be good, if it is Biblical in content and intent. It does mean we should pray this prayer in public and in private worship, for our Lord clearly intends for His Church to pray this prayer together through the generations, until His Kingdom comes in fulness, and His will is done, on earth as it is in heaven.
The Saviour continues to teach on the subject of prayer in verses 5-13. The point of the story in 5-8 is that the Lord God answers prayer because His people have needs which He wants to supply. As the friend gives bread because of importunity, God gives bread because of our need.
The words of verse 9 are known throughout the world, even by people who don’t know their origin. They are spoken to further illumine the point that God answers prayer because He wants to supply our needs. The man in 5-8 asks, seeks, and knocks. Therefore, he receives, finds, and the door is opened.
The willingness of God to give good things is taught in 11-13. Human fathers, fallen and sinful as we are, still desire to give good things to our children. Most of us do not give stones in place of bread, or serpents in place of fish. Most of us love our children and give good things to them. If we do this, our Heavenly Father, who is perfect goodness and love, will certainly do the same for His children.
Most emphasised here is the gift of the Holy Spirit. Our Lord refers not to ecstatic experiences, tongues, or miracles. He refers to the presence of God with us, leading us in all truth, and empowering us to live the Christian life. It is through the Holy Spirit that Christ dwells in us, and we dwell in Christ. As Bishop Ryle wrote about the Spirit:
“Having this gift, we have all things, life, light, hope, and heaven. Having this gift we have the Father’s boundless love, God the Son’s atoning blood, and full communion with all three Persons of the blessed Trinity. Having this gift, we have grace and peace in the world that now is, glory and honour in the world to come” (Expository Thoughts on Luke).
The gift of the Holy Spirit, therefore, is conversion. And Christ is offering an open invitation to all mankind to pray for the Holy Spirit to come into their lives and convert them to Christ. It is a part of that general call that goes out to all people, to believe in Christ and be saved. The Holy Spirit is given to all who answer the call.
The Pharisees accuse Christ of casting out demons through Beelzebub, chief of the devils (15). This would make Jesus a devil and the servant of Satan. If this were true, His teaching would be false and all who follow Him would be following Him to hell. Christ reminds them that He is destroying the works of the devil. He is entering into Satan’s house and plundering his goods. He is freeing souls from their bondage to sin and Satan. He is bringing them out of the devil’s power, and into the peace and freedom of God.
Simply being delivered of a demon is a temporary relief if the person is not also placed in Christ. That is the point of verses 24-26. If all Christ does is release people from a demon, through the power of Satan and for Satanic purposes, the demon will return and bring others with him, making the last state of the man worse than the first. The point here is that Jesus fully and forever delivers people from the devil. The last state of them is heaven forever.
Verses 27-32 record what we would consider an unusual blessing. A woman comes to Christ and says, “Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and blessed are the paps which thou hast sucked.” Nor is this a quiet saying for the ears of Christ alone, for verse 27 says she “lifted up her voice” implying that she speaks loudly. And, of course, her words are true. It was a great blessing for Mary to carry the Saviour in her womb and nurse Him at her breast. But our Lord says those who hear and keep the word of God are the ones who are truly blessed (28). In other words, it is more of a blessing for you to carry Christ in your heart, than for Mary to carry Him in her womb. This is true, even of Mary, for as Bishop Ryle has wisely observed, “It was a greater honour to the Virgin Mary herself to have Christ dwelling in her heart by faith, than to have been the mother of Christ, and to have nursed Him on her bosom.”
It is also true of us, that having Christ in our hearts by faith is to have a greater blessing than those who saw Him walk the earth, heard His sermons, or even saw His resurrected body. For many saw these things with their eyes, and many heard them with their ears, without ever inviting Him into their hearts.
No wonder Christ moves from this woman’s comment to a discourse on the tragic lack of faith among the Jewish people. “This is an evil generation,” He proclaims to the crowd. They seek signs in order to believe, yet there will be no sign but the sign of Jonas (Jonah), who was three days in the fish and came out on the third day. Christ refers to His death and resurrection. Like Jonah in the fish, He will be in the grave for three days, and rise from the dead on the third day. That, He implies is sign enough for everyone. And yet, has not our Lord already worked signs and wonders? Are there not people who now are well but once were sick, and who are now clean but once were filled with evil spirits? Are there not even people who now are living but once were dead? One of them, Lazarus, lives only a short distance away in Bethany. In truth, people in Israel have seen many signs with their eyes, but their hearts remain blind to the things of God.
Our Lord refers to the Queen of Sheba, who came to see the glory of Solomon (31). Yet, a greater One than Solomon stands among them, and the Jews make no real effort to “see” His glory. Nineve repented at the preaching of Jonah. Yet these people will not repent and believe though One far greater than Jonah is among them. That One, greater than Solomon and Jonah is Christ, whom most of these people will reject, and call for His death. Thus Sheba and Ninevites will rise up in judgement against those who see without seeing, and hear without hearing.
Christ has come to them, and, in Him, a Candle has been lit in their presence. But, rather than walk in His Light, they have put Him under a bushel to extinguish the flame. They will nail Him to a cross, to extinguish His life. Thus they show that their eyes are full of evil and their bodies are full of darkness. They are lost, and without God, and they love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.
But, to those whose bodies are full of light, the whole is full of light. This refers to those who invite the Light, the Candle, into their lives. They look at the light, and see it. Therefore, it lightens their whole being.
Verses 37-54 record Jesus’ invitation to a meal at the home of a Pharisee, and the ensuing controversy with the Pharisee and his friends. The invitation may come from a man who genuinely wants to hear the words of Christ, to see if they are true to Scripture. He may be wondering if this Man from Galilee truly is the Saviour, and if he, the Pharisee, should become His follower. The invitation seems genuine, with no hint of malice.
But the Pharisee and Christ are not alone at the meal. The man has invited several other Pharisees (45). They, too, could be there because they truly want to understand His doctrine, and to know whether they should accept or reject Him. It is also possible that they have invited Him there to find fault with Him, and to learn His doctrine in order to refute it and accuse Him of blasphemy. Verses 53 and 54 seem to imply that this is their true motive; for they began to urge and provoke Him, “Laying in wait for him, and seeking to catch something out of his mouth, that they might accuse him.”
Our Lord’s actions and words also lead us to suspect this was the plan of the Pharisees and the reason for the invitation. He knows their rituals and rules, yet He seems to deliberately challenge them by not performing the ceremonial hand washing (38). He has encountered the same opposition in Galilee, and He knows the intent of these men, and the foolishness of their washing (see commentary on Mk. 7).
His challenge has the desired effect. The Pharisee marvels that Christ does not perform the washing ceremony (38). Thus, our Lord gives them the very heart of His teaching, some of which He will repeat in the Temple as He meets more challenges from the Jewish leaders (Mt. 22 and 23). His major point is that the Pharisees cannot make themselves clean before God by performing a few rituals and washings. Even their over performance in their rules and regulations, such as tithing mint and rue and all manner of herbs (42) does not make them righteous. Christ’s words are a direct attack on the Pharisaical view of righteousness and acceptance by God. Their view is simple, if you perform the ceremonies, God will accept you. Christ’s view is equally simple, the ceremonies without judgment (justice) and love of God, are useless (42). Therefore, the most important thing is to be clean on the inside.
Christ’s words in 39-52 show that these Pharisees are filthy on the inside. Their entire faith is hypocrisy because it allows them to continue in the sins of the flesh without repentance, without loving God first of all, and without loving their neighbour as themselves. Their rules are not even a help to them or others. They are “burdens grievous to be born,” because attempting to keep them makes a person weary in body and soul, but does not make him righteous (46). Though the Pharisees gladly load this burden on people, they do nothing to help them bear it. This means there is no relief in the Pharisee’s religion of endless rules. Since no person is able to keep them, they bring only despair through the knowledge of sin; not hope through personal righteousness.
The Pharisees, and those like them in ancient times, have opposed and persecuted those who come from God to offer real hope through grace and forgiveness. They killed the prophets (47) and they will kill the Apostles (49). He does not say it here, but Christ knows they will also kill Him.
Their doctrine of earning God’s favour by keeping endless rules, has taken away the key of knowledge (52). That key is the teaching of the Word of God in Scripture and in Christ, that no person ever has or ever will be justified by keeping rules, because no person can ever keep them perfectly. In fact, we not only fail to keep the burden of Pharisaical rules, we are also all miserable offenders in every point of the Law of God. The only way any person will ever be accepted as righteous by God is if God miraculously forgives his sin and cleanses him from all unrighteousness. The Temple and sacrificial system point to the way of cleansing provided by God Himself. He will remove their sins and restore their souls through the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. That is the key of knowledge the Pharisees have hidden in their religion of endless rules.
The innumerable multitude of verse 1 seems to gather outside of the Pharisee’s house. Seeing them, the Lord begins to address them, though what He says still applies to the Pharisees, as it also applies to all people of all time. The essence of His words are found in verse 1, “Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees,” which is hypocrisy. Obviously, hypocrites are found in every walk of life, even in Israel. Without doubt, many are in the gathering crowd by the Pharisee’s house. Christ warns them that their hypocrisy will be revealed (2), referring to Judgement Day, when even our secret words will be proclaimed from the housetops (3).
Some of that hypocrisy will come from people pretending to follow Christ as the Pharisees pretend to follow God under the Old Testament. They, too, will be merely keeping up the appearance of outward Godliness, while remaining full of ravening and wickedness in their inward part (11:39). Some, who falsely profess Christ, will reveal their hypocrisy by denying Him when they face opposition or persecution. They will recant their faith because they fear the persecutors. Our Lord tells them the persecutors can only kill the body. Therefore, the One they should really fear is the One who, “hath power to cast into hell.” This is so important Jesus immediately repeats it; “yea, I say unto you, Fear him” (5).
To confess Christ before men (8) means to remain faithful to Christ, even in the face of persecution and death. Those who confess Him will also be confessed by Him before the angels of God. Confess, in this case, means to be in full agreement. When Christ says He will confess His people in Heaven, He means He will be in full agreement with their claim to be His faithful believers, who should be allowed into Heaven. Those who deny Him, either by never claiming to have known Him, or by recanting their faith to save their lives, will be denied by Him.
Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost (10) is, at least in part, denying Christ by denying to be His disciple. But it is also to deny that He is the Son of God, and all the things He has said about Himself, which the Apostles have recorded in the Bible, and the Church has proclaimed through the ages. It is to say the witness, work, and calling of the Holy Spirit is untrue.
How are people to act when they are brought into the synagogues and before magistrates and powers intent on killing them for following Christ? Will they have enough faith to confess Christ? Will they be able to be faithful even unto death? Surely many have asked themselves this question, even today. Christ assures them that the Holy Ghost will guide them. When Christ says “take ye no thought how or what things ye shall answer, or what ye shall say” (11), He is telling His people not to worry about whether they will be able to confess Christ before their persecutors. The Holy Spirit will be with them. He will teach them what to say.
The people in Jerusalem do not understand these words when they hear them. But, by the time Luke records them in the Gospel, many will already have suffered torture and death in the cause of Christ. Stephen will have been stoned to death in the very city they are now in. Saul will have captured many Christians, and brought them to Jerusalem to be killed as heretics and blasphemers by the hypocrites in power. Saul, himself will be converted, and take the name of Paul the Apostle, and will have suffered much for the sake of Christ, as Luke has seen with his own eyes. They, and countless others, found the words of Christ to be true, “the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say” (12).
The disciples are now encouraged again to trust God for all things in this life and the next. Just as they trusted Him when sent to preach and heal in Galilee, they must trust Him now to enable them to accomplish their mission, remain faithful under persecution, and provide for their daily needs of body and soul. The ravens and the lilies are given as examples of God’s gracious care for His creatures. If He cares for them, “how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?” (28). The Father knows your needs (30). Thus, rather than making a priority of the things of the world, “seek ye the kingdom of God: and all these things shall be added unto you.”
These men are going to forgo the normal means of earning a living in order to devote themselves to the Gospel of Christ. They need to know God is going to provide for them, and that He is going to give them the kingdom. Their provision will not lead to earthly riches, which they still believe the Messiah came to give them. Their treasure will be in Heaven, their hearts must be there also (31-34).
