Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,
says Yahweh of Hosts. Zechariah 4:6
Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the King of Glory may come in! Who is this King of Glory?
Yahweh of Hosts: He is the King of Glory. Psalm 24:9-10
Thus far, Luke has given us his preface, his introduction, and his central theme. He now presents the Galilean ministry of Jesus in such fashion as to confront the reader with the various responses made to him. In the light of his purpose (see the Introduction and the discussion of 1:1-4), it is obvious that Luke is seeking to warn the reader against the wrong sort of response to Jesus, and to encourage him to make the right response. His purpose is not merely to tell how the people of Jesus' day responded to him. He faces the reader with the far more important question: What do you think of the Christ?
In doing this, three types of response are presented, one of which is central in each of the three parts which comprise this long section. The fist is the superficial acclaim of the multitudes (4:31-5:26). Jesus' "mighty works" made a deep impression and created a tremendous stir, but did not lead to genuine faith or commitment on the part of many. The second response was that of outright rejection (5:27-6:11). Jesus so challenged the entrenched religious views of his time that the accredited leaders very early in his career set themselves to destroy him. What then? Admired by crowds who do not understand him, and hated by enemies who seek to destroy him, what course will he follow? Will he play on the emotions of the crowds, gaining a following whether they come to true faith or not? And as for his enemies, will he compromise with them to avoid a clash? Jesus does neither. He rather calls to himself the nucleus of the multitudes who are trying to penetrate more deeply into the mystery of his coming--"disciples," Luke calls them (6:13)--and from them chooses twelve Apostles around whom he may build a New Israel. These he patiently works with and teaches until at last they recognize him as their Messiah. This growing insight of faith on the part of those who finally confess him as the Christ, is the third type of response pictured by Luke (6:12-9:50).
This section is made up of a series of miracle stories. Jesus cast out demons, healed the sick, manifested his power over nature in the miraculous draft of fish, and forgave sin. Through frequent repetition, Luke indicates that these events were designed to show Jesus' "authority and power" (4:32, 36; 5:17, 24). His authority, however, was manifested not by magical incantations, occult ceremonies, or mysterious charms, but by his word! "His word was with authority" (4:32). He "rebuked" both demons and disease (4:35, 39, 41). The multitudes asked, "What is this word? For with authority and power he commands . . ." (4:36). Peter says, "At your word I will let down the nets" (5:5). By a word Jesus healed a leper (5:13) and forgave a man's sins (5:20). Here is one whose word carried authority over disease, nature, the world of demonic spirits, the human heart, and sin. In every realm where evil reigns, a mightier authority had come to intervene and to set men free. His authority resided in his Person. It was not the authority of the scribes, which lay in citing passages of Scripture or the tradition which had grown up around the Scriptures (Mark 1:22). It was an authority inherent in who Jesus himself was.
But there is no dwelling on the details of how Jesus' mighty deeds were done. The emphasis in each case is on the response which is made to them. The major interest in this section is on the superficial acclaim of the multitudes, which rises in an ever-growing crescendo of popularity for Jesus. "Reports of him went out into every place in the surrounding region" (4:37). When Jesus tried to stop this rising tide of almost hysterical enthusiasm, "so much the more the report went abroad concerning him" (5:15). This led to the gathering of tremendous crowds who came from the whole countryside--some even from as far as Jerusalem--making it almost impossible for Jesus to teach them or for sick people to get near him (4:40, 42; 5:1, 15, 17-19).
The response of the multitudes was one of curiosity, interest, and desire to get from Jesus what they could. But it was not one of commitment or faith. They were "astonished" because of the authority of his teaching (4:32). They were "amazed" at his command of the unclean spirits (4:36). They were "filled with awe" at the strangeness of the things they had seen (5:26). But, like the people on Mount Carmel who remained noncommitted spectators when Elijah challenged them to decision (1 Kings 18:21), there is no indication that they were minded to "follow" Jesus in the deepest sense. In fact, in a very subtle way, Luke suggests that the presence of the multitudes was really a repetition of the Temptation, where Jesus was faced with the decision between meeting the superficial needs of his people or being his Father's obedient Servant. When the crowds were at their height, "he withdrew to the wilderness and prayed" (5:16). He must fortify his soul once more against the temptation to succumb to the popular acclaim of those who did not understand his mission.
There are, however, two other strands of response here. Peter and his fellow fishermen "left everything and followed him" (5:11). On the other hand, the first opposition of the Pharisees is also introduced (5:21). Here are total commitment and the beginnings of total rejection. The latter of these will be developed in the next section (5:27-6:11). The former will become central in the following section (6:12-9:51).
Two difficult questions confront the modern reader about the materials now under consideration. The first is that of demons. It is easy for the modern mind, with its scientific bent, to look upon the idea of demons as a part of the ancient world view of the New Testament which is now outgrown, and to discard it. For the irreverent, the whole question is branded as superstition. Many believers try to see it as symbolic of human evil, and to salvage some religious meaning while discarding the form.
It is clear that the New Testament writers believed in demons. They carefully distinguished between demon possession and illness. Demons often manifested themselves in physical and psychic illnesses, such as dumbness (Luke 11:14), blindness (Matt. 12:22), epilepsy (Luke 9:39), and clairvoyance (Luke 4:34; 8:28). But to the New Testament writers, these manifestations of demon possession were not ordinary sicknesses. Luke makes a difference between Jesus' healing of "various diseases" and his casting out of demons (4:40-41). He also represents Jesus as distinguishing between authority over demons and the curing of diseases when he sent out the Twelve (9:1).
It is clear, too, that Jesus accepted the reality of demons. In fact, he used his authority over them as the final sign that he had brought the Kingdom of God (Luke 11:20). Either Jesus was accommodating himself to the superstitions of his day at this point, or was mistaken, or demons are real. The first is wholly unlikely. Jesus was quick to dispel superstition with regard to the cause of blindness (John 9:1-3). Furthermore, when he was accused of casting out demons by Beelzebub, he could have turned the argument by explaining that these were merely cases of illness, and had nothing to do with the unseen spirit world (Luke 11:15-26). Instead, he insisted that he had really cast out demons, and used this as evidence of his relation to God. It is hardly possible, then, to attribute Jesus' view of demons to accommodation.
Was he, then, mistaken? There can hardly be any doubt that he lived under the limitations of other men of his time so far as scientific knowledge is concerned. But in the realm of the spirit, where the deepest things of God, man, and evil are concerned, was he thus limited? We have not found him wrong about God or man. May it be that he was right, too, about demons?
Has modern science disproved the existence of demons? It has not, nor can it do so. Science necessarily deals with secondary causes and with the outward manifestations of disordered minds and bodies. What may lie behind these in the realm of unseen spiritual realities is not open to scientific proof or disproof. Categorically to deny the existence of demons may be to assume a range of knowledge about total reality which is not given to man.
To equate demon possession in the New Testament with superstition is difficult, in the light of the entire evidence. The gospel shattered superstition as light dispels darkness (see Acts 13:6-11; 14:11-18; 16:16-18; 19:13-19; 1 Cor. 8:4-6; 1 Tim. 4:7). Granted that demons may be symbolic--since we must always think of suprahuman realms in human terms--yet may they not be symbolic of suprahuman realities? To Jesus and the New Testament writers, the disorder of the world was rooted in unseen, cosmic powers which were using human history as their sphere of action, but which were at war with God on a far grander scale than that (see 2 Cor. 11:14-15; Eph. 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Col. 1:13, 16; 2:15; Heb. 2:14; 1 Peter 3:22). The casting out of demons, therefore, was a sign of Christ's Lordship over these cosmic powers. The fact that demon-possessed people knew him, that his presence created "torment" for them, suggests that their condition was more than an illness (see Luke 4:33-34; 8:28; Mark 3:11). Mental illness would not be worsened in the presence of Jesus; it would rather be quieted, if anything.
When Jesus approached a demon-possessed person, he was doing his work of attacking the stronghold of Satan to take "away his armor" and divide his "spoil" (Luke 11:22). If the struggle of the Temptation was a real encounter with Satan, it is not at all surprising that the demons knew who Jesus was. They had already met him, and already knew that he was the One through whom their destruction would come. To face him was to face their coming executioner. Is this symbolic? Yes, of necessity. But it is symbolic of realities, to deny which is to reduce the cosmic dimensions of the work of Christ, and limit his victory to a realm far less grand than that presented by the New Testament.
The second serious problem here is that of Jesus' miracles. In the light of science, is it possible to believe in miracles? Jesus' healing miracles are now accepted by many, because psychotherapy has demonstrated the tremendous influence of mind over body, and the power of suggestion in overcoming illnesses. But the nature miracles and the raisings from the dead are still suspect, for they cannot be accounted for on such grounds. This sort of reasoning, however, seems quite foreign to the New Testament. The New Testament writers conceived of sickness and the ravages of nature and death as evidences of the reign of Satan. With fiendish delight, exceeding that of modern brutish men who have their fellow men in their power, Satan tortures and racks his victims in countless ways before he destroys them (see Luke 13:16; Acts 10:38; 2 Cor. 12:7). The miracles of Jesus, therefore, were not skillful applications of the force of suggestion. They were rather evidences of divine "power" greater than the power of Satan (Luke 5:17). Jesus' miracles were signs of his Lordship over every realm where Satan had man in his grasp, and were a part of his battle which culminated in the Cross and Resurrection. They were foregleams of the process whereby "he disarmed the principalities and powers . . . triumphing over them" (Col. 2:15).
The miracles, however, were signs to faith only. The New Testament never seeks to prove Jesus' Lordship to the unbelieving by the fact that he did miracles. The deeper question always was: What do his miracles reveal about him? Are they signs that he has occult powers, or that he is demon-possessed? Or do they indicate that he is the One who has come to do battle with the kingdom of darkness and to establish the Kingdom of God? (see Luke 11:15-26). Many who saw his miracles and had no doubt about their reality still did not believe on him. Miracles are signs to faith, but do not produce faith. Furthermore, in the New Testament, they are always related to Jesus' teaching (see Luke 4:31-37; 5:1-11, 15). Jesus was no "wonder worker" who sought to command crowds and produce faith in himself by miracles. His miracles were outward signs of what he taught and of what he was. His works, his words, and his Person must never be separated. To appraise modern religious leaders by their power to do miracles has no relation whatsoever to the miracles of Jesus as set forth in the New Testament.
