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
The first section of the Gospel was climaxed by Jesus' reinterpretation of his Messiahship in terms of the Suffering Servant (9:18-22). The second is introduced by his determined departure for Jerusalem to suffer (9:51). Although Luke keeps reminding the reader that Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem (9:51, 53; 13:22, 33; 17:11; 18:31; 19:11, 28), the length of time and the amount of material which intervene seem to suggest that this is not the report of one direct, continuous journey. The geographical information is very indistinct. The materials seem to be quite independent of place and time. The mention of Jerusalem is as much theological as geographical. Luke means that from now on, what is to happen at Jerusalem dominates everything that Jesus says and does. The shadow of the Cross falls on this whole section. Luke takes opportunity to insert a large block of materials which are not given in the other Gospels (9:51-18:14 is nearly all unique). Most of these are teachings about the Kingdom. As the conceptions of the Messiah in Jesus' day were radically reinterpreted by him, so were the current ideas of the Kingdom of God. This section, therefore, largely deals with Jesus' teachings on the Kingdom in the light of the Suffering Servant who was its King.
It is significant that the first incident in Jesus' journey to Jerusalem was a repetition of the Temptation (4:1-13), and of his rejection by men (4:16-30). This shows immediately what "the days . . . for him to be received up" held: rejection, suffering, death (vs. 51). His decision to go to Jerusalem, then, was not that of a tourist. It was a steadfast decision to do the will of his Father (vss. 51-53). How far the disciples were from understanding Jesus and his Kingdom is shown by their desire to call down fire from heaven to consume those who rejected him (vs. 54). Were these not the hated Samaritans, who were under God's judgment anyway? And had not Elijah dealt summarily with those who opposed God's will? (2 Kings 1:10-12). The fact that Jesus "rebuked" his disciples (vs. 55), as he had rebuked demons (4:35; 8:24; 9:42), suggests how he sensed in this the temptation of the Evil One. His disciples would have to learn that to follow the Suffering Servant, they must love even their enemies (6:27; 23:34).
The story of the three candidates for discipleship brings together incidents which may have taken place at different times (vss. 57-62; see also Matt. 8:19-22). They are grouped here by affinity of subject matter. The first man was acting on the basis of emotional enthusiasm (vs. 57). Jesus repeatedly sought to warn men against the peril of action based on mere feeling (11:27-28; 22:33-34). One must count the cost and be ready to share Jesus' privation (vs. 58). This means the abandonment of all security except that of commitment to God. The answer of Jesus to the request of the second seems harsh (vss. 59-60). Certainly Jesus was not denying the claims of family loyalties (18:20; Matt. 15:3-6). He was saying, however, that when there is a conflict of loyalties, those of the Kingdom take precedence over all others, no matter how sacred. Not to be overlooked, too, is the fact that Jesus is going to his death in order to destroy the power of death. The spiritually dead, therefore, may mourn the dead, but those who follow Christ are to proclaim the good news of life in him (vs. 60). Jesus' answer to the third, in the form of a proverb (vs. 62), indicates that this man's resolution was weak. As a plowman who does not keep his eye constantly on the goal toward which he moves cannot plow a straight furrow, so he who is mindful of the old associations cannot do adequate service in the Kingdom. There is even danger that a lingering look on the old loyalties could so weaken one's resolution that he would surrender the claims of the Kingdom.
The close relationship between the sending of the seventy (10:1-12) and Jesus' journey into Samaria and Perea, suggests that this was a dramatic way to emphasize the universality of his mission. The Jews considered 70 to be the number of the Gentile nations. Although Jesus' own work was largely confined to the Jews (Matt. 15:24), there are clear indications that, quickened by the Old Testament promises (Isa. 42:6; 49:6), he intended his followers to take the gospel to all men (10:33-37; 13:28-30; 14:23; 20:16; Matt. 15:22-28; 20:16; 21:43). The instruction to pray for workers in the harvest indicates two things: first, prayer is a part of God's plan for achieving what he wants done in the world; second, the harvest is God's, not ours. His word is the seed. He produces growth. All we do is to help in reaping (10:2).
The instructions were for the temporary, hurried mission of preparing his way at that time, and they can be applied permanently only in principle. Witnesses of the Kingdom are always in a hostile environment, but are to win their way by meekness, not by force (10:3). The haste of the temporary mission made it imperative that they not take the time which oriental greetings demanded, and that they not burden themselves with provisions (vs. 4). In contrast to the Zealots to whom "revolution" was the watchword, their greeting was to be one of "peace" (vs. 5). If their greeting was received, well; if not, they were to go elsewhere (vs. 6). They were worthy of their keep, but should be content with whatever they were given (vs. 7). Healing and proclamation of the nearness of the Kingdom would be their work in each town (vss. 8-9). If their ministry was refused, they were to dramatize God's judgment on that town (vss. 10-11). Because the privilege of the inhabitants was greater, the judgment would be worse than that of Sodom (vs. 12). Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum had already rejected Jesus and failed to see the meaning of his mighty works (vs. 13). Their pride of position with God would be greatly humbled when, in the Judgment, the pagans escaped with lighter consequences than they (vss. 14-15). To reject Christ's representatives is to reject Christ, and to reject Christ is to reject God (vs. 16). The disciples' task, therefore, is both glorious and dreadful.
The return of the seventy to Jesus is the occasion for one of the most exalted experiences in his entire career. In his name, demons had been conquered (vs. 17). In this, Jesus saw a promise of the whole ministry of his Church, through which the proclamation of his coming victory over Satan would be carried to the ends of the earth. With an authority given by Jesus, the Church would have power which its enemies could not finally destroy (vss. 18-19). Serpents and scorpions are symbols of spiritual enemies, and are not to be taken literally. Although the Church may rightly rejoice in her achievements through the power of Christ, there is something greater over which to joy--the mercy of God through whom men find salvation (vs. 20; see Exod. 32:32; Isa. 4:3; Heb. 12:23; Rev. 3:5; 20:15).
The vision of Satan's fall lifted Jesus, in the Holy Spirit, into an ecstasy of joy (vs. 21). He burst out in a prayer of thanksgiving for the fact that although those who considered themselves wise in religious affairs--particularly the learned scribes--had failed to understand the meaning of his coming, there were simple-hearted people to whom this had been revealed. Faith is the simple response of the whole heart to what God has done in Christ. This is confirmed by the statement in verse 22. There is a mystery about the Person of Christ known only to God. Therefore, because of this intimate relation between Jesus and God, Jesus can make God known to men. This he does to all who accept him, and this is the glorious goal toward which all of God's working in history had been directed (vss. 23-24).
At this point Luke introduces a series of teachings which may be arranged under the general theme of qualities, or characteristics, of the Kingdom. They embody both direct teaching and parable, and occasionally center around an incident.
Limitless Love (10:25-37)
What must one do to reach eternal blessedness? (vs. 25). Out of this question posed by a doctor of the Law came the parable of the Good Samaritan. What do you find in the Old Testament, Jesus asked (vs. 26). The "newness" in Jesus' teaching was not a new Law, but the insistence on finding the will of God which stands behind the old commandments. The lawyer replied with a summary of the Old Testament Law common among the rabbis which Jesus strongly approved (Mark 12:28-34)--love to God, expressed in love to one's neighbor (Luke 10:27; Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18). After commending his answer, Jesus said simply: "Do this [continually], and you will live" (vs. 28).
The lawyer, desiring to justify his question which Jesus had answered so simply, insisted that there was more to it than that. If I am to manifest love to God in my dealings with my neighbor, I must first determine who my neighbor is (vs. 29). The lawyer thus suggests limits to love. There must be those to whom the obligation to love does not apply. This was an effort to evade the real issue by theoretical discussion. Furthermore, it focused attention on the worthiness of the object of love rather than on the condition of heart of the one who is to do the loving. The priest and the Levite, journeying back to their home after performing their Temple duties in Jerusalem (vss. 31-32), could have argued this question at length and with great skill. A Samaritan, however, who was considered heretical and whose theological judgment would have had no worth to the lawyer, did not theorize, but acted (vss. 33-35). He not only met the emergency needs which compassion might have suggested, but intelligently concerned himself with the complete restoration of the victim.
