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
This is the climactic section of the Gospel, to which everything has been pointing since Jesus' coming into the world. It is the record of Jesus' offering himself to his people in Jerusalem as their Messiah, their rejection of him which led to his death, and God's triumph over their rejection in the Resurrection. Jesus' rejection by his own people, however, was but a dramatic representation of his rejection by all men. Neither Jew nor Gentile was solely responsible for the death of Jesus. Both were party to the crime. Nor were only those who directly participated in the act responsible. They were simply a cross-section of humanity, representatives of us all. "All have sinned," and "the whole world may be held accountable to God" (Rom. 3:23 and 19). The story moves with little comment or interpretation on the part of Luke. The facts carry their own weight, both of judgment on human sin and of unspeakable mercy on God's part. Here the judgment of the world and its redemption meet in the most tragic, yet the most glorious, moment of God's saving action in behalf of man.
Jesus' arrival at Jerusalem was a dramatic moment. It was the point toward which he had been moving with determined intention for months (see 9:51). Fully aware that death would be the result, he chose to make an open proclamation of himself as God's Messiah in God's city. The events associated with his dramatic arrival sprang the trap which led him to the Cross.
The Triumphal Entry (19:28-40)
The Triumphal Entry was definitely a Messianic act. It was Jesus' offering of himself to his people as their Messiah in a way which they must either accept or reject. The deliberateness of this act is to be seen in the precise arrangements Jesus made for it (vss. 30-31). The fact that the colt had more than one owner (vs. 33) may suggest their poverty. Their willingness to let the animal go because "the Lord" needed it may indicate some previous knowledge of Jesus on their part (vs. 34).
Every feature of the story indicates Jesus' intention to declare himself as Israel's King. The place is significant (vs. 37). Zechariah had spoken of a time when "the LORD will become king over all the earth." "On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives" (Zech. 14:9 and 4). Evidence that this passage had stirred hopes of God's deliverance of his people is to be seen in the fact that in the days of Nero an Egyptian Jew rallied a multitude of followers to storm the walls of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives (see Acts 21:38). Jesus, therefore, appeared on this Mount to proclaim himself Israel's true Deliverer.
That the colt was to be one "on which no one has ever yet sat" (vs. 30) further shows the special significance of this occasion to Jesus. Animals which had never been used were commandeered for especially holy purposes (see Num. 19:2; Deut. 21:3; 1 Sam. 6:7). Furthermore, the whole event was a conscious enactment of an ancient prophecy: "Lo, your king comes to you . . . humble and riding on an ass" (Zech. 9:9). That Jesus was dramatizing this ancient prophecy is to be seen in his words to his disciples not long before: "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written of the Son of man by the prophets will be accomplished" (18:31). Jesus' every act during his last days was a conscious fulfillment of a divine plan to which the Old Testament bore witness.
That the disciples and the accompanying multitude caught the Messianic significance of all this is to be seen in two facts. First, they cast their garments on the road before him (vs. 36). This was an act of homage rendered to royalty (see 2 Kings 9:13). Second, as the Holy City came into sight the whole multitude burst out spontaneously in praise to God in the words of Psalm 118: "Blessed be the King who comes in the name of the Lord!" (vs. 38; Ps. 118:26). Psalm 118, embodying their hopes of God's coming deliverance, was sung by pilgrims on the way to the Jerusalem feasts. Now the Deliverer was here!
That Jesus planned his entrance into Jerusalem as a Messianic act is to be seen further in his reply to the Pharisees who asked him to rebuke the disciples (vss. 39-40). They cautioned him against stirring up the Romans through such a frenzied outburst, which they regarded also as a religious scandal. Jesus' reply indicated that he fully accepted the Messianic ovation given him (vs. 40). Using a proverbial expression (see Hab. 2:11), he insisted that the homage was legitimate. He was saying, in effect: Messiah is here, and somebody must herald his coming. It could not be that there would take place the momentous event toward which the entire Old Testament, even the entire history of mankind, had been moving, without some recognition of its happening. Should men not herald it, the very stones would cry out. The secret of Jesus' Messiahship, which heretofore he had kept to himself and had not permitted either demons or disciples to proclaim (4:35, 41; 9:21, 36), must be revealed before his death. The issue is clear. Israel must either accept or reject her Messiah.
Jerusalem was to Jesus a much-loved city. It was the city where God had chosen to establish his presence among men. It was the center of a Temple, a Law, and a People which held the spiritual hopes of humanity and which were dear to Jesus. But it was a city blind to God's will and purpose, a rebellious city which did not know "the things that make for peace" (vs. 42)--the proposal of reconciliation which God had made to them in Jesus. God had "visited" them with offers of grace, but they did not know it (vs. 44; see also Gen. 50:24 for the meaning of "visit"). Consequently, nothing lay ahead but judgment. The Romans would attack the city and utterly destroy it. Jesus must speak this word of judgment, but he weeps as he does it. He had no tears for his own suffering which was soon to come, but his heart broke over his people whom he had come to save. To be the means of the destruction of the very people he had come to redeem, was to Jesus a part of the Cross.
The Cleansing of the Temple (19:45-48)
If there was any doubt left about Jesus' intention in the Triumphal Entry, it was decisively removed by his action in cleansing the Temple. As it was expected that the Messiah would come from the Mount of Olives (see the discussion of 19:37), it was also thought that he would openly declare himself in the Temple (Mal. 3:1). Here Jesus, in conscious fulfillment of prophecy, declared himself with dramatic suddenness. Furthermore, his action in driving from the Temple those who were defiling it as a business center, was wholly in accord with Malachi's description. He was to "purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the LORD" (Mal. 3:3). Jesus' attack on the High Priesthood here could hardly have been a more exact fulfillment of this prophetic word.
For the sake of enriching the Temple treasury, the High Priest Annas had established a lively business in the sale of animals for sacrifice, and in the exchange of foreign money into Jewish money, in which the Temple tax had to be paid. This business was carried on in the Court of the Gentiles, the outer court of the Temple. Operating as a virtual monopoly, and with an assured market, the chief priests profited greatly from the enterprise.
Jesus' assumption of complete authority over this priestly misuse of the Temple was a claim to Messiahship. That this claim prompted his action, rather than a sudden outburst of uncontrollable temper, is to be seen in Mark's word that Jesus "looked round at everything" in the Temple, then went out to spend the night before taking action (11:11). His deed came, therefore, after long deliberation. Jesus based his action on reasonable grounds drawn from Scripture (vs. 46). The Second Isaiah had described the Temple as a "house of prayer" (Isa. 56:7). For the priests, whose business it was to assist men in bringing their offerings to God, to place economic considerations above worship, was a misuse of God's house which Messiah could not tolerate. The second passage of Scripture on which Jesus based his action suggests that there may even have been a measure of fraud in the whole affair. To examine the context in which Jeremiah says that God's house had "become a den of robbers" (Jer. 7:11), makes it difficult to avoid the conclusion that this is what Jesus had in mind.
God's Messiah had come "like a refiner's fire" (Mal. 3:2), to claim God's rights in his house. In Messiah's presence, the Temple became once more a "house of prayer" where men could pour out their hearts to God. But more than that, it became also a place where God could speak to men. Consequently, Jesus "was teaching daily in the temple" (19:47), setting forth both by what he said and by what he was the whole truth of God.
By his direct claim to authority in God's house, Jesus forced his death. He was not of the priestly clan. He had no credentials from the Jerusalem authorities which gave him rights in God's house. The issue was squarely joined. Either he had rights there because he was the Messiah, or he must be destroyed. Consequently, "the chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people sought to destroy him" (vs. 47). It was of these three groups that the Sanhedrin, the highest court of authority among the Jews, consisted. They could not take immediate action because of Jesus' popularity with the multitudes. Many of the common people thought him to be Messiah, and in an open contest would have stood with him against the authorities. Furthermore, the cleansing of the Temple was an act which had the support of almost all save the high officials themselves. The ordinary priests opposed the business traffic in the Temple (see 1:5-6), while the people were solidly set against it. Consequently, a temporary shield of protection was thrown around Jesus. The protection, however, would soon be torn away, and Jesus would go to the Cross. Jerusalem did not know the time of her "visitation" (vs. 44).
The protection of the crowds gave Jesus opportunity to teach in the Temple for a few days. During this period the authorities pressed him with questions designed to discredit him with the multitudes, or to entice him into answers which might lead to his condemnation on religious grounds according to the Jewish Law, or on political grounds according to Roman Law (see vs. 20). After he had silenced their questions (vs. 40), he confronted them with further claims (vss. 41-44), offered some additional instruction (vss. 45-47; 21:1-4), and then gave a discourse on the destruction of Jerusalem and the End of the Age (21:5-38).
By What Authority? (20:1-18)
Responding to Jesus' act in cleansing the Temple, the authorities began their counterattack. It showed the marks of careful planning, both because it was made by "the chief priests and the scribes with the elders" (20:1), who composed the Sanhedrin, and because the nature of the question was cleverly designed, as would be expected from legal experts (vs. 2). At least two motives lay behind the question. First, if Jesus were to be taken, it was necessary to discredit him before the people. If he could be exposed as having acted without proper credentials, this end might be achieved. Second, if Jesus could be induced to make a verbal claim to Messiahship, they might condemn him for blasphemy.