It must be noted here that, just as all are not Apostles, not all are called to sell all and live by the gifts of the people to whom they preach. The Apostle’s call is unique. Most Christians will earn their livings through honest labour, and have families and churches, and their service to God will be accomplished through them. Therefore, let you work be done well. Give yourself to your family. Be faithful and true to a Biblical church and denomination. In these ways you are serving God as truly as any man who preaches the word and shepherds the flock. But even you must trust God for your daily bread, and even you must learn to seek the kingdom of God as the priority of life.
Like the Apostles, we must always be ready for the Lord’s Return. There is a reason why the Bible teachings about the Second Coming are impossible to completely systematise and understand; God doesn’t want us to know exactly how and when He is coming back. He intends for us to be in a state of always watching, always looking, always hoping, but never knowing. In this state, we may willingly and faithfully go about our several callings, serving the Lord until He comes for us individually, or collectively. “Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not.”
Verse 41 interrupts the Lord’s discourse with a question from Peter; “Lord, speakest thou this parable unto us, or even to all?” This is a natural and logical question since the Lord is in the presence of a great multitude (1), but has been specifically addressing the twelve since verse 22. But Christ seems to ignore Peter’s question, and continue making His point. Why?
Perhaps the question is irrelevant. Is one part of Scripture for one group and one part for another? Is not the entire Bible for the entire human race? Yes, it is given to the Church, whether that be the Jewish Church in the Old Testament or the Christian Church in the New Testament. And there is a sense in which it is to and for the Church. But there is also a sense in which it is for all humanity. The glad tidings are for all people, and the Apostolic commission of Matthew 28:19 & 20 is to “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations.” So, we might say, the Bible is addressed to the Church, and the Church is to proclaim it to the world.
Perhaps Peter’s question shows he is missing the Lord’s point. He may be wondering if some of the twelve will not be ready. He may be wondering what they are to watch for, since he and the other disciples do not yet understand that Jesus is going to die, rise again, ascend into Heaven, and return one day to bring His promises to complete fulfillment.
But the ensuing verses show that Peter’s question is not ignored. The parable is to the disciples, and to all people. To all people, the Lord gives encouragement to watch and be ready. To the Apostles, there is encouragement to be faithful in their service as stewards and rulers over the Lord’s house (42). They are charged with carrying on the Lord’s ministry of Redemption by preaching the forgiveness of sins through His blood. In this sense, they are heralds of Christ. They are also charged with organising the Church into congregations, and educating and ordaining clergy. In this sense they are Bishops and stewards of the Lord’s house. The Lord’s message to them is that they need not worry about who else He addresses; they simply need to do what quite obviously is addressed to them.
It is true, that what is said to the Apostles about faithful stewardship also applies to the clergy. There are several views of what form the organised Church takes in the New Testament. The author of this particular commentary strongly believes the Apostles organised local congregations into dioceses under the leadership of bishops, who also taught and ordained clergy, and ensured that the ministers and congregations under their care believed and followed the teaching of Christ as given through the Apostles. But, whatever the formal organisation may be, the clergy bear the responsibility for preaching the word and leading the people into Biblical living.
Stewardship does not end with the clergy, however. The congregation, and every member of it, is a steward of the mysteries of Christ. And it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.
Thus, Peter’s question is answered, and the answer is, “Yes.” Is Christ speaking to theApostles? Yes. Is He speaking to others in the crowd? Yes. Is He speaking to the clergy and the Church down through the ages? Yes. Is He speaking to the world, those who will never believe and never be ready? Yes. Is He speaking to you? Yes.
It is unfortunate, but true that the Church has failed in its service to Christ. UnGodly people have seen it as votes to be garnered, sheep to be fleeced, and a potentially powerful societal force to be used and manipulated for purposes that are often openly opposed to the Bible. These people often work themselves into positions of influence, and can be found at every level from the local congregation to national and international denominations and fellowships. We read in the history books about inquisitions, forced “conversions” use of ministerial offices for financial gain, and joining rather than rebuking injustice. These are the people of verse 45, who beat the menservants and maidens, and eat and drink to excess. In the time of Christ, they were the Priests and scribes and Pharisees. It was, in fact, the abuses of the Pharisees that began this discourse in the first place (11:1). In other times it has been Catholicism or Protestantism, denominations, “non-denominational” preachers and movements, and the ever present heresies and cults. It has been domineering clergy, domineering members, clicks and parties within denominations and congregations who care more about power and popularity than the Gospel and the people of God.
Often these people appear to be successful in their sin. They may wrest control of a congregation, or a denomination. But they can never wrest control of Christ. In a day when they look not, the Master will come to them, cut them in sunder, and appoint their portions with the unbelievers. They are like the man who built his house upon the sand in the close of the Sermon on the Mount. It “fell and great was the fall of it” (Mt.7:27).
Part of what makes such actions so despicable in the eyes of the Lord, is that these people, like the servant in this passage, “knew his Lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will” (47). The Jerusalem elite know the Bible, but do not obey it. Contemporary preachers of pop religion know their doctrine is false, but preach it anyway to gain money and esteem from gullible people. This is not limited to the Church alone. Many seek public office for monetary gain and personal security, knowing full well their policies are destructive to their nation and people. Their punishment will be more terrible than that of those who did not know the Master’s will. They will be beaten with many stripes (47-48). They were given much in terms of power and honour and authority. And much was required of them, for it was all given for the glory of the Master and the benefit of His people, not for the selfish use of the steward (48).
Jesus says He has come to send fire on the earth, referring to the judgement of God. In Him the sins of all believers are punished, and forgiven, but the sins of the unbelievers will be born in themselves, and in themselves will they pay for them. In His Spirit the Gospel will go through the earth like a fire, changing the face of Biblical faith from the Old Testament Israel to the New Testament Church Verse 50 speaks of the crucifixion, using baptism symbolically, as “cup” is used in Gethsemane (Lk. 22:42). The crucifixion is a major part of the way Christ sends fire upon the earth. It is the event that changes the world.
Christ divides time. No matter how the unbelievers try to erase Him, or how many other ways they attempt to count time, it will always be Before Christ and Anno Domine. He is the dividing line.
He also divides people. No matter how many ways we try to group and identify ourselves, there are ultimately only two kinds of us, believers and unbelievers. Even the most basic human relationships, those of the family, are further grouped into believers and unbelievers. And the unbelievers will be against the believers (51-53).
Our Lord turns back to the crowd in verse 54, reprimanding them for gaining much understanding of the natural order, while having almost no understanding of spiritual things. He illustrates this with the weather. They see dark clouds in the west, and they know rain is coming. They feel the wind coming from the south, and they know it will bring heat. But the Saviour stands before them, and they cannot understand Him of the things of God. They cannot discern “this time” (56), the time of the Saviour’s life and death. Dr. Hendriksen’s commentary expresses our Lord’s meaning well.
“Did not the coming into this world of the Son of man, with his emphasis on the power, grace,and love of God, rather than on man-made regulations, and with his exhibition of power over everything, including even disease, death, demons, and destructive storms, foretell the downfall of legalistic Judaism? Did it not spell the rise of a church gathered out of both Jews and Gentiles and consisting of all those who believed in salvation by grace through faith and in a life of gratitude to God and service to man? Were not this coming and that manifestation of power and grace a clear prediction both of the doom of Satan and of the significant strengthening of the kingdom that can never be destroyed? Were these critics utterly blind? Could they not read the handwriting on the wall? Did they not understand that their days, including their quibbling about nonessentials, were numbered, and that the gospel that was being proclaimed by the Prophet from Galilee, even the Son of God, would begin to spread until it covered the earth? But no, the present critical hour does not seem to interest them. They prefer to concentrate on the weather!” (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, The Gospel of Luke, p. 684).
Thus, the question in verse 57 is about knowing what to do after hearing the Gospel. Christ is saying they have heard His message, but have not given themselves to understanding it. They should be able to see the demise of the Old Covenant and the rise of the New Covenant. But they seem unable to judge what is right. They make no real attempt understand Christ, therefore, they make no real attempt to follow Him.
The chapter closes with an illustration which compares opposing Christ to opposing another person. The message is; make peace with Christ through Biblical faith. Do not go before before the throne of God without Christ, or there you will find yourself condemned to hell. “I tell thee,” says our Lord in verse 59, “thou shalt not depart thence, till thou hast paid the very last mite.”
Verses 1-3 give the only known record of the death of several Galileans who were executed while worshiping in the Temple. We have no idea who they were, or why they were executed. Our Lord does not accuse them of any crime or sin. Since their murders happened in the Temple, it would be easy for people to assume God caused their deaths because He rejected their sacrifices due to sin. But Jesus refutes this idea. He says they were not “sinners above all the Galileans” (2). Therefore, their murders did not happen as God’s punishment for sin. They were the result an act of violence and cruelty by the Romans. Yet, our Lord uses the incident to warn people that they are sinners. And here is His point: if God were to kill people because of their sins, the people He is speaking to at the Pharisee’s house, would be dead. Why? Because everyone of them is a sinner, and if God is going to kill sinners as punishment for sins, everyone will die. But Christ’s words are not said to frighten the people. They are said to encourage them to repent. He is practically begging them to take an honest look at themselves, and see their own sin and hypocrisy, and their smugness about their imaginary self-righteousness. And after they understand their sin, He wants them to repent. He wants them to turn their lives completely away from their sins and turn them fully toward God in love and obedience to God as Israel was called to do so many centuries ago. The invitation to repent is followed by a caveat: failure here means to perish in the eternal fires of hell as surely as the Galileans perished in the Temple.
The same point is made in verses 4 and 5. Christ’s meaning is even clearer here, for the people who died in the collapse of a tower in Siloam were not worse sinners than those not killed in the accident. Therefore, they were not killed because God was punishing them for sin. If that were the purpose of the collapse, everyone there would have died.
But, though the collapse was not an act of God’s judgement, a time of judgement is coming that will far exceed a collapsed building in a small district in Jerusalem. Those hearing the words of Christ, or reading them millennia later, will be judged in that day. If they do not repent of their sin, they will perish spiritually as surely as those who died in the accident perished physically.
The parable in 6-9 means God is giving people the opportunity to repent. Israel, and all humanity, is an unfruitful tree (6), and the Lord asks a legitimate question, “why cumbereth it the ground?” All deserve to be cut down.
The parable has special reference to Christ and His ministry to Israel. “Three years have I come seeking fruit on this tree” (7). He has preached the Gospel. He has shown the failure of priests and people to honestly seek God and live as His Covenant people. Everything about the Temple, its priests and sacrifices, the scribes and Pharisees, and the daily lives and attitudes of the people shows they have long been transgressors of God’s Covenant with them, and are worthy of the curses and consequences of breaking the contract with God. He has looked for fruit, but found none. Yet, a time for repentance still remains. They have rejected and misunderstood the Messiah, and many of them will soon call for His blood, but the opportunity to repent remains.
It is Christ who intercedes with the Father, asking for one more year for the tree; “Let it alone this year also” (8). It is Christ who cares for it through His continuing ministry, including His death, resurrection, and sending the Holy Spirit. But the opportunity is not everlasting. If it continues to bear no fruit of repentance, the day will come when it will be be cut down (9). Sadly the majority of Jewish people, especially the ruling class, reject Christ. “O Jerusalem, , Jerusalem, which “killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent to thee”(34).
It is not known where the healing of the infirmity in 10-17 occurred. It has already been noted that the Holy Spirit inspired the Gospel writers to record the message and meaning of Christ, rather than a chronology of His life. Thus, in some places, Luke seems to be following events in the order in which they happened, while, in other places, he inserts teaching and events that are relevant to the point, yet happened at another time or place. For example, many of the events in chapters 11 and 12 seem to occur in Jerusalem, but 13:22 shows the Lord still teaching in various cities and villages and “journeying toward Jerusalem.” The synagogue of verse 10 seems to be in Galilee, and the event is included here to further reinforce the Lord’s desire to have mercy on Israel. “And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo these eighteen years, be loosed form this bond on the sabbath day?”