At this point, Jesus threw back the question to the lawyer, but in a different form (vs. 36). Not, Who was the neighbor? but, Who acted like a neighbor? The question is not, Who is worthy of my love? It is, rather, Have I the kind of love which seeks the good of all men under all circumstances? Love is not a self-centered feeling of achievement according to a predetermined standard of obligation. It is rather the spontaneous overflow of a heart that forgets itself in the presence of any human need. As is true of Jesus' teaching throughout, there is more involved here than mere ethical instruction. No man can perfectly fulfill the demands of love. Jesus alone has done it. He was what Luther called God's Good Samaritan for all men. The story here is a record of his own action. It can be approximated in us only as he dwells in us, and gives us the gift of his own compassion. The record does not tell us the outcome in the life of the scribe. It rather directs Jesus' words to the reader: "Go and do likewise" (vs. 37).
Communion with God (10:38-42)
The close relation of the story of Mary and Martha to that of the Good Samaritan supplements the teaching there set forth. Service in the name of love may degenerate into mere human activity empty of eternal value, if it is divorced from constant communion with the One who is the source of all good. Martha's motives were high. Jesus was her guest, and she wished to do him honor. But she sought to honor him with service and material gifts rather than with spiritual communion. As a result, she became "distracted," or "drawn about in different directions" (vs. 40). This led to inner anxiety and external bustling (vs. 41), occasioned not by necessity but by her own sense of values. She created her own problem by placing too much value on things which are transitory, and too little on that "good portion" which cannot be taken away--fellowship with God in Jesus (vs. 42). In Jesus' gentle dealing with Martha, he repeats in different form the issue on which he had stood at the Temptation: "Man shall not live by bread alone" (4:4), an issue which appears frequently in Luke's Gospel (12:16-21; 16:19-31). Activity and service are necessary. But when they become the source of distraction and anxiety and bustling, the cure is to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen. Worship is as important as service, and service has Christian meaning only when it is rooted in worship.
How naturally the foregoing leads to the thought of prayer! Jesus' response to a request to teach his disciples to pray "as John taught his disciples" (11:1), suggests again the close relationship between the work of John and of Jesus. The fact that the Church preserved variant forms of this prayer (vss. 2-4; Matt. 6:9-13) indicates that it was given not to be used as an exclusive formula for prayer, but as a guide.
The familiar address to God, "Father," does not take its meaning from faulty human fatherhood (vs. 2). Its meaning lies rather in all that Jesus revealed of God in his relationship as the Son (10:22), and can be rightly used by us only as we come to God through him (John 14:13-14; 15:7; 16:23-24). Two requests are offered with regard to God: first, that his name be hallowed; that is, that the chants of the heavenly beings over the holiness of God be echoed by men (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8). Second, that the Kingdom brought into being by Jesus come in its fullness (see Luke 10:2). Three requests relate to believers (vss. 3-4): first, for physical provision a day at a time; second, for forgiveness, which cannot be merited but can be ours only as we are willing to forgive men's lesser debts to us (Matt. 18:23-35); and third, that God garrison our weakness in temptation (22:31-32).
Encouragement to prayer is given in two brief parables. The first, that of the Importunate Friend, has to do with the spirit of urgency which should lie behind our praying (vss. 5-10). This is not to suggest that God is one whose reluctance to give must be overcome. It may, however, imply that although God is desirous of answering our prayers, he cannot do it lightly nor cheaply in response to half-hearted desire on our part. The importunity is necessary for us, not God. The second encourages us to believe that prayer is heard by God (vss. 11-13). It argues from the lesser to the greater. If human parents, faulty and sinful, will not deceive their children by giving them harmful things instead of fulfilling their real needs, how much more will God, who is wholly good, answer our prayers aright. The "Holy Spirit" is the all-inclusive gift, God's gift of himself (vs. 13).
Spiritual Discernment (11:14-36)
An attack on Jesus led him to speak of the spiritual discernment which is necessary in order to recognize the Kingdom in him. The casting out of a demon from a dumb man led to the charge that Jesus did his work by the power of Satan (vs. 15). Jesus' reply indicated first the foolishness of such a charge. Satan is the one who binds men, not frees them (13:16). Would he, therefore, work against himself? (vss. 17-18). Furthermore, why do they blame in him what they praise in their own sons? (vs. 19). Whether their sons were successful is unimportant. At least, they were praised for trying to do what Jesus did! If, therefore, the charge that he did his work by the power of Satan was absurd, the only possible explanation was that he did it "by the finger of God" (vs. 20; see Exod. 8:19; 31:18; Ps. 8:3). A spiritually discerning person would reach this conclusion, facing the "if" of verse 20 with the evidence of Jesus' works. Satan was strong, as his hold on those such as the dumb man suggested. But Jesus was the "one stronger than he" who snatched away his armor and delivered his victims (vss. 21-22). In this conflict, neutrality is impossible (vs. 23).
A warning is given to those who lack the spiritual discernment to see that Jesus, in overthrowing the work of Satan in men's lives (vss. 24-26), has brought the Kingdom. If they do not recognize God's victory over evil in Jesus, they will be religiously much worse off than they were before. The measure to which Jesus has set their spiritual house in order exposes them to worse assaults of Satan if they do not believe. Discernment of the meaning of Jesus for men does not lie in any superficial, external approval of his teaching or his human personality. Personal compliments are not in order! (vs. 27). To hear the word of God from Jesus, and to respond in obedient action, is the discernment which he desires (vs. 28). No other relationship to him is important, not even that of his mother. This verse should have sufficed to prevent Mariolatry in the Roman Church.
Genuine spiritual discernment is rooted in the inner disposition to repent and believe (vss. 29-32). In response to the demand for "a sign from heaven" (vs. 16), Jesus turned the thoughts of his questioners inward to the condition of their own hearts. His miracles were signs, if they had had the spiritual insight rightly to interpret them. No special heavenly sign, no sensational heavenly wonder, which they could accept without the necessity of faith, would be given. Jesus had determined this at the Temptation (4:9-12). There is always a risk in faith. Whether one takes it or not depends on the quality of his inner life more than on convincing wonders. Jesus himself is the final wonder. Repentance and belief on him are the means of recognizing that he has brought the Kingdom. For those who finally refuse him, he will come as Judge. In the Judgment the pagans, who were impressed with the wisdom of Solomon and repented at the preaching of Jonah (vss. 30-32), will judge the men of Jesus' generation, who failed to discern in him something far greater--the One who is "the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:24). Verses 33-36 are a continuation of what Jesus has been saying. He is God's "light," set forth for all to see (vs. 33). But as light is useless to a blind man, whose whole body moves in darkness because his eye is bad, so their spiritual blindness has kept them from seeing him (vss. 34:35). If their spiritual sight, however, admits the light of Christ, they will live entirely in the light (vs. 36). It is their blindness, not lack of evidence, which makes them demand a "sign from heaven" (vs. 16).
An invitation to a meal with a Pharisee gave Jesus opportunity to contrast the religious reality of his Kingdom with religious formalism and hypocrisy. Jesus startled his host by neglecting to wash his hands before eating (vss. 37-38). The handwashing had nothing to do with hygienic cleanliness, but was a Pharisaic prescription to remove the moral uncleanness they felt was acquired by contact with unholy people and things. It had grown out of tradition, and was not prescribed by the Law. It was one of many indications that official piety had degenerated into concern with appearances, rather than with reality. Hence, Jesus upbraided this concern with the ceremonial cleansing of externals when the inner life was wicked (vs. 39). The God who made the material universe also made the inner life of man. To serve him means to keep one's heart clean (vs. 40). And the best evidence of a true heart toward God is to share one's goods with a needy neighbor. This will cleanse the life more than concern with religious ceremonies (vs. 41).
A series of six woes follows. The tithe was intended as an acknowledgment of God's provision and an offering of love. Woe on a religion which had become a substitute for justice and the love of God--a means of escaping the full demands of obedience to God by the scrupulous fulfillment of a part of the letter of the law (vs. 42; Micah 6:8). Woe on a religion which had become a means of enhancing the vanity of men rather than the glory of God (vs. 43). To step on a grave was defiling to a Jew (Num. 19:16). Unidentified graves which might be touched without knowing it, therefore, were a menace. Woe, therefore, on a religion whose deceitfully beautiful exterior covered up the fact that the heart was dead (vs. 44). The lawyers (scribes) were particularly blameworthy, for in their hands lay the interpretation of the Law (vs. 45). Woe to them, for through their clever casuistry they had placed intolerable religious requirements on the people, but by the same means had contrived ways of escaping these themselves (vs. 46). Woe to them, for although they erected monuments to the prophets, by refusing obedience to the prophets' word and witness to Jesus they joined their fathers who had slain the prophets (vss. 47-51). Therefore, the cumulative judgment of the centuries will fall on them in the destruction of Jerusalem (21:32). Woe to them, for they had closed the door to the knowledge of God by misinterpreting the Scriptures, and had, so to speak, thrown the key away (vs. 52).