Four elements were included in Jesus' counterquestion. First, he was trying to show them that the problem of spiritual authority is not one that can be settled by mere objective considerations, nor by authoritarian answers. John had come announcing the nearness of the Kingdom of God, but the religious leaders had not committed themselves to his message (vs. 5; see 7:30). If they were unwilling to make a commitment, no claim to authority on Jesus' part would be convincing. If authority is from God, I must surrender to it before I can rightly judge it. Jesus' questioners got the point. "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will say, 'Why did you not believe him?'" (vs. 5).
Second, John's baptism was a call to repentance. It involved not theological, but moral, decision. Was God at work in John? Since the mission of John and that of Jesus were bound together (see 7:33-35), a moral decision about John was necessary before the issue of Jesus could be settled.
Third, Jesus was making an offer of himself to them. He asked his counterquestion to see whether they would open their hearts to him. Mutual trust is necessary before the mystery of Jesus' Person can be made known.
Fourth, Jesus made an indirect but clear answer to their question. John had appeared as a prophet. If he were not from God, then he was an imposter. If he were genuine, the renewal of prophecy in him was a sign of the beginning of the Messianic Age. His pointing to Jesus as the Coming One was evidence, to those who were willing to receive it, that Jesus was the Messiah. Hence, still avoiding a verbal claim to Messiahship, as was his custom, Jesus answered their question by indirection. Their effort to discredit him before the people ended in failure.
Jesus now told a parable to reinforce the truth that the rejection of both John and himself by the religious leaders would bring drastic judgment (vss. 9-18). The figure of a vineyard was a familiar representation of Israel (see Isa. 5:1-7; Jer. 12:10; Hosea 10:1; Ps. 80:8-13). It suggested both God's choice, for a vineyard does not plant itself, and God's patient nurture of his people, inasmuch as a vineyard needs constant care. The fruit of obedience to his will is a legitimate demand on God's part.
The story is a rehearsal of the history of God's dealing with his people. The tenants are the leaders of Israel, who had the spiritual life of the people in their charge. The servants who are sent in succession are the prophets. The fact that judgment did not come at the initial rejection is a clear reflection of the patience and love of God for his people. This is underlined by the fact that God then did what no human owner would have done--sent his "beloved son" in the hope that the tenants might respond to him (vs. 13). The expression clearly refers to Jesus (see 3:22; 9:35). The love of God surpasses all human calculation and knowledge. It is difficult to know in what sense the tenants thought the "inheritance" was to pass to them if the son were killed (vs. 14). This may reflect the very essence of sin, which according to Genesis 3:5 is man's desire to be "like God," in the sense of being independent of him by refusing to live under his sovereign will. One of the greatest mysteries of sin is the fact that the desire for independence from God can often take the form of religious activity.
The destruction of the tenants means that the vineyard will be given to others (vs. 16). The rebellion of Israel does not thwart the purpose of God. It will go forward through the Gentiles, who are also the objects of God's grace (see Isa. 42:6; 49:6; Rom. 9-11). This drew from the people the spontaneous expression, "God forbid!" (vs. 16). To them it was unthinkable that the purpose of God could be transferred to any people other than the Jews. Jesus, therefore, drew upon Psalm 118:22, a Messianic Psalm, implying that he was the stone which the builders of Israel would reject, but that God would make him the cornerstone of a New Israel, the Church (see Acts 4:11; 1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:4-8). Even if Israel rejected their Messiah, the purpose of God would be fulfilled, and Jesus' authority would remain. The Son who came to offer himself on the altar of God's love also gave some terrible warnings (vs. 18). The smoldering heap of ruins which was Jerusalem in A.D. 70 testified to the fact that the warning here was more than mere words.
Tribute to Caesar? (20:19-26)
Thwarted in their first attempt to trap Jesus, and angered by Jesus' words of judgment on them, the scribes and chief priests were held back from seizing him immediately only by their fear of stirring up an insurrection among the people (vs. 19). They would try another tack. They would seek to involve him in trouble with the Roman governor. To that end, they sent spies whose purpose it was to catch him in some word which would lead to his condemnation by Pilate (vs. 20).
The attack opened with insincere flattery over Jesus' proclamation of the truth without fear or favor (vs. 21). Then the spies sought to place Jesus in a dilemma, so that he would be condemned whichever way he replied (vs. 22). If Jesus approved paying the tax, he would incur the disfavor of the people by appearing to be unconcerned about the burden Rome had placed on them, as well as indifferent to God's Lordship as supreme over that of Caesar. On the other hand, if Jesus denied the lawfulness of paying the Roman tax, he could be reported to Pilate, who dealt summarily with such people.
Jesus was not deceived by their "craftiness" (vs. 23). He asked for a coin, pointed out Caesar's likeness inscribed on it, and replied: "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (vss. 24-25). Although the Zealots based their tax resistance on religious grounds, there is little doubt that economic motives entered into it also. Jesus, therefore, was suggesting that one should not confuse the claims of Mammon with those of God. Furthermore, the resistance to Roman taxation was based on a political conception of the Kingdom of God. The Zealots--and even the Pharisees, who were not so extreme in their views--equated the coming of the Kingdom with freedom from Rome. Jesus was here intimating that the Kingdom did not depend on political deliverance from Rome. They could offer to God their whole loyalty within the framework of the Roman government. Deliverance was there through a Messiah who was not to battle against Rome, but was to surrender himself to the suffering of the Cross, and thus call to himself a new People who would see that the Kingdom had come in his deliverance from sin and death.
The ruse had failed. Jesus had not been caught on the horns of the dilemma they had posed. He had said nothing by which he could be discredited either with the people or with Pilate. His questioners could but marvel and remain silent (vs. 26).
Is There a Resurrection? (20:27-40)
The Sadducees now tried to trap Jesus. The first attempt had been to discredit him with the people, the second, to involve him in treason against Rome. The third took the form of ridicule. It involved more than that, however. The Sadducees, who were the priestly aristocracy, held only the Law--that is, the Five Books of Moses--to be authoritative. The Pharisees, on the other hand, added the Prophets and other writings of the Old Testament to the Law, as well as the oral tradition which had grown up around them. One of the leading theological points on which the two groups differed was that of the resurrection of the dead. Moses had said nothing about it; therefore, to the Sadducees, it could not be true (vs. 27; see also Acts 4:1-2; 23:6-10). If Jesus held to it, along with the Pharisees, they could accuse him of conflict with Moses, the authoritative teacher of the Law, and of conflict with divine revelation. Furthermore, the Pharisaic belief in the resurrection could be reduced to absurdity by an example.
To assure posterity to the dead, the brother of a man who died without children was to take his wife and raise up children in his name (Deut. 25:5-6). An imaginary case was conjured up in which this happened seven times with the same woman. "In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be?" (vs. 33). The first part of Jesus' answer was a corrective of the Pharisees' view of the resurrection, which permitted the Sadducees to pose such absurdities. The Pharisees had pictured heaven as a mere continuation of this world, a heightening of all the normal functions of life as we know it here. Jesus insists, however, that the resurrection world is not merely a perfecting of this world. It is another world, different from this--God's world, which is beyond our understanding (vss. 34-36). It is a world as different from ours as God differs from man (see 1 Cor. 15:35-50; Phil. 3:21). Marriage is designed for this world to fulfill the social needs of man (Gen. 2:18-25) and for the procreation of the race (Gen. 1:28). In the world of the resurrection where death is no more, the second is superfluous and the first will be fulfilled in a fellowship with God like that of the angels. Hence, the question they have posed is absurd not because there is no resurrection, but because they did not understand its nature.
The second part of Jesus' answer was directed to the Sadducees. It is a strong affirmation of the resurrection of the dead, based on the very Scriptures which they had used to deny it--the writings of Moses, and not from some obscure, insignificant passage, but from the very fountainhead of God's revelation to Moses at the burning bush (vss. 37-38; Exod. 3:1-6). Since God is the Creator, who has life in himself and can know no death, then all those who have been related to him by faith share in his life. Faith in the resurrection, therefore, depends on faith in God. Is the God in whom we believe the living God? Then those who are in him live! No one dared to question Jesus further, for each time he gained an advantage which put his opponents to shame (vss. 39-40).
David's Son or David's Lord? (20:41-44)
Having silenced his opponents, Jesus now challenged them to think through the question of his Messiahship at a deeper level. The political Messianic hopes of the scribes pictured the "Son of David" as one who would re-establish the throne of David and rule over an earthly kingdom. Jesus accepted the title "Son of David" for himself (18:37, 39), and the Early Church held him to be such (see 1:69; 3:31; Rom. 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:8). But both Jesus and the Early Church lifted this title above political ideas, and set it in the context of Jesus' Lordship over all authorities and powers, whether in this world or the world to come (Eph. 1:20-22; Col. 1:12-20). The total Lordship of Jesus, over this world and the unseen world, over the living and the dead, over things present and things to come, was established through his resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:4; 1 Cor. 15:20-28; 1 Peter 3:21-22). But to be raised from the dead, it was necessary for him to die. As Messiah who had come to die, therefore, he could not reign as a political deliverer, but must be humiliated, rejected, despised, condemned (see 9:22, 44-45; 17:25; 18:31-33; Isa. 53; Phil. 2:5-11). It was this humiliation and lowliness, this failure to use political power to free them from the Romans, which led the Jews to reject his Messianic claims.