A major point of this event is the proper observance of the Sabbath, which our Lord expounds in verse 15. But another point is that Jesus came first to the house of Israel, and it is part of His purpose to call Israel to Him and release her people from the bonds of Satan. He is caring for the tree (8).
The adversaries (17) are not ashamed of their wicked actions. They are ashamed in the sense of being put to shame. They have been “shown up.” Their sin and hypocrisy has been revealed. Thus, our Lord tells two parables, which He has told in other places also.
The mustard seed refers to Him and the things of Christ, such as the Gospel and the New Testament Church. The people in the synagogue look at Him and see a man and twelve disciples. Yet He claims to be the One who will bring in the Kingdom of God. He says He is like a tiny seed, one of the smallest of all seeds. Yet, through Him the Kingdom of God will become the largest plant in the garden. He is saying His Gospel will become the means by which the Kingdom of God comes, and His Church will overshadow the Old Testament Israel. In verse 20 He makes the same point using leaven, which gradually penetrates all the flour. He, and His Gospel proclaimed by His Church, will be the means by which the Kingdom comes to the world now. Israel’s time has passed.
Verses 24- 30 continue to urge the people to repent. The Jew’s view of the Messiah as the King who comes to save them from the Gentiles, naturally leads them to believe they will all be saved to live in His earthly kingdom, and to dwell with Him forever in the resurrection. Maybe, a few really bad people, like tax collectors, Roman sympathisers, and those, like Jesus, who make no effort to live by the Pharisaical rules, will be condemned to hell with the Gentiles, but, generally, they believe, most Jews will be saved.
The question in verse 23 shows that someone is beginning to understand that Jesus is saying not all Jews will be saved, Thus, the man asks, “Lord are there few that be saved?”
Christ’s answer is, essentially, yes, there are “few that be saved.” There is no fruit of righteousness in Israel. Therefore, the Lord is coming to her in judgement, as He came to her in times past. But this time, the Old Testament Church will be finished. Jerusalem will fall, the Temple will crumble, the sacrifices will cease, millions will die as the Lord comes to destroy these husbandmen, and give the vineyard to others (Lk. 20:16).
But the door of salvation is still open. “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Mt. 3:7). “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mk. 1:15). “Save yourselves from this untoward generation” (Acts. 2:40).
Of course, most will not repent. Many of the Jews Christ addresses will see the destruction of Jerusalem and themselves thrust out of the Kingdom. But those who truly repent and follow the Messiah will join those who come from the east and the west, and the north and south, “and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.” They are the last who shall be first. The Jerusalem elite, and their followers, who appear to be first, will be last.
The Pharisees’ warning (31) seems to be sincere, and shows that some of the Jewish people, at all levels are not active enemies of Christ, and may even be inclined toward believing in Him. Christ’s response shows He has no fear of Herod, and even refers to His death and resurrection (32). What is Herod, when God is moving toward the great act of Redemption? He is a fox, but Christ casts out devils, does cures, and will be perfected on the third day. Herod’s power is nothing compared to that. And Herod can do nothing to change the plan of God.
The chapter closes appropriately with the Lord’s lament over Jerusalem (34-35). He mourns over the hardness of the hearts that refuse the salvation He offers. They will perish in the devastation that will leave the house of Israel desolate. Terrible as that event will be, even worse is the fact that they will perish in that everlasting, living death.
The Pharisee’s invitation (1-7) is a trap. The man has several other Pharisees at the meal, and they have contrived to have a man with dropsy in some obvious place for Jesus to see (1, 2). Easily perceiving their plot, the Lord asks, “Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day?” According to the Pharisaical rules, it is unlawful, except in case of emergency. According to God’s Law, to which Jesus refers in verse 5, it is lawful. And, as these men know, Jesus, claiming to have authority to interpret Scripture to them, has already healed people on the Sabbath. They hope He will heal this man so they can accuse Him of breaking the Sabbath in the presence of many witnesses. This will, in their minds, prove He is a sinner and an imposter whose claims to be the Messiah are lies.
Because their rules contradict God’s Law, they refuse to answer Christ’s question. If they say it is lawful, they break their own rules. If they say it is not, they break God’s. Likewise, if Jesus heals, He breaks their rules. If He lets the man suffer, He breaks God’s Law. Either way, they will say He is a sinner and a false messiah. Our Lord, of course, heals the man (4).
Most people think verses 8-11 are about pride and humility. In reality they are about self-righteousness and true faith. When attempting to understand their meaning, it will be helpful to remember a short parable our Lord tells in Luke 18:10-14. It is the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, and it is significant and relevant to this passage because it ends with the same idea, which both express in almost identical words. The Pharisee considers himself righteous. Yes, he thinks he is better than the publican, but that is not the point. The point is that he thinks he is good enough for God. He lists all his good works, and assures himself that they qualify him for God’s highest blessings. The publican realises he is a sinner, and casts himself upon the mercy of God.
The Pharisees at the meal in 8-11 are like the one in 18:10-14. They are sure their keeping of the Pharisaical rules makes them righteous, and qualifies them for the highest seats in the Kingdom of God. Thus, exalting themselves, they casually take the seats of honour, which the King James Version calls, “rooms.” They should have come humbling themselves, confessing sin and trusting God’s grace to forgive them, thus, leaving any exaltation to God.
Since they come with faith in their own goodness, the seats of honour will be taken from them on that terrible Day when they stand before God. Those seats will be given to others, who, like the publican, humble themselves in confession of their unworthiness and have faith that rests only in God’s willingness to have mercy upon them. Thus, our Lord comes to the conclusion of this passage in verse 11: “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
The illustration in verses 8-11 shows that the Pharisees completely miss the first and greatest commandment; to love God “with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” Now, in verses 11-13, our Lord shows they have also missed the second great commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” The Pharisees are wealthy in comparison to the general populace, and they socialise with their own class. When they give a dinner, they invite their own kind, knowing that they will be invited to similar meals hosted by the other Pharisees and wealthy people. Jesus’ words imply that they invite those who can recompense them with similar invitations (12). It is very likely that they also invite those of higher social positions, in the hope of gaining their recognition, and, thus, their help in advancing their careers and fortunes. If they were really as good as they think they are, they would give dinners for the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind (13). They would give dinners to those who can only receive without recompense.
The people of verse 13 are poor because they are unable to provide for themselves, not because they are unwilling to work. Many who suffer from maladies, then, as now, attempt to earn a living according to their abilities and in spite of their handicaps. A lame man may still work as a tailor, for example. A blind man may become a teacher. But charity to the truly needy will be blessed “at the resurrection of the just.” The Pharisees lack this charity.
At this point, one of the Pharisees says to Jesus, “Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God” (15). The man obviously thinks he will be one of the blessed, but Jesus shows that he is actually missing God’s great invitation to eat the bread of the blessed (16-24). In this parable, God is the Host and salvation is the supper. The guests represent the people at the meal in the Pharisee’s house. They also represent the Jewish people (1). But all of humanity are included in this parable, for all are called by God to come to Him in faith and receive the gifts He bestows in grace, though few actually come.
Those invited reject the invitation, which is the same as rejecting the Host. Their excuses are phony, for the one can see his new ground any time; the second can train his oxen at any time; and the married man, though excused from military duty for a year, is well able to attend the meal. They are not unable to attend the banquet, they are unwilling. They have things they would rather do, like many people who chase their own amusements or finances instead of attending Church on Sunday morning.
The Gospel is the invitation to the banquet. It is through preaching Christ that the Father brings us to the knowledge of salvation and the shores of Heaven. The Pharisees, with all their rules and self-righteousness, reject the invitation, as do all who ignore and reject Christ.
In verse 25, Christ has left the Pharisee’s house and is continuing to preach and minister as He makes His way toward Jerusalem. Great multitudes gather around Him, some even seem to desire to become disciples. Therefore, our Lord begins to teach them what God really wants from His people. He does not want the self-righteous smugness of the Pharisee, the worldly compromises of the Herodians, or the empty ritualism of the Priests. He does not even want warriors to fight a battle against Rome. God wants everything we have and everything we are.
The One who tells us to love our enemies, and prayed for His murderers from the cross, is not telling us to hate those closest to us, at least, not the way we understand hate today (26). He is telling us love for Him takes precedence over all other relationships, even the closest ties of marriage and family. He must even come above our own lives (27), and the one not willing to take up his own cross cannot be His disciple.
Taking up your cross can have a symbolic meaning. It can symbolise choosing to obey Christ rather than live for the lusts of the flesh, for in that way, you crucify your own will and desires to live according to God’s. Standing firm in the teachings of Scripture when it seems all the world has gone away from them, and considers leaving them the only rational and intelligent thing to do, is another example of taking up a symbolic cross. But, our Lord’s words have a terrifying literal meaning also, and it may be the primary one. It means to love Christ more than you love your self, and even more than you love your own life. It means to be willing to suffer persecution and death rather than deny Christ before men.
He gives two illustrations that warn us to consider well what following Him means. The first is from the financial world. A person who wants to build a tower will plan its construction to the minutest detail. He will know how many bricks, how much mortar, and how many men he will need to build it, and he will calculate the cosy of getting them. He will compare the cost to his available funds.. If his funds are insufficient, a wise man will not start construction. Therefore, let the one who proposes to follow Christ know what it will cost to be His disciple. If he is unwilling to pay the price, he may as well not make the attempt.
The second compares discipleship to a king going to war. This king seems to be under impending attack by another king. He will attempt to know the strength and skill of the opposing army. Finding that he faces two-to-one odds, he will attempt to make peace. The disciple is going into a spiritual battle, and the odds often seem to be against him. Are you really willing to fight that battle? If not, you had better make peace with the enemy.
Verse 33 gives the Lord’s conclusion: “whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.”
The Lord closes with one more example. He compares people who want to follow Him to salt. The lake we know as the Dead Sea is also known as the Salt Sea. It is a favourite resort today, and its salt content is so dense people cannot sink in it. Naturally, it is a source of salt for table use as well. But its salt can lose its saltiness. Such salt is discarded, usually in a street, or some other place people don’t want plants to grow. Christ is saying a disciple can be like that salt. He can start well, and appear to be a true Christian, but lose his savour at some point. If that happens, he will be cast out. He will be placed with the rest of the lost people, for that is what he truly is. “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (35) is a favourite saying of our Lord meaning, pay attention, for these words are true and unchangeable. Therefore, count the cost of discipleship.
Luke makes a point of saying the publicans and sinners draw near to hear Jesus (1). This is a common theme in the Gospels. Matthew 11:25 says God has hidden the Gospel from the wise and prudent, meaning the rich elites, and revealed it to “babes,” meaning the poor and uneducated. Mark 12:36 says “the common people heard him gladly.”
Why do the publicans and sinners hear Him? Some want to start the revolution, in which they hope to become rich on the spoils of war. Some simply want to hear more of Christ’s denunciation of the ruling classes, glad someone is finally exposing their hypocrisy and sin. Some want healing. But some are genuinely interested in His teaching and want to know more about it. They know they are sinners in need of God, and they wonder if this Prophet can help them.
Meanwhile, the Priests and Pharisees continue to murmur. “This man receiveth sinners” (2) is an accusation, which they believe proves Jesus is a phony. They believe the real Messiah will, first of all, be born in a way that obviously shows Him to be the legal heir of the throne of David. Second, He will associate with the righteous and punish the wicked. The righteous, of course, means the scribes, Pharisees and Priests. The wicked are the poor, who don’t follow the Pharisaical rules very well, and sometimes live in open and flagrant unbelief and sin.
To the sinners, the Pharisees’ words are a proclamation of hope. This Man, who claims to be God, receives them. He cares about them. Maybe God has not forsaken them. Maybe there is real hope, and real forgiveness in this Man and His Message.
Our Lord answers the Pharisees and scribes with three short parables. He begins by asking them what they would do if they lose a sheep. This is not something the rich can identify with very well, for they have hirelings to care for their sheep. If one is lost, they send the hireling to find it while they go about their business. One sheep, to them, is not very valuable anyway.