The discourse aroused the strong hostility of the Pharisees (vss. 53-54). A tremendous crowd of onlookers gathered, interested in this One who had the courage to attack the entrenched religious leadership. The incident closed with Jesus' warning that hypocrisy had no place in his Kingdom (12:1). The warning was reinforced by the reminder that at the Day of Judgment all the secrets of the heart will be publicly placarded before "the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (vss. 2-3; Heb. 4:13).
Courageous Witness (12:4-12)
The hostility aroused by Jesus' dealing with the Pharisees suggested the need for courage on the part of members of his Kingdom. Those who are "friends" of Jesus may even have to face death in their witness for him. They are not, however, to fear those who put them to death, for their judgment is temporary, and not final. It deals only with physical, not eternal, death (vs. 4). The only one to fear is God, the final Judge, in whose hands eternal destinies lie (vs. 5; Isa. 8:12-15; 1 Peter 1:17; 3:14-15). True fear of God, however, means not terror but trust. God is One who is concerned about the smallest details of life, even the death of sparrows (vs. 6). Nothing that happens to his children as they witness for him, therefore--not even death--can take place apart from his providential care, nor be meaningless (vs. 7).
Encouragement to witness lies in Jesus' identification of himself with his disciples. To confess Jesus before men, even though it should bring condemnation before human judges, means that he will confess us before God, the final Judge, who for his sake will grant us acquittal (vs. 8). Jesus, however, can only witness the truth before the heavenly Judge. If we deny our relationship to him, he will be forced to deny that we were his disciples (vs. 9). The infinite patience and mercy of Jesus is to be seen in the fact that he does not judge denials of him on the basis of personal affronts. The personal affront of rejection of him may be forgiven (vs. 10; 23:34; 1 Tim. 1:13). The unforgivable blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is somehow related to ascribing Jesus' works to demonic powers (11:15; Matt. 12:24-32). This is more than a personal affront. It is a state of spiritual stupor which confuses the Spirit of God with the Devil. The power to receive grace may be lost. God alone, however, and not we, must judge who has reached this stage. The friends of Jesus, who have seen the Spirit of God at work in him, are to be free from anxiety when they are called upon to witness in a hostile environment, for the Holy Spirit himself will teach them what to say (vss. 11-12). This was literally fulfilled in the later experience of the Church (Acts 4:13; 7:1-53; 2 Tim. 4:16-17).
Freedom from Materialism (12:13-34)
A request for Jesus to settle an inheritance dispute gave him opportunity to deal with the insidious blight of "things" on men's souls (vss. 13-15). In so doing, Jesus was not showing indifference to the claims of legal justice, but was insisting that there was a greater gain than getting an inheritance, and a greater loss than losing it. Possessions do not give life that is real life. That comes from fellowship with God, who gives all that we have, and to whom we are responsible for its use.
The rich fool looked upon his possessions as his own, not as gifts from God. "My barns," "my grain," "my goods," "my soul," he says (vss. 18-19). He made the mistake of thinking that possessions make life. What would have been the meaning of "many years" of taking ease, eating, drinking, being merry? But little as possessions could give life, could they give even existence? Death separates from things. They cannot be taken with us beyond the portal, as evidence of a life worthily lived. God alone is Lord of life, and a person truly lives only when he is "rich toward God" in faith, obedience, and service (vss. 20-21).
Jesus pursues this thought further with his disciples. The faith which frees from covetousness frees from painful anxiety about the necessities of life (vs. 22). It does not, of course, free us from responsible toil and intelligent planning. An economy run on the basis of the life of birds and flowers would collapse. The point is that faith acknowledges even the fruits of toil as the gift of God, and therefore is free to labor without anxious care.
Three grounds are given for this: first, faith knows that life is in God's hands, and that gnawing anxiety is useless. As the birds and flowers are wholly dependent on providence, and can do nothing to create the means of their own sustenance, so man, with all his cleverness, cannot add one moment to the length of his life (vs. 25). How useless, then, is anxious concern! (vs. 26). Second, God's bounteous provision for things of a transient existence indicates his concern for man, who has an eternal destiny (vss. 27-28). Third, faith knows that God is more aware of our needs than we are, and that he is concerned that the needs of his children be met (vs. 30). The major aim of life, therefore, should be to continue to seek, in thought and life, the total Lordship of God over us and our society. With this concern made central, other needs will be fulfilled (vs. 31). This promise is for needs only, not desires; and for needs as God sees them, not as we see them. There is no final guarantee that men of faith will not suffer deprivation, even death.
Jesus' encouragement continued by assuring the disciples of the eternal certainty of the Kingdom. Even though their numbers may be small, their influence weak, and their enemies great, yet the Kingdom will be theirs because it is their "Father's good pleasure" (vs. 32). With confidence in this eternal Kingdom, the disciples should keep their interest in it quickened by sacrificial giving to others' needs. In such a life, one is laying up treasures which can never be taken away (vs. 33), and is ensuring that his heart stay drawn toward the eternal Kingdom (vs. 34).
Vigilant Hope (12:35-59)
Since the full coming of the Kingdom is in the future, two things are essential to those who are looking for it. Its delay demands continuing hope, and the absolute uncertainty of the time of its arrival requires constant vigilance. The disciples, then, are to be like servants who await the return of their master from a wedding (vs. 36). His coming may be delayed until very late in the night, for there is no telling when wedding guests may go home (vs. 38). But whenever he comes, early or late, those are blessed who are watchfully awaiting his arrival (vs. 37). The fact that the blessedness consists in sitting at table and being served by their master when he comes, indicates clearly that Jesus is speaking of himself (22:27). The final reward of watchful waiting is fellowship with him. Lest the delay in his coming should lull his followers into sloth, and divert their gaze to lesser things, they must remember that he will come as unexpectedly as a thief in the night (vss. 39-40; 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10; Rev. 16:15). Unremitting vigilance, therefore, is necessary.
In response to a question from Peter (vs. 41), Jesus indicates that such watchfulness is especially necessary for those in a position of leadership. They are likened to servants left in charge of giving out the master's goods to other members of the household (vs. 42). Faithful discharge of their duties means larger service (vss. 43-44). But if the delay in the master's coming dulls their sense of watchfulness, and tends to make them act as masters instead of responsible servants of the master, their judgment will be heavy (vss. 45-46). The judgment of leaders will be correspondingly heavy, since more is required of them because of their privileged position (vss. 47-48; James 3:1).
The necessity of watchfulness is reinforced by the decisive nature of man's relation to Jesus. Jesus' references to "fire" and to "baptism" undoubtedly refer to his death and its consequences (vss. 49-50; Mark 10:38-40). John had described Jesus' work in terms of "fire" (Luke 3:9, 17). Jesus' earthly career did not fulfill this in the form which John expected. But his death and resurrection, as the decisive events of all history, became the fulcrum on which the destiny of individuals and nations turns. All must decide either for or against him. Hence, although he is the bringer of peace (1:79; 2:14; 7:50; 8:48; 19:38; John 14:27; 16:33; Eph. 2:14-18), it is a peace which for its fulfillment must await eternity. In history, his presence means division--a division which enters into the most sacred relationships (vss. 51-53; see also 2:34-35). Vigilant hope for his coming, therefore, may lead to the costly sacrifice of the most treasured of human ties.
The tragedy of Jesus' people was that they did not sense this decisiveness of his presence. They could predict the weather from wind and cloud, but were blind to the judgment which Jesus' presence was bringing (vss. 54-56). The root of their attitude was hypocrisy, religious externalism, formalism, unreality; they were content with superficial appearances, but unresponsive to the profound questions of the soul. Jesus tries to awaken them from their spiritual stupor by a warning. An accused person, making his way to the judge, can hardly escape the consequences when judgment set in. The only possible escape is to settle with the accuser before official judgment falls (vss. 57-59). The details of the parable here cannot be pressed. It means only that God's judgment on his people is near. There is yet time to make a settlement by accepting Jesus as Messiah and Lord. If they refuse, judgment is inevitable. How terribly it came in A.D. 70!