To show that such humiliation really did not speak against his Messiahship, Jesus referred them to Psalm 110:1, a verse which all interpreted as Messianic. There, Messiah is referred to as David's Lord rather than David's Son. This means two things. First, there is more to true Messiahship than to be a political heir to the throne of David. Second, the expression "David's Son" as referring to the Messiah really involved an aspect of humiliation rather than exaltation. The exaltation of the Messiah is not that of David's Son, but is the exaltation which makes him David's Lord and Lord of all the kings of the earth. His exaltation is to be seated at the right hand of God, not to rule on an earthly throne. As David's Son, then, he must be humiliated, in order that he may be raised to God's right hand to reign until all enemies are put under his feet. This was a challenge to the scribes to rethink the nature of Messiahship, and to see in Jesus' humiliation not a sign that he was not David's Son, but a sign that he was exactly that, and was also David's Lord.
Beware of the Scribes (20:45-47)
Jesus continued his reproach against the scribes, warning his disciples in the presence of all the people against their false piety. Three aspects of it are here singled out. The first was their personal ambition (vs. 46). In the Orient, positions of honor are marked by outward signs. One's dress, the greetings given him on the street, the location of his seat in the synagogue or at a feast, all indicate the relative position of honor in which one is held. To covet public honors was wholly out of accord with the religion of the lowly Son of man who "came not to be served but to serve" (Mark 10:45; see also Luke 22:27). Second, Jesus reproved their greed (vs. 47a; see also 16:13-15). The Law had ordained special concern for widows and orphans (Exod. 22:22-24). It was doubly blameworthy, then, when those who claimed to be the guardians of the Law tried to evade it by profiting at the expense of those whose interests they were to guard. Third, there was religious hypocrisy (vs. 47b). Prayers evaluated by their length rather than their depth, and made to impress men rather than God, were strongly condemned by Jesus (see 18:9-14; Matt. 6:5-15).
Because of the scribes' position as teachers of the Law, their condemnation for disregard of the Law will be all the greater (vs. 47c; see also James 3:1).
The Widow's Offering (21:1-4)
The connection between this incident and the condemnation of the scribes which immediately precedes it is clear. In contrast to a piety which paraded in public for self-gain, the poor widow gave all she had in love for God. The widow had too little for display, and her offering could in no sense have been prompted by selfishness. It was too small for notice--about a quarter of a cent--save for the penetrating eye of Jesus. His praise for her act was as great as his condemnation of the scribes (vss. 3-4).
The radical difference between Jesus' evaluation of her gift and the customary evaluation is to be seen in the fact that he measured it not by its amount, but by what she had left! The generosity of those who give freely is good. But when large amounts are left for the giver, the value in God's sight is less than that of a small gift from one who has little left for himself.
Foregleams of the Future (21:5-38)
As one stands on a high mountain, viewing an ever-receding range of peaks, seeing only the broad features and unable to measure the distances between them, so apocalyptic vision sees the broad features of the coming pattern without precise detail, and with events sometimes blending without attention to the time which separates them. Hence, in this passage the fall of Jerusalem and the End of the Age so blend that the features of each cannot be precisely determined.
The discourse arose out of a remark of the disciples about the "noble stones and offerings" of the Temple (vs. 5). It was a magnificent set of buildings, with both beauty and size which would dwarf most modern religious structures. Its forty-foot columns carved out of single stones, its "offerings" such as Herod's golden vine with clusters taller than a man, and its gold-covered dome, made it a source of pride to every Jew in the world. It was also the center of their hopes. It was the place where God had chosen to dwell, the God on whom they relied for deliverance from their enemies. And in spite of Roman occupation they were still free to carry on their worship without Roman interference. The Temple, therefore, was the one remaining symbol of God's Lordship, and their one hope of deliverance from Rome.
It was a startling thing for Jesus to respond to their remark by abruptly announcing the total destruction of all this (vs. 6). In so doing, he was following in the footsteps of Jeremiah, who had predicted the destruction of the former Temple (26:6). According to Matthew (24:1) and Mark (13:1), the saying was made only in the presence of the disciples. If it became known, it would have been just grounds for demanding his death. (It seems to have played some part in his trial; see Mark 14:58; 15:29. Did Judas make it known?) The response of the people to Jeremiah was: "You shall die!" (Jer. 26:8). To announce the ruin of the Temple was to say that Israel would cease being the people of God. And since the Jews could not conceive of the existence of God without his people to adore him, this was to them blasphemy against God.
The question of the disciples about when this should happen and what its sign should be, suggests that they did not catch the full force of his meaning (vs. 7). There was a current expectation of a time of "woes" or "sufferings" prior to the coming of the Messianic Age, which would be the birthpangs of the new order (see Matt. 24:8; Mark 13:8). The disciples, therefore, may have thought that Jesus referred to this, which would be not the annihilation of the Temple, but its removal for an even more glorious one to befit Messiah's Kingdom. Jesus' answer gives no specific hints about time, and cautions against any confidence in so-called "signs" of coming events. There will be many who will arise, saying that the "signs of the times" point to such and such events, and some will even offer themselves as God's Messiah (vs. 8). Furthermore, there will be international unrest and wars to reckon with. These are in God's plan, but are not to bring terror to God's people (vs. 9). They are not to be interpreted as signs that the end is near. Jesus seems to be counseling both to discernment and to patience. The necessity of this is to be seen in the fact that during the next few decades there were false messiahs who arose to lead many astray by proclaiming that the decisive moment of history was at hand (see Acts 21:38).
Another description of coming wars is given, to which is added further signs of the terrible disruption of life which will cause distress among the Jews--earthquakes, famine, pestilence, and terrors in the heavens (vss. 10-11). These latter are frequently used in apocalyptic writing to describe the intensity of events, and are not to be taken literally (see Acts 2:16-21).
But before the fall of Jerusalem, the Church will be called upon to suffer for the name of Christ, both from Jews and Gentiles (vs. 12). The Book of the Acts bears abundant testimony to the truth of this (see, for example, 4:1-22; 5:17-40; 7:1-60; 14:19; 16:19-24). Yet the persecution was to be an opportunity for the Christians to "bear testimony" to their faith (vs. 13), and would be a time when they would discover the presence of their Lord in a most intimate and helpful way (vss. 14-15; see also Acts 4:13; 6:10).
Their power to witness, however, was no guarantee against further persecution. In fact, the most precious ties of life would in some cases have to be broken, and they would frequently know the hatred of all men (vss. 16-17). This was a part of the cost of following their suffering Lord which he had formerly announced to them (see 9:23-27), and must be endured to the end (vs. 19). The encouragement to endurance lay in the fact that it was for his sake, and in his promise of protecting grace at all times (vs. 18). It did not mean, of course, protection from physical harm, for he had already told them that some of them would be "put to death" (vs. 16). It must mean, rather, what Paul was speaking of in Romans when he insisted that no peril in life or in death, in this world or the next, can "separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:39).
The discourse proceeds at this point to advise Jesus' followers about what to do when the siege of Jerusalem comes. When the armies of Rome surround the city, there will be no possible defense. Therefore, those who are in the province of Judea should escape to the mountains, those who are in the environs of Jerusalem should not enter the city, and those who are in the city should flee (vss. 20-21). For Jerusalem's doom is sure. It is the judgment of God (vs. 22).
When Jerusalem was attacked in A.D. 66-70, the Christians followed this counsel of their Lord, leaving Jerusalem for Pella, east of the Jordan. The Jews, on the other hand, fanatically expected that God would intervene to save them. They cried to God to the last--but no help came. The wall was breached, the Temple went up in flames, and the city was decimated. How clearly Jesus saw all this coming, and with what pathos he described the future suffering of the inhabitants of the city! (vss. 23-24). The interval between the fall of Jerusalem and the End of the Age is called "the times of the Gentiles," during which the gospel is announced to the Gentiles and the vineyard is given to others than the Jews (see 20:16; 13:29-30).
The discourse now turns to the End of the Age and the coming of the Son of man. (For the meaning of this term see the discussion of 5:24.) The view broadens to take in the whole of creation. The vivid description of turbulence is perhaps not to be taken literally (vss. 25-28). It is the sort of language frequently used in the Old Testament to describe violent change and to suggest the coming of a totally new order--the Day of the Lord (see Isa. 13:9-16; Joel 2:10, 30-31). Jesus will finally come "with power and great glory" to be acknowledged by the whole universe as Lord (vs. 27). The coming "in a cloud" is an apocalyptic form, suggesting his arrival from the unseen realm (see 1 Thess. 4:16-17). What form this will take is impossible for us to understand with our finite minds. The mood for believers who await the final End is to be one of hope. It is difficult to know to what the expression "these things" in verse 28 refers, but it would seem to relate to the calamities incident to the destruction of Jerusalem. But in all the turbulence of history prior to the End, Christians are to see the hand of God at work, and to know that their redemption is continually "drawing near."
As the appearance of the leaves on the trees augurs the sure coming of summer before it arrives, so God's judgments in history are signs that his Kingdom is near (vss. 29-31). History is moving toward the End which God has set for it. The final assurance of this cannot rest on observation of events or any reasoned calculation. It rests rather on the sure word of Jesus, whose words will abide when "heaven and earth . . . pass away" (vs. 33). If verse 32 can be referred to the destruction of Jerusalem, it presents no problem, for that took place within the lifetime of many to whom Jesus was speaking. If it does not relate to that, it presents us with an almost insoluble problem, for Jesus did not make guesses about the date of the End (see Mark 13:32).
Hope should be accompanied by watchfulness, in awaiting the End. For it will come with suddenness, like the springing of a trap, which gives no evidence of its presence until it clamps its iron jaws on its victim (vs. 34). And it will come upon all (vs. 35). Constant preparedness is the only safe mood under such circumstances. One must therefore avoid dulling his spiritual sensibilities by indulgence or overconcern for material things (see also 12:13-31, 35-48; 17:26-37). There must be believing prayer, to keep one aware of the realities of the unseen world and open the channels of life to the gift of God's strength, without which no one may "stand before the Son of man" (vs. 36; see also 18:1-8; Rom. 8:26-39; Eph. 6:18; Phil. 4:6-7).