If Jesus' miracles were signs of his Lordship over the kingdom of Satan, then is it not God's will that Satan's works should be destroyed and that all men should be made well and safe in this world? Is it not a part of the gospel that God wills health and wholeness for everyone? In a broad sense one may answer "Yes" to these questions. All sickness and accident, just as all death, run counter to the will of God. It is his will "to destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8). It is false, however, to conclude from this that God wills health and safety immediately, here and now, for all men. This is to miss the meaning of Jesus' miracles as signs, and to fail to see the tension in the New Testament between what has "already" happened in Jesus and what has "not yet" taken place.
Jesus brought the Kingdom of God, and in the Cross and Resurrection triumphed over the works of Satan. But this triumph is not yet complete. Although "the kingdom of God has come" in Jesus (Luke 11:20), still we are commanded to pray, "Thy kingdom come" (Luke 11:2). Jesus "reigns" now (1 Cor. 15:25), but "we do not yet see everything in subjection to him" (Heb. 2:8). God wills life for all his people, and the resurrection of Jesus is the sign that because he lives we shall live also (John 14:19). Yet we must die. We have the Holy Spirit, who is a pledge of our coming eternal life, but we "groan inwardly as we wait for . . . the redemption of our bodies" (Rom. 8:23).
If God wills to give the Church the signs of the coming Kingdom in miraculous healings of the sick, well and good. But we cannot force God's hand. Faith is no automatic guarantee of complete wholeness here and now. Believers, who have the Spirit, are still subject to the ravages of sickness, accident, storm, earthquake, and war, just as are unbelievers. It may well be that for many who are so cursed by the powers of darkness, God's answer will be what it was to Paul, not to remove the "thorn" but to do something better, to offer a sufficiency of grace which is made "perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:7-9). Jesus' miracles were the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises (see Luke 4:18-21; Matt. 8:17), but they were at the same time the promise of a coming fulfillment. We are saved in hope of that which we do not yet see, and wait "with patience" (Rom. 8:24-25).
A Day of Healing (4:31-44)
Capernaum was a trade center on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus went there from the more remote village of Nazareth to begin his announcement of the Kingdom of God on a wider scale (vs. 31). There, on a Sabbath day, he manifested his authority, both in teaching and in mastering unclean spirits (vss. 32-36). Jesus' presence produced a crisis. The demon recognized in Jesus his enemy, who would ultimately destroy him. Hence, he cried out in horror (vs. 33). This was the result of Jesus' holiness, inasmuch as the demon called him "the Holy One of God" (vs. 34). There can be nothing in common between absolute evil and absolute holiness. The fact that the demon recognized Jesus may well be explained from the fact of the encounter of Jesus with the Evil One at the Temptation (4:1-13). The word "us" may mean that the demon, speaking through the lips of his victim, classes them together, or it may refer to a multiplicity of demons in the man (see Luke 8:30).
Jesus' power over the demon lies not in incantations or magic, but solely in his word (vss. 35-36). A "command" from him is sufficient to master the demon. The visible convulsion as the demon departed shows the malice of the demon and his rebellion at being so summarily dismissed from his home (vs. 35). The fact that "no harm" was done to the man by this departing gesture of the demon, suggests that Jesus is Lord even of the demonic resistance. In his presence, the Evil One is mastered.
Jesus' silencing of the demon's confession of his Messiahship may be accounted for on two grounds. First, this was not a confession of true faith which could bear real witness to Jesus. It was mere forced intellectual assent without religious value. James pointed to the fact that "the demons believe--and shudder" as the sort of faith which is worthless (James 2:19). Paul, like Jesus, refused to tolerate any demonic testimony to his work (Acts 16:16-18). The testimony of demons might awe or frighten people. It could not lead them to a free commitment of their lives to the saving deed of God's love in Christ. Second, the popular misconceptions of the Messiah abroad in Jesus' day made it necessary for him to avoid any public announcement of his Messiahship. This was his secret, later shared by his disciples, who themselves did not fully understand it (Matt. 16:21-23), to be proclaimed publicly only at Pentecost (Acts 2:36). But in spite of Jesus' silencing the demon, still his authority over unclean spirits "amazed" the people, and "reports of him went out into every place in the surrounding region" (Luke 4:36-37).
As Jesus had cast out the demon in the synagogue, he cast out the fever of Simon's mother-in-law in the home with a "rebuke" (4:39). In the light of Luke's later presentation of an ill person as one "whom Satan bound" (13:16), it is quite likely that he here looks upon disease as a work of Satan whose kingdom Jesus had come to destroy (see also Acts 10:38). Here again is a sign that Jesus is the "one stronger than he" who "assails him and overcomes him" (Luke 11:22). The fact that the fever was "high" and that the cured one "immediately . . . rose and served them" (vs. 39), attests the power and the completeness of the cure.
Jewish law forbade the carrying of burdens on the Sabbath (Jer. 17:21-22). At sunset, therefore, when the Sabbath ended, the people brought to him their sick and demon-possessed. All who came were healed, not in a mass healing but through individual attention--"he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them" (vs. 40). To Jesus, individuals were never lost in the crowd. The laying on of his hands was likely a gesture of blessing (see Gen. 48:14; Mark 10:16), which was both a sign of Jesus' interest in each individual and a possible aid to their faith. There was no magic in this, for he could heal without it, even at a distance (Luke 7:1-10). Again Luke distinguishes between Jesus' healings and his casting out of demons (vs. 41).
The purpose of Jesus' withdrawal to a "lonely place" (vs. 42) was, as Mark tells us, for prayer (Mark 1:35). Jesus' power to heal and to cast out demons was not automatic. It came from fellowship with his Father, continually renewed through prayer. Prayer was necessary too, to keep him firm in his decision not to capitalize on the popularity with the masses which came through his mighty works. These works were signs that he had brought the Kingdom of God. They were the "good news" in action. As such, they were a part of the gospel. This is made very clear when the people seek him out and try to dissuade him from leaving. They are impressed by his wonders and would like him to do more. But Jesus replies, "I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose" (vs. 43). Jesus had not come to be a mere wonder-worker, but to preach the good news of the Kingdom. And the miracles were a part of that good news! Those who saw only the wonders but did not see them as signs that Jesus had come to inaugurate the Kingdom of God, missed the point entirely.
The Miraculous Draft of Fish (5:1-11)
The broad shores of the Lake of Gennesaret (Sea of Galilee) offered a suitable place for open-air preaching. The people, however, came in such crowds and strained so eagerly to get within hearing and seeing distance, that Jesus was "pressed" almost into the water (vs. 1). By getting into Simon's boat, Jesus escaped the pressure of the crowd and gained a vantage point from which all could see and hear. What Jesus taught is not mentioned (vs. 3), for the emphasis of the story is on what happens afterward. It must have been, however, what it was on the earlier occasions--"the good news of the kingdom of God" (4:43).
To Simon, Jesus' command to "put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch" (vs. 4) was laughable folly. Nighttime was the time to fish, not the heat of the day. Furthermore, they had just fished all night and had taken "nothing"! It was useless to make another attempt at that time. Yet Peter had seen Jesus heal, and had just heard him preach. The "authority," therefore, both of his words and deeds, led Peter to obey his command, even though it ran counter to all his experience in a calling in which he was a master. "At your word I will" (vs. 5).
The result of Peter's obedient act was overwhelming (vss. 6-7). Whether this was a miracle of knowledge on Jesus' part, or whether the fish appeared there according to his will, we do not know, and it is immaterial. In any case, Peter interpreted the event as something which went beyond the mere human level, and he saw in Jesus One in whom God was active. He changed the address to Jesus from "Master" to "Lord," and fell prostrate before him (vs. 8). Like Isaiah when he caught a glimpse of divine holiness (Isa. 6), Peter had a sudden insight into the sinfulness of his own heart. This was so overwhelming that he seemed unable to endure the presence of Jesus, and cried out, "Depart from me."
What caused this response? The account does not say. It would, however, seem to have been caused by the overflowing grace which he had experienced from Jesus. Peter was an unworthy, sinful man, yet Jesus had entered his boat and, without being requested, had aided him to do what he had toiled for all night without success! He discovered what Paul wrote of later: "God's kindness is meant to lead . . . to repentance" (Rom. 2:4). It is significant that Peter's response to Jesus' miraculous dealing with him lay in the moral and spiritual realm. His attention was not riveted on the marvel. The marvel rather revealed that about Jesus' Person which made Peter see his own sinfulness. In this is seen the true meaning of Jesus' miracles. They were signs of the marvel of his Person.
Peter's instinctive recoil at the holiness of Jesus was met by Jesus' gracious words, "Do not be afraid" (vs. 10). Reverential fear, prompted by unworthiness, always leads to God's gracious acceptance. Only he who knows his unworthiness is worthy of Jesus' companionship. Much to Peter's surprise, Jesus calls him and his companions into permanent fellowship with him in his work. Out of the crisis of self-knowledge and faith comes the call to service. "Henceforth you will be catching men" (vs. 10). The word "catching" means to "capture alive," such as capturing animals for a zoo or taking prisoners alive in war. Its form suggests a continuous process. From now on, the continuous work of Peter and his companions will be to take men alive, to capture them for the Kingdom of God. To this task they gladly responded, leaving everything to follow him (vs. 11). The conditions on which Jesus can use men in his Kingdom are a willingness to work (vss. 2, 10), obedience to his commands (vs. 5), honesty about one's own unworthiness and sin (vs. 8), and a willingness to make whatever sacrifice his service demands (vs. 11).
Healing of a Leper (5:12-16)
Luke has arranged his materials in this section in ascending order, reaching a climax in the last verse (5:26). Would it not have been expected, then, that the incident of the healing of the leper should have been grouped with the healings in 4:31-44? The answer lies in the view of leprosy held in that time. Jesus' behavior toward this leper was more astounding to the crowds than his other healings, and produced an even greater stir (vs. 15).
To the Jews, leprosy was more than a disease. It was a sign of moral uncleanness. It was a stroke of divine judgment for disobedience to the divine will (Num. 12; 2 Kings 5:19-27; 2 Chron. 26:16-21). Consequently, lepers were cast out of the congregation, not only as a hygienic measure but as a sign that they were cut off from fellowship with the people of God. They lived miserable existences, depending on alms of passers-by or on scavenging. Often, for mutual comfort and help they went about in groups (see 2 Kings 7:3; Luke 17:12).