A section of teaching is now introduced which shows clearly that membership in Jesus' Kingdom is based on quite different considerations from those which the Pharisees had laid down. Those whom they excluded--the lost sinners--were invited by Jesus into the Kingdom, while the Pharisees themselves were shut out unless they repented. What, therefore, is required for membership in Jesus' Kingdom?
Zealotism, the fanatical effort to bring the Messianic Age by armed revolt against Rome, stemmed from Galilee. It is likely, therefore, that either on a pilgrimage or during a feast, there was a messianic outbreak which Pilate ruthlessly put down. The Pharisees were at one with the Zealots in their desire to be rid of Rome, but rejected their use of force. With a theology which attributed individual suffering to individual sin, it was easy for the Pharisees to think that these Galileans were particularly wicked because of their use of force, and therefore had been directly punished by God (vs. 2). The Zealots, on the other hand, would judge the workers on the tower in Siloam to have been particularly wicked. Pilate had built an aqueduct in Jerusalem, financed by funds from the sacred Temple tax. The Zealots would have considered work on this to be a fatal compromise with the Romans and a denial of loyalty to God, and could well have looked upon the accident as God's judgment (vs. 4).
Jesus insists that both Pharisee and Zealot were wrong, in that their conception of the Kingdom--whatever the method of bringing it--was self-centered. To both, the coming of the Kingdom meant merely the replacing of the Romans by the Jews as world conquerors. Unless they repented, changed their minds about the Kingdom, and laid aside the resistance to "the purpose of God" which they had manifested both toward John the Baptist and toward Jesus (7:30; 11:53-54), they would all perish (vss. 3, 5). In fact, were it not for the infinite patience of God, this would have happened already. The tree of Israel, which had not produced the fruits God expected, should before this have been cut down (vss. 6-7). But the time for repentance is now short. If fruit does not appear, the end will come (vss. 78-9). Repentance and acceptance of Jesus are immediate necessities.
The strong need for the repentance of the religious leaders is to be seen in the story of the Sabbath healing (vss. 10-17). A woman sorely afflicted for eighteen years, in a manner which seemed to be the direct work of an evil spirit (vss. 11, 16), was healed by Jesus. She immediately praised God. What could be more wholesome in the synagogue on the Sabbath, than that the works of Satan should be destroyed, and that men should lift their hearts to God in praise for this. The extent to which the religious leaders had missed the meaning of the Kingdom, and the testimony to it which their worship should have given, is shown in the fact that the ruler of the synagogue indignantly rebuked the people for coming to be healed on the Sabbath (vs. 14). There was hypocrisy in this. The ruler was really rebuking Jesus, but had not the courage to do it directly. Worse than that, however, was a hypocritical regard for the Law which objected to an incident that illustrated its deepest purpose--the glory of God. Jewish tradition interpreted the Law more flexibly for animals than for man (vs. 15). Furthermore, the Sabbath, as God's day, would best be honored by doing God's work (vs. 16). A change of mind about the meaning of the Law was necessary before the Pharisees could enter the Kingdom.
Jesus knew that the likelihood of the repentance of official Judaism was not great. Two parables, therefore, are inserted here to show that in spite of this, the Kingdom would win its way. The growth of the mustard seed suggests the outer spread of the Kingdom to the ends of the earth (vss. 18-19), while the figure of the leaven depicts the inner power of the Kingdom to conquer all forms of evil (vss. 20-21). There is no indication that the process of growth would be automatic and continuous, written in the very nature of things. In Jesus' day, germination of seeds and the spread of leaven throughout the dough were commonly considered miraculous. The two parables, therefore, teach that the Kingdom will achieve its ends not by inevitable growth, but by the mysterious power hidden in Jesus.
Jesus' reply to the question concerning the number that would be saved continued to press the seriousness of the need for repentance on the part of those who felt themselves religiously secure (vss. 22-30). The number of the saved was a theoretical question often discussed by the rabbis. Jesus rejected all such speculative questions. He answered not the question, but the questioner. Obviously, the questioner assumed that he was numbered among the saved. Jesus sought to shake him loose by insisting that no one is saved by the accident of birth into the Jewish nation, nor by the achievement of keeping the Law. The door into salvation is narrow (vs. 24). Jesus himself is the Door (John 10:7-9). Repentance and faith in him are the only striving that counts. The door is too narrow to admit anyone who is loaded down with his own religious accomplishments.
Furthermore, there is a last judgment when the door will finally be shut (vs. 25). Then, those who are now indifferent to him who is the Door will seek to claim acquaintance with him (vs. 26). But their claim is superficial. External acquaintance, mere knowledge of his teaching, is not enough. One must know him in the deeper sense of repentance and faith, the turning away from the kind of self-justification which the questioner manifested, and the casting of the self on Jesus alone for salvation. All other acquaintance with him leads but to doom (vss. 27-28).
Israel's rejection of Jesus, however, does not thwart the plan of God. The true Israel is the Israel of "faith" (Rom. 4:16-25; Gal. 3:6-9), made up of both Jews and Gentiles who believe (vs. 29). The believing Gentiles, therefore, who were called last, will enter the Kingdom, while the unbelieving Jews, who were called first, will be shut out (vs. 30). The final criterion is not race, nor achievement, but repentance and faith.
The seriousness and immediacy of the need for repentance are reinforced by Jesus' reply to the warning about Herod's hostility (vs. 31). Both Herod's disposition and the report of it are natural at this time, for Jesus was probably in Perea, not far from the place where John had been arrested (3:19-20). Jesus replied that his career was determined not by Herod, no matter how sly he was, but by God. His Messianic work would be carried on until the precise time of its termination set by God (vs. 32).
The real danger of death for Jesus, however, lay with the religious leaders in Jerusalem (vs. 33). Jerusalem had almost a monopoly on killing prophets (2 Kings 21:16; 2 Chron. 24:20-21; Jer. 26:20-23). Since Jesus must go on to make his final Messianic claim in the capital city, it was there that he would meet his fate. He had been there before, on visits not recorded by Luke (John 2-21), and had found only opposition and rejection (vs. 34). After their final rejection of him in the Crucifixion, God would reject them. Jerusalem would no longer be his city. It would be theirs alone! (vs. 35a). The final destruction of which the prophets spoke would come (Jer. 12:7; 22:5-9; Micah 3:12). But there is grace even in God's judgment. Although Jerusalem will be utterly rejected and destroyed, there will yet come a time in the future when at least some of God's ancient people, the Jews, will recognize in Jesus their Messiah, and bless him who has come in the name of the Lord (vs. 35b; Rom. 11:25-32). The gospel, which has come to the Gentiles through the defection of the Jews, will yet be accepted by Israel as "the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith" (Rom. 1:16).
A final example of the Pharisees' need for repentance is seen in another instance of Sabbath healing. Jesus challenged the Pharisees to acknowledge the act as a proper use of God's day (14:1-6). The need for repentance is seen in the self-centeredness of the Pharisees. They had more regard for a domestic animal which belonged to them, than for a stricken neighbor who belonged to God (vs. 5). Such egocentric use of God's Law is under judgment, and demands a radical change of mind. The silence of the Pharisees shows that they assented only reluctantly (vs. 6).
The force of Jesus' teaching to the guests at dinner may be seen only when it is recognized as a parable (vs. 7). In itself, the principle that honors cannot be taken, but can only be received, is little more than a bit of social etiquette (vss. 8-10). Jesus meant more than that. The "marriage feast" is a parable of the Messianic Feast, the time of salvation, when those delivered by God would banquet with the Messiah (15:15). The principle that he who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted, indicates that in the Kingdom of God all values of this present order will be completely upset (vs. 11; 1:52; 15:18-32; 18:9-14; 1 Peter 5:5-6). Those whom God delights to honor confess that they have no right to status before God, and cast themselves wholly on him for mercy.
Disinterested Kindness (14:12-14)
Jesus' counsel to the host at dinner likewise involves more than etiquette. Jesus was not interested merely in who should be invited to a social occasion, but was striking at a major defect of Pharisaic piety. Pharisaism was a religion of merit, of salvation by works. By dint of human effort one earned what Paul called "a righteousness of my own, based on law" (Phil. 3:9). Good works were presented to God for an equivalent reward. Offering entertainment to others that they might invite one in return and thus repay the kindness, was an illustration of the Pharisees' relation to God. Jesus countered this by insisting that members of his Kingdom should act toward others as God had acted toward them (vss. 13-14). God gives to those who cannot requite him. His kindness goes out to those who can offer him nothing in return--but love. To act this way toward one's fellow man is to enter into the spirit and purpose of God, and is to be richly blessed at the final Judgment (vs. 14). Needless to say, if one should do kind deeds just in order to be repaid at the resurrection, the reward would not be his. It is those who act without thought of reward to whom the reward is given.