Verses 37 and 38 give a brief summary of Jesus' last days in Jerusalem. He taught in the Temple by day. He went to the Mount of Olives by night, possibly to avoid secret arrest before the time of his suffering came, and certainly to have opportunity for uninterrupted prayer and communion with his Father (see 22:39-40). The people remained loyal to him, rising early in the morning to hear him teach, and still casting around him a bulwark of protection from the religious leaders (see 22:2).
All four of the Gospels indicate that Jesus spent the last hours before his arrest with his disciples. The desire to be alone with the inner circle at the last arose both from the natural reluctance to part with these who had continued with him in his "trials" (vs. 28), and from the desire to do what he could to prepare them for the cruel blow which was soon to follow.
The Treachery of Judas (22:1-6)
The story of Jesus' last hours with the disciples is introduced by the treachery of Judas. Luke uses no words of condemnation. It was judgment enough merely to say that he "was of the number of the twelve" (vs. 3). Although technically the Passover, which lasted one day, is distinguished from the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which came on the seven days immediately following, the two were popularly named as one (see Matt. 26:17).
In seeking to put Jesus to death, the religious leaders were faced with a difficult situation. The Passover was at hand. The Galileans who came to the feasts were easily aroused to fanatical action which the Romans, goaded by the extreme Zealots, took very seriously and had on previous occasions put down with the sword (see 13:1). Ever since the Triumphal Entry, the attitude of the Galilean pilgrims had been threatening. If Jesus were not put away quickly, an uprising might occur among his followers and the consequences would be bloody. If things broke out on a large scale, the Romans might even decide to take decisive action and destroy their holy place and their nation (John 11:48).
The leaders held a secret meeting in the High Priest's palace to determine on a course of action (vs. 2; see also Matt. 26:3-4). At this moment help came from an unexpected source. Judas appeared and offered to betray Jesus (vs. 4). The "captains" were members of the priestly aristocracy in charge of the Temple guard and responsible for order in the Temple area (see Acts 4:1; 5:24, 26). Judas' coming naturally caused great rejoicing, and they showed their appreciation by offering him money for his services. In what did Judas' betrayal consist? In the promise to lead them to where Jesus spent the night, so that they could take him "in the absence of the multitude" (vs. 6; see also John 18:2). He may also have reported what Jesus said to his disciples about the destruction of the Temple (21:6), which might be used as evidence of blasphemy (see Mark 14:58; 15:29).
The records are strangely silent about interpreting the cause of Judas' deed. Luke seems content to see in it the mystery of sin. "Satan entered into Judas," he tells us (vs. 3; see also John 13:2, 27). If we could explain Judas' action, we could explain sin. And, as Luther remarked, if we could explain sin, we would do away with it. The mystery of sin is known only to God. But Judas is a warning that no position of Christian privilege is immune from temptation and fall. He illustrates Bunyan's comment that there is "a way to hell from the very gate of heaven."
Did Judas have to betray Jesus? The record does not say so. On the other hand, it gives every evidence that he did not. All the scheming of the officials and the conniving of Judas were unnecessary. Jesus had come to Jerusalem to die (9:22, 43-35, 51; 17:25; 18:31-34). There was, therefore, no need to plot against him. In the last analysis, it was Jesus, not Judas, who determined the time of his death.
The Last Supper (22:7-23)
Thousands of pilgrims descended on Jerusalem for the Passover Feast. The meal was celebrated in groups of not less than ten. Jerusalem homes were opened to pilgrims for this purpose. Peter and John, two of the most trusted disciples, were sent to make the necessary preparations (vss. 8-12). Even they would not know the place until they got there. Judas would not know it until the Supper took place, so that he could do his evil deed only after he had been there and left (see John 13:30).
The intense "desire" (vs. 15) of Jesus to eat this Passover with his disciples had two grounds. First, the final struggle with evil which lay between him and victory, forbidding as it was (see vs. 44), lured him. As the knowledge of a coming crisis may make a soldier impatient to meet it, so he could not rest until the dark hour which lay before him had been met. Second, inasmuch as what he was going to accomplish was for the new People of God, of which the disciples were the nucleus, Jesus wanted to celebrate the Passover with them in a way which would give it a new fullness of meaning.
Both the eating of the Passover meal (vs. 16) and the drinking of the Passover wine (vss. 17-18) were to be "fulfilled in the kingdom of God." That which the Passover foreshadowed was to become a reality through him. Paul called Christ "our paschal lamb" (1 Cor. 5:7). The Passover represented God's deliverance of his people from Egypt (Exod. 12:1-13:10). A greater deliverance was now about to take place in Jesus--deliverance from sin. The celebration of the earlier deliverance on this occasion was invested with a new meaning on the verge of its fulfillment. So the sadness of farewell was also the joy of the coming Kingdom. The Lord's Supper continues to be an anticipation of the coming Messianic Banquet, when Jesus shall return to complete the work he has accomplished in his death and resurrection. "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor. 11:26).
At this point in the Passover meal, Jesus instituted something new--the sacrament of the Lord's Supper (vss. 19-20; it seems preferable to leave vss. 19b and 20 in the text.) As the bread was broken, so was his body to be broken for the sake of his disciples ("given for you," vs. 19, margin; the "you" including the whole Church, of which the disciples were representative). As the Old Covenant between God and men had been ratified by blood (Exod. 24:1-8), here was a New Covenant ratified by Jesus' own blood, a Covenant which could never be broken (vs. 20, margin). As the Old Covenant had brought into being the ancient People of God (Exod. 19:3-6; Deut. 7:6-8; 14:2), here was a New Covenant to bring into being a new People of God (2 Cor. 3:6-18; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9-10).
In these words instituting the Lord's Supper, there is also a reference to the Suffering Servant, who is to be the instrument of the New Covenant. For the Servant was the one through whom the Covenant was to be renewed and given to "the nations" (Isa. 42:6; 49:6, 8).
Membership in the new People of God through the forgiveness of sins is Christ's gift. "He broke it and gave it to them" (vs. 19). He does this still in the Lord's Supper. To partake of the bread and wine is a "remembrance" of him (vs. 19, margin). But true "remembrance" involves participation with him in his death and resurrection, through the action of the Holy Spirit, if it is accompanied by faith (see 1 Cor. 10:16). Christ actually gives himself to his people in the Sacrament.
This giving, however, is conditioned not upon any worthiness but purely upon a willingness to receive. That is why Judas' betrayal is brought in at this point (vss. 21-23). If Luke has placed it right, then Judas partook of the Last Supper. In this act, Jesus was trying to get him to renew his loyalty, to abandon his treacherous designs, that the Lord might give himself to him as to the others. But the gift cannot be forced. It must be gladly received in faith and a desire to be obedient to Jesus' will. The Sacrament without faith brings judgment (1 Cor. 11:29). But neither Jesus' words nor his acts led Judas to repentance. All Jesus could do was to pronounce a doleful "woe" (vs. 22). It is a frightening fact that sin can poison the inner life without outward signs of its presence. None of the others suspected Judas.
The Last Teaching (22:24-38)
The disciples' questioning among themselves about who was the betrayer (vs. 23) is contrasted with a dispute about who should be "regarded as the greatest" (vs. 24). This indicates the terrible twist of the human heart which, rather than humbly facing its own lack, is inclined to vaunt itself over others.
Jesus settled their dispute by showing that in his Kingdom there was a total reversal of the values of this world. In Gentile (political) kingdoms greatness consisted in ruling and in the honor of bearing the title of "benefactor" of the human race, through some noted deed for which a king's subjects honored him (vs. 25). In Jesus' Kingdom, however, true greatness is service without thought of honor or reward (vs. 26). The strongest reinforcement of this principle was Jesus' own example. Although in the kingdoms of this world, the great sit at table and are served, he, the truly Great One, was the One who served them (vs. 27).
Although the disciples were not to share in earthly glory, there was a yet greater glory reserved for them. They were to be privileged to sit at table with the Messiah in his Kingdom (vss. 29-30). The Messianic Age was frequently pictured in the form of a Messianic Banquet (13:29; 14:15-24; Rev. 19:7-9). Those, therefore, who had shared in the Last Supper would, through the death which that Supper signified, finally enjoy the full reality of the Kingdom of God. This is no offer of a cheap reward of position and privilege like those sought after in this world, only delayed to the next. The reward is fellowship with Jesus!
What is meant by the Apostles sitting "on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" is not certain (vs. 30). It can hardly be taken literally, however, but is rather a word picture, as is eating and drinking at Jesus' table in the Kingdom. In any case, since whatever is meant is some special function in the Kingdom of him who rules by serving, it can only speak of some special service appointed to the Apostles, rather than some honor. The condition of blessedness is not learning, cleverness, accomplishment. It is to stand by Jesus in his "trials"--the costly way of rejection and suffering (vs. 28; see also Rom. 8:18-25; 2 Cor. 4:16-18; 2 Tim. 2:11-12).