The poor can readily identify with it. They pay dearly for sheep at Passover, which is one reason why our Lord chased the animals and their sellers out of the Temple. So a sheep is very valuable to them, and they would search night and day for a lost one.
But we get the idea that Jesus is not really addressing the scribes and Pharisees here. They won’t listen anyway. He is addressing the people who know they are sinners, and He tells them He has come to receive them back to God.
In the second parable (8-10), Christ is like the woman and they are the coin. The poor can also readily identify with this story, for any coin would be very valuable to them. Like the woman, Jesus lights a candle and sweeps diligently to recover the coin. The rejoicing of the shepherd and the woman picture the rejoicing in Heaven when one sinner repents and is restored to God.
The third story (11-31) is one of the best known parables of the Bible. Even people of other faiths and complete unbelievers know about the Prodigal Son. It is actually about a loving Father (God) and two sons. One, representing the sinners, takes his fathers money and wastes it on riotous living. The second son, who is actually the elder son, represents the religious leaders of Israel, who seem to live by the rules and keep the law. They are angry when the father restores the prodigal. They want him punished. They want recognition and reward for their faithful service to the father.
Their anger shows that their obedience is not given out of love for the Father. They are keeping the rules, but their hearts are set on their own desires, which is their inheritance from the Father.
The father’s words to the elder son show that the blessings of God is always there for the Priest, scribes and Pharisees. All they have to do is come into the house by repenting of sin, and allowing the Father to restore them. It is their choice to remain outside and pout, not God’s.
The elder son’s reaction shows the complete misunderstanding of the religious leaders about their function. They, like Jesus are to receive sinners. They are to seek the lost sheep and coins, and return them to the Father. They are to help sinners repent and find God’s forgiveness. They should join the rejoicing when sinners repent, not pout about it, as though it somehow reduces their inheritance or standing in the “family.” But their concern is not for their real work, the fate of lost sinners, or even the will of God. Their concern is for their own wealth and social standing in Israel.
The parable in verses 1-13 is difficult to understand because, in verse 8, Christ seems to commend the unjust steward. A steward is a servant placed in a position of trust to oversee part of a person’s estate. This particular steward is accused of wasting his master’s goods, for which he is fired. Realising he is now homeless and without income, the steward seeks to ingratiate himself to the other servants by reducing their debts. Grateful to the steward, the other servants will take him into their homes. Thus the man has prevented homelessness and hunger. The master, though he has lost money, praises the steward’s wisdom. That is the problem. We see that the steward has cheated the master, yet he is praised in the parable.
We need to remind ourselves that the Holy One of Israel hates sin, and would never condone cheating, which is just another word for theft. Therefore, the parable cannot be a commendation of the steward’s actions. Nor can it be an encouragement to the disciples to engage in cheating and lying in the pursuit of mammon. Therefore we must look for the Lord’s meaning elsewhere.
There is good reason to believe the unjust steward represents the Pharisees and religious leaders of Israel. They have charge of the Lord’s goods, which are the Scriptures, the Temple, and the faith of Israel. Instead of faithfully discharging their duties, they have devoted themselves to the accumulation of wealth and privilege, which the Bible calls mammon. If this is true, the meaning of the parable may be found in verse 13, rather than verse 9. In other words, the Lord is not telling the disciples to secure their fortunes by making friends with the “mammon of unrighteousness.” He is telling them they must choose between mammon and God, for they cannot serve both. This view finds support in verse 14, where the Pharisees, who also were covetous, heard all these things and derided Christ. At the very least, verse 14 shows that the parable condemns the actions of the steward, which are based on covetousness, rather than commends them.
Further light may be shed on the parable by verse 15. Here, Christ responds to the Pharisees, saying, “Ye are they which justify yourselves before men.” Isn’t that what the unjust steward is doing? Isn’t he trying to justify himself before the master and also before the other servants? Aren’t the Pharisees trying to appear to take good care of the Masters’ estate, while in reality wasting it?
But God is not like the master in the parable. That master is as much as servant of mammon as the steward. That’s why he praises the steward for his craftiness. God is not a servant of anything. And he knows the hearts of the Pharisees. That which is highly esteemed among them, such as mammon and gaining it in ways that transgress God’s Law, are not esteemed by Him. They are “abomination in the sight of God” (15).
The era of the Jewish religious leaders’, like that of the unjust steward, is drawing to a close. The law and the prophets, under which they were given charge of the things of God, is giving way to the New Covenant of the kingdom of God, now being preached by Christ, and soon to be inaugurated in His death, resurrection, and sending the Holy Spirit. Yet the moral law of the Old Testament remains in force always. The words of verse 17 remind us of our Lord’s words recorded in Luke 21:33; “Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.”
This still leaves many unanswered questions about the parable. Many have attempted to supply such answers, but all admit the difficulty of the task. Perhaps you may ask the Lord about it someday, when you see Him face to face.
The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (19-31) continues our Lord’s teaching on loving mammon more than God. The rich man enjoys much of it, but shares nothing with Lazarus, who is homeless, hungry, and sick. But Lazarus has real, Biblical faith. Thus, when his earthly suffering ends, he is carried to Heaven, called, in verse 22, “Abraham’s bosom.” The rich man’s god is mammon, so when he dies, he loses everything when he goes to hell.
Though he pleads for a drop of water, his request is denied. He received all his god of mammon can give him during his time on earth. He pleads for Lazarus to be sent back to earth to speak to the rich man’s brothers, so they may escape hell. He is told, they have Moses and the prophets, “let them hear them” (29).
Moses and the prophets were enough for Lazarus, and for countless other Old Testament believers, who seeing the promise of the Messiah, believed and are saved. The rich man asks special treatment for his family, which, we may presume, are as deeply enslaved to mammon as he was in life. The reply is that the brothers will not repent and be saved even if Lazarus returns from the dead. In fact, One will return from the dead. Jesus Christ the Righteous cannot be held by a grave or death. He will die, and He will rise again, but people, like the rich man’s brothers. though they have Moses, the prophets, and the Resurrection, will not believe.
Verses 1-10 give excerpts of a talk given to the disciples. Much of its content has been given in other talks and sermons. Perhaps that is why Luke gives such brief summaries of them.
The offenses in verse 1 are actions, words, and temptations that trip people attempting to come to or walk with Christ. Such stumbling blocks will come, and we will encounter them as we try to follow Christ. Mammon, sensual lusts, false religion, atheism, and vague spiritualism are examples of stumbling blocks we face today. They are not new, of course. The same ones were faced by people in the time of Christ, Noe (Noah), Lot, and all people back to Adam. These obstacles to Christian faith and life will come, “but woe unto him through whom they come.”
The rebuke is not the point in verses 3-4; forgiveness is. Nor is the rebuke an angry response that returns evil for evil. It is a conscious effort to make peace, with honesty about how you believe you have been hurt, and without causing hurt to the brother. If your brother repents, seeking peace and a continuing relationship of Christian love, you must forgive, without regret, without exacting punishment, without holding a grudge. Your forgiveness must be complete and free, even if offenses come seven times a day, which would be an incredibly high number of offenses, and would be an incredible trial of your patience and faith. Our Lord’s point is that all offenses must be forgiven. The Christian lives in an attitude of forgiveness. We forgive as freely as we have been forgiven by God, no matter how difficult and costly that forgiveness may be for us.
The grain of mustard seed is very, very small. Therefore, “faith as a grain of mustard seed” is a very small and very weak faith. Our Lord’s point is that the twelve, and the vast majority of Christians do not have enough faith to be compared to the mustard seed. If we did, we would be far more effective in our calling, and far more faithful to His commandments.
The point of verses 7-10 is found in verse 10. Our Lord is saying that if we trust and obey God fully, 100%, we have done nothing more than our duty. But, of course, we have not fully trusted of obeyed. We have rebelled and disobeyed. Therefore, we have no right to expect any good thing from God. If we receive good from Him, it is entirely due to His grace, on which we are completely dependent.
Luke now recalls an event that happenes as our Lord traveled through Galilee and Samaria on His way to Jerusalem (11). Lepers come asking cleansing from their disease, which our Lord graciously gives. He tells them to show themselves to the Priests, who will see that the leprosy has gone, and allow the lepers to participate in the religious and social life of the community again.
One returns to give thanks, and he is a Samaritan. To the Jews, Samaritans are worse than Gentiles because, many generations before the time of Christ, they intermarried with Gentiles, and gave up their identity as people of Israel. Thus, they became known as Samaritans. Not all Samaritans gave up the faith, but a significant number of changes and compromises are made by most of them. For example, very few of them go to Jerusalem for Passover, or offer the sacrifices in the Temple.
Nine of the healed lepers are Jews. One is a Samaritan. Only the Samaritan returns to give thanks. Our Lord seems to indicate that he has faith in Him as the Messiah, and, therefore, will be saved. The nine Jews have no faith, and will not be saved.
The important point made here is that Christ’s grace and His Kingdom are given to a much wider scope of people than the Jews alone. He came through the Jews, and to the Jews first, but all who believe will be saved, regardless of race or nationality.
The Pharisees ask our Lord when the kingdom of God will come (20). Without doubt, these men, who resist the pagan influence of the Greco-Roman culture, and long for a free Israel, refer to the common idea that the Messiah will vanquish Rome in war, and return Israel to independence and obedience to the Pharisaical rules. Their question may be earnest. They may be attempting to learn if Jesus is their Messiah, and if so, when He plans to begin the attack. They can see He is on His way to Jerusalem, and Passover is approaching, which is when they believe the Messiah will make Himself known. So they wonder if He might really be the Messiah and the war for the revolution for a free Israel is about to begin.
Our Lord responds by teaching some of the essential facts about the Kingdom of God (20-37). He tells the Pharisees the Kingdom does not come through the kind of observable events they have in mind. It does not come by means of marching armies and the clash of war (20). Nor is it found in geographical locations, here or there, Jerusalem or Samaria (21). Therefore, people are not to rush to a place where they think the Messiah is gathering an army or establishing a nation (23). Nor are they to confuse any political nation with the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom has already come. It is “within you.”
In this way, our Lord calls people back to the original meaning of the Covenant between God and Israel. Israel was always intended to be a spiritual Kingdom in which God rules and blesses His people, who love and worship Him in return. The land of Canaan, the kings in the line of David, even the Temple, were never the essence of the Covenant. Faith and obedience were its essence, and God was their home and portion forever (Ps. 90:1).
Israel, as a people, never quite understood this. They constantly focused on the land, and the mistaken idea that they were being given a political kingdom with geographic boundaries, a king, an army, and all the outward forms of other worldly kingdoms. This idea is constantly refuted by the prophets, who show it to be a perversion of the true idea of the Kingdom and the Covenant God made with the seed of Abraham. The prophets constantly call the people back to the original Covenant and the spiritual Kingdom, usually without success. Sometimes revivals arise, but they are short lived, and never include more than a small minority of the Jewish people.
The hope of a political kingdom, free of Gentiles, in which Israel dwells in peace and wealth, is still the hope of the majority of Jews in Jesus’ time. The main reason the ruling classes reject Him is because He rejects their Messianic hopes, and calls them back to the original, spiritual Kingdom. The main reason the common people hear Him gladly is because they believe He is the fulfillment of their Messianic hope, and will give them peace and prosperity in a political kingdom in a geographic place called Israel.
When Jesus says, “the kingdom is within you” (21) He refers to Himself, and to the spiritual Kingdom of grace and faith. He means the Kingdom has come into their presence, but they do not see it. It was in a manger in Bethlehem, and a carpenter shop in Nazareth. It is found in His teaching, and the mighty works He does among them. It is not found in war with Rome, for it wrestles “not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12).
A day is coming when the current reign of darkness will be completely ended, and the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness will fill the new Heaven and Earth. The redeemed will dwell there with Him and in Him forever. But, before that promise is fulfilled, the Messiah must suffer the death of the cross (25), and the political kingdom of Israel must be shaken to its very foundations. The shaking will not happen through a Messiah led war against Rome. It will come through a Roman led war on Israel, in which Jerusalem, including the Temple will be razed. It is this destruction of Jerusalem that our Lord addresses in verses 26-37.