Response to God's Grace (14:15-24)
Jesus' mention of the resurrection (vs. 14) led a Pharisee to remark how blessed it would be when the Messianic Banquet took place (vs. 15). The tone of his remark suggested that there was no doubt that he and his companions would be numbered among the guests! Jesus sought to shatter his complacency and self-righteousness by the parable of the Banquet. It was customary in the East to have two invitations, one announcing the occasion ahead of time, the other reminding the guests at the appointed hour. The guests in the story had apparently accepted the first invitation, but when the second came, they insulted the host by begging off. It was a double insult, because it not only declined a previously accepted engagement, but the reasons given showed sheer contempt. Not one was valid (vss. 18-20).
The first invitation given was that of God's prophets, who had been announcing the coming of the Kingdom for generations. The final invitation, indicating that the Messianic Banquet was now ready, was the coming of Jesus. Jesus is warning the Pharisees that even though they had formally accepted God's prior invitation by considering themselves his people, their rejection of him now was a despicable refusal of God's offer of grace. They were preoccupied with lesser things, and were not really in a mood to respond to God's grace. Since no human host would react as did the one in the story, it is obvious that the host is God (vss. 21-23). His purpose is not to be thwarted, even though the Jewish people refuse his invitation. He will send his gracious summons to the Gentiles, until the last one has heard it. The solemn words of verse 24 are sobering. They suggest that it may be possible to reject God's grace irrevocably. To be invited is not enough. One must accept.
Total Commitment (14:25-35)
As Jesus continued journeying toward Jerusalem, "great multitudes" stayed close by him (vs. 25). They must have suspected that he was the Messiah, and wanted to be near him to share the joys of the Kingdom when it came. Like the dinner guest (vs. 15), they needed to learn that there was more involved than receiving benefits. The Kingdom makes demands. It is the Kingdom of the Suffering Servant. Membership in it, therefore, means sharing Christ's suffering and living as his servant. Jesus was on the way to the Cross. Those who followed him would have to be willing to bear a cross. This could mean separation from the most cherished loved ones--a separation as deep as that which hatred produced--if these interfered with loyalty to Jesus (vss. 26-27). The gospel deepens human love, and often natural affection and loyalty to Jesus are compatible (18:20; Matt. 15:4-9). But when there is a conflict, the claims of Jesus come first. Jesus' followers, therefore, should not be moved by mere emotion or motivated by easy hopes.
As building a tower is costly and waging war is dangerous, one must be willing deliberately to face both costliness and danger as Jesus' disciple (vss. 28-32). It means total renunciation of self, the readiness to offer up every precious thing if it is demanded in his service (vs. 33). This spirit of self-sacrifice for the sake of Jesus is the "salt" which preserves and sweetens society. Followers of Jesus who do not continue in a spirit of total commitment to him are worse than useless (vss. 34-35). Who can fail to hear the deep note of warning in Jesus' call to "hear"!
The Pharisees and their scribes (interpreters of the Law) murmured against Jesus because he welcomed the "tax collectors and sinners" who did not keep the minute religious prescriptions which they had laid down (vss. 1-2). Jesus replied by three parables, all of which teach one central truth: God loves sinners! Our sin, rather than destroying God's interest in us, makes his love all the more intense. The Pharisees, therefore, were wrong about Jesus because they were wrong about God.
The Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin (15:3-10)
The "or" of verse 8 indicates that these two parables belong together, as two illustrations of the same point--a favorite teaching device of Jesus (13:18-21; 14:28-32). In both stories the emphasis is on the ones seeking the lost--the shepherd who has lost his sheep, the woman who has lost her coin. Three features of their search are depicted. First, its diligence. Search is made until the lost is found (vss. 4, 8). If one is lost it cannot be because God has not found him, but because he has refused to be taken back. Second, the tenderness of the searcher is depicted (vs. 5). The shepherd is God, who is depicted in Isaiah 40:11 as One who "will gather the lambs in his arms, he will carry them in his bosom." Third, the joy of finding is paramount (vss. 6, 9). Heaven's estimate of the worth of "tax collectors and sinners" is quite different from that of the Pharisees (vss. 7, 10).
It is not certain whether by "righteous persons" (vs. 7) Jesus means those who have already repented and are thus at home in the Father's house, or whether he is ironically referring to those who, by their scrupulous observance of the Pharisaic traditions, feel no need for repentance. The latter is likely, inasmuch as the whole chapter is directed toward the Pharisees' wrong estimate of the character of God. In either case, the truth remains that nothing so rejoices the heart of God as the repentance of a sinner. The agonizing concern over the loss of the sheep and the coin make their recovery a cause for greater rejoicing than the possession of those which were not lost.
The Lost Son (15:11-32)
The story of the Prodigal Son is really that of a father who lost two sons. Both boys, the one who strayed and the one who stayed, were lost to his love. It is possible that the one who stayed was the more lost. There is a new dimension here which could not enter into the other stories, and that is rebellion against love. The sheep was lost by heedless wandering and the inanimate coin had nothing to do with its own fate. But the sons are lost by their deliberate choice. The filial relation is refused. A breach of love is chosen. The dimension of sin and guilt enter here.
The sin of the younger son began in his choice to break the filial ties and to pursue life independently of his father. Although a father could voluntarily have divided his estate at an early time, yet it was normal custom for the heirs to receive their share at the death of the father (Heb. 9:16-17). The prodigal's sin, therefore, did not consist in wasting his part of the inheritance. This careless behavior was merely a symptom of the deep desire to be his own master, to live independently of his father's will, to do as he pleased, to shed the protective influences of home and love as unworthy of his own free manhood. In this was re-enacted the Fall of man. To succumb to the temptation to "be like God" (Gen. 3:5)--that is the story of humanity from the beginning to the present. The essence of sin is man's refusal to use God's gifts for God's glory, living as an obedient creature under the sovereign love of his Creator. But the will to be free enslaves. The prodigal came to want--friendless, forlorn, wretched, occupied with the lowliest task a Jew could assume (vss. 14-16).
Although the love of the father was seeking the son just as diligently as the shepherd and the woman sought, yet because of the moral nature of the relationship involved, the reconciliation had to await the son's change of heart. Heretofore he had been "beside himself." Now, "he came to himself" (vs. 17). And in this change is seen the meaning of true repentance. No longer grasping for his father's riches, he was content to turn from his disobedience and be an obedient servant of his father (vss. 18-19). Such repentance leads to forgiveness. Trudging wearily back home in the full knowledge that he had no right to be received by his father and no claim on his love, he finds his father looking for him, and more than ready to reinstate him into full sonship (vss. 22-24). His father not only meets his needs, but does him more honor than when he was at home before. The "best robe" was a sign of special honor, the "ring on his hand" was a sign of restored sonship, as were the shoes, for slaves wore no shoes. Forgiveness means not only the lifting of punishment and the setting aside of guilt; it means also full restoration to sonship (Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14).
This goes beyond all ideas of human justice. It is the grace of God. The elder brother, like the Pharisees, did not understand God's grace. He was basing his relation to his father on achievement and merit, seeking reward for his righteous deeds. He had served and obeyed. Why, then, should the prodigal be treated as well as or better than he? (vss. 29-30). He had no more of a relation of sonship to his father than did the prodigal. He had stayed under the father's roof but had not entered into the spirit of sonship. He served for reward rather than for love of his father. Thus, he could not understand the father's joy, which was the result not of the younger brother's achievement but of the fact that he had once more taken shelter in his love and had become a son. The father still loved the elder brother, and went out to entreat him to enter the family circle (vs. 28). But he could not refuse sonship to the prodigal because of his brother's objections. "It was fitting to make merry," for the dead was alive, the lost was found (vs. 32). In spite of the objection of the Pharisees, God must still welcome "tax collectors and sinners."
This is the gospel, but not the whole of it. These parables show only God's attitude of love toward sinners. But this attitude was depicted in Jesus' behavior as he was on the way to Jerusalem. Forgiveness finally meant the Cross! It could not be meted out with a gracious word alone. It must be given by a costly deed. Death and resurrection and the theology of atonement are involved in these simple and beautiful stories.