Although the disciples thus far had continued with Jesus in his trials (vs. 28), the big test of their fidelity was yet to come. Jesus addresses Simon in speaking of this coming test, but the pronoun "you" is plural, indicating that all the disciples were included (vs. 31). The prayer of Jesus, too, was for all (see John 17:6-19). The use of "Simon" instead of "Peter" was perhaps a dramatic suggestion that he was shortly to act in a way more in accord with his old nature than with the new one promised him by Jesus (see John 1:42)--more like sand than rock. The words of Jesus suggest the deep dimension of the struggle in the human soul. More is involved than mere human forces. It is a battle between Satan and Jesus. Satan claimed the disciples, that he might subject them to the buffeting process of threshing grain. His hope was, of course, to crush them in the process. His request to test them was granted (compare Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6), but his end would not be achieved. The reason was that Jesus had entered the battle on the disciples' side. "I have prayed for you" (vs. 32). The only possible source of moral victory lies in Jesus' intercession for us--his baring his own breast to the blows of Satan, and saving us by his strength (Rom. 8:26-39).
Jesus did not pray that they would be spared from testing, but that during temptation and fall they would not fail utterly. The outcome of Peter's coming denial would be to make him the more able to strengthen his brethren (vs. 32).
Peter failed to understand the dimensions of the testing through which he and the others were to go. The surest way to failure is to underestimate the odds against us! The only response the warning drew from Peter was a self-confident assertion that he would stand by Jesus, even to the death (vs. 33). Had the battle been one of mere physical bravery, he would have made good on his claim (see 22:49-50; John 18:10). But the issue was deeper. It meant watching Jesus go to shameful defeat and death. Was Peter prepared to be loyal to him through that? Before the cock announced the morning light, Peter would three times deny that he ever knew Jesus (vs. 34).
Jesus' last word to the disciples before going to Gethsemane was a word of warning. The earlier days when they had had a welcome reception from those to whom they had gone would soon give way to struggle and suffering. He had sent them out earlier without provision for their own needs (9:1-5; 10:1-9), and those to whom they went had gladly received them and entertained them. They lacked "nothing" (vs. 35). But from now on, the hatred which is soon to break over Jesus will also engulf them. The Scripture which foretold the reckoning of the Suffering Servant with transgressors was about to have its fulfillment (vs. 37; see Isa. 53:12; Luke 23:32). That would be the signal for a battle against Jesus' followers. They, therefore, should be prepared for battle. They should take a purse for money, a bag for provisions, and a sword for battle (vs. 36).
These instructions are most certainly not to be taken literally, as the disciples at that time seemed to take them. They showed him two swords which they had previously concealed, to which he answered, "It is enough" (vs. 38). If Jesus' reply were taken literally, it would run counter to his teaching against the use of force (6:27-29), it would be open to the absurdity that two swords were enough for twelve men to use, and it would be inconsistent with Jesus' behavior in the Garden of Gethsemane a short time later (vss. 49-53). The words are symbolic. The disciples are to be prepared for a real battle for the sake of Jesus, but a battle with no other sword than that of the gospel--"the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph. 6:17).
Luke's account of the struggle in the Garden is brief, omitting much that the other Gospels tell. It concentrates on the intensity of Jesus' struggle. The fact that Jesus planned his own arrest is seen in his going to the Garden on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, "as was his custom" (vs. 39). He had been spending each night there recently (21:37). He knew that Judas had gone to inform the authorities where they might find him. Instead of going elsewhere to avoid arrest, he went exactly where he had been going, to the place Judas well knew (see John 18:2), to await his seizure. He is master, not Judas and not the authorities.
As they enter the Garden, Jesus counsels the disciples to pray in order not to succumb to the temptation which is soon to come (vs. 40). They had shown him two swords (vs. 38). He tells them that their only defense against temptation is prayer. Will we who claim to be his disciples ever learn this? Jesus reinforced his words by his own example. The one weapon of defense which was his as this most tragic of hours came upon him was prayer. We enter here upon a "deep, mysterious, and incommunicable" moment in the life of Jesus. We are moving in the unfathomable depths of the mystery of our redemption. A weight of emotion began to come over Jesus which could not be shared by the most intimate of companions. Hence, he withdrew from the disciples to battle it out alone (vs. 41).
A "cup" is a common figure for experiences either of blessing (Pss. 16:5; 23:5) or of cursing (Pss. 11:6; 75:8) which are appointed for an individual or a whole people (Jer. 49:12). Here Jesus faces the curse of death, and shrinking from it, asks his Father to remove it if possible, yet yields in perfect obedience to his will if that cannot be (vs. 42). At this point the mystery reaches its depth. It is quite natural that a vigorous thirty-year-old man should want to live. The will to live is the strongest drive of human nature. But there is much more involved than that. Death is the instrument of Satan, the order of the kingdom where he reigns. Jesus had come "to destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8). He had sent to John as evidence of his Messiahship the fact that "the dead are raised" (7:22). He had manifested his authority over Satan by invading his kingdom of death and raising the victims (7:11-15; 8:49-55; John 11). Now he himself was faced with submitting to Satan's power. He had triumphed over Satan at the Temptation, but now the "opportune time" for Satan to return had come (4:13), and the incongruity of it struck him with unbelievable force.
Satan made one last onslaught to try to turn him from the path of obedience to his Father. The Suffering Servant entered a deeper darkness than he could have imagined before it came. He must know in all its horror what the prophet meant when he described the Servant as one "who walks in darkness and has no light," yet trusts in the name of the LORD and relies upon his God" (Isa. 50:10). The darkness came over his soul. He must submit to the Evil One. He must pay "the wages of sin"--death (Rom. 6:23)--not for his own sins but to bear "the sin of many" (Isa. 53:12). He must make "himself an offering for sin" in order that he might "make many to be accounted righteous" (Isa. 53:10-11). He "who knew no sin," whose perfect holiness was the very antithesis of evil, had "for our sake" to be "made . . . sin . . . so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21).
It is a mark of Jesus' true humanity that he did not face this without a struggle. Yet the struggle was rooted in surrender to the Father's will--"nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done" (vs. 42). This oneness with the Father's will found its response in God, who sent an angel from heaven to strengthen him (vs. 43). The angel, however, did not come to lift the struggle, but to enable him to go through it at an even deeper depth. The struggle continues "in an agony" and in even more earnest prayer, until there were physical marks of the struggle in sweat "like great drops of blood" (vs. 44). But the disciples were sleeping! Luke accounts for this as a device to escape sorrow (vs. 45). A better means would have been to pray, for therein lies the only strength against temptation (vs. 46). There was, however, no time to pray now. The hour of Jesus' arrest had come.
At this point the Servant fulfills the mission of suffering for which he had come into the world. Luke is content to tell the story simply, with little interpretation, and to let the facts speak for themselves. A great deal of political intrigue, however, lies behind the facts and accounts for them. We shall try to point these out at appropriate places as we move through the story.
The Betrayal and Arrest (22:47-54a)
Judas led the "crowd" who came to arrest Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane. He had arranged to identify Jesus with a kiss (vs. 47). Whether this was to hide his purpose from the other disciples, or whether hatred inspired Judas to turn the sign of affection into treason, the story does not say. In any case, Jesus knew his design, and tried to strike a blow on his conscience. He called him by name, he upbraided him for using a kiss for such false purposes, and reminded him that what he was doing was done against the "Son of man"--the Messiah (vs. 48).
When the other disciples sensed that Jesus was to be seized, they asked permission to defend him (vs. 49). Peter, however, never a man to wait for permission or to deliberate long before acting, drew the sword. Like a flash, it cut the air (vs. 50; John 18:10 identifies Peter). Fortunately, the nimble slave of the High Priest dodged in time to lose only an ear instead of his head. There was both bravery and loyalty in Peter's act. He had sworn to go to death with Jesus (22:33), and here he showed his willingness to make good on his vow. To take on an armed mob singlehanded is no sign of cowardice. But Peter's act was not one of faith. He could not leave things in the hands of his Lord, but acted in line with his own will and judgment. Jesus immediately rebuked him, and in order to save Peter from arrest, healed the slave's ear (vs. 51). There seems to have been no attempt to arrest the disciples. This is evidence that the charge that Jesus was leading a revolt against Rome was false.
Jesus then turned to address the leaders of the mob. The captains of the Temple (Jewish officers charged with arrests for religious reasons), elders (the leading representatives of the people, and members of the Sanhedrin), and the chief priests were all there (vs. 52). They seem also to have brought their slaves with them, and according to John there was also a group of Roman soldiers present with their captain (John 18:3, 12). For this group to come to arrest Jesus, the soldiers armed with swords and the others with clubs, suggests either that the Jewish leaders were putting on a mock show of danger for the sake of the Romans, or were really afraid that Jesus' friends among the people might have gotten wind of their plans and would be present to stage an uprising. How ludicrous it all was! Such a mob to take one lone man, who was planning to give himself up in accordance with a higher will than theirs!
The word "robber" (vs. 52) likely meant a Zealot who was prepared to take fanatical political action against Rome (see 23:18-19, 25; John 18:40). Jesus rebuked the Jewish leaders for thus representing him to the Romans. He reminded them that he had taught openly in the Temple day after day, and they could find no charge which justified condemnation (vs. 53). For them, therefore, to represent him to the Romans as politically dangerous was utterly false. Furthermore, their inability to take him before, although they were more than eager to do so (19:47-48; 20:19-20; 22:2), shows that Jesus was not really in their power. They could do nothing to him except by his own decision to accept it. But God had permitted all this, had temporarily turned things over to them, and was subjecting his Son to all that they could do. They were tools in the hands of the "power of darkness" which was now making its final effort to destroy Jesus (vs. 53). But the power of darkness would be broken. "God's passion is his action." It would be light on Easter.