It is assumed in the Bible, and especially in the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, that His true people are always people of prayer. “My house is the house of prayer” He said as He chased the money changers out of the Temple (Lk. 19:46). Coming down from the Mount of Transfiguration, He said the disciples were not able able to cast out a demon because of their lack of prayer and fasting. These men had already gone through Galilee preaching the Kingdom, healing the sick, and casting out many demons. But they could not cast this one out because this kind only comes out by prayer and fasting (Mk. 9:21). Think of that, the disciples do not pray and fast enough. Surely Christ led them in the daily liturgical prayers. Surely He led them in seasons of fasting. Surely they followed Him in these things, yet Jesus rebukes them for not praying and fasting enough. Thus, reinforcing this point, our Lord gives two parables about prayer, beginning with the words, “men ought always to pray, and not to faint.”
Prayer, however, is an easy habit to get out of. In fact, most of the things God wants us to make habits of life, are easy to get out of the habit of doing. Avoiding Church is an example. It’s an easy habit to break. Real Bible reading is another example. I’m not talking about reading a daily verse of Scripture, followed by a story, as found in most daily “devotional” books and websites. I’m talking about serious reading that attempts to understand the Bible, and to make it the foundation of the way you understand life, and the way you act. Bishop J.C. Ryle, commenting on the words, “faint not,” wrote:
“Let it then be deeply graven in our minds, that it is far more easy to begin a habit of prayer, than it is to keep it up. The fear of death,- some temporary pricking of the conscience, - some excited feelings, may make a man begin praying, after a fashion. But to go on praying requires faith. We are apt to become weary, and give way to the suggestion of Satan that ‘it is no use.’”
“Let us resist the temptation, and cast it behind our backs. Let us resolve to pray on steadily, patiently, perseveringly, and let us never doubt that it does us good. However long the answer may be in coming, still let us pray on. Whatever the sacrifice and self denial it may cost us, still let us pray on, ‘pray always,’-‘pray.’”
The prayers of the Pharisee and publican (10-14) compare and contrast false prayer and true prayer, and also differentiate Biblical faith from non-faith. The Pharisee is shown to be not praying at all. He is only congratulating himself on his accomplishments, which is why the Lord says he “prayed thus with himself” (11). He is really not addressing God at all even though he uses God’s name in his opening. He goes on to list his accomplishments, which he counts as righteousness. The Lord makes the point that, in spite of all his “good works,’ his faith is non-faith, his prayer is non-prayer, his righteousness is non-existent, and everything about him is nonsense. Judging himself by the Pharisaical rules, he actually does look like a righteous man. What he does not seem to see in himself is the arrogance of the Pharisees, by which they make long prayers, and, at the same time, devour widows’ houses. Their rules have become everything to them, and their intensity about keeping them blinds them to the fact that they are completely devoid of any real conformity to the Law of God in thought, word, and deed.
The truly righteous one is the publican. By definition, he has been a cheat and an extortioner, growing rich by enforcing the Roman tax laws, which enable him to plunder the people, and keep the excess for himself. He has probably devoured a few widows’ houses himself. Obviously, then, he is no more righteous in himself than the Pharisee. The difference is, he knows it, and appears to truly repent and turn to God. His righteousness, therefore is not of his own making, but, like Abraham, he believes God and his faith is counted to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:6). In New Testament language, we would say he is saved by grace through faith (Eph, 2:8).
Faith is exemplified in the little children brought to Christ (16, 17). They have done nothing to earn God’s love. Yet His love for them is evident by His receiving them. They come trusting Him to be kind and receive them. He receives them because He is kind. We come to Him as sinners expecting Him to keep His promises of forgiveness and grace, even to sinners like us. He receives, forgives and restores us because He is faithful and forgiving. His faithfulness and forgiveness is given out of the fulness of His grace.
The visit of the rich young man of verses 18-24 is also recorded in Matthew and Mark, but only Luke tells us he is a”ruler” (18). We are not told what kind of rulers is is, but we are probably safe in believing him to be a religious leader. This opens many possibilities. He could be a rabbi, like Jairus (Lk. 8:41), one of the chief Priests or scribes, or, like Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin (Jn. 3:1). He has probably heard Jesus’ teaching, and understands there is more to life than what we have in this world and in this tabernacle of flesh. Life continues after death in the realm of eternity, and will either be lived in the presence and blessings of God, or in separation from Him in eternal suffering. This man wants to know what he must do to dwell forever in the presence and blessings of God.
He seems to have the idea, shared by most Jews of his era, that eternal life with God is something he can earn. So, Jesus tells him he can only earn Heaven by keeping the Law of God perfectly (19, 20). The man believes he has done this from his youth up. He is saying that has been his lifelong way of life. Jesus show his failure. For the spirit of the Law is as important as its letter, and the spirit is to love God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and to love your neighbour as yourself. If he really has perfect, Biblical love for God, he will instantly obey any commandment he receives from the lips of Christ. But he does not. He cannot part with his comfortable life of mammon and power (23).
This induces the Lord to teach on the difficulty of choosing to serve God over mammon in verses 24-27. His teaching is specifically about rich people, but applies equally well to all, for almost any one of us would have the same reaction if the Lord said to us what He said to the ruler. Even the security of a small shack and poor paying job would sound better to us than a life of homelessness cold, hunger, beatings, and stonings such as were suffered by the Apostle Paul and other Apostles. Surely it seems preferable to the cross.
The disciples were taught from birth to believe wealth, earned through legitimate means, is a reward from God for a person’s goodness and faith. Therefore, if this ruler, who is apparently a man of outstanding character and faith, is not saved, who can be? (26).
That is the perfect question for the moment. It shows that the disciples are still thinking eternal life is a reward for obedience to God’s laws, even though Christ has just shown this very obedient man is not saved. Christ’s answer (27) is a plain statement that eternal life cannot be earned by any person. It cannot be a reward for righteousness, for no one is that righteous. Earning it is “impossible with men.” But it is more than possible for God, it is reality. He saves us on the basis of His grace. From forgiving the publican, to receiving the children, to the rich young ruler, the entire theme of this chapter is grace. Indeed, grace is the theme of the entire Bible.
Peter immediately reminds the Lord that he and the others have left everything to follow Him. He is saying, they have done what Christ told the ruler to do, therefore, they must have earned eternal life (28). The Lord’s promise of “manifold more in this present time” cannot refer to mammon. That would go against everything Christ has taught, though it would be exactly what the twelve desire in the worldly kingdom they still expect Christ to establish. The blessings in this life must be spiritual blessings. The family members are the family of believers; the house is the Church of Christ. But the real blessing are in the world to come, “life everlasting.”
The Messiah turns now to the means by which their eternal life and the world to come will be accomplished (31-34). His words contradict everything the disciples hope for, and everything the Jewish people of His era believe about the Messiah. He is not going up to Jerusalem to make war on the Romans, called Gentiles in verse 32. That kind of kingdom is not the “world to come.” Instead, He will be delivered to the Gentiles, and, by them, will be tortured and murdered (32, 33). After three days He will rise from the dead. Two important points are found in this passage. First, this is the teaching of the Bible (31). It is that which is written of the Messiah by the prophets, and it will be accomplished. Second, the disciples “understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.” This should not surprise us, for, after two thousand years of hearing the Gospel of Christ, the vast majority of the world, and the “Church,” still do not understand.
It is no accident that restoration of the blind man in verses 35-43 immediately follows the description of the spiritual blindness of the disciples and Jews in verse 34. He is blind, and will never see unless Jesus the Messiah, the Son of David, enables him to by a miracle of grace. The miracle is granted, and the result is that he follows Christ, “glorifying God” (43). The clear indication in verse 42 is that the man sees with the eyes of faith as well as with the physical eyes of his body. Because he sees with faith, he has what the rich young ruler sought but could not earn, eternal life, or as Peter states it in verse 26, he is “saved.”
Verses 1-10 give another event found only in the Gospel of Luke. The Messiah has crossed the Jordan into Judea, probably at the very place where the children of Israel crossed it when Joshua led them in to conquer Jericho and Canaan. The people following Christ are sure this shows that He is going to Jerusalem to conquer the Romans as Joshua conquered the Canaanites (11). He even passes through the city of Jericho, which the Lord leveled when Israel crossed the Jordan.
The city has been rebuilt by the Jews, and is very prosperous due to its location on a major trade route and a ford across the river. The Romans loved to see people prosper because prosperous people pay more taxes than poor people, and the Roman government, never having learned to live within its means, was always hungry for taxes.
Zacchaeus is one the most prosperous citizens of this prosperous city. He is describes as rich, and as a chief among the publicans (1). He is possibly the head tax collector in the city and surrounding area.
Naturally, he wants to see the famous Prophet of Galilee, so he posts himself in a tree along the road to Jerusalem, to get a good view. Is his desire to see Jesus based on idle curiosity? Does he really want to know if this is the Messiah? Is he concerned that a war against the Romans might mean the loss of his wealth, and, even his life? We are not told. We are told that Jesus calls him down from the tree, and abides at his house, and that Zacchaeus “received him joyfully” (5).
Zacchaeus is a sinner, but his conversion is remarkable. He not only intends to be generous and do justice in his work, but also to repay any injustices he has committed as a tax collector. This is true repentance, for it replaces sinful things with Godly things.
We may note in passing that taxes may legitimately be required to run a legitimate government. But the tax system must be just, rather than punitive, and that the government must limit its expenditures to leave as much wealth as possible in the hands of the people. Anything else is unjust.
Jesus’ words are full of the grace and love we have learned to expect from Him for sinners (9, 10). He says first, “This day salvation has come to this house.” Second, He says Zacchaeus is also a son of Abraham. Since he was a tax collector for the Romans, the Jews considered him a traitor. In their minds, he has given his services to the Gentiles, therefore, he should suffer with them in the Messianic revolution. Jesus says Zacchaeus is as much a son of Abraham as any of those doing the complaining in verse 7. Therefore, the promises of God apply equally to him. But they apply, not on the basis of physical descent. They apply only to those who truly turn to God and to the Covenant made with Abraham. Zacchaeus has repented, therefore, he is a true son of Abraham, and a true citizen of the Messiah’s Kingdom.
The expectation of the Jews, including the twelve, is that Jesus is going into Jerusalem at Passover to begin the victorious war that will annihilate the Romans with Divine power, and restore Israel to the worldly greatness it had during the days of David and Solomon (11). The Parable of the Pounds (12-27) shows that He is not going to establish a Jewish, national kingdom, and that the full manifestation of His spiritual Kingdom will not even be accomplished at this time. Instead, He is like a nobleman going into a far country to receive a Kingdom from a greater King, meaning, God the Father. Before leaving, He gives His servants monetary currency (pounds), and tells them to “Occupy till I come” (13). The pounds represent the calling and the means to establish and grow the Church until He returns. He expects the pounds to be put to good and faithful use.
The one who hides the money in a napkin is like people who call themselves Christians but make no effort to know or serve God. They really don’t even know God, as is proved by their words, as well as their action of hiding the treasure in a napkin. They call Christ, an austere man who takes up what He has not laid down, and reaps where He has not sown. That is calling the Lord, who gave His life for the sins of the world, a tyrant and a thief. This shows they do not know the Lord, or have anything close to Biblical faith. They have received the grace of God in vain (2 Cor. 6:1). Though such people may have his name on the membership roll of a church, their hearts are with those in verse 14, who “will not have this man to reign over us.” The people in verse 14 are the Jews, who reject Christ and turn Him over to the Gentiles. In a larger sense, they are all who refuse the grace and love of God because they refuse to live by His will and in His peace. They consider Heaven a hopeless fantasy, and the laws He has given for our own good to be heavy burdens that inhibit and destroy the possibility of peace on earth, good will toward men. They are chains from which to seek release, not freedom to be embraced.
It needs to be said that open rebellion and disobedience are not the only way to reject Christ’s reign over us. Denial of the Bible, adoption of the world’s values and ideas are equally wicked, even when done with the idea we are doing good things. Many such people would gladly have Christ as their Saviour, but not as their Lord (Matthew Henry, An Exposition of the Gospel According to St. Luke). They want God, but demand that He conform to their terms, while they refuse to conform to His.