Some of the instruction of this section is given directly to the disciples, some to the Pharisees. In every instance, however, the truth is applicable to both groups. Jesus' upbraiding of the Pharisees, then, may well be taken as a caution for those who claim kinship to him. Each item is a danger signal to believers.
Danger of Riches (16:1-31)
The outstanding symptom of the prodigal's independence of his father was the selfish use of possessions (15:13). For Kingdom members, therefore, the central mark of whose life should be obedience to God's will, the unselfish use of possessions for the good of others is demanded. This is set forth in an unusual but effective way in Jesus' story of the Unfaithful Steward (16:1-9). Threatened with dismissal, and unwilling either to work with his hands or to beg (vss. 2-3), the steward reduced the debts of his master's creditors, so that when he was dismissed they would show their gratitude by caring for him (vss. 4-7).
Jesus obviously did not approve the dishonesty of the steward (see vs. 10), but commended solely his prudence (vs. 8); that is, his wise use of present opportunities in a way which resulted in his future welfare. For the Christian, prudent use of possessions is to give them generously for the welfare of others (vs. 9). The expression "unrighteous mammon" does not mean ill-gotten gain. It is an expression corresponding to our "filthy lucre," and suggests that money belongs to the order of this present evil world which is perishing and has no permanent meaning (1 John 2:17). "Eternal habitations" means "heaven." Jesus was not suggesting that anyone earns heaven by giving. Pharisaism held that heaven was a reward for good works. It was this which Jesus was combating. He was here indicating that one's use of possessions is a good test of his true relation to God. As a person of wealth entrusts part of his estate to his son to test him before giving him the whole inheritance, so God tests our fitness for the "true riches" of heaven in our use of material possessions (vss. 10-12). Our use of money is a good test of our acceptance of his Lordship. If we allow money to rule us, and make it a rival lord, it is evident that God's Lordship has not been wholly accepted (vs. 13). Since God is God, he can brook no rivals.
The Pharisees made sport of Jesus' teaching on riches (vs. 14). They looked upon wealth as the reward for righteousness, for keeping the Law, rather than as a danger. Jesus replied that it might be thus considered in the eyes of men, but not of God. Their religious praise of wealth was an effort to cover up hearts filled with greed (vs. 15; 20:47). Furthermore, the thought that men could be justified by keeping the Law had lost validity since the preaching of John. Repentance and belief in the good news of the Kingdom were the means of being justified before God. Now everyone, be he Pharisee or tax collector, scribe or harlot, could enter the Kingdom if he desired to press into it (vs. 16). This was not to say that the will of God expressed in the Law was set aside. Rather, it was fulfilled at a higher level (vs. 17; Matt. 5:17). Their efforts, therefore, to avoid the moral implications of God's Law by keeping the letter of it, as their divorce practices illustrated, were proof that riches in their case were no sign of God's approval (vs. 18).
To reinforce this, Jesus told the story of the rich man who failed to use his wealth under God's Lordship, and found it finally to be a great curse (vss. 19-31). The Pharisees accepted as normal the fact that plenty and poverty should dwell side by side, and were not concerned to change the situation. Plenty was a sign of God's favor, poverty a sign of his judgment (see Job 4:7-8; 8:6-7; Luke 13:2-5; John 9:1-3). The reason for such judgment was considered a hidden mystery known only to God, and man need not concern himself with it. Jesus' story was told to show that God did not reason this way. Possessions are given by him in trust, to be used as an expression of his concern for the needy. If one does not do this, it is clear that possessions, rather than God, are his lord. The interpretation should be limited to this. Attempts to picture the afterlife from it should be avoided.
It is to be noted, too, that the story does not condemn the rich man just because he was rich. Verse 25 must not be mechanically interpreted to mean that all the rich in this life suffer in the next and that all the poor in this life are blessed in the next. He is condemned purely because he failed to use his wealth in the service of God by concerning himself with the sufferings of his fellow men. A poor man would be likewise condemned if he behaved in the same way to a brother man still poorer.
The story is really a call to the Pharisees to repent of their external loyalty to the Law, and to turn their hearts toward finding the will of God expressed in it. They were scrupulously loyal to the current interpretation of the Law, but had not used it as an expression of God's Lordship over their lives. Their self-centered use of wealth was one of the clearest indications of this. The rich man's desire that his brothers "repent" (vss. 27-30) indicates that he had discovered that he was in hell not because he was rich, but because he had failed to repent of self-lordship and place himself under the Lordship of God. The major stress of the story, therefore, is found in Abraham's insistence that "Moses and the prophets" are sufficient to guide men to God, if they are willing to repent (vs. 31). Startling signs were neither necessary nor effective. Not even the resurrection of Jesus produced either repentance or faith on the part of the Pharisees. Their wealth and themselves were their lords, not God.
The warning is contemporary. Our attitude toward possessions is perhaps the clearest indication of whether or not we have repented of our self-centeredness and accepted God's total Lordship. And whoever conscientiously examines the hold that things have over him can only bow in penitence. It is a sobering thought, too, that our acceptance or rejection of God's Lordship in this life is decisive. There may be a "too late" (vss. 24-26).
Danger of Unbrotherly Behavior (17:1-6)
The realism of Jesus is to be seen in his certainty that, sin being what it is, brother would sin against brother in the Church. His word of warning against this, however, is one of the strongest on record. For a Christian to sin is not a private affair. Others seeing him may justify themselves in the same behavior by his example. Irresponsibly to lead into evil a weaker brother or a child, whose instinct to imitation is strong, has no excuse for the Christian (vs. 1; Rom. 14:13-23). The seriousness with which Jesus took this is to be seen in his strong warning against being the cause of the spiritual ruin of another (vs. 2).
One of the best ways to remove causes of stumbling from the Christian fellowship is to practice the grace of forgiveness (vs. 3). "Seven times in the day" means without limit. Jesus' realism is to be seen again in the fact that forgiveness is dependent on repentance (vs. 4). Unrepented sin is to be branded as such (see Jesus' example by contrasting 7:47-50 with 7:40-46). The connection between faith and one's relation to his brother, in Jesus' later words to Peter (22:32), suggests that the Apostles' request for additional faith here was to fulfill the high demand of limitless forgiveness (vs. 5). Jesus' reply was to the effect that the amount of faith is not so important as its genuineness. The figure of transplanting the tree into the sea is a picture suggesting that genuine faith can accomplish what experience, reason, and probability would deny, if it is exercised within God's will (vs. 6).
Danger of Self-Esteem (17:7-10)
In the ancient world, servants did not work for wages. They were the property of their owners. Their task was to do the will of their masters, with no regard for their own desires and no thought of reward (vss. 7-9). Jesus used this feature of the economic life of his time as an illustration of the disciple's relation to his Lord. The task of the Christian is to serve in obedience to his Master, and to do what is commanded with all the powers which he possesses. He can never say that he has done more than his duty, and think of himself as one who could be considered praiseworthy. It is his duty to give his entire service to the One to whom he belongs (vs. 10).
This does not mean that the Christian's work is not necessary, or that there will not be rewards (6:23). The Master of the Christian is exceedingly compassionate, and even serves his servants (12:37; 22:27), a thing unheard of in antiquity (vs. 8). But this is all of grace, and not because his servants deserve it. When we have done our best, we can never claim that we have done one thing more than we ought to have done. All we are and have belongs to the Master by right. To serve him is our duty. But duty in Christ's service is privilege. It would be folly to draw from this illustration of the defective social life of the Roman Empire a pattern for society today. It is one of the gospel's chief glories that it has rooted out all forms of slavery wherever its full power has been released.
Danger of Ingratitude (17:11-19)
The details of the story of the ten lepers accord fully with Jewish law (see on 5:12-16). The lepers stayed apart, outside the village (Lev. 13:45-46). They called out to announce their presence, although in this instance they exchanged the cry "unclean, unclean," for a petition for help (vs. 13). They sought to assuage their misery by staying together in a group (2 Kings 7:3-15). Jesus sent them to the priests for examination (vs. 14; Lev. 14). The fact that one of them was a Samaritan (vs. 16) shows how tragedy ofttimes brings together those who are normally separated by an impassable gulf.