This leper must have heard of Jesus' mighty works, for he came into the town in violation of the Law, and cast himself on the mercy of Jesus for help. He came with a strong measure of faith, assured that if Jesus were willing to do so, he was able to cure him (vs. 12). His hesitation over Jesus' willingness possibly lay in the fact that the moral uncleanness attributed to leprosy had conditioned him to doubt whether even God would be merciful to him. Since only two cases of healing were on record (Num. 12:9-15; 2 Kings 5:1-14), the rabbis taught that only God could heal leprosy (2 Kings 5:7). A stroke of God could be lifted only by him! The confidence of the leper, then, shows clearly that he believed Jesus to have God's power.
Jesus' "touching" the leper was a violation of the ceremonial law. By this gesture, however, he indicated that no one was cut off from his fellowship. He had come not to withdraw from human need, but to be the "physician" to "those who are sick" (Luke 5:31). Yet Jesus had not come to "abolish" the Law. He had come rather to "fulfill" it (Matt. 5:17). And until men understood his grace was really the fulfilling of the Law on a higher level, the Law must be obeyed. Hence, Jesus bade the leper to keep silence about his healing, and to go to the priest to fulfill the law laid down in Leviticus 14. His offering there would prove that Jesus did not hold the Law lightly.
Also, since Jesus used his healing of lepers as a sign that in him the Kingdom had come (see Luke 7:22), it may be that the man's healed condition was to be a sign to the religious leaders in Jerusalem that the Messianic Age was here. Furthermore, Jesus' miracles were attracting too much publicity, which he sought to avoid. He hoped to achieve this end by sending the man silently away. Luke does not indicate, as does Mark, that the man disobeyed Jesus' orders and "began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news" (Mark 1:45). Yet Luke does say that the report "went abroad concerning him; and great multitudes gathered to hear and to be healed of their infirmities" (vs. 15). But Jesus "withdrew to the wilderness and prayed" (vs. 16; see also on 4:42).
A Paralytic Healed (5:17-26)
The story of the paralytic comes last in this section of the Gospel, as the climactic revelation of Jesus' authority and power. He has "authority on earth to forgive sins" (vs. 24). It is this claim which marks the beginning of open hostility to Jesus. The news of Jesus' teaching and works had created such a stir that "Pharisees and teachers of the law" had come all the way from Jerusalem to investigate (vs. 17). The Pharisees were the strict religious party in Judaism, who strongly opposed all outside influences on the Jewish faith, and rigorously insisted on absolute submission both to the Law and to the traditions of the elders which had grown up around it. They were the official interpreters of the Law, and had an almost absolute religious authority over the people. Hence, they felt quite capable of evaluating the work of Jesus, and either approving or condemning him.
The ordinary crowds were augmented on this occasion by the news that rabbis from Jerusalem were present, so that the friends of the paralyzed man could not get him to Jesus. Jesus was deeply impressed with the faith which led them to carry the paralytic on his pallet up to the roof and let him down (vs. 20). The content of the faith was probably the simple confidence that Jesus could heal the diseased victim.
Many see in Jesus' word, "Your sins are forgiven" (vs. 20), evidence that the man's illness had a direct connection with some specific sin, and that he needed forgiveness before he could have faith to be cured. There is nothing in the story to affirm or deny this hypothesis. The fact, however, that the cure seems to be made by Jesus' decision, and is not dependent on the man's faith so far as the record goes, makes the hypothesis doubtful. It is more likely that in the light of the great clamor for physical healing, and because of the presence of the religious leaders, Jesus is proclaiming by this act that he has come to do something deeper than physical healing. He has come to bring God's Kingdom, the central fact of which is the forgiveness of sins.
This was what led "the scribes and the Pharisees" to condemn Jesus (vs. 21). It was plain in the Scriptures that forgiveness of sins was the prerogative of God alone (Isa. 43:25; Pss. 32:2; 51:1-2, 9; 103:3). Here was a man claiming to do what only God could do. This was rankest blasphemy (vs. 21). And yet, if these religious leaders had been open to evidence, might they not have seen something deeper here? Was not the forgiveness of sins a sign of the Messianic Age? (see Isa. 40:2; Joel 2:32; Micah 7:18-19; Zech. 13:1). Could it not be that Jesus' words and deeds evidenced the inbreaking of the Day of Messiah?
To encourage them to think along these lines, Jesus used a logic which should have been convincing to them. It was easier to say, "Your sins are forgiven you," than it was to say, "Rise and walk" (vs. 23). No one could check on the former. The latter was open to examination. In order, therefore, to give them evidence that forgiveness had really taken place in the unseen realm, he gave them a visible sign to authenticate it by healing the man. Their own theology should have led them to accept this evidence. They blamed sickness on sin (see John 9:2), and said that there could be no healing until there was forgiveness. On the grounds of their own theology the healing of the man was evidence that forgiveness had taken place. Then, too, if Jesus had presumed to forgive sins without the right to do so, he would have been a blasphemer and would thereby not have had the power of God. When, therefore, he showed God's power in the healing of the man, was that not evidence that he was no blasphemer, but God's Messiah, and therefore had "authority on earth to forgive sins"? (vs. 24).
For the first time in this Gospel, Jesus calls himself "the Son of man" (vs. 24). This expression is first found in Daniel, where "one like a son of man" is given dominion over all peoples in an everlasting kingdom "that shall not be destroyed" (7:13-14). In the Intertestament period this figure had been emphasized and given a Messianic interpretation. The expression, however, did not have the political overtones of the term "Messiah," from which Jesus shrank. It seemed to be the Messianic designation least likely to provoke his followers to political revolution against Rome. It also furnished Jesus with an indirect title of Messiahship, which could well arouse spiritual curiosity and thus lead men further into an understanding of him.
The climax of this whole section is in the response of amazement, praise, and awe made by the people. "We have seen strange [or, paradoxical] things today," they said (vs. 26). Things seemed contradictory. A paralytic walked. A man forgave sins. But did they understand? They were impressed, but not convinced. There was amazement, but no faith. In a profound sense, with the people Jesus was defeated by his very success.
In this section, Luke selects materials which bring out the opposition of the religious leaders to Jesus. The popular crowds are still present, as are the disciples, but "the Pharisees and their scribes" definitely take the center of the stage (5:30, 33; 6:2, 7). The choice of materials brings out clearly certain basic issues over which Jesus and his enemies differed, and shows that no compromise between them is possible. Jesus' "new wine" cannot be poured into the "old wineskins" (5:37). There is something revolutionary here which is too vital to be contained in the rigid forms which Judaism had produced.
It is well to note that the major point at issue is the meaning of the Old Testament. The "newness" of Jesus is not wholly new in the sense that it has no roots. It is rather a "new" way of looking at the Old Testament. The Pharisees and their scribes were doctors of the Law, experts in the Scriptures. Jesus' sharpest challenge lay in his insistence that they did not understand the Scriptures, and had missed the will of God revealed there.
Three issues dear to the hearts of the Pharisees are brought into the open--eating with the morally unworthy, fasting, and Sabbath observance. At first, the Pharisees take the offensive against Jesus (5:30, 33; 6:2). Finally, however, Jesus seems deliberately to confront them with the issue which lay between them by healing a man under circumstances which he knew would offend them, and by taking the initiative in discussing it (6:6-11). He who brought the Kingdom shatters even our best religious pretensions, and shows that our highest virtues are often idols set in the place of God. We may either accept this shattering as a part of God's mercy in leading us to himself, or resist in self-will and refuse his grace. The Pharisees chose the latter course. They began with "murmuring" and seeking an "accusation" against Jesus (5:30; 6:7). With ever-increasing resistance they ended in "fury," determined to destroy him (6:11).
Feasting with Sinners (5:27-32)
The story grows quite naturally out of the incident preceding it. There Jesus was presented as the One who has power to free men from sin (5:24). Here he is seen at work mastering one of the most difficult forms of sin--slavery to riches. Levi (Matthew, see Matt. 9:9), was a "tax collector." Since he was "sitting at the tax office" (5:27), it is quite likely that he had charge of the customs collections on the trade route which passed near to Capernaum. In this position, he had opportunity to enrich himself, especially at the expense of the poor, who would not know the laws and could not well defend themselves against official corruption. Tax collectors were deeply hated by the Jews, especially by the Pharisees, as traitors and religiously depraved people. In contrast to the Pharisees, who had religious dealings only with the "righteous," Jesus not only had fellowship with Levi but called him into special service in his Kingdom. Luke's statement that he left "everything" suggests the great possessions Levi had to give up to follow Jesus (vs. 28). Here we see Jesus' power to conquer the strong claim which riches make on men.
In celebration of his new-found faith and to introduce his friends to his Lord, Levi invited Jesus to a great banquet in his home (vs. 29). The size of the group of guests indicates that Levi's home was large, and his resources ample. The Pharisees, who by now were watching every opportunity to amass evidence against Jesus, came in during the dinner, probably uninvited. At oriental feasts, uninvited guests often stand around the edges as mere spectators of the proceedings. The Pharisees were shocked by what they saw. In the East, table fellowship is the sign of full acceptance. To eat with another marks him as worthy of one's fellowship. Here was Jesus, who claimed to be the bringer of God's Kingdom, at table with men of evil life. The Pharisees registered their protest with the disciples (vs. 30). Jesus, aware that he was bring watched, answered the charge.
His answer was simple, yet profound. He had come to proclaim the grace of God to men (4:19). Where should he go with this proclamation but to those who needed it--to sinners? He was the physician of the soul who must go to those who were sick, not to those who were well (vs. 31). He did not, of course, mean that there were really any spiritually well, who did not need him. He was ironically referring to the Pharisees who thought they were well, who believed they were already favorites of God, because they tried scrupulously to keep the external matters of the Law. Since they felt no need, there was nothing Jesus could do for them. He had come to call "sinners to repentance" (vs. 32), and it was only those who knew that they were sinners who would hear his voice.
Fasting was not an obligatory religious rite for the Jews. It had, however, become customary with the Pharisees to fast twice in the week (Luke 18:12). John the Baptist also had imposed fasting on his disciples (vs. 33). Fasting was habitually accompanied by prayer (see 2:37). Jesus had prescribed no fasting for his disciples. This, coupled with his free fellowship with those of doubtful life (5:29), led the Pharisees to look upon him as a libertine. They therefore brought their protest.