Peter's Denial (22:54b-62)
What went on in the soul of Peter that night would be hard to tell. A strong, physically brave man, ready to attack a mob in defense of his best friend, but rebuffed by the very One he sought to save, Peter must have put up his sword in disappointment and confusion of spirit. When he saw his Master led off toward the city, he could not resist following and mingling with the crowd to see what would happen. John tells us that the maid who blurted out to the group that Peter was one of Jesus' friends was the doorkeeper who had let Peter in at the request of another disciple (John 18:16). This is confirmed by her use of the word "also" (vs. 56). Peter denied that he even knew Jesus (vs. 57). Twice later he made denials, two of them at least with an interval of an hour between them. The futility of his denials, however, lay in the fact that his Galilean dialect betrayed him (vs. 59). Peter had failed to heed Jesus' warning (vss. 31-34), or to take his advice about praying for strength to overcome temptation (vss. 40, 46). Self-reliance leads always to moral failure.
Two things brought Peter up short. First, the crowing of the cock reminded him of Jesus' warning (vss. 60, 34). Second, as the cock crowed, Jesus--who stood shackled within the court or was being led to the quarters of Caiaphas--"turned and looked at Peter" (vs. 61). It was Jesus' steadfast love in spite of his denial which broke Peter's heart. Jesus' look brought back his words of warning (vs. 61). It must also have brought back other words. "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you . . . and when you have turned . . ." (vss. 31-32). Despair led to hope. The tears of this strong man (vs. 62) "washed his soul back to God." It is not without significance that Peter was the first of the Apostles to whom the risen Lord appeared (24:34).
The Jewish Trial (22:63-71)
Luke omits the fact that two informal trials of Jesus were held during the night, shortly after his arrest: the first a personal inquisition by Annas, the most influential member of the priestly group (John 18:13, 19-24), and the second before the hurriedly assembled Sanhedrin (Mark 14:53-65). Since a sentence of death could not be passed at night, they must await the coming of day to take formal action on what they had already determined informally. In the meantime, the guards who had Jesus in charge whiled away the tedious hours by making sport of him. With ridicule, physical torture, and religious mockery, they subjected the most sensitive person who ever lived to the crassest and most vulgar brutality (vss. 63-65).
When day came, the Council, composed of seventy-one elders (leading citizens), chief priests (Sadducees), and scribes (Pharisees), assembled for official action (vs. 66). The Romans had granted to them power of judging their own people on religious questions. A sentence of death, however, could not be carried out without Roman approval. Their problem, then, was to produce some evidence whereby Jesus could be certified as politically dangerous to the Romans. They therefore confronted Jesus straightforwardly: "If you are the Christ, tell us" (vs. 67).
Jesus' reply could be neither Yes nor No. A Yes would have meant that he was the sort of political Messiah of which they were thinking. Nothing could have been further from his mind. A No, on the other hand, would have been false, for he was Messiah. If he asked them questions to draw out their own Messianic views in order to correct them, they would not discuss [these] with him, as a former occasion had shown (20:7; see also 20:41-44). On the other hand, if he told them of the true nature of his Messiahship, they were not capable of understanding it, because they would not believe (vss. 67-68).
In the knowledge, therefore, that discussion was futile, and to avoid any misunderstanding about the political nature of his Messiahship, Jesus changed the word "Messiah" or Christ, to "Son of man," his favorite title for himself (see on 5:24). Drawing upon Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1, he made the bold assertion that from now on--as the result of his coming death--he would be seated at God's right hand, an expression meaning to share God's power and authority (vs. 69). In this the Sanhedrin sensed an even higher claim than that of Messiah. "Are you the Son of God, then?" they asked (vs. 70). Again, Jesus made reply in a fashion that neither openly affirmed nor denied. To affirm would have been to admit the charge placed against him in the Fourth Gospel, that he made "himself equal with God" (John 5:18). Jesus could not well here explain, as he did there, that this equality was one growing out of a mutual love between him and the Father, and his absolute obedience to his Father's will (John 5:19-20). On the other hand, to have denied Sonship to God would have been false. Hence he says, "You say that I am" (vs. 70). You affirm it, not I; but I do not deny it. The Sanhedrin caught the admission of Sonship to God, which to them was blasphemy. No need to proceed further. His own lips had condemned him (vs. 71). The only thing left to do now was to procure his death at the hands of Pilate.
The Roman Trial (23:1-25)
At the conclusion of the Jewish trial, the whole Sanhedrin moved over to Pilate's judgment hall. It was still very early in the morning (John 18:28). Three charges against Jesus were laid before Pilate. Since death could not be procured on grounds of mere religious blasphemy, the charges were all political: first, encouraging the people to sedition; second, forbidding the payment of the Roman tax; third, claiming to be a Messianic King (vs. 2). The first of these charges was wholly false. The second was the exact opposite of the public teaching of Jesus (20:21-25). The third was true, but not in the sense in which they represented it to Pilate. For Jesus had renounced every claim to political Messiahship, the only thing which could be of concern to the Romans.
Unable, however, to appear indifferent to a charge of political treason, lest he be misrepresented to Tiberius Caesar, Pilate put to Jesus the question: "Are you the King of the Jews?" (vs. 3). The answer of Jesus may be interpreted as a straightforward affirmation--"What you said is true!"--or it may have been another case of an answer with a double meaning--"You said it, not I, for I am a different sort of King from the kind your words imply" (see John 18:36-37, where Jesus told Pilate that he was King of the kingdom of truth). In any case, Pilate is convinced that Jesus is not politically dangerous, and seeks to dismiss the case (vs. 4). The Jewish leaders, however, are not to be put off so easily. They accuse Jesus more urgently, claiming that he had fostered sedition all the way from Galilee, where most seditious movements had their beginning, clear to Jerusalem (vs. 5; the term "all Judea" here probably includes the whole of Palestine rather than merely the southern province).
The shrewd ears of Pilate heard the word "Galilee" gladly. If Jesus was a Galilean, then he came from the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas, who had but lately come on a visit to Jerusalem. A twofold motive led Pilate to send Jesus to Herod for judgment. It would take a very unpleasant case off his hands, and by this gesture of respect for Herod, it would heal a personal breach between them which had arisen possibly through Pilate's brutally putting to death some of Herod's subjects (13:1).
Herod was overjoyed at seeing Jesus, a prospect which he had anticipated for a long time (9:9). He had formerly held conversations with John the Baptist (Mark 6:20), but unfortunately for him, John did no miracles (John 10:41). He hoped, therefore, to see a display of the miracle-working power of Jesus about which he had heard (vs. 8). It is not surprising that Jesus made no reply to one thus depraved (vs. 9).
The Jewish leaders, afraid lest Herod might acquit Jesus or send him back to Pilate with a recommendation of release, vehemently pressed their charges (vs. 10). Jesus' silence was rewarded by Herod with contemptuous mockery. In a gesture of mutual courtesy, Herod renounced jurisdiction over his subject, and returned him to Pilate, clothed in a gorgeous robe. This was a part of his mockery, and indicated to Pilate that Herod took no more seriously than he the danger of Jesus as a king (vs. 11). Through this exchange of mutual courtesies, Pilate and Herod healed their quarrel, each no doubt hoping thereby to advance his own political interests (vs. 12).
Pilate still had Jesus on his hands. None of the charges brought against him was true, and he had no reason to condemn him (vs. 14). In order, however, to satisfy the Jews that he was not indifferent to their desires, he proposed to scourge Jesus and release him (vs. 16). Scourging involved severe beating on the bare back with leather thongs, to which bits of bone and metal were tied. It was so severe that at times victims died from it. The word "chastise" used by Pilate suggests that this was not punishment for guilt, but a warning to Jesus to be more cautious in the future. He hoped, too, that the suffering involved might satisfy the Jews' hatred of Jesus, and thus settle the case.
The accusers, however, were not to be put off. The suggestion was met with spontaneous uproar, with which Pilate had had to deal before (vs. 18). On one occasion a mob stormed his palace in Caesarea for five days and five nights, and on another occasion he had to order his soldiers to wield clubs on a mob who had surrounded him. He knew that the Jews were not easily put off! He made another attempt, however. Luke does not tell us, but Mark and Matthew suggest that Pilate was accustomed to release a prisoner at the Passover each year (Mark 16:6-15; Matt. 27:15-26; see also marginal reading of Luke 23:17). This may have been a gesture to compensate for the loss of the Jews' right to administer the death penalty. Pilate suggested, therefore, that Jesus be the one released at this feast.
The mob cried out in frenzy for Barabbas to be released instead of Jesus (vs. 18). Barabbas was probably a leader of the underground Zealot movement against Rome, guilty of insurrection and murder in connection with it (vs. 19). It was unthinkable to Pilate that such a politically dangerous man as Barabbas should be released, and Jesus condemned. The Jews' clamor, however, was an effort to convince Pilate that Jesus was politically more dangerous than Barabbas! They were to be satisfied with nothing but the crucifixion of Jesus (vs. 21). Pilate made a last attempt to free Jesus, suggesting once more that he would scourge him and release him (vs. 22). The howling voices of the mob demanding Jesus' crucifixion prevailed, however, and Pilate yielded to their will (vss. 23-24). Luke, with deep insight, emphasizes the enormity of the transaction by placing Barabbas and Jesus in sharp contrast (vs. 25). Here was stark, literal fulfillment of Isaiah's words: "And he was reckoned with transgressors" (Luke 22:37; Isa. 53:12).