The stress of the story is not on the healing, but on its outcome. Ten were healed. Only one returned to praise God (vss. 15-18). The others, who were Jews, may have felt that as members of God's Chosen People, the gift of healing was their due. In any case, they received physical healing, but because of their ingratitude they missed the redemption which fellowship with Jesus brings. A better translation of verse 19 would be: "Your faith has saved you" (see 7:50), referring to salvation rather than health. The nine received physical healing. That which sets this one off from them is that his gratitude to the healer brought him into the true People of God.
Two things are evident here. One is that faith is the only basis for membership in God's Kingdom. Here, a Samaritan who was excluded by the Jews was brought into the fellowship of Jesus because he believed, while nine Jews who felt themselves to be already members of the Kingdom were excluded. The fellowship of believers transcends all human differences, and unites men through faith in Jesus. Second, it is frighteningly possible to receive Jesus' gracious gifts in vain. Ingratitude does not deny us his mercies. It denies us him! Jesus administered no punishment to the nine lepers for their ingratitude. He just left them with his gifts--and themselves. To have him without his mercies, would be better than to have his mercies without him.
Danger of False Security (17:20-18:8)
The Old Testament spoke much of the coming Kingdom of God, but gave no indication of the time of its arrival. Mingled hope and curiosity led the rabbis to speculate on the nature of the signs which would announce its nearness. It was natural, therefore, that the Pharisees should ask Jesus for his opinion on when the Kingdom was coming (vs. 20). His reply was twofold. First, it corrected their external, political idea of the Kingdom (vs. 20). Its arrival would not consist in the establishment of an earthly state, which could be located, and which men could observe with the eyes. The signs of the Kingdom's presence were spiritual and could be interpreted only by faith. Second, the Kingdom was already present in him (vs. 21). He, as the King of the Kingdom, had come, had cast out demons, healed the sick, and announced the "good news" that the Kingdom was there (4:18-21; 11:20). If they had interpreted these deeds and his teaching rightly by faith, they would have known that the Kingdom was already in their midst in him.
The same subject is continued, but to the disciples (vss. 22-37). It is now, however, not a question of the beginning of the Kingdom in the coming of Jesus, but rather of its completion when he comes again as Son of man. Throughout the New Testament these two aspects of the Kingdom are present. Jesus could say that "the kingdom of God has come" (11:20), and yet he taught us to pray, "Thy kingdom come" (11:2). The Kingdom is already here in Jesus, but not yet here in its fullness. The Church, therefore, must proclaim the Kingdom's presence and live in its power, yet at the same time witness that it is yet to come in its fullness.
For this reason, Christians will often long for the coming of the final victory (vs. 22). They must, however, live by faith in its coming, when there are no signs of it. Those who are unwilling to live by faith, and who tamper with signs and programs and dates, are to be resolutely avoided (vs. 23). When the Kingdom finally comes, it will come as suddenly and decisively as lightning, and all will know it (vs. 24). In the meantime, believers must live in constant expectancy and readiness. Jesus' rejection and death will lead his enemies to be careless, for they will think that they have done away with him forever (vs. 25). Hence, as in the days of Noah and Lot, they will live as though he were not to be reckoned with (vss. 26-30; Gen. 6:5-7:24; 19:1-28). The ordinary pursuits of life are legitimate, but are not to be engaged in as though they were permanent, nor allowed to crowd out the constant readiness to part with them at the coming of the Kingdom. A loose hold on the present order makes for readiness for the coming order (vs. 31). The fate of Lot's wife is an example of what happens to those who are too much tied to the goods of this world (vs. 32; Gen. 19:26).
One must be prepared to abandon the values of this world, in order to gain the life eternal (vs. 33). Detachment from earthly goods is necessary to a strong attachment to heavenly things. When the decisive moment comes, there will be a great separation. Some will be taken into the Kingdom, others left outside. Their outward estate is quite similar--sleeping at night, working in the day (vss. 34-35). The only difference is that some have known the transitory nature of this life and have lived in expectancy of the age to come, while others have felt secure in the present age. To the question of the disciples about where this should take place, Jesus replied with a proverb. The fact that it will take place is all that we can or need to know, and not the time or place. As surely as the vulture finds a carcass, so surely will judgment come (vs. 37). Therefore, be always ready!
The best way of reminding ourselves of the impermanence of the present order and keeping our expectancy of the coming Kingdom sharp, while at the same time developing patient steadfastness in waiting for it, is to pray. The Kingdom may be long delayed in coming. Bitter suffering may be the lot of those who wait for it. The temptation to despair will be great. The sigh, "O Lord, how long?" will often be on the lips of Christians. The one resource against succumbing to such temptation is prayer. Should prayer cease, Christians would lose heart (18:1).
On the other hand, if continuing urgency in request could produce results from an unjust judge (vss. 2-5), how much more effective will it be with him who is called "the righteous judge"? (2 Tim. 4:8). God's people, as defenseless as the widow, will be vindicated in their trust in his promises of the coming Kingdom (vs. 7). The widow was unknown to the judge. God's people are God's children. Her cause was one of human rights, administered by social custom. Their cause is that of God's Kingdom. She came to the judge frequently. They are to pray "day and night," living in a continual attitude of prayer. Such prayer will receive its answer. Even though deliverance is not immediately forthcoming (vs. 7b), this is not to be interpreted as God's refusal to answer. He "will vindicate them speedily" (vs. 8a). The vindication may not seem speedy to men, but in terms of his program, in which "one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Peter 3:8), God will act quickly and decisively. His delay is a mercy to the enemies of his people. Believers are not to fret at the delay, but to be faithful (vs. 8b).
Danger of Self-Trust (18:9-30)
The parable of the Pharisee and the Publican is connected with the preceding teaching in two ways. First, after showing the necessity of constant prayer, Jesus had to indicate that not all prayer is genuine. Second, the thought of the coming Kingdom led him to correct some false ideas about it. The Pharisees felt that by properly keeping the Law, they were preparing the way for God's Kingdom. God's deliverance would be a reward for man's behavior. Righteousness was a human achievement, not a gift of God's grace. Jesus told this parable to warn against those "who trusted in themselves that they were righteous" (vs. 9).
The Pharisee could commend himself to God. He did have worthy religious achievements of which to boast. His avoidance of evil behavior was noteworthy. He did not extort, deal unjustly, commit adultery, nor compromise with the Romans for a living as did the tax collectors (vs. 11). Positively, too, he had much to his credit. Although fasting was not prescribed by the Law, he engaged in it twice a week as an act of self-mortification for the sins of the people, of which he felt himself not guilty (5:33). Some of the Pharisees not only tithed the products of the soil and their animals, as the Law prescribed (Deut. 14:22-23), but tithed even what they bought, lest they make use of something which had not been tithed (vs. 12). There is no accusation of insincerity here. Paul is a good example of a wholly sincere Pharisee, who could boast that he lived "as to righteousness under the law blameless" (Phil. 3:6). But this was what he called "a righteousness of my own, based on law" (Phil. 3:9). It sought to establish right relations to God by self-achievement, and to reduce God's dealing with man to mathematical precision.
The tax collector, on the other hand, could claim no merit. He did not even engage in the customary form of lifting up his eyes to heaven in prayer (vs. 13; John 11:41; 17:1). He could only use the sign of guilt and mourning--beating the breast (23:48)--while confessing that he had no status whatever before God, that he was nothing but a miserable sinner, and that his only hope of a right relation to God lay not in anything he could do, but in God's mercy (vs. 13). Here is no self-trust, only repentance and trust in God. We have Jesus' word for it that "this man went down to his house justified rather than the other" (vs. 14). For whoever commends himself to God will be abased before him, "but he who humbles himself will be exalted." Humility and self-abasement open the door to God's mercy!
The point is reinforced by Jesus' dealing with little children (vss. 15-17). They were mere infants in arms, symbols of total dependence and insignificance. Why should these, who were so insignificant, take the time of Jesus from those who were important? (vs. 15). In this objection, the disciples indicated that they still felt that some sort of worthiness was necessary in order to claim the attention of their Master. But it is to such as these that the Kingdom belongs, said Jesus (vs. 16). Only those who receive the Kingdom as children can enter it (vs. 17). Jesus was not here speaking of some primal innocence of children (parents know that they are not "little angels"). He was rather saying that only those can receive the Kingdom who accept it as a gift, because they have no sense of their own value, can offer to God no resources of their own, and are wholly dependent on him. These are the "poor," whose is the Kingdom of God (6:20).