The end of these people is sadly and graphically portrayed in verse 27. In one sense, the Lord refers here to the destruction of Jerusalem. In a fuller sense, it refers to all who will not have Him reign over them. They get their wish, at least in the fact that they will not be in His Kingdom as citizens and recipients of His grace. They will have their portion in the lake of fire, with the devil and all the unGodly.
The Triumphal Entry has been treated in the comments on Matthew 21 and Mark 11. Luke’s record of the event follows their closely, and it is likely that Luke has Matthew’s Gospel in his possession as he writes. Certainly his mentor, Paul, would have a copy of a book about Christ written by one of the original twelve. But verses 39-44 also record words Matthew and Mark omit.
Some of the Pharisees are among the crowd watching the Messiah enter the Holy City. Whether they are there as friends or enemies is unknown to us. What is known is that they say to Jesus, “Master, rebuke thy disciples.” Do they use the term, “Master” (teacher) out of respect? Is it sarcasm? Do they recognise something about Christ, but have only a glimpse of His glory? Whatever their motives, Christ claims to be the Messiah, and that the adulation of the crowd is His legitimate due. He goes even further, saying the stones would cry out to Him if the people would not. He means the creation would welcome Him. Nature would recognise Him as its Creator and God, and would sing out in His worship, even if the people would not.
From this statement, our Lord returns to the very sad subject of the coming destruction of Jerusalem. “He beheld the city, and wept over it” (41). The people of Jerusalem fail to recognise the One who has come for their peace. They fail to recognise their Messiah and their God. This means they fail to respond in faith to the Gospel. They refuse to be saved. Furthermore, they refuse to enthrone their King and God. They should joyfully escort Him to the Temple and enthrone Him on the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies. Instead, they reject Him.
Thus our Lord speaks of the days when their enemies “shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep the in on every side” (43). Christ is describing a military siege, one of the most horrible means of conquest known in ancient times. No one is allowed in or out of the city. No food, water, medicines, or supplies are able to get in. No dead are allowed to be taken out for burial. Hunger, thirst, and disease destroy the people from within, until they are unable to resist their conquerors. This is the fate of Jerusalem. Rome will “lay thee even with the ground, refers to the physical destruction of the city. But the human devastation will be worse. The “children within thee” will also be laid even with the ground as death takes even them. Why? “because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation” (44). They did not recognise their Messiah and Deliverer when He came. They turned against Him. They delivered Him to the Gentiles, and He will do the same to them.
The chapter closes with the cleansing of the Temple, which is treated in the comments on Matthew 21, and with an introduction to the next phase of our Lord’s ministry, His open teaching in the Temple, and the religious leaders’ attempts to “destroy him” (47).
The Lord of Israel now stands in His Temple, teaching His people about His Kingdom and grace. But, instead of welcoming and enthroning Him, His servants the Priests oppose and ridicule Him as part of their plot to destroy Him (19:47). The question about His authority (2) is not an attempt to understand Him or determine whether He has such authority or not. It is chicanery designed to sway and divide the crowd listening to Him in theTemple (19:48). Ultimately, it is an attempt to keep their wealth and privileged position in the social fabric of Israel. It is the kind of thing that has been a standard tool of elites as long as there have been elites. They are completely unconcerned about truth, which they are willing to sacrifice, along with Christ, to keep their positions. In verse 5, they realise that, instead of them catching Him, He has caught them. Therefore, they refuse to answer. He also refuses to answer them, which leaves them confounded and embarrassed in their own trap (8).
The Parable of the Vineyard (9-18) tells the story of men placed in charge of a beautiful, garden-like vineyard with every prospect of producing bountiful crops and delicious wine. The vineyard is Israel, and the husbandmen are the Priests and scribes who have been given the spiritual leadership of the people through teaching the Bible and overseeing the Temple. Instead of serving God, the Owner, they use the vineyard as though it is their own, even killing the owner’s son, who represent Jesus Christ.
Everyone in the Temple seems to understand that the parable is spoken against the religious leaders (19). Yet the Priests and scribes do not repent. They want to abduct Christ (lay hands on Him) and fulfill verse 15 immediately. They only wait for another opportunity because they fear the people will defend Him (19, 20). Verse 20 tells of their desire to deliver Him “unto the power and authority of the governor,” suggesting they have already made plans to have Him crucified, and are just looking for a way to make it happen.
Their attempt to trap Him over the question of tribute to Caesar (21-26) fails. Comments on it may be found in those on Matthew 22 and Mark 12. Here let it suffice to say they are confounded at the wisdom of this Man (26) whose remarks completely silence them. They are the Ph.D.s, the educated, the wise. He is a carpenter with only the basic education given to all Jewish boys of the time. They should be able to refute His every word. Instead, He constantly silences them.
One thing we notice here is that the Jewish rulers never engage Christ on issues of substance, or in a serious attempt to learn the truth. Their confrontations all consist of what today would be called, “talking points” and “gotcha questions.”
The foolish question of marriage in the resurrection (27-33) is an example of this. Finding and following truth is not part of their agenda, and they will not be convinced by it if they ever have the wisdom to recognise it. They care only about destroying this enemy who threatens their power.
Thus, after teaching that God is God of the living, and a greater and higher Being than David (38-44), the Lord exposes the hypocrisy of the religious leaders (45-47). Their “religion” is as vacuous as their talking points. It is all a show to fool the people into submitting to them while they cheat widows out of their belongings to enrich themselves.
Of course, the religious leaders make elaborate shows of charity after cheating widows out of their homes. They openly cast large gifts into the treasury, making sure their benevolence is seen by all (1). But their gifts are small in comparison to their wealth. Even those whose wealth has been earned by legitimate means, and there are many such people, will not miss the money they give. It will be no sacrifice to them. A poor woman giving anything is giving sacrificially, and God considers her offering far greater than the combined gifts of the wealthy (2-4).
This incident is not given to encourage the poor to deprive themselves of necessities to give money to the Church. It is given to show the hypocrisy of the religious leaders, and to encourage the legitimate rich to be much more generous.
Verse 5 begins the woes upon the Pharisees, and, by extension, all hypocrisy, especially among the religious leaders. This passage parallels Matthew 24 and 25, and Mark 13, and extended observations can be found in the comments on those chapters. They make the point that these passages primarily deal with the destruction of Jerusalem, which will come in A.D. 70 as the Romans besiege and demolish the city. Even the events of verses 5-28 are primarily about the fall of Jerusalem, not signs that the Lord’s Second Coming is near. Two verses compel this conclusion. The first is Luke 21:32, which says “This generation” the generation of the Apostles, “shall not pass away,” meaning to die, “till all these things be fulfilled.” What ever the Lord is talking about here is to be accomplished during the lifetime of the Apostles. Second, Luke 21:20 makes it clear that the Lord is talking about events leading up to the Roman attack. The meaning of Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14 is explained in Luke 19:20 as “Jerusalem compassed with armies.” The warning of verses 21-23, and the events of verses 24-28 also relate to the devastation of Jerusalem and warns the Christians to get out of the city before the army arrives.
The siege of a city requires planning. The army needs to be prepared, and supplies and arms must be gathered. Then, the army must physically march to Jerusalem. Such things cannot be done in secret. The civilian population will notice the army’s preparations. They will certainly see the legions leave their base, and note that the direction of their march is toward Jerusalem. News of these things will reach Jerusalem, where the Christians are to understand these things as the fulfillment of Matthew 24:15, Mark 13:14, and Luke 19:20. They are signs that the destruction is coming, just as new leaves on trees are signs of spring (31).
Knowing this, they are to leave Jerusalem and Judea in great haste. Flee to the mountains (21). Matthew, who records more of our Lord’s warning than Luke, says not to try to take household goods or even gather clothes (Mt. 24:18). The flight will be difficult and dangerous, for the Roman army will be looking for people leaving the city. It will be especially hard on women with child or nursing infants (19), and they are to pray that their flight will not be in winter or on the sabbath day (Mt. 24:20).
The Kingdom of God in verse 31, refers to the inauguration of the Kingdom of the Messiah so often foretold in the Old Testament. This began with Christ’s conception, continued in His preaching and ministry, and was brought into more fullness by His death, Resurrection, and the Advent of the Holy Spirit. The destruction of the Temple is also part of His inauguration. By it, the Old Covenant sacraments are brought to a sad end, and Jews and Gentiles are pointed to the New Testament Church, which is the Kingdom of God on earth until the Kingdom comes in its complete fulness in the Return of Christ.
There is, therefore, a sense in which our Lord looks beyond the destruction of Jerusalem to the final and full revelation of the Kingdom of God at His Return. We see the same kind of thing in the Old Testament. Psalm 2, for example, which is about the enthronement of the kings of Israel, could never be fulfilled by a mere man. It looks forward to the enthronement of Christ as the true King of the Jews in the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, the enthronement of the kings of Israel symbolises, and looks forward to, the enthronement of Christ. The Temple and sacrificial system are also examples of this. There is a real sense in which they symbolise and look forward to something and Someone far great they they, who can accomplish what they symbolise. Theologians call these things “types,” and some have written worthy books about Old Testament typology. We will forgo deeper discussion of typology here, noting only that the destruction of Jerusalem is a type of the end of the world and the Return of Christ.
The chapter closes with warnings to the Jerusalem Christians to “take heed to yourselves” so the day, the destruction of Jerusalem, “come not upon you unawares.” Quite naturally the same warning applies to the Church in every age as we await the Lord’s Return. We live in constant readiness, always watching, always prepared to stand before the Son of man (34=36).
After teaching these things, our Lord retires to the Mount of Olives for the night. He returns to continue teaching in the Temple the next day (37-38).
As the chapter opens, it is Wednesday morning, and the enemies of Christ are desperately seeking a way to abduct and murder Him. The depth of their wickedness is astounding, for they are willing to murder the One who has shown by His wisdom and signs that He is either a man sent from God, or is,in fact the Messiah. They are willing to kill Him in order to protect their wealth and power, even though they have corrupted and distorted almost everything they and Israel stand for in the Old Testament. They should fall on their knees before Christ and beg His forgiveness. They should receive Him as the King and God. They should enthrone Him in the Temple, and in their hearts. Instead they rejoice when one of His own, Judas the Traitor comes to them and arranges to make it possible for them to capture Jesus (3-6).
“Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the passover must be killed” (7). Our Lord sends Peter and John into the city to secure the upper room, which will be furnished and ready for the Passover meal.
It is one of the holiest nights of the year for the Jewish people, for it commemorates the release of Israel from Egypt accomplished by the plague of the first born. The Jews, in obedience to God’s command, marked their doorways with the blood of the sacrificial lamb. When the Angel of Death saw the blood, He passed over the home instead of taking its first born.
The feast, like so much of the Old Testament, is a type, meaning it looks forward to the crucifixion of Christ. He is the Lamb that is slain. His people are saved by His blood, and He brings them out of the bondage of their sin and into the Promised Land of peace with God.
Thus, Jesus uses the elements of the feast to show and commemorate His own death, and the reason why He gives His life on the cross. The unleavened bread (19) represents His body, broken and given for them on the cross. The cup after the supper represents His blood,”which is shed for you” (20). Obviously our Lord is still physically present at this time, and is not saying the bread and wine have literally become His body and blood. He hasn’t been crucified at this point, so His body has not been broken or His blood shed for them yet. He is speaking in symbolic terms.
The poor disciples fall into questions and denials of whether or not they are the traitor (23), and who will be the greatest in the worldly kingdom they still expect from Christ (24). Our Lord, patient to the very end, takes the time to teach once more about the meaning of greatness in His Kingdom (25-27). It is service to Him and His people, not lordship over them.
Verses 36-38 seem odd because our Lord has constantly said Hs has not come to start a rebellion against Rome. But the disciples can hardly interpret His words about swords to mean anything except that the revolution is about to begin, and they will need swords for the battle. In light of our Lord’s refusal to be a worldly king, His words can hardly have that meaning. Therefore, they must be taken as symbolic. Yet, even their symbolic meaning is difficult to discern. Perhaps our Lord refers to the position of the disciples, and the Church, after His ascension. While He is with them, He is doing the work of the Kingdom, while they watch and listen and learn. When He returns to the Father, they will move from the position of learners to that of workers. They will be doing the work of the Kingdom of God. Yes, the Holy Spirit will be with them, and it is ultimately through Him that the work is done and the Church is gathered. But they will be active in the work. They will be the tools through which the Holy Spirit gathers the Church together.