Jesus' initial answer was another proclamation--if they had ears to hear it--that the Messianic Age had come. He said that if his disciples should fast at that time, it would be as inappropriate as fasting at a wedding. A wedding is a time of rejoicing, of feasting, not of fasting. What lay behind this answer? In Jewish thought, a wedding feast had become a picture of the Messianic Age. Hosea had spoken of the final redemption as a "betrothal" between God and his people (Hosea 2:19-20). John the Baptist had taken up this figure by referring to Jesus as the "bridegroom" and himself as "the friend of the bridegroom" (John 3:29). Jesus used the picture of a "marriage feast" in speaking of the Kingdom (Matt. 22:2-10; 25:1-13). The Christians later spoke of the Church as the "bride" of Christ (Rev. 19:7; 21:2; see also Eph. 5:21-33). Jesus' reply to their question, therefore, was really a proclamation. It would be inappropriate for his disciples to fast, for the "bridegroom" is here. This is a time of rejoicing, for the Kingdom has come!
Jesus added a word, however, which hints strongly of his death. "The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days" (5:35). A deeper mourning will come than the Pharisees now know (see John 16:20). But the Resurrection will turn even that sorrow into joy. Henceforth, even the yearning of the Church for the full and final coming of the Kingdom, expressed in the prayer "Thy kingdom come," will be yearning mingled with joy in the full confidence of its coming. Christians are to rejoice even in "sufferings" (Rom. 5:3; James 1:2, 12; see also Luke 6:22-23).
The inappropriateness of fasting when Jesus was here, therefore, does not rule out fasting entirely. When Jesus was here, the Kingdom was present, But in the period between his death and his Final Coming, the Kingdom, though present, is not here in its fullness. Fasting, therefore, may again be appropriate in the life of the Church as a sign of desire for the final coming of the Kingdom, and as a spontaneous self-discipline undertaken to keep the joy of the Kingdom bright, and to make it possible to share one's goods with the needy (see Isa. 58:1-12).
From fasting, Jesus turns to a broader application of the truth of which he has been speaking. The coming of the Messiah has brought such a radical change that it must find new forms in which to express itself. To try to patch up the old forms would be like tearing a piece from a new garment and sewing it onto an old one. In this way, the patch stands out in ugly fashion on the old garment, and the new garment is also ruined. The old garment of Judaism must be laid aside now for the new garment of the gospel. In fact, the principle of life stirring in the gospel is so strong that it would shatter the old forms of Judaism, as the fermentation of new wine would break old and inelastic wineskins. To try to pour the new life into the old forms would be both to ruin the old forms and to lose the new life (vss. 36-39).
The Sabbath (6:1-11)
Jesus, on several occasions, broke the tradition of the Pharisees by healing on the Sabbath (6:1-11; see also 13:10-17; 14:1-6). His action seems to have been a deliberate challenge to their tradition, for in each instance those whom he healed were chronic cases whose condition might well have gone another day without disaster. Jesus apparently chose to challenge the Sabbath tradition because it furnished an excellent illustration of how far the religious leaders had missed the will of God as revealed in the Old Testament. The strictness with which the Sabbath was observed was a point of pride with the Pharisees. The Sabbath was considered the most valuable treasure of Judaism, next to the Temple.
In the Old Testament, the Sabbath was related both to creation (Gen. 2:2-3; Exod. 20:8-11; 31:12-17) and redemption (Deut. 5:12-15). It was a weekly reminder that the God who had created the universe was present with them, and that he had given them rest by redeeming them from their bondage in Egypt. Hence, the Law read: "The seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work" (Exod. 20:10). The purpose of the Sabbath law was glory to God. The means was cessation from work. The Pharisees, however, had forgotten the purpose, and had turned the means into an end. To do no work was to keep the Sabbath! The glory of God was forgotten. Hence, the Sabbath had become a day of prohibitions, many of which were laughable. Work had to be defined. It was divided into thirty-nine categories, each of which was broken down further. To keep the Sabbath rightly, therefore, one had to remember dozens of specific rules about things not to do!
The Law specifically forbade harvesting on the Sabbath (Exod. 23:21). The Pharisees, therefore, interpreted the spontaneous and innocent act of Jesus' disciples in plucking grain as harvesting (Luke 6:1-2). Jesus' reply was twofold. First, he reminded them of the occasion on which David had eaten the holy bread in the House of God, and had given it to his companions (1 Sam. 21:1-6). This was forbidden in the Law, because the holy bread was for the priests only (Lev. 24:5-9). Here the Scriptures themselves allowed an exception to the Law. A higher law was imposed on the ceremonial law--the law of human need.
This in itself would have been a sufficient reply to the charge of Sabbath breaking. But there is much more involved. It was David who had done this. And Messiah was the Son of David! In Jesus' justification of his action on the basis of David, he was really saying, I have the right to do this, for I am David's Son! Therefore, what was right for David's companions is lawful for my disciples. With his usual avoidance of the term "Messiah," he made this implication more clear by saying, "The Son of man is lord of the sabbath" (6:5). We have already seen that the purpose of the Sabbath was to remind the people of the presence of God and of his redemption. The initial redemption at the Exodus was not sufficient. The real redemptive "rest" to which God was leading them would come only in the Messianic Age (see Heb. 3:7-4:10). By claiming Lordship over the Sabbath, therefore, Jesus was declaring that the Messianic Age had come. God is now present in him! The "rest" which God had promised was the redemption which Jesus had brought! God had ceased from his work of creation, but he was active in his work of redemption, even on the Sabbath. For Jesus to work redemptively on that day, therefore, was a sign that the Messianic Age had dawned in him. To keep the Sabbath rightly was not to memorize rules of what not to do. It was to enter into the freedom and joy of fellowship with him. Jesus was not setting aside the Sabbath law. He was rather fulfilling it.
On another occasion, Jesus took the initiative in pressing the Sabbath question (6:6). He knew that he was being officially "watched" by the Pharisees, in order that they might "find an accusation against him" (vs. 7). One can almost feel the concentrated silence as the man whom he called rose to his feet, stepped to the front of the synagogue, and stood before Jesus. Then Jesus posed a question: "I ask you, is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?" (vs. 9).
The Pharisees could not answer this question without condemning themselves. Even they made exceptions to the Sabbath law in order to help one who was in danger of death. Was God interested only in keeping people from dying? Did not concern over life mean concern over wholeness of life as well? And if the Sabbath was made for God's glory, was it not a proper use of it to bring health to one of his children? After looking each of them in the eye (vs. 10), Jesus restored the man's withered hand. In this way, he was showing in action what he later phrased in words, when he said that all the Law and the Prophets were gathered up in love to God and to one's neighbor (see Matt. 22:37-40; Luke 10:25-28). These two laws take precedence over all lesser laws. The proper observance of the Sabbath, then, is not negative harmlessness, but positive service to God and to man.
While Jesus was "saving" life on the Sabbath, they were using the Sabbath to take counsel how they might "destroy" him. They were so filled with "fury" that their reason was temporarily upset (vs. 11). They could not introduce this new wine into their old wineskins. To save all that was precious to them, they must get rid of Jesus. Their views and his could not exist together. One can already hear the gathering rumble of the later cry, "Away with this man . . . Crucify, crucify him!" (23:18, 21).
Luke has given us a section in which the crowds were central (4:31-5:26), followed by another in which hostility was the major feature (5:27-6:11). Attention shifts now to a third group, the disciples. These were the ones in the multitudes who were avowed followers of Jesus, who had committed themselves to him within the limits possible at that time. Although the crowds are still present, Luke makes a careful distinction between them and the disciples. He mentions "a great crowd of his disciples and a great crowd" (7:11). Jesus told his first parable to"a great crowd" but "his disciples" asked him what it meant (8:4, 9).
But there is an even greater narrowing of interest. From his disciples, Jesus called twelve to be Apostles (6:13). Surrounded by crowds who admired but misunderstood him, and dogged by enemies who were set to destroy him, Jesus here founded a New Israel, to be "built upon the foundation of the apostles" as well as the prophets (Eph. 2:20). The Old Israel had rejected him (6:11). He therefore called twelve Apostles, who would take the place of the twelve tribal fathers of the Old Israel. Out of these a New Israel would grow, who would fulfill the destiny of the Old Israel to be "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people" (1 Peter 2:9). The number of times this group is mentioned in this section indicates clearly that they are central in the author's interest (8:1, 22; 9:1, 10, 12, 18, 40, 43, 46, 49). And even when they are not mentioned, they are in the background, watching Jesus at work and absorbing his teaching, as their confession of him clearly indicates (9:20). There is an even greater narrowing of interest in two places, where Peter, John, and James are singled out from the Twelve for special attention (8:51; 9:28). Instruction of the disciples in the true nature of his mission was such a delicate task that not even all of the Twelve at this stage were ready for it.
The climax of this section is the combination of the Great Confession (9:20), the first announcement of Jesus' suffering (9:22, 44), and the Transfiguration (9:28-36). Like the Baptism-Temptation experience, these are all parts of one whole, which can be understood only as they are taken together. Luke prepares the reader for this climax by indicating that there was a growing necessity for some explanation of Jesus. The climax is the answer to the question, "Who?" (9:18, 20).
This question is introduced several times. The Forerunner sends to Jesus, asking, "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?" (7:19). Guests at Simon's dinner rather contemptuously ask, "Who is this, who even forgives sins?" (7:49). The disciples say one to another: "Who then is this, that he commands even wind and water, and they obey him?" (8:25). Superstitious Herod asks in perplexity: "John I beheaded; but who is this about whom I hear such things?" (9:9). All of this leads up to the climax, where Jesus asks the disciples: "Who do the people say that I am?" (9:18). Then he clinches it all with the decisive question: "But who do you say that I am?" (9:20).
It is an interesting study to trace back through the whole section to see what it was that led the disciples to make a different reply from that of the people. The impact of Jesus' Person through their intimate fellowship with him, the impact of his works and words, and the result of their experience in work for him (9:1-6)--these, interpreted by faith, led to their confession. But behind these there is the abiding mystery of grace, without which no one can confess Jesus as Lord (1 Cor. 12:3).
The Call of the Apostles (6:12-16)
The seriousness of choosing the twelve Apostles is indicated by Jesus' all-night prayer session in preparation for it (6:12). They were the foundation of the New Israel, and it was imperative that they be chosen in accord with the will of God. In Jesus' day, the term "apostle" meant a representative sent by another to act in his name. That is why Jesus could say, "He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me" (10:16). The Apostles were appointed to act in the name and in the power of Jesus after his death (Acts 1:8). The only organizational acts of Jesus were the choice of the Apostles and the giving of the Sacraments. The rest he left to his Apostles following the Resurrection.