The Crucifixion (23:26-49)
Jesus was placed in the charge of a Roman centurion, who, along with guards and two other condemned prisoners, led Jesus away. Sympathetic women, the Jewish rulers, and a crowd of onlookers completed the procession (vs. 27). Where were the disciples? We do not know (see Mark 14:50). It was Roman custom for one condemned to crucifixion to carry his own cross to the place of execution. John tells us that Jesus began to carry his (John 19:17). Why Simon of Cyrene was compelled to take over the task we are not told (vs. 26). There are hints that Jesus had had little sleep during the entire week (21:37; 22:39). This, added to an all-night ordeal of mistreatment (22:63-65; 23:11), followed by a scourging (John 19:1), may have weakened him. Yet his "loud" cry on the cross indicates a high degree of vitality left (23:46). In any case, the picture of Simon taking up the cross and following behind Jesus is a fitting description of the Church which later carried the cross in a deeper sense (9:23-26; 14:27).
It was customary for pious women to bewail the lot of one condemned to die. Jesus did not renounce their act of sympathy, but told them that weeping was much more appropriate for the judgment that would come on Jerusalem for the deed then under way (vss. 27-28). It would be so filled with terror that those who had no children, normally thought to be accursed, would be considered the most fortunate (vs. 29). Recalling words of Hosea, Jesus suggested that sudden death would be preferable to what would befall them (vs. 30; Hosea 10:8).
The warning is reinforced by a proverb which is difficult to interpret (vs. 31). The "they" in the proverb hardly refers to the Jews, for they are the ones to be delivered to the fires of judgment. It is apparently just an impersonal expression as a part of the proverb. If Jesus is the green wood, the Jews are the dry wood. God's judgments were now falling on him, though it was not fitting that they should, any more than it is fitting to use green wood for fire. As the story of the thief shows (vss. 39-43), because Jesus thus bore judgment, those for whom it would be fitting could escape it. But for impenitent Jerusalem, the judgment on Jesus is a proclamation of their judgment to come (see Prov. 11:31; 1 Peter 4:18). Jesus' words over Jerusalem, both as he entered it and as he left it, were words of judgment. History brutally confirmed them in A.D. 70.
The place of execution was called "The Skull" (vs. 33), the name probably deriving from its shape. There is no certain knowledge of its location, save that it was outside the city but not far from it (John 19:20). Victims were crucified naked, exposed to the scorching oriental sun and burning wind. Death came slowly and painfully, twenty-four hours or more often elapsing before the body was released from its racking torture.
While Jesus hung in this agonizing position, his spirit was wholly free from bitterness. Although he was fully aware that what was happening to him was willed by God (18:31; 22:22, 37), still he called God "Father." His thoughts were not on himself but on others. He phrased in a prayer the forgiveness which his death was destined to achieve for sinful men (vs. 34), and manifested in this extreme hour the forgiving spirit he had proclaimed in his teaching (6:27-31; 11:4). The crass blindness of the soldiers to what was going on is to be seen in their gambling for Jesus' garments, which, according to custom, were given to them (see Ps. 22:18). The deepest example of self-giving in history plays itself out unheeded in the presence of the callous self-centeredness which is the blight of mankind.
The people stood by, curiously watching and wondering, but the Jewish authorities scoffed at Jesus (vs. 35; see Ps. 22:6-8). Their demand for him to save himself if he were the Christ, God's "Chosen" One (9:35), indicated the self-centered nature of their Messianic hope. Messiah was not to save the world, but them! And if he could not save himself, it was proof that he could do nothing for them. In this word, Jesus heard again the voice of the Tempter--as he had heard it in the wilderness and at Nazareth (4:1-12, 23).
The Roman soldiers added their mockery to that of the priests (vss. 36-37). It was more in the form of sport, however, perhaps intended to mock the religious leaders themselves as much as Jesus. For they offered some of their sour wine to assuage his burning thirst, and turned their scorn on the Jewish leaders by calling Jesus "King of the Jews." This was the title Pilate had placed over the cross, to indicate the charge under which he was condemned (vs. 38). The soldiers, then, were saying to the Jews, "A strange king you have, who must die like a criminal!"
The two who were crucified on either side of Jesus were likely not common criminals, but Zealots who had been caught in acts of violence against Rome. Their execution along with Jesus, who was sentenced as a Messianic pretender, strongly suggests this. It is confirmed by the challenge of one of them to Jesus to perform an act of salvation against Rome, if he were Messiah (vs. 39).
One of the criminals, however, had begun to sense something deeper in Jesus. His own condemnation had shown him the falseness of his Messianic hopes. Crimes done in the name of God were still crimes--"we are receiving the due reward of our deeds" (vs. 41). God would bring his Kingdom not by human action but by his own action. And when that Kingdom came, it would be through the One who hung dying beside him. So, openly confessing his faith through the rebuke of his companion and his abandonment of all self-righteousness, he cried: "Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power" (vs. 42). Jesus responded by affirming his entrance into Paradise, the abode of the righteous (vs. 43). The question of how that could happen "today," when Jesus was to be in the grave, has troubled many. It likely, however, does not refer to time calculations, as between Good Friday and Easter, but to God's "today" which has appeared in the presence and work of Jesus. God's "today" is whenever he calls and man responds (Heb. 3:7-4:10). Jesus said earlier to Zacchaeus, "Today salvation has come to this house (19:9; see also 2:11; 4:21; 5:26). That was "today," Good Friday was "today," and "today" would come again and again through the proclamation of the gospel--even to Jerusalem which had rejected him (24:47).
The three hours between noon and three o'clock are passed over in silence. The priests had gone back to their duties in Jerusalem. The crowd moved about, curious and uncomprehending. The guards kept their watch. Jesus was silent, crushed by an agony too deep for words and too profound for human understanding. The Apostolic writers and theologians ever since have wrestled to try to express what was going on at that moment, when time and eternity intermingled in a fathomless deed. But it remains forever beyond us. Luke is content to record nature's testimony to the cosmic meaning of this hour. The sun was enveloped in darkness, and an earthquake shook the Temple (Matt. 27:51) so violently that the curtain which hung before the Holy of Holies was torn in two (vss. 44-45). The fact that Jesus died much sooner than was usual in crucifixion (Mark 15:44; John 19:32-34), and that his last word was in "a loud voice" (vs. 46), suggests that he died not just from physical exhaustion, but from spiritual agony--a paroxysm of grief occasioned by taking upon himself the sin of the world, in which he felt abandoned even by God (Mark 15:34)--which no physical frame could endure. It was his battle with sin, more than physical crucifixion, which caused his death.
The fact that he bore all this in conscious obedience to the will of his Father is clearly evidenced in his last words: "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!" (vs. 46). This verse, taken from Psalm 31:5, was the "Now I lay me down to sleep" of the Jews, learned from childhood as a nightly prayer. For Jesus to use his childhood prayer at the hour of death testifies to both his simplicity and his trust. Death was the committal of his life into God's hands as he had done each night through long years, with the full confidence that life would be his again beyond death--and not only life, but glory (24:26).
Whether the words of the centurion were a religious act of praise to God (vs. 47), or merely bespoke Jesus' innocence, it is difficult to determine. The Romans customarily chose high-grade men as centurions, as Luke's Gospel bears witness (7:1-9). This man could well have been one to whose inner life the bearing and words of Jesus brought real faith.
The crowd of onlookers who stayed by to the end returned to Jerusalem "beating their breasts" (vs. 48), an act of penitence (18:13). They sensed the judgment of God in what had just taken place, and had a presentiment of the coming judgment on their city, of which Jesus had spoken (13:34-35; 19:41-44; 23:28-31). No doubt many of these were among the three thousand who believed on the Day of Pentecost, or those who shortly thereafter were added to the Church (Acts 2:47; 4:4).
Were the disciples included in "all his acquaintances" who, along with the women from Galilee, "stood at a distance and saw these things"? (vs. 49). Since the disciples and the women were earlier linked together (8:1-3), it would seem likely. Luke hesitates now to call them disciples, since they had temporarily abandoned their Master. To describe what they saw, he uses, however, a different word from the one used for the multitudes in verse 48. They were not watching what happened as curious onlookers at a spectacle. They were watching the shattering of all their hopes. They were looking despair in the face. He in whom they had hoped had died, and hope died with him (24:17, 21). On Easter morning the light of hope would dawn once more, never again to be dimmed. And these would bear witness "with power" to what they had seen (24:49; Acts 4:33).
The Burial (23:50-56)
Luke gives special attention to the burial of Jesus, probably to indicate that there was no possibility of his disciples' making a mock burial which could later have been turned into the fraud of an empty tomb. Joseph came from the Jewish town of Arimathea (vs. 50), usually identified with Ramah, the birthplace of Samuel. Joseph's possession of a burial place in Jerusalem suggests that he had permanently transferred his residence there. If verse 50 refers to membership in the Sanhedrin, then Joseph must have been absent when the final vote was taken, for that was unanimous (Mark 14:64). He was "a good and righteous man . . . and he was looking for the kingdom of God" (vss. 50-51; see also 1:6; 2:25, 38). Although any hope he may have had that Jesus had brought the Kingdom must have been shattered by his death, Joseph's loving concern was shown by giving Jesus a worthy burial. His influence with Pilate and his possession of a "rock-hewn tomb" suggest that he was a man of wealth (vss. 52-53).
Since the Sabbath was about to begin, on which no work could be done, there was no time to prepare Jesus' body for burial. Only the wrapping in a linen shroud and the hurried placing of the body in the tomb were possible (vss. 53-56). The closing of the entrance by a large stone is not mentioned by Luke, but is presupposed in the light of 24:2.