It is Thursday night. ThePassover meal is over, as are the Lord’s Supper and other events of the upper room. The Lord now leads His disciples out of the city to a garden on the Mount of Olives known as Gethsemane (39). He comes to pray. Luke records one prayer (40-46) while Matthew and Mark record three. From this we may conclude that Luke records one prayer while Matthew and Mark record three. In other words, we can only conclude what we see. The speculations of many that Matthew and Mark disagree about the number of prayers, and the order of events in the garden are unwarranted by the evidence given. The differences in number and order are due to differences in the recording. The differences in the recording are due to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit leading each writer to emphasise different parts of the same events. Matthew and Mark, for example, record Jesus’ words about the anguish He is suffering as He goes to prayer. Luke does not record these words, but does record the ministering angel (43) and drops of blood coming from His body like sweat (44). Matthew and Mark knew about these things, and Luke knew about the three prayers in Gethsemane. And each writer was led to record for us what the Holy Spirit wanted in their books.
Matthew and Mark record Christ’s words about being “exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” (Mt. 26:38). Luke records the effects our Lord’s sorrow has on Him physically. How terrible must be the depth of sorrow our Lord faces in the garden. He knows full well the content of the “cup” He must drink. The physical suffering of the whip and the cross are more painful than we can imagine. Yet, they are as nothing compared to the cup of the wrath of God He will bear for our sins. It may be as though He suffers an eternity in hell in the space of three days. It may be as though He suffers the despair of eternal separation from God in three days. He knows what awaits Him, yet He prays, “not my will, but thine be done” (42). This is love indeed, that God Himself was willing to suffer these things to save us from them.
The disciples are unaware of the agony (44) of Christ. (46). Just as most of Israel slept while the Saviour was born, it still sleeps while He prays in the garden and suffers the betrayal and condemnation of men.
The first part of Christ’s trial is in the home of the High Priest (54). We must understand that this is not really a trial. There is nothing legal about it, and there is certainly nothing moral about it. It is not about seeking truth. It is not about justice. It is about the ruling class punishing a trouble maker whose outspoken revelations of their corruption and wickedness would ruin them if the people ever act upon them. It is while Christ is being abused by the Priests that Peter, fearful that he will also be abducted and tortured to death, denies knowing the Lord (55-62).
The abuse recorded in verses 64 and 65 is cruelty, not justice. Even a real criminal should not be treated in this way. Yet the Holy Son of God suffers it for you. It lasts for hours; all through the night, ending only on Friday morning, when they take Him to the counsel, the ruling body of the Jews (66-71). Verses 67-69 reveal the nature of the trial. If He tells them the truth, in a direct answer to their questions, they will neither believe Him nor let Him go. Their verdict was decided months ago. The trial is just a way to make it appear that proper procedures have been followed in pursuit of justice.
Thus, our Lord does not answer their questions. Instead, He tells them they will see the Son of man on the right hand of the power of God (69). Because we have the New Testament, we understand Jesus’ meaning that He will rise from the grave and ascend into Heaven to take His rightful place on the Throne of God. Unfortunately for them, this sight of Him in His rightful place of glory is also the vision of their demise. In that Day they will realise His true identity, and know they despised and rejected their God and Messiah. They will also know that their destiny is the hell they hoped waited for Him. The judges will become the judged. Those who condemn will become the condemned.
Even the answer in verse 70 is not an answer. “Ye say that I am” merely repeats the charge back to them. But that is enough for them. They would have killed Him, even if He had denied the charge.
How ironic that the leaders of the nation that has prayed so long for a Messiah to deliver them from Rome, deliver the Messiah to the Romans to be killed.What a vivid reminder their actions are that most people who claim to want God, really only want Him on their terms. Jesus refused their terms, Therefore, “the whole multitude of the rulers “led him unto Pilate. And they began to accuse him saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King” (1, 2). It is an ugly scene. Christ, bound and bloody from their abuse (22:64), stands silently amid the throng of the angry mob screaming for His death. In the trials at the High Priest’s home and before the Sanhedrin, they brought false witnesses to testify against Him and move the rulers into a frenzy of hate. At the palace of Pilate, the rulers have become false witnesses,openly lying about Christ, and still acting as an unthinking mob manipulated by the Priests and Pharisees..
Note the falsehood of their claims. He is “perverting the nation.” In actuality, He showed their perversion of the Law of God with their made up rules like Corban (Mk.7:9-13), and their abuse of their position to enrich themselves by cheating the poor (Lk. 20:47). He chased the money changers out of the Temple, saying they have turned it into a den of thieves (Lk. 19:46). They accuse Him of forbidding tribute to Caesar, knowing full well His words “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesars’, and unto God the things which be God’s” (Lk. 20:25). They accuse Him of proclaiming himself a king, knowing He refused to allow the people to enthrone Him (Jn. 6:15) and that He never claimed to be a worldly king or political leader. Even before Pilate He says, “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn. 18:36).
Pilate, realising the plot of the Jewish leaders, says, “I find no fault in this man” (4). But the leaders become “more fierce” (5) in their cries for His death, and more threatening toward Pilate, who fears he will have a riot at his palace if he does not take action. Finding that Jesus is from Galilee, he sends Him to Herod (5-11).
The Jewish leaders follow Him to Herod’s palace, possibly gathering more people into the mob along the way. Herod is glad to see Jesus (8). He is a man with a guilty conscience, who knowingly had the Baptist executed, though he was innocent of all crime. He seems to know of Jesus, indeed, it is hard to imagine anyone in Israel not knowing about Him at this point. He wants Christ to work a miracle for him (8) like a conjuror in a magic show. He asks many questions of Christ, who gives no answers (9). Finally, provoked by Christ’s silence, and incited by the mob of Priests and scribes, Herod and the soldiers mock Him and send Him back to Pilate (11).
Pilate should have released Christ, with the promise that the Roman soldiers would execute justice on any man who harms Him. Instead he sent Him to Herod. Herod also should have released Him with a similar promise of protection and punishment to anyone who harms Him. Instead, he sends Him back to Pilate. That day, Pilate and Herod, finding they are both cowards and willing to crucify innocent men rather than stand for justice and truth, become friends (12).
Pilate is now in a dangerous position. If he does not cooperate with the Jewish leaders, they might be able to cause a riot in Jerusalem, which would make him seem like an ineffective governor. Since Romans don’t like ineffective governors, that could cost him his job, and possibly, his life. If he crucifies Christ, the Galileans, who believe Christ is the Messiah, and who are gathered in Jerusalem by the hundreds for Passover, might riot, with the same results for Pilate. He states that neither he nor Herod have found any reason to crucify Christ, but hoping to pacify the Priests, offers to chastise Him and set Him free (16). The chastisement is a public flogging. It is brutal, bloody, and cruel. And this is the way he wants to treat an innocent Man.
We know the mob’s answer. “Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas" (18), who actually is guilty of the very things they accuse Christ of. Of Jesus they chant the horrible, blood-thirsty chant of the unthinking mob. “Crucify him, crucify him” (21).
Pilate finds a way to make himself appear innocent of murdering Christ. He lets the Jewish rulers call for His death while maintaining that he finds nothing in Him worthy of death (22). He also avoids a riot by delivering Jesus to their will (25).
The Roman custom of execution was to viciously flog their victims, then force them to carry their crosses in a grisly parade through the city to the crucifixion site. This practice has the dual effect of adding to the victim’s suffering, and showing others what can happen to them if they transgress the very arbitrary rules of Rome. Christ has been so horribly beaten He is too weak to carry His cross, so the Romans force Simon to bear it for Him (26).
A great crowd follows Him, bewailing and lamenting Him (27) with loud weeping and wailing. Women comprise much of the crowd, and Jesus turns to them, saying, “weep not for me, but weep for yourselves and your children” (28). His words here, and in verses 29-31 refer to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, which Jesus has foreseen and foretold many times. Some commentators believe these words are spoken out of concern for the people of Jerusalem who will suffer so terribly in that battle. They believe Christ is appealing to them to repent and be saved from that devastation, and from everlasting damnation. Others see these words as being similar to the pronouncements and parables against the religious leaders. In their view, the Lord is telling them they will be judged with the rest of the city, and suffer accordingly. The words, “weep for yourselves and your children” seem to indicate that, at least some of these women will be among the people who die in the siege.
It may be that both views are correct, for God’s warning of coming judgement always presents those with ears to hear, an opportunity to repent and be saved. Surely this warning is no different.
The Lord’s words in 29-31 give a brief but frightening vision of the devastation of the battle for Jerusalem. It will better for women to not have children than to see them suffer through the war. People will prefer that the hills around Jerusalem fall on them and crush them to death rather than continue to suffer through the siege or fall into the hands of the Romans.
Christ uses the contrast between green and dry wood to make His point. He is the green tree, righteous and holy. Normally, a green tree would not be used for fires, but Jesus goes to the cross as green wood to a fire. They are the dry tree, ready to burn because they remain in their sin and unbelief. If the green tree, Christ, has not been spared from the cross, the dry tree, impenitent Israel, will not be spared from Rome. We could state this point more correctly by saying, if God does not spare His righteous Son, neither will He spare unrighteous Jerusalem.
Even at the cross, the rulers of the Jews deride Him (35). In this, they are no different from the Romans, who actually do the crucifying, mock Him (36), and gamble for His garment (34). The sign of verse 38 is meant as an insult to Jesus, His followers, and all of Israel. It says, this is what Rome does to your kings and God. No Messiah will deliver you from the power of Rome. No God can save you from us. Those who claim to be such deliverers will die like this one. Those who follow them will suffer the same fate.
The dying thief, who calls upon Christ in faith receives mercy. Christ’s words show the reality of Heaven. There is a place where all is goodness and peace. There is a paradise. It does exist, and those who trust in Christ will go there to dwell in peace and joy that will make their present suffering seem insignificant. Christ takes His people there immediately at death, “to day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” We do not have to wait for the resurrection, nor do we have to go through further purification in Purgatory. When our souls lay down the tabernacle of this flesh, our Lord receives us into His Paradise that very moment.
The Priests and Pharisees are a stark contrast to the thief. He recognises his sin and casts himself on the mercy of Christ. The Priests and Pharisees deride Christ (35). They show themselves to have much more in common with the Gentile Romans than with the Israel of God. They are, in fact, not of the true Israel. They have abused their power. They have profaned the House of God. They have made the sacrifices of the Temple odious to Him. They have broken every vow of faith and obedience to Him. They have abandoned the Covenant, and perverted it to make it seem to say what it does not say. In short, they are not Israel, in spite of their physical ancestry and exalted positions. The thief, who repents of sin and receives the Messiah is the true Israel.
The darkness is a sign of God’s displeasure. He sent Christ to His own chose people, and they rejected Him. They prayed for the Messiah, and, when He came, they put Him on the cross. It also shows the spiritual condition of Israel in the time of Christ. The law and the prophets were given to the Jews. They have the Temple, the sacrifices, the Passover and thousands of years of God’s care and providence. Yet they are in spiritual darkness as deep and wicked as the most hardened and ignorant Gentiles. The darkness probably also serves as a sign of the coming judgement on Jerusalem and Israel. But, we must remember that a day of reckoning is coming to everyone. On that day all the world will be judged, and God’s people will finally inherit the earth, while His enemies inherit everlasting “darkness.” Thus, the darkness is a sign to us as well as to the Jews. It calls us to the faith of the thief, not the hypocrisy of the rulers.