The Apostolate included all sorts of men--fishermen, tax collectors, Zealots who had formerly taken the sword against Rome, leaders as well as followers, men of action and men of thought, ready believers and questioners, Galileans and Judeans, even one "who became a traitor" (vs. 16). Why Judas was called will likely forever remain a mystery. The wide variety in Jesus' choice suggests his interest in all sorts of men. It also indicates that the Church is made up of all types of people, whose sole reason for fellowship is their common attachment to him. No congregation made up merely of like-minded people who band together by their own choice is a real church. On the other hand, because of diversities of temperament, gifts, background, interests, and outlook, no congregation could remain together save by the oneness which they find in Jesus.
The Law of the Kingdom (6:17-49)
Having pictured the New Israel which is to succeed the Old Israel, Luke now proceeds to present some of the teaching of Jesus which might be considered the law of the Kingdom to which the New Israel is to bear witness. The New Israel, the Church, is not itself the Kingdom. Its mission is to bear witness to the Kingdom which Jesus has brought, and will bring in its fullness in the future. The ethical teachings here set forth, therefore, are to be understood in the light of Jesus' proclamation of the Kingdom. They are not mere principles of good behavior set forth like those of other ethical teachers. Were they that, they would be only our condemnation, for no one can measure up to the demands of this law. The law of the Kingdom must not be separated from the King of the Kingdom! It was given by the only One who fully obeyed it.
The sermon here is a partial collection of the materials in Matthew's Sermon on the Mount. In line with his purpose, Luke omits much of purely Jewish interest (for example, Matt. 5:17-6:18). Other parts of Matthew's collection Luke scatters throughout his Gospel. It is quite likely that Luke gives more nearly the original setting of the various teachings, while Matthew collects them by subjects. It has been remarked that Matthew is like a florist arranging bouquets, while Luke is like a naturalist who prefers to study his flowers in their native habitat.
The Beatitudes are fewer in number than those of Matthew, and are followed by corresponding woes which are there lacking (vss. 20-26; see Matt. 5:3-12). The woes serve to reinforce the seriousness of Jesus' teaching. The difference in form between Matthew and Luke is more apparent than real. Jesus spoke in Aramaic. Matthew and Luke give Greek translations. Luke probably translates literally, Matthew figuratively. Basically, they mean the same thing. Jesus was not pronouncing blessing on poverty, hunger, weeping, and social ostracism in themselves. It was only as these were incurred through discipleship to him, "on account of the Son of man" (vs. 22), that they brought blessing. Nor was Jesus pronouncing a curse on riches, abundance, laughter, and social acceptance in themselves. It was only as these came merely from the "good things" of this world (see Luke 16:25), and made men content with their own lives instead of seeking fellowship with God, that they were accursed. So poverty of spirit, hungering after righteousness, weeping over one's sin, social exclusion for the sake of Christ--these are the sources of blessing. For many they may well mean literal poverty, hunger, and tears. But neither abundance nor lack comes into question here, apart from its relation to membership in the Kingdom of God. To be satisfied with this world alone, without any yearning for the world to come, is to come to ultimate woe (see Luke 12:16-21; 16:19-31).
The heart of the Law of the Kingdom is love. Christian love is not to be confused with sentiment, a way of feeling. It is rather the will in action for the good of others. Love is, therefore, the opposite of self-centeredness, which is the law of this world estranged from God. To show how thoroughgoing this love is, Jesus commanded, "Love your enemies" (vs. 27). Sentiment might motivate members of the kingdoms of this world to self-effacement for those they love. But Christian love is the denial of the self in the interests even of enemies who hate and curse. The positive nature of such love is to be seen in the fact that the Christian is to "do good," "bless," and "pray" for his enemies (vss. 27-28). Love is not mere passive acceptance of affronts, but positive, aggressive action designed to redeem those who offend.
Four illustrations are given to make this concrete (vss. 29-30). These are, of course, not to be understood as rules to be followed literally on all occasions. They must be interpreted in terms of love, which wills the good of others. It would not be good always to turn the other cheek, and give to beggars. But when resistance must be given or punishment meted out, it should not be the result of the self-centeredness which is prompted by one's own desires, but because it is in the interests of the offender. The measure by which self-interest is to be reversed in the Kingdom is always to place one's self in the position of the other, and act toward him as we would desire if we were in his place (vs. 31). How radical this is may be known only by those who have tried it in a situation where self-interest is involved!
The motivation of Christian love is rooted in God's love for us (vss. 32-36). Love in order to get love, goodness for the sake of receiving goodness, lending in the hope of gain--these are manifestations of self-interest which have no place in the Christian life. Why? Because God is "kind to the ungrateful and the selfish" (vs. 35). Those who "will be sons of the Most High" should imitate him. "Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful" (vs. 36). God's mercy to us is the ground of our mercy to others. He who refuses mercy to others knows neither the depth of God's mercy nor his own unworthiness (see Matt. 18:23-25).
The section on love is concluded by a negative and a positive illustration of its practical outworking. Judge not, condemn not, is the prohibition (vs. 37). Why? Because God alone is Judge. If we, in his mercy, have been "acquitted" by forgiveness of our sins, it ill behooves us to manifest a spiritual superiority to others in judging them. God alone knows the hearts of men, knows all the circumstances which have contributed to an act, knows all the influences which have molded men's behavior, is able rightly to judge responsibility and to impart forgiveness. It is, therefore, not only a violation of love to judge a brother. It is usurpation of a divine prerogative! (James 4:12). This is incongruous in those whose discipleship involves accepting the final Lordship of God, and whose sole motivation should be gratitude for undeserved forgiveness (see again Matt. 18:23-35!). This does not mean that moral judgment of issues is to be obliterated. It means that one's judgment should not shift from issues to persons.
The positive aspect of this is to forgive, and to give freely (vss. 37-38). These are not to be done in order that we may be forgiven and may receive, but because we have already been forgiven and have already received God's bounty. God's grace may flow freely toward us only when we are channels through which it may flow to others (see Matt. 6:14-15; 18:35; Mark 11:25; Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13; James 2:13). Graciousness to a brother shows that we have received grace from God.
The thought now turns to the responsibility of disciples toward others. To become a disciple is to be obliged to lead others to discipleship. Since one will not often lead another deeper into the faith than he himself has gone (vs. 40), it is necessary for him to take care to be at his best. If one is blinded by spiritual pride and by a failure to understand his own situation as a sinner under the judgment of God, albeit a "forgiven" sinner, he will be nothing more than a blind man leading blind men to disaster (vs. 39). To try to exercise moral authority over others without first having subjected one's self to the most careful moral judgment, is like trying to remove a "speck" from the eye of another with a "log" in one's own eye (vss. 41-42). Religious people are prone to get deeply disturbed by relatively unimportant moral defects in others, while being blinded to glaring faults in themselves. The cure for this is the awareness of the enormity of one's own sin before God, and the wonder of his grace that accepts us in spite of the "log" in our eye. In the light of this, we shall deal with the "speck" in our brother's eye not as his judge (vs. 37), but for his healing.
It is especially important, therefore, that one keep his inner life open to God for his continual cleansing and renewing. For our "words" to others can only express what we are within (vss. 43-45). There is a divine law, well illustrated in nature, that fruit corresponds to the quality of the tree on which it grows. It is possible to use words which belie the inner condition of the heart. In the long run, however, such words become like a "noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" (1 Cor. 13:1). A true heart is the only effective means of true service for God.
What is a true heart? It is the disposition to obey. True discipleship is the glad acknowledgment of Christ's Lordship. And this acknowledgment lies in obedience. It is not enough to call Jesus Lord with the lips. One must own his Lordship with an obedient life--"do what I tell you" (vs. 46; see James 1:22-25; Ezek. 33:30-33). Whether one's acknowledgment of Jesus' Lordship is only in word or is in reality will be revealed by the crises of life. If one stands when floods of trouble arise for the sake of Christ, his discipleship has been real. But if not--the "ruin" is "great" (vs. 49). It may be that in the background of the picture here is the Last Judgment, when "all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Heb. 4:13). The reader is left with the seriousness of this sounding in his ears.
The Centurion's Servant (7:1-10)
Capernaum was a border town, between Galilee--ruled at that time by Herod Antipas--and the territory of his brother Philip (3:1). The centurion mentioned in the story was likely in charge of the border guard in the employ of Antipas rather than of the Romans. The fact that he sent Jews to intercede for him (vs. 3), and that Jesus contrasts his faith with that of "Israel" (vs. 9), indicates that he was a Gentile. He was probably a "God-fearer," who had been attracted to Judaism by its monotheism and high ethical teaching, and who even worshiped at the synagogue, but had not been circumcised as a proselyte (see Acts 16:14; 17:4). It seems to have been through the Jews that the centurion heard of Jesus and his work (vs. 3). He was a man of generous and compassionate nature (vss. 5 and 2).
Word of Jesus' coming convinced the centurion of his willingness to help. Humility and a sense of unworthiness led him to send friends to Jesus to tell him that he need not bother coming to his house. If Jesus would only speak the word of healing, his servant would recover (vss. 6-7). His confidence in the authority of Jesus' word evinced a remarkable faith. As a soldier he knew the effect of authoritative commands. When his superiors ordered, he obeyed. When he ordered, his subordinates obeyed (vs. 8). This reveals his faith in Jesus' authority. He believed that if Jesus commanded the disease to depart, his word would be obeyed. The stress of the story lies less on the healing of the servant (vs. 10) than on the centurion's faith (vs. 9). It is significant that the first incident Luke records after the forming of the New Israel and the setting forth of its Law (6:12-49), presents a Gentile manifesting the sort of faith which makes one a member of it. "So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham" (Gal. 3:7).
The Raising of the Widow's Son (7:11-17)
In this story, death is seen at its worst. It had struck youth, claiming its prey long before the lad had lived out a normal span. Death could conceivably be a mercy in old age. But here death had struck a particularly vicious blow, taking the only son of a widow (vs. 10). Widows in that day were pitiable in any case, for they had no legal rights, and could not receive any inheritance. They were dependent on their sons, or the relatives of their husbands, whose support could not be legally demanded. The death of her son had left the widow defenseless in a cruel world. With no male heir, the family name would be cut off in Israel. Here is the tragedy of humanity at its worst. The widow's tears were eloquent testimony to the lordship of death.
Jesus' final battle with death was yet to come. It would come in the Cross and the Resurrection. The restoring of the young man, therefore, did nothing to solve the problem of death, for he would have to die again. Jesus seems to have acted here purely out of compassion for the mother (vs. 13). There is no display, no dramatic calling attention to what he is doing--merely an authoritative word which calls the young man back to life, and the simple statement: "And he gave him to his mother" (vs. 15).