Mention of the presence of the women at the burial of Jesus is made in all three Synoptic Gospels (vs. 55; Mark 15:47; Matt. 27:61). They followed Joseph to the tomb, saw how Jesus' body was laid in it, then returned to Jerusalem to prepare spices and ointments for embalming. Unable to do any work on the Sabbath, they "rested according to the commandment," awaiting the dawn of the first day of the week, when they could go to perform their last act of love to him whom they had followed all the way from Galilee, and whose main support they had been (8:1-3). Luke inserts this story not only to illustrate how the rejected Jesus was still the object of love, but to prepare the way for the Easter Story. These women had seen Jesus buried. They were the first to discover the empty tomb (24:1-11). Their testimony is important evidence for the Resurrection.
The Resurrection is the central fact of the gospel. Without it, the words of Paul would stand as the epitaph of a dead Christianity: "Your faith is futile and you are still in your sins" (1 Cor. 15:17). Without the Resurrection, Jesus would have been just another unfortunate victim of unbridled human terror, a standing testimony that man always destroys the best he knows. With the Resurrection as fact, however, final tragedy becomes victory. God has triumphed over evil. The worst has yielded to the best. God has the last word, and it is good.
It is difficult to harmonize the Resurrection accounts of all four Gospels and Paul (1 Cor. 15:5-7). The difficulty shows, at least, that there was no collaboration of witnesses, no attempt to iron out differences, which would have been expected if the story were falsified. Furthermore, the agreements far outweigh the differences. All the stories agree that Jesus is alive and active in his Church, and that in him death has been vanquished. In the light of this tremendous truth, what matters it how many angels were seen, or whether the appearances were in Galilee or Judea, or the exact order in which the post-Resurrection appearances were made? Christ lives--that is the unshakable conviction of all. All agree, too, in the fact of an empty tomb. This was resurrection, not immortality. The total Person--body and spirit--was raised (see 1 Cor. 15:35-54; 1 Thess. 4:13-17).
There is agreement also in omitting any attempt to describe the Resurrection. No one witnessed it. Jesus had left the grave before the stone was rolled away. Witnesses saw angels, the empty tomb, the risen Lord. But the event itself could not be seen. It was a mystery not open to human eyes. All accounts, too, confirm the mysterious nature of Jesus' resurrection body. It was not a mere material body of flesh like that of the resuscitated Lazarus (John 11), for it was not subject to the laws of life as we know it, being able to appear and disappear at will and to enter or leave rooms that were closed and locked. On the other hand, it was not a mere apparition, a materialization of a spirit whose body lay still in the grave, for it appeared in flesh and bones and took in food (24:37-43; Acts 10:41).
A common element of each appearance also was the fact that a commission was involved. These were not emotional experiences, spiritually uplifting but empty of content. They were moments when the Lord of life who had risen victorious over death, called these men to bear witness to his victory, and to give their lives to making the good news known to the whole world.
The post-Resurrection appearances were a unique phenomenon, taking place between the Resurrection and the Ascension, with the sole exception of the one made to Paul (1 Cor. 15:8). Hence, such appearances were not, and are not, open to subsequent generations of Christians. We are to believe, not through direct appearances to us but through the testimony of the first witnesses. "God raised him on the third day and made him manifest; not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses," said Peter (Acts 10:40-41). On the testimony of these chosen witnesses we rest our faith.
The Empty Tomb (24:1-11)
The women who went to the tomb in the gray light of early dawn on the first day of the week, were those who had followed Jesus from Galilee (vs. 10; 8:1-3), and had seen him buried (23:55-56). When they came with their spices, presumably to embalm the body of Jesus, they found the stone rolled away, and the body gone (vss. 2-3). In their perplexity, they were addressed by two angels (see vs. 23) in "dazzling apparel," before whom they fell on their faces to the ground in fright (vss. 4-5). The angels do not try to overwhelm the women into believing, but mildly upbraid them for seeking their Lord in a graveyard. Had Jesus not told them, while he was still in Galilee, that he was to be crucified, but on the third day rise? (vss. 6-7; see also 9:22; 18:31-34). Why, therefore, "seek the living among the dead"? (vs. 5). Had they rightly interpreted the meaning of Jesus' life, or understood the Old Testament, the discovery of the empty tomb would not have been surprising (24:25-27, 32, 44-47).
The women immediately hunted up the Eleven and the others gathered with them, to report their joyful discovery (vs. 9). The response they received reveals two things. First, the testimony of women was suspect in that day (Paul does not mention them in his list in 1 Cor. 15:5-8). Second, it shows that the disciples were in no mood to believe. They considered the report of the women an "idle tale" (vs. 11), an expression used to describe the disconnected talk of a delirious person. The final Resurrection faith, then, cannot be accounted for on the basis of wishful thinking, or of a predisposition to believe, or of an overreadiness to draw implications without examining the evidence. In spite of all Jesus had told them beforehand, the disciples seemed to have no hope whatever that he would be raised, and were even suspicious of the evidence when it came to them. The Resurrection finally became a reality which they could not deny, rather than a phantom which they wished into being. (Verse 12, placed in the margin [RSV], seems not to belong to the text, since it is omitted from the best manuscripts.)
The Way to Emmaus (24:13-35)
The empty tomb alone was not final evidence of the Resurrection, as the report of the women and the investigation of the disciples reveal. They saw the empty grave, "but him they did not see" (vs. 24). The final persuasion that Jesus was alive came through his appearances to them.
The appearance to the two on the way to Emmaus is told only by Luke. The fact that they were not of the Eleven (vs. 33) numbers them among that larger group mentioned in verse 9. One of them, Cleopas, is named, but cannot be identified with any certainty. Neither can the location of Emmaus be determined with finality. It was, however, not far from Jerusalem (vs. 13). At least one of the two must have lived at Emmaus, inasmuch as Jesus was invited to spend the night with them (vs. 29). These two had received the report of the women that the grave of Jesus was empty, and had had it confirmed by others who went to investigate (vss. 22-24), yet they had not believed that Jesus was alive. The empty tomb, however, was a strange phenomenon, and that must have been the subject of their conversation when Jesus overtook them, almost unnoticed (vss. 14-15).
The "sad" look on their countenances and their hesitation to speak of their sorrow to a stranger show how low their spirits were. Surprised that the stranger had not already heard of the weird things which had happened (vs. 18), they proceeded to tell him in simple terms the subject of their conversation (vs. 19-21). Two things, however, perplexed them. First, their own religious leaders had refused to accept Jesus of Nazareth as the hope of Israel, and had delivered him to the Roman authorities to be crucified (vs. 20). Second, God, who had authenticated him earlier by mighty works, had not intervened to deliver him.
Nevertheless, perplexing things had taken place; namely, the body had disappeared from the tomb. Some women had reported a vision of angels who said that Jesus was alive (vss. 22-23). Investigation confirmed the fact of the empty tomb, but gave no evidence that Jesus was living (vs. 24). If he were alive, would he have remained absent from his disciples?
At this point Jesus took up the conversation. Their foolishness and sluggishness of heart arose from a misunderstanding of their own Scriptures (vs. 25). They had believed the prophets, but had not believed "all" that they had said. The promises of Lordship and glory for the Messiah were there, but so were the assurances that suffering lay in the path to glory (vs. 26). His was an eternal Kingdom. Consequently, the things which had led them to disillusionment were the very things which should have led them to faith. It was his suffering and death which took him to the real field of battle, where he won a victory which paled the hoped-for victory of the Romans into nothingness. So, beginning with Moses, and continuing with the prophets and the other writings, Jesus interpreted the Scriptures as foreshadowing all the events of the past few days (vs. 27).
Certainly, the Scriptures which were in his thoughts during those last days must have been included--Psalms 22, 69, 110; Isaiah 53; Zechariah 9:9-10; 13:7; Jeremiah 31:31-34. But beyond specific passages, the fate of all the prophets in whose train Jesus followed suggested suffering as the pathway of the righteous. Also, the deep terribleness of sin, and the overflowing love of God's heart which could not let his children go, run like deep undertones through all the Old Testament. There is a tension here which could be resolved only by God's suffering--a suffering which would match the enormity of sin, and set it right. "All the scriptures" were moving toward the death and resurrection of Jesus. And so the risen Jesus began to remove the veil which lay over their minds as they read the Old Testament, so that they could see its real meaning (2 Cor. 3:12-16).
Enthralled by his words as they neared the village, they could not think of breaking off the conversation at this point. When he appeared to be going farther, they insisted that he stay with them, for it was evening (vss. 28-29). As they sat at table, although he was a stranger, he acted as host. When he broke the bread and gave it to them, suddenly "their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight" (vs. 31).
They were surprised that they had not recognized him sooner, when they recalled how their hearts burned within them as he opened the Scriptures on the way (vs. 32). Immediately, although evening had come and they were weary from their journey, they set out for Jerusalem to tell the glad news to the others (vs. 33). In the meantime the risen Lord had also appeared to Simon Peter. The Eleven and those with them were rejoicing in the unbelievable news: "The Lord has risen indeed" (vs. 34).
Can anyone imagine the joy of that moment? Those who had begun to scatter were together again. Disillusionment and disappointment had yielded to joy and hope. The One whom they had followed had not failed them. He had emerged victorious over death. The decisive event of all history had taken place. Death was swallowed up in victory. This was too much for them to take in at once, as Jesus' next appearance shows (vss. 36-49). The sudden breaking of the sun over their dark horizon both dazzled and blinded them. They would see more clearly later, and the history of the Christian Church