Luke records another sign in verse 45, “the veil of the temple was rent in the midst.” The veil is the curtain that separates the Holy Of Holies from the rest of the interior of the Temple. No one is allowed into this place, except the High Priest on the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, when he sprinkles the blood of the sacrifice on the Altar. This sign has many meanings. One of the most obvious is that the time and ministry of the Temple has passed with the death of Christ. Everything it symbolised and foreshadowed has been accomplished in the death of Christ. He is the great high Priest who offers the one sacrifice that atones for sin. He is also the Lamb of God sacrificed for the sins of His people, whose blood accomplishes what the blood of sheep and goats could only symbolise. All of this is accomplished by Christ on the cross, therefore the time of the Temple is over.
It is important to note the timing of the veil. It happens at the very moment our Lord “gave up the ghost” (46). In other words it happens at the exact moment of Christ’s death. Luke records it before He records the death because he shows it while discussing the signs that accompany the crucifixion and death. He goes on from there to record the effects of Christ’s death.
Rending, or tearing the veil also shows that the way to God is now open. There is no more court of the Gentiles or court of the women,or court of the men. There is one court in the Heavenly Temple, and Jesus is that court. In Him, the Holy of Holies is open to all who come in Biblical faith.
Finally, rending the veil means people no longer need to come to God through Israel or the forms and rituals of the Jewish religion. We come to God through Christ.
Luke moves now to the effect of Christ’s death on the people who witness it. He begins with the centurion. Luke records his words, “Certainly this was a righteous man,” (47). The centurion understands the signs better than the Jews. He is a pagan, and probably holds a vague belief in the mythological gods of Rome, though people were starting to recognise that religion as more of a cultural identity than truth about divinity. But he knows that, regardless of whether the Jews, the Romans, or Jesus of Nazareth are correct about deity, whatever deity exists is on the side of Christ. It is likely that the centurion makes this statement first. Then, still moved at the signs, including the earthquake recorded in Matthew 27:51, he is moved to believe and say what he had heard others say about Christ, “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mk. 15:39).
According to verse 48, all the people who witness this death “smote their breasts” and left the scene. The smiting of the breast is to strike the chest with the fist. It is not done hard, therefore it causes no pain. It is symbolic of deep consternation, sorrow, or concern. They have just witnessed something that shakes them to their very core. The death of the Man they caused to be crucified was accompanied by signs and wonders they knew had to come from God. When they arrived at the cross, they were filled with anger and the lust for blood. When they leave they are filled with fear. It is as though they are asking themselves, what kind of evil thing have we done, and what will be the consequences of it?
Joseph of Arimathaea (50-56) is a member of the Sanhedrin. Luke does not use that term because it would not be recognised by the Gentiles to whom he writes. He calls Joseph a counsellor (50), meaning, a member of the counsel (or council) of the rulers of the Jews. The counsel consists of the Priests and Rabbis who run the Temple and synagogues, and serve as judges in civil and criminal cases among the Jews. It is this counsel that worked the crucifixion of Jesus. We are specifically told Joseph “had not consented to the counsel and deed of them” (51). He opposed the counsel and its actions. Why? Because he “waited for the kingdom of God.” He is not on the counsel to secure money and benefits for himself. He truly considers his task a calling from God, which he attempts to do according to the teachings and spirit of the Scriptures. He must also understand that the popular ideas about the Messiah are incorrect. He was waiting for the One to come and fulfill the calling according to the Scriptures. In other words, he waits for a Messiah to bring a Kingdom not of this world. He waits for a Messiah like Jesus, and probably believes Jesus is that Messiah.
Being a counsellor, he is a man of means and gets Pilate’s permission to bury Jesus (52). Pilate assents, and the body is placed in a tomb. Luke does not record the sealing of the tomb and the guards placed around it, which has already been recorded in Matthew and Mark. He makes the important point that the women which came with Christ from Galilee, go with Joseph and the body to the tomb, where they “beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid” (55). This is important because it means the women, and Joseph, know what tomb Jesus is placed in, where it is located, and even the position and orientation of the body in the tomb. Therefore, they did not go to the wrong tomb on Sunday morning. Having done all they can do for now, they return to Jerusalem to get the necessary preparations for burial, which they intend to complete on Sunday.
The Gospel has not given a very encouraging picture of humanity. The Messiah has come to earth doing wonderful acts of mercy by healing the sick and delivering people from demons. He has preached the word of God to His people, and invited them to become true members of the true Israel through faith in Him and repentance from sin. Yet He has been misunderstood by those closest to Him, opposed by the religious leaders, and tortured to death by the Romans.
Many theologians believe the Gospel ends there. They say Christ showed us the way of love, but His way was rejected, and He died and was buried, and that is the end of Him and His Gospel. If that were true, it would be a sad and hopeless Gospel. It would mean the forces of evil can crush love to death, and can rule the world with no fear of reprisal from God or man. It would be a Satanspel, not a Godspel.
But it does not end there. On “the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came to the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them” (1). The day is the Sunday after the crucifixion. The people are the women who went with Joseph of Arimathaea to place Jesus’ body in the tomb. The place is the tomb where they laid and beheld the sepulchre and how His body was laid (23:55).
They come with spices to anoint His body as part of the burial process in those days. Why do they bring the spices? Because they believe He is dead and will stay dead. Most of them probably believe in a general resurrection of the dead at the end of time, but since that hasn’t happened yet, they believe Christ is dead, His body is in the tomb, and that is the end of everything He taught and stood for.
He told them many times that He would be given to the Gentiles, that He would die and be raised again on the third day. But they, like the disciples, did not understand His words then, and do not believe them now.
When they arrive, the stone that sealed the tomb is rolled away and the body is gone. We know from other Gospels that they believe someone has taken the body. The thought that He might be risen from the dead does not occur to them, so the missing body only adds to their already heavy burden of grief.
The two men (4) are angels. Apparently one is sitting on the stone, and invites them to look into the tomb (Mt. 28:2). The other is inside the tomb, sitting on the stone table that had held Christ’s body (Mk. 16:5). He rises to a standing position when the women enter, and the other angel enters with them so that inside the tomb both angels “stood by them in shining garments (Lk. 24:4). The angels speak words that must have shocked the women, “He is not here, but is risen” (6). John tells us of their difficulty believing the angels’ words, for Mary Magdalene runs from the tomb to the upper room and tells Peter and John, “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him” (Jn. 20:2). Even after the encounter with the angels, and the departure of the others, Mary remains by the sepulchre weeping, and says essentially the same thing to the angels (Jn. 20:11-13), and, even to Christ Himself, who appears to her (Jn. 20:14, 15).
The angels remind the women of the Lord’s words regarding His death and resurrection (6-8) which the women remember, but still seem to have some trouble believing. The eleven, and others in the upper room, simply do not believe it. The words of the women “seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not” (11). Nevertheless, Peter runs to the sepulchre and finds it empty, as the women said, but the grave clothes are still there, as though the body passed through them without moving them (12). Verse 12 is indicative of the attitude of the entire band of Christ’s followers in Jerusalem. Peter leaves the tomb “wondering in himself at that which has come to pass.” They are grieving, shocked, and unable to understand what has happened.
The disciples on the road to Emmaus share their confusion (13-24). Describing their thoughts, verse 21 is a telling verse: “we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel.” The verse shows these men still believed Jesus was a military leader sent from God to redeem Israel from the Romans, and all Gentile oppression. It also shows they believe He died without accomplishing that redemption, and, their hope for a free Israel, living in peace, security, and Godliness, died with Him, never to rise again. Read as much despair and bitterness into that verse as you possibly can. You will not err in doing so.
They tell the Lord, whom they do not recognise, about the women and their vision of angels at the empty tomb (22, 23). They tell of certain others, who went to the sepulchre and found it open and empty “as the women had said: but him they saw not” (24). Their meaning here is evident; they simply do not believe the women. They are so grieved and angered about Christ, they have left the rest of the followers of Christ, and even left Jerusalem, distancing themselves from the people and the place that had been so much a part of their hope a few days ago.
Our Lord’s words in verses 25 and 26 are, at once a rebuke, and instruction, and a comfort. They rebuke because the disciple, and all humanity are “slow of heart to believe.” They instruct because they show that the Messiah has been foretold in the prophets. Christ Himself told them repeatedly about His death and resurrection. But they refused to believe. The preaching of the cross is as much foolishness and a stumbling block to them as to any other people (1 Cor.1:18, 23). They comfort because it is given to them to hear the Lord teach the Bible and to understand that His Gospel is truly tidings of comfort and joy.
These two men are now given a rare treat. Our Lord, the Word of God, who is the heart and the message of the Bible, gives them a private lesson in the meaning of the Scriptures. “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (27).
No wonder their heart burned within them as He opened the Scriptures to them (32). Ancient prophets and kings would have loved to be with these men at that time (Lk. 10:24). What true believer would not have loved to be there and hear the Bible taught from the lips of the risen Lord? Yet it is sadly true that the Bible is often truly expounded to small groups in small settings. This is not because others are kept away from it or barred from attending. It is due instead to their own indolence and indifference. The table is spread before them, the feast is prepared, but, like the men of the parable of the feast, they have other things to do (Lk. 14:18-20) and will not attend. James 1:22 urges us to be doers of the word and not hearers only, but most people refuse to even be hearers.
By the grace of God the eyes of these men are opened (31). It may be that these are the very first to understand and believe in Christ in New Testament faith. Whether that is so or not, they return to the eleven in Jerusalem and “told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread” (35).
“And as they spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them” (36). We know from John 20:19 that the eleven and others are in the upper room with the doors shut and locked because they fear the Jews will crucify them for following Christ. But the Lord, who passed through the stone walls of the tomb cannot be stopped by doors made by men. He easily and miraculously appears in the room. He does not sneak in by a window or some secret passage while they are distracted by the story of the Emmaus road. He appears in the midst of them. They see Him appear. They see the empty space in front of them, and they see Him appear in it. “Magicians,” who are actually illusionists work hard to create tricks that simulate disappearing people and objects. But this is no illusion. This is the risen Lord, who has real power to do these things. He could have just as easily transported them to the moon or sun, or Heaven itself. But, as in all of Scripture, God comes down to us, our Lord also comes to His disciples where they are.
He invites them to touch Him and certify to themselves that He is real and in the body that was crucified and dead, yet now is alive (38-40). They do not touch Him, for not only fear, but also a holy reverence has come upon them, as though they are beginning to realise they are in the presence of the Divine One. He eats some fish and honeycomb to show His body is real (43).
Then He begins to teach them about the Bible as He taught the others on the Emmaus road, (44-48). Opening their understanding is a miraculous work of grace that opens the eyes of their hearts as surely as He opened the physical eyes of the blind. Their sight is not fully restored yet, as their question in Acts 1:6 shows. But, like the blind man in Mark 8:24, who saw men as trees walking, they are beginning to understand. He clearly states that the purpose of the cross and resurrection, and the purpose of their being allowed to witness these things, which includes His ministry as well as His cross and resurrection, is that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations” (47). It is their calling to do the preaching. In fact, “witnesses” as used in verse 48, refers to them as proclaimers of what they have seen and heard.
Luke skips many of the events of the next forty days. Other Gospels tell of Christ meeting the disciples in Galilee, and of His teaching there. Luke passes over that and moves to the promise of the Spirit and the ascension of Christ (49-53). The ascension is visible for the sake of the eleven. Our Lord physically rises into the sky, where He disappears into a cloud. How does He get from there to the Father’s right hand? Probably the same way He appeared in the upper room, by immediate appearance. The distance of the universe is as nothing to Him. And He, who makes intercession for us now, sees into our hearts, and hears our prayers from Heaven, is able to move from it to earth with far more ease than the angels He sends to do His bidding on earth. The point is not how He returns to the Father, but that He does return to the Father in a way that enables the disciples to see and know the reality of His ascension.
Their certainty is shown in verses 52 and 53. They worship Him there on the Mount of Olives, and return to Jerusalem in joy far greater than their former despair and faith far greater than their previous doubt. “And they were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen”
Thus, the Gospel closes in majestic triumph. Misunderstood, hated, and murdered, Christ is vindicated in His resurrection and victorious in His ascension.
The head that once was crowned with thorns Is crowned with glory now;
A royal diadem adorns the mighty victor’s brow.
The highest place that heav’n affords Is his, is his by right,
The King of kings and Lord of lords, and heav’n’s eternal Light.