The response of the crowd was twofold: fear, which unusual tokens of the presence of God always awaken; and praise to God (vs. 16). "God has visited his people" in the form of "a great prophet." Two Old Testament prophets had restored dead sons to their mothers (1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:18-37). Now God was acting again through a prophet. But Luke intends to suggest that, although Jesus did not do this miracle for the purpose of proclaiming his Messiahship, yet it was a sign that in him the Kingdom of God had drawn very near.
For the first time, Luke calls Jesus "Lord" (vs. 13). This was the favorite description of Jesus in the Early Church, and corresponds to the name for God in the Old Testament. Although the crowds say only a "prophet" at work, the Twelve must have seen something more. Surely this event was a major factor in bringing them to confess Jesus as the Messiah (9:20).
This event has been explained by some as the awakening of the young man from a trance, and by others as a mere story symbolic of the spiritual resurrection which Jesus brings. If the first were true, one would have expected Jesus to enlighten the people on the evils of premature burial! The second is wholly contrary to the nature of the Gospel, which purports to be presenting events, not symbolic stories (1:1). There is no question that the Early Church looked upon this as [an] historic event. In the light of their view of his Person, this was no problem. In spite of our scientific knowledge which they did not have, the final question for us is whether we share their understanding of Jesus' Person.
The Baptist's Question (7:18-35)
John's problem arises from the report of his disciples brought to him in prison (vs. 18). This report is the judgment of the people which has spread throughout the country (vs. 17). "A great prophet has arisen among us!" (vs. 16). A "great prophet"? John had announced Jesus as more than a prophet (3:15-17). He himself was the forerunner of the promised Messiah. Jesus, therefore, was to baptize with the Holy Spirit. He would purge Judaism of its unfruitful members. He would bring God's harvest, when the wheat would be gathered into the granary and the chaff burned (3:9, 17). Now, John is not so sure.
Attempts have been made to lift any element of doubt from John, by suggesting that he sent his disciples to Jesus for their sake, or that he was impatient for Jesus to manifest himself and was urging him to do so. It is better to take the story at face value. Jesus' answer was made to John, not to his disciples. Furthermore, the rebuke of verse 23 suggests that Jesus sensed in John's question a real lack of understanding.
Other Old Testament leaders had their weak moments (Num. 20:12; 1 Kings 19:4; Jer. 20:14-18). Why, then, was it not possible that John should have doubted? Jesus was not fulfilling the program John had set up for him. He had not purged Israel, nor shown his power against Israel's enemies. He was doing only what earlier prophets had done, healing and raising the dead. Furthermore, the people did not share John's earlier judgment, for they saw in Jesus only a prophet. Then, too, John was in prison, and Jesus had done nothing to rescue him. Yes, John's question was poignant and real. "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?" (vs. 19).
Jesus' reply, in effect, was to tell John to examine what he was doing and teaching--"what you have seen and heard" (vs. 22)--in the light of the Old Testament. Jesus' description of his work was taken from the prophecy of Isaiah (Isa. 29:18-19; 35:4-5; 61:1). He was telling John that he was fulfilling what the prophet had written of the Messianic Age. John would have to examine the evidence, and believe. There is no direct, authoritarian answer which Jesus would make. Faith is insight, not credulity. Jesus ends with an appeal for personal trust in himself (vs. 23).
Jesus' interpretation of John's ministry was intended to throw light on his own. John was in prison and was soon to die. The significance of his ministry now lay in the response of the people to Jesus, whom John had announced. They would not have followed John to the wilderness if he had been a weak or merely sensational man (vss. 24-25). No, John was a true prophet, and more than a prophet. It was he whom Malachi had described as the one who should prepare God's people for the Messianic Age (vss. 26-27). By virtue of his position as the last of the pre-Christian prophets, who was privileged to announce the immediate arrival of the New Age, John had the most important position in the unfolding of God's plan until that time. But the Kingdom which Jesus had come to establish was so much superior to all that had gone before, that the very least in it would be more privileged than John (vs. 28).
Verses 29 and 30 are considered by many to be a comment inserted in the midst of Jesus' remarks. It is difficult to know. In any case, these verses indicate a twofold response to the ministry of John, which is paralleled in the response to Jesus (vss. 36-50). The response of rejection is in no way the fault of God, but is solely the fault of unbelieving men. In God's providence, John came with an ascetic life and a message of judgment, and was rejected as having been demonically inspired. Jesus, on the other hand, came with a wholly different method, and was accused of gluttony (vss. 33-34). The fault lay in those who rejected them, whom Jesus describes as petulant children who refuse to play, whether the game be wedding or funeral (vss. 31-32). But God's wisdom is vindicated in the fact that there were those who heard both John and Jesus, and were responding to the inbreaking of the Kingdom according to their light at that moment (vs. 35).
Simon and the Sinful Woman (7:36-50)
This story is a vivid illustration of the dual response mentioned in the preceding section. Simon is one of those who "rejected the purpose of God for themselves" (vs. 30), while the sinful woman is one of the "children" who vindicate God's wisdom in his method of working (vs. 35). This is one of three occasions, mentioned only by Luke, when Jesus dines with Pharisees (see 11:37; 14:1). Although Jesus kept company with outcasts, there is no evidence that he avoided the more privileged. Simon's motive in inviting him to dinner is not mentioned. The fact that the common courtesies were not extended to Jesus (vss. 44-46) has suggested to some that Simon invited him out of mere curiosity.
On this occasion a woman did what is often done in the Orient to this day, slipped in uninvited. She was a woman of evil reputation. The fact that she came prepared to anoint Jesus indicates that she had heard him preach and had already found forgiveness through him. The costly ointment she brought, and her acts of reverence and gratitude (vs. 38), were her thank offering for the new life she had found. When Simon saw that Jesus accepted all this, he could not believe that Jesus was even a prophet, for he did not seem to know what sort of woman this was. Jesus' reply, however, showed Simon that he knew what sort of man he was.
With a simple story, designed to show that love grows out of forgiveness, Jesus led Simon to confess the principle that the greater the forgiveness, the greater the love (vss. 41-43). Then he applied it straightforwardly. If one knows the depth of his own sin and the greatness of God's forgiveness, he cannot but love as this woman did. Those who, like the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal, feel that by their own efforts they have earned the right to the Father's presence, never come into freedom and joy. Their faith is a cold, calculated, impersonal relationship. But the prodigals, who know they are not "worthy," who deserve only condemnation, and who yet find a forgiving welcome from the Father (15:11-24), are those whose love runs deep. It is they whose "sins are forgiven" and remain so, as the form of the Greek verb suggests (vs. 48). Faith, not works, is the basis of their salvation (vs. 50). And faith which accepts God's unmerited forgiveness in Christ issues in a love for him of which the highest human loves are but a pale reflection.
Right Hearing (8:1-21)
At this stage, Jesus had become more and more an itinerant preacher, going from place to place with "the good news of the kingdom," and followed by great crowds (vs. 1)....The wealth of some of them [the women] supported Jesus and his disciples (vs. 3).
Jesus made a new departure in method at this point. He began to teach largely in parables. A parable is something intended to throw light on something else. It tells a story which in itself means one thing, but really points to something beyond itself. Only those understand it who see that to which it points. Why did Jesus now begin to speak in parables? A ready answer would be: To make truth plain. His own explanation, however, indicates that this answer will not do. In fact, it looks as though his purpose were to veil truth (vs. 10). But would Jesus ever deliberately seek to keep the truth from men? The fact is, Jesus used parables both to reveal and to conceal truth. Whether truth was made plain or was hidden depended solely on the quality of spiritual curiosity and receptivity of the hearer!
The situation in which Jesus began to use parables, and the meaning of the first parable used, must be kept clearly in mind. Luke indicates many times that during this period of Jesus' ministry, he was besieged by crowds (7:9, 11, 17, 24; 8:4, 19, 40, 45). Reports of him had spread through the whole of "the surrounding country" (7:17). Consequently, at the very time when he began to teach in parables, "a great crowd came together and people from town after town came to him" (8:4). Had Jesus' purpose been merely to win a popular following, success would have been his. But his purpose was to lead men to see that he had brought the Kingdom of God, and to accept his summons to enter it. In a sense, therefore, Jesus was defeated by his very success, for his popularity at that moment was obscuring the real issue. Furthermore, the time was growing short. John was already in prison and was soon to be executed (Mark 6:17-29). Jesus knew that a like fate awaited him. How could the crowds be sifted? How could mere curiosity seekers, or those motivated purely by self-interest, with no understanding or intention of true discipleship, be separated from those of serious intent?
This could be done by parables. By those who had no ears to hear, the story could be shrugged off. To those whose ears were sensitive to higher truth, it would suggest a deeper meaning about which they could think further, and about which they could, at least, ask for an explanation (vss. 9-10). The hearer determines the specific purpose of a parable for himself. Therefore, said Jesus at the end of his first parable, if you have ears, use them! (vs. 8).
The point to the parable of the Four Soils reinforces this. It is a parable on right hearing. The four soils are all types of response to truth. All involve those who have heard. The seed is God's Word--his setting forth of this deepest thoughts and intentions toward men. This word falls with equal force on all human hearts. Some are so hardened that there is no response (vs. 12). Others are superficial, and do not endure (vs. 13). Still others are double-minded, allowing the affairs of this world to choke out their interest in the unseen world (vs. 14). But there are those who hear aright. They receive God's Word into the soil of their hearts and let it grow to maturity (vs. 15).
What is involved in their right hearing? Basically, it is to receive the Word with faith--to believe that Jesus has brought the Kingdom of God (vs. 12). This is the beginning. But the seed must be held fast in the heart to germinate, and must be cultivated with patience, to bear fruit (vs. 15). This leads to witnessing (vss. 16-18), and to obedient service (vss. 19-21).
To make one's faith a secret which never comes to light would be as self-contradictory as to light a lamp in order to cover it. The "secrets of the kingdom" (vs. 10) are secrets not because they are not announced, but because those who hear them often refuse to listen. Christianity is an open, a confessed faith. One must, therefore, take heed that he hears aright, for this makes him capable of hearing more, and thus of becoming a better witness. Careless hearing and poor witnessing lead to a degenerative process whereby one loses "even what he thinks that he has" (vs. 18). For the way to maintain a right relationship to Jesus is to obey what is heard (vs. 21). There are no special privileges of kinship. All who "hear the word of God and do it" are brothers to the Son of man.