An illustration from life follows, making very concrete the danger of self-trust (vss. 18-30). The rich young man, perhaps a ruler in the synagogue (see 14:1), trusted in himself and the possibility of his achievements, not in God. When he addressed Jesus as "Good Teacher," Jesus had to remind him that if he had any goodness, it was because of his total dependence on God, and not because of his own achievement (vs. 19; see John 5:19-20). The reminder indicates immediately that Jesus saw that the young man had himself rather than God at the center of his life. To focus his attention on the need for making God and his will central, Jesus reminded the young man, as he had done with others on similar occasions (10:25-28; 16:29-31), of the commandments which express God's will (vs. 20). The self-trust of the young man is seen in his reply (vs. 21). With utter sincerity, he claimed that he had kept the commandments! And he felt capable of doing even more to ensure his salvation, if Jesus would only tell him what it should be!
In order to show him that self rather than God was really the center of his life, Jesus bade him surrender all his earthly security, and follow him (vs. 22). This involved the twofold response of making God central and of following Jesus, who was on the way to Jerusalem to reveal God in an act of complete dedication and self-giving. The young man's refusal indicates that his wealth--not God--was supreme to him (vs. 23). Jesus' dealings with Zacchaeus (19:1-10) show that he was not teaching that wealth in itself is evil. It is only the love of it, which makes it an idol in the place of God, that is wrong.
The strong hold which the goods of this life have on us is to be seen in Jesus' sad recognition of how difficult it is for one who is wealthy to put God first. In fact, apart from the grace of God, it is impossible--literally as impossible as it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle (vss. 24-25). Since all either have wealth, or seem to be seeking it, does not this automatically rule out nearly all from salvation? (vs. 26). The power of God's grace to release men from the binding slavery of things is exalted in Jesus' reply (vs. 27). Peter's question (vs. 28) shows that even the disciples had not yet fully realized the meaning of God's grace. They were still thinking in terms of reward for achievement. Jesus did not condemn them. They had perhaps come as far as was possible then. He promises them that no offering or service in his Kingdom is in vain. These lead to fellowship in the people of God and to eternal life (vss. 29-30).
To indicate to the disciples that the rewards just mentioned are not to be the motive of service, Jesus reminds them once more of his coming sacrifice at Jerusalem. Obedience to the will of God, which his self-offering will express, is the sole motive of service. This last announcement of his suffering goes beyond the earlier ones (9:22, 44; 17:25), in that Jerusalem is specifically named as the place of his suffering; stress is laid on his death as the direct fulfillment of prophecy (see 22:22, 37; 24:25-27, 44-47); and the Romans are mentioned as those at whose hands he will be executed (vss. 31-33). This was all beyond the understanding of the disciples at this moment. "They did not grasp what was said" (vs. 34). It would take Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost to fill it with meaning.
The story of the blind man at Jericho (vss. 35-43) has special significance. It is the beginning of Jesus' open claim to be Messiah. Formerly, he had spoken only indirectly of his mission, and had refused to allow others publicly to call him Messiah (4:35, 41; 9:21, 36). Now, a great crowd of pilgrims going up to the Passover is around him, many of whom believed that "the kingdom of God was to appear immediately" (19:11). Whatever their judgment of him may have been, there is little doubt that they felt that he would have some relation to the coming of the Kingdom. The blind man, who apparently had heard of Jesus' mighty works before, called Jesus the "Son of David" (vss. 38-39). This was a Messianic title (20:41). This time Jesus does not refuse the public acclamation as Messiah. In fact, he seems deliberately to draw it out, by stopping to speak with the blind man, when he could well have avoided it (vs. 40). His question to the blind man has a similar character (vs. 41). Did the blind man merely want some alms, or did his faith in Jesus lead him to believe that Jesus could open his eyes, which was one of the signs of the Messianic Age? (4:18; 7:21; Isa. 29:18; 35:5).
In responding to the man's faith in his Messianic power by healing him, and doing it deliberately as the Son of David, Jesus began his public declaration of Messiahship, which was carried forward at the Triumphal Entry, and finally led him to death (22:67-71). In so doing, Jesus took full responsibility for the Messianic demonstration which took place at his entrance into Jerusalem (19:28-40), and allowed his people to pin their Messianic hopes on him. How different his conception of Messiahship was from theirs, however, the Cross would reveal.
This difference is strongly depicted in Jesus' dealings with Zacchaeus (19:1-10). Jericho was situated on a main route to Judea and Egypt, and was an important customs center. Zacchaeus was "a chief tax collector, and rich" (vs. 2). According to the Judaism of that time, his calling excluded him from membership in the people of God who would benefit from Messiah's coming (see on 5:27-32). He was, therefore, kept away from Jesus not only by the pressure of the crowd, but by religious ostracism (vs. 7). He may have heard of Jesus' gracious dealings with fellow tax collectors (5:27-32; 15:1-2) and, desirous of seeing a rabbi whose attitude was so different from that to which he was accustomed, would let nothing stand in his way (vs. 4).
Jesus' friendliness toward him and his willingness to be a guest in his home--a shocking thing for a religious person to do!--led Zacchaeus to a total change of heart. Fellowship with Jesus broke the hold riches had on him, and led him to make restitution of anything wrongfully taken (vs. 8). This was spontaneous gratitude to Jesus, as well as a reflection of a new sense of values which he found in Jesus' presence. He was not asked to give up all his wealth, as was the rich ruler (18:22), nor to leave his business and home, as was Levi (5:27-28). He merely became a new man, living in God's grace, in his old circumstances.
Jesus was moving toward Jerusalem as Messiah. But his Messiahship differed from the people's expectation, in that he received as "a son of Abraham" one whom they had excluded (vs. 9), and set forth his mission in religious rather than political terms. He had come not to establish an earthly throne from which to rule the nations. He had come "to seek and to save the lost" (vs. 10). It was this that would be achieved by what was shortly to transpire at Jerusalem. Tragically, it carried with it the self-exclusion of those who rejected him (13:27-30). In Zacchaeus and those who murmured against him is enacted in real life the parable of the Prodigal and the Elder Brother (15:11-32).
Jesus last teaching before arriving in Jerusalem was directed mainly to his disciples, but had overtones of application to the Jewish nation which was soon to crown its rejection of him as Messiah by condemning him to death (vss. 11-27). Jesus' disciples had left home and employment, and had followed him through the months with increasing hope. Now that they were nearing Jerusalem, their hopes were fanned into flame. They thought that the Kingdom "was to appear immediately" (vs. 11), and that they would share in the glory of him who brought it (9:46, 49, 54; 18:28). Jesus had to show them that there would be a long period of waiting before the Kingdom came in all its glory. In the meantime, they were to serve responsibly in the midst of a hostile environment. Their final share in the Kingdom would depend on their faithfulness during the time of waiting.
The form of the parable is probably taken from a first-century event. Upon the death of Herod the Great, his son Archelaus made the long journey to Rome to have his rule over Judea confirmed by Augustus Caesar (vs. 12). The Jewish people sent a delegation at the same time, saying, "We do not want this man to reign over us" (vs. 14). The comparison is clear. Jesus, as he has intimated all along and as his disciples believe, will receive the Kingdom. But, as he has announced before and they did not understand (18:31-34), he must go on the long journey of death to receive this Kingdom. Later, he would return in "kingly power" (vs. 15; 23:42). In the meantime, his servants would have to live in the hostile environment of people who hate him (vs. 14). During this period, they were to take what they had received from him, and increase it by making disciples of all others who would hear them and believe (vs. 13). A reckoning would be made at his return (vs. 15). All bear the same responsibility, yet the results are not the same (vss. 16-24).
The only servants judged, however, are those who have merely kept intact what they received, and have made no effort to increase it (vss. 20-24). What they have will be given to those who have been faithful to their stewardship (vs. 24). The parenthetical remark of verse 25 was probably made by the listeners. Jesus stated, in reply to their objection, a principle which he had laid down before (8:18)--unused gifts diminish, whereas those who use well what they have, find it continually growing. It is to be noted that the reward of the faithful is not mere restful inactivity and indulgent enjoyment; it is rather larger service (vss. 17-19). Verse 27 pictures the terrible fate of Jerusalem, which indicates the inexorable judgments of God in history, and stands as a warning for all who refuse God's mercy in Christ.
Jesus' teaching, both to the disciples and to the Jewish people, is now done. The arrival at Jerusalem is at hand. In what takes place there will be seen the meaning of all that he has done and has taught previously, and of all that he will continue to do and to teach until the end of the age.
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