Right Hearing Illustrated (8:22-56)
Four miracles are here brought together. They illustrate Jesus' Lordship over nature, demons, disease, and death. Their location in the Gospel, however, and certain features which bind them into a unity, indicate that they have a special relation both to the materials which have gone before, and to the purpose of the whole section (6:12-9:51). Luke has earlier illustrated Jesus' Lordship over all the realms here presented (4:31-5:26; 7:11-17). Here these play a special role. The earlier part of this chapter has dealt with teaching about right hearing. The events here illustrate right hearing. In three of them, faith is mentioned as the right response (vss. 25, 48, 50). To hear Jesus' word aright is to connect it with his Person, and to believe it because one believes him. The response of the Gerasene people is an example of how not to hear (vs. 37). By contrast, the obedience of the man healed, even though Jesus' command ran counter to his own desire, suggests another aspect of right hearing (vs. 39).
Another feature common to all four events which does not stand out prominently, but is nonetheless of extreme importance in the light of the coming Great Confession (9:20), is the centrality of the disciples. It is they who are with him in the storm, and respond with fear and wonder (vs. 25). They are with him, too, in the land of the Gerasenes (vs. 26), observing, listening, pondering. In connection with the healing of the diseased woman, Peter is singled out for attention with one of his characteristic efforts to correct Jesus (vs. 45). It is Peter, John, and James who are taken into the room where Jairus' daughter is raised (vs. 51). In thus singling out the disciples, Luke intends to suggest that these events had a tremendous influence in leading them to the faith expressed in the Great Confession (9:20).
Luke does not indicate it, but the purpose of Jesus' crossing the lake was to get some rest from the pressure of the crowds who thronged him continually, and led him to near exhaustion (see Matt. 8:18; Mark 4:35-38). As soon as they sailed "he fell asleep" (vs. 23). The Lake of Galilee, around 700 feet below sea level, is cupped between hills which are "furrowed with ravines." Changes of temperature produce violent winds which rush through these ravines, causing sudden dangerous squalls (vss. 23-24). Jesus' stilling of the storm was a Messianic act. Where else could such a wonder be told so simply, with such dignity and reserve? It is not designed to awaken faith by a marvel but to deepen the faith of those who have already believed.
Jesus here shows his divine power. Lordship over nature, which is clearly attributed to God alone, is manifested by Jesus. More than that, in Jesus' day the peril of the sea's raging in storms was commonly attributed to demonic forces. The stilling of the waves, therefore, was another manifestation of Jesus' Lordship over the demonic. Jesus' rebuke of the disciples' lack of faith (vs. 25) indicates that they should already have known his Lordship over nature and over demons (see 5:1-11). Out of the experience, however, their faith was quickened, for their fear of the storm gave way to the fear which is produced by a sense of the divine Presence (vs. 25). And their suspicion deepened that One who could manifest God's power in this fashion was more than an ordinary man. The Great Confession is not far off!
No sooner did the group arrive at the opposite shore than Jesus was confronted by a demonic challenge (vss. 26-27). This was likely in Gentile territory, where Jesus had gone in the hope of rest. Even so, he could not refuse to meet the needs of one so torn by Satan. As was seen before (4:31-44), the presence of Jesus caused "torment" to the possessed, for Jesus and the demonic are in conflict, and Jesus is victor (vss. 28-29). "Legion" signifies the terrible plight of this victim (vs. 30).
The request of the demons not to be cast into the "abyss," and Jesus' permission for them to enter the swine, faces us with problems to which there is no clear answer. We can neither prove nor deny that evil spirits may act on beasts. Without evidence to deny it, it is best to accept the record here. Perhaps the uncontrolled terror of the swine indicates something of the dreadful plight of the man who was victimized by such destructive forces. As to why Jesus allowed the demons to destroy the swine which were the property of others, we again move in the realm of shadows. It may have been to give the victim some visible reassurance of his release from demonic bondage. This is, however, not a unique problem. It is merely a part of the larger problem of why God permits many manifestations of evil which seem unjust.
If God is Lord of nature, why does he not overrule its viciousness? The Bible hints that nature is cursed because of man's sin (see Gen. 3:17), and that it is included in the final redemption (see Rom. 8:19-23; Isa. 11:6-9; 65:17; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21:1). Just as in the stilling of the storm Jesus manifested his Lordship over the disorder of nature, yet reserved his final victory over it until the end, so here he manifests his Lordship over the demonic, yet reserves his destruction of demonic powers to the end. Matthew reports the demons as saying: "Have you come here to torment us before the time?" (Matt. 8:29). That is the time of the final destruction. Why Jesus ruled the demons, and yet permitted them to continue their existence even in swine, is only part of a much larger problem. Reverent hesitancy at this point is preferable to faulty solutions or brash denials.
The response of the Gerasene people (vss. 34-37) is an eloquent revelation of the sin of our own hearts. They could not deny the saving effect of Jesus on their formerly wretched neighbor. But One who produced such results in such a disturbing way was One with whom they preferred to have nothing to do. Jesus always disturbs complacency, even demands the sacrifice of material goods, that his saving work may be done. Since his presence is so dangerous, it is easier to ask him to leave.
Jesus left at their request, but they could not be rid of him so easily. His own work was largely confined to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. 15:24). But he left behind him in this pagan territory a witness, through whose testimony the people would still have to reckon with him. Jesus' Lordship was not confined to Israel. He was Lord of the Gentile world as well. It was quite natural that the man who had been so marvelously delivered should want to stay near Jesus. Perhaps he feared that the demons would return and victimize him again. And if Jesus were not there--? The safeguard against this was to be at work for his Lord (vs. 39). Unless faith issues in obedient action it is no permanent safeguard against evil (see Luke 11:24-26).
Jesus returned to crowds and a request for healing (vss. 40-42). The request was desperate, for the child "was dying" (vs. 42). The interweaving of the story of the healing of the diseased woman (vss. 43-48) with that of Jairus' daughter, however, indicates the sovereign certainty of Jesus. He was not panicked into haste. With regard to his ability to help, it makes little difference whether the child was "dying" or "dead."
How Jesus was conscious of the power that had gone forth from him, we cannot know. He may have seen the woman's act, unknown to her, then made her volunteer the information for her good. On the other hand, he may have felt power going from him without seeing her act. His purpose in bringing the healing of the woman to light, even over the protest of Peter (vs. 45), lay in the fact that her healing was not as important as her personal relation to him. She seems to have had a rather magical idea that a touch of his garment was all that was needed to restore her to health. And this it did! But Jesus wanted to lead her to a faith which rested in personal acquaintance and open confession of him. Then she could go with a deeper "peace" than that which mere recovery of health could bring (vs. 48).
Jesus' arrival at the home of Jairus confronted him once more with the terrible lordship of death over human life (see 7:11-17 and discussion there). The news of the child's death suggests the finality of man's submission to it (vs. 49). She is dead. It is too late. And when death says his last word, man is dumb. And how senseless death is! She was only twelve years old (vs. 42). And an only child! But senseless or not, death is master. And when Jesus suggests that the child might be awakened from death's slumber, he is ridiculed (vs. 53). Putting out all curiosity seekers, taking only the parents and three of his most intimate disciples, Jesus entered the death chamber, and turned death into life (vss. 54-55).
The Apostolic Mission and Herod's Question (9:1-9)
Two things lay behind Jesus' sending out of the Twelve. For one thing, the time of his own ministry was short. One could not stir up the multitudes as Jesus had done without soon running afoul of the authorities. John's experience had shown that. In order, therefore, to make his announcement of the Kingdom as widespread as possible in the shortest time, Jesus commissioned and empowered his Apostles to go forth in his name. The second reason for their commission was that they should begin preparation for the work they must take over after Jesus' death. Some experience of work in his name during his lifetime was necessary before they could carry on alone following the Resurrection.
The instructions given were not for their permanent work, but only for this hurried mission. They were to take no provisions, but to live on the generosity of those to whom they went (vs. 3). They were to be content with their lot, not moving about from house to house to seek better entertainment (vs. 4). They were not to press their message. It was an announcement of the Kingdom's presence. If men would not believe it, they were to shake off the dust from their feet--an oriental gesture of dissociation and judgment--and go elsewhere (vs. 5). The aim was to take the "good news" as far as possible in the time allowed.
This widespread activity stirred Herod Antipas to attention (vs. 7). He had surely heard of Jesus' activity before this. But the movement could no longer be ignored. The people were suggesting that Jesus was one of the old prophets returned, or Elijah promised by Malachi (Mal. 4:5), or even John the Baptist raised from the dead (vss. 7-8). Herod had beheaded John. He thought he had thereby rid his kingdom of Messianic troubles. But here they were again. "Who is this about whom I hear such things?" he asked (vs. 9). And he sought to see Jesus. That privilege was not granted him until the day of Jesus' death (23:6-12). His behavior at that time indicates that his desire had no good purpose.
The Feeding of the Five Thousand (9:10-17)
The withdrawal to Bethsaida upon the return of the Twelve was perhaps to seek quiet for rest and further instruction. An even stronger motive, however, was to escape Herod, who was now seeking to see him. Bethsaida was outside Herod's territory. It could not be that Jesus should "perish away from Jerusalem" (13:33). Hence, he must avoid falling into Herod's hands as John had, and thus meeting his fate prematurely.
Mark tell us that Jesus' withdrawal was by boat, and that the crowds went by foot around the lake to be on hand when he and the Twelve arrived (Mark 6:30-33). The leisure Jesus sought he could not find. Yet he welcomed the crowds and continued his work of announcing the Kingdom and healing (vs. 11). The feeding of the multitudes is the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels. There is no doubt that the disciples looked upon it as of extreme importance. Wherein did its meaning lie?
It, of course, suggests that Jesus is concerned about the physical needs of men. Although he would not make bread for himself, and would not use miracles to gain a following (4:3-4), yet on this occasion he demonstrated his concern for legitimate physical necessities. From this the Church learns its obligation to minister as it may to human hunger and need in all its forms (Gal. 6:10). But Luke connects this miracle directly with the disciples' confession of Jesus' Messiahship. John does the same thing (6:66-71), and Matthew seems to see some vital connection between the two (16:5-20). What is the relationship?
The clue lies in the fact that the Jews thought of the coming of the Messiah under the picture of a Messianic banquet. Jesus himself spoke of sitting "at table in the kingdom of God" (13:29). When another mentioned the blessedness of eating bread in the Kingdom of God, Jesus told the parable of the "great banquet" (14:15-24). One of the Old Testament passages about the Servant of the Lord spoke of the "day of salvation" as a time when God's people should "not hunger" (Isa. 49:8, 10; see also Rev. 7:16). The feeding of the five thousand, then, is an enacted parable announcing the arrival of the Messianic Age. They had already been fed at the hands of Messiah. They had had a foretaste of the coming Messianic banquet. The people, however, were concerned only with the stilling of their hunger, and did not read the deep meaning of this (see John 6:26-27). The coming confession of the disciples (Luke 9:20) suggests that they had seen in the miracle a sign of a deeper reality.
The Great Confession (9:18-27)
Jesus' announcement of the Kingdom had been made in Galilee. Herod was becoming restive over him (9:7-9), and all signs pointed to the fact that a fate similar to that of John awaited him. Hence he withdrew to the north, clear out of Herod's realm, to Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:27). But he must finally go to Jerusalem to proclaim himself there as the bringer of God's Kingdom. There at the center of the Old Israel he must meet his fate. The question now is whether the Twelve have come to any real understanding of him, beyond that of the masses. Is there a nucleus of the New Israel prepared to follow him to Jerusalem, to see his final rejection by the Old Israel, and yet come through it as permanent witnesses to him? In other words, is there a germ of life in the New Israel which, however weak it may be, is vital? The importance of this question may be seen in the fact that Jesus withdrew from the multitudes to be alone with the Twelve, to prepare for this critical moment in prayer (vs. 18).
Jesus had not openly declared himself as Messiah. The demons had witnessed to him (4:41; 8:28), and he had claimed that in himself the signs of the Messianic Age were fulfilled (7:22). His works, too, as we have seen, were indirect testimonies to his Messianic significance. But, true to his decision at the Temptation (4:1-13; see discussion), he had taken no measures to proclaim himself openly, either by wonders or by force. Knowledge of his true nature must rest on faith, and faith alone. Hence, Jesus draws from the disciples their confession, rather than putting it into their mouth.
Peter's confession shows that the disciples had seen in Jesus more than the masses had seen (vs. 20; see also vss. 7, 8, 19). The living germ was there. There was the nucleus of a New Israel, who had heard the voice of God and had seen his redemptive action in Jesus. Although Jesus would be rejected by the Old Israel, he did have a people--the true people of God--who had responded to his call to repent and to enter the Kingdom he had brought. As we shall see later, the disciples did not understand all that their confession meant. They had much yet to learn. And there would be a moment when the germ of the New Israel would be so deeply buried under misunderstanding, sorrow, and disillusionment, that it appeared to be completely killed (22:54-23:49; Matt. 26:56). But on Easter morning it broke through the sod again. The New Israel became a community witnessing to their faith (24:48; Acts 1:8).
Until then, the disciples were to keep silence about their confession (vs. 21). It involved something quite other than they thought. Like a bombshell exploding in their midst, Jesus for the first time announced that he must suffer, and on the third day be raised (vs. 22). He was Messiah, as they had confessed, but he must now reinterpret their conceptions of Messiahship. The Messiah was to fulfill his mission by suffering. He was to reign by the power of sacrificial love. He was to be authenticated as Messiah by God through a resurrection after death. In his announcement of suffering Jesus therefore changed their word "Messiah" into "Son of man," a term which did not have all the mistaken political implications of the word "Messiah" (vs. 22; see also 5:24 and discussion). All this the disciples could not at this time understand. More than once Jesus told them, but it was meaningless (9:44-45; 17:25; 18:31-34). Only after his death, and after God's vindication of him in the Resurrection, could be explain it to them in all its fullness of meaning (24:25-27, 44-49). Then, after God had proclaimed him Messiah in the true sense, they were to placard it publicly to the ends of the earth (Acts 2:14-36). Until then they were to be silent.
But not only was Jesus to suffer. His people, too, must follow in his steps (vss. 23-26). One must "deny" himself. This is the same word used to describe Peter's denial later. As Peter disclaimed any relationship to Jesus, each follower must decisively renounce all obligations to the old self, and "put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God" in Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:24). This self-renunciation is accomplished through taking up the cross. The figure is taken from the Roman custom of having a condemned person carry his own cross to the place of execution, a custom which the Galileans knew only too well. To take up one's cross, then, is voluntarily to lift to one's shoulders the instrument of his own execution, and to follow Christ to the death. Paul put it clearly: "I have been crucified with Christ" (Gal. 2:20). This is a "daily" process, a progressive and continuous crucifixion of one's natural self-centeredness (vs. 23). This involves sharing the humiliation of Christ, that we may also share his glory when his Kingdom comes in its fullness (vs. 26).
The meaning of verse 27 is impossible to determine with any finality. It has been variously referred to the Transfiguration, the Resurrection and Ascension, Pentecost, the spread of Christianity, the growth of Christian theology, the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and the Second Coming. The fact that only some to whom Jesus spoke would be living seems to rule out the first three of these. The spread of the Church, the growth of Christian theology, and the destruction of Jerusalem might fill the time requirements, but they were hardly the coming of the Kingdom of God, only signs of it. That Jesus meant his Second Coming seems ruled out by the fact that he refused to make any predictions as to its date (Mark 13:32; Acts 1:7). It is perhaps best to admit that we do not know what it means.
The Transfiguration (9:28-43a)
At least three attitudes toward this event are possible. One is to explain it away--which has often been done--as merely a symbolic story without historic reality. A second is to try to explain it by some combination of natural factors, such as hazy sunlight through morning clouds and the suggestiveness of the half-conscious state between waking and sleeping. The third is to confess a mystery which we do not understand, but before which we worship. The mystery took place in prayer (vs. 29). It is best understood in prayer. The appearance of Jesus here can be likened only to that of his resurrection body, which was both like and unlike his normal appearance (24:36-43; John 20:1-21:23). Something of the glory of the world of his Father, which he had left to take the form of a Servant, momentarily broke through, and the three disciples who were with him had a foretaste of the post-Resurrection appearances (vs. 28).
The significance of the Transfiguration was at least fourfold. First, it confirmed Jesus in his decision to go to Jerusalem to suffer, which he had but a few days earlier announced to his disciples (vs. 22). Second, it both confirms the disciples in their confession of his Messiahship (vs. 20), and commands them to accept Jesus' new teaching about his suffering. "Listen to him!" said the voice (vs. 35). Unreasonable as his announcement of his suffering may seem, and incongruous though it may be with your idea of Messiahship, nevertheless listen to what he is saying, and believe it! You are the ones who do not know what you are saying (vs. 33). Jesus does. Listen to him! Third, the appearance of Moses and Elijah, the founder and the reformer of the Old Israel, representing the Law and the Prophets, indicates that Jesus is the fulfillment of all that they were anticipating (vss. 30-31). What the Law intended, and what the prophets promised, is now here in its fullness in Jesus. Fourth, the fact that Moses and Elijah were talking with Jesus about the "departure [literally, the "exodus"], which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem" (vs. 31), shows that the fulfillment of the plan of God is to come through the Cross. Jesus is shown to be God's eternal Son, not in spite of the Cross, but precisely because of it. The whole plan of God from the beginning was moving forward to this event. Jesus was the lamb "destined before the foundation of the world" (1 Peter 1:19-20). The partial deliverance of his people wrought by God at the first Exodus is now to be completed in the new Exodus--the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.
The healing of the epileptic boy is definitely bound in with the Transfiguration. Raphael in his great painting of the Transfiguration has caught this connection by placing both scenes on one canvas. The scene of glory on the Mount reveals the wonder and beauty of God's world, where sin and death have no place. The scene of wretchedness below reveals the terribleness of the human plight, where man is subjected to evils with which he cannot cope. Had Christ, as Peter suggested (vs. 33), stayed on the Mount of glory, the scene below would have remained unchanged. He had to leave the height, descend once more into the valleys of human need, and confront again the unbelief and stupidity of his own followers (vss. 45-50), the forces of evil which had man in their power, the rejection of his people, the blindness of the religious leaders, the mockery of the powers of world empire. All this was brought to a focus in the Cross.
The One who at the Baptism (3:21-22) had chosen to identify himself with the sin of man, must carry this identification through to its logical consequence. "The Son of man must suffer" (vs. 22). To come directly from the Mount of Transfiguration to this tragic scene of unbelief and helplessness brought sharp pangs of suffering to Jesus, which must have been a prelude to the Cross. "How long am I to be with you?" (vs. 41) are words of one who is living in a foreign exile, far from his native habitat, and who is longing for the coming of the Kingdom, when his suffering will be over and his victory complete. The people were astonished at the divine majesty with which Jesus achieved what his disciples could not. But he immediately reminded his disciples that more is involved in his ministry than causing people to marvel at his mighty deeds (vs. 44). He must lay hold of the powers of evil in costly action to break their grip forever. Therefore, very shortly he will "set his face to go to Jerusalem" (vs. 51).
Weaknesses of the Disciples (9:43b-50)
The disciples had come a long way. They had surpassed the masses in their understanding of Jesus (vss. 18-20). They had confessed him as Messiah. How far they were, however, from understanding the nature of Jesus' Messiahship, Luke shows us with three brief pictures. A second time Jesus announced his suffering (vs. 44). The disciples, however, were so spiritually obtuse that it had no meaning (vs. 45). Suffering and Messiahship were so incompatible that they simply could not be put together in their thinking at that time. They were obsessed with other things (vss. 46-48).
When Jesus was preparing himself for his death, the disciples were quarreling over who should be greatest in the Kingdom (vs. 46). Here was self-centered ambition of the worst sort. Did the question arise partly because three of them had been favored on two occasions? (8:51; 9:28). Were the others jealous? Did the three boast of their privileges? In any case, Jesus had to remind them that in his Kingdom greatness did not consist in honors, but in service. And service not for reward, but in the name of Jesus (vs. 48). He is himself the example of true greatness.
The disciples' ambition led them to spiritual presumption and intolerance. Since they were especially used by Jesus, they objected to others working in Jesus' name who were not members of their group, even though the others were engaged in the worthy work of casting out demons (vs. 49). Jesus rebuked this spirit. Not to be with Christ is to be against him (11:23). But those who labor for Christ are for us, whether they work within the confines of our own group or not. Paul learned this from his Lord so fully that he rejoiced even when Christ was preached from false motives (Phil. 1:15-18; see also 1 Cor. 3:3-9).
Here ends Luke's record of Jesus' Galilean ministry. Jesus must now teach the disciples much about the Kingdom of the Suffering Servant (9:51-19:27), then complete his work by death and resurrection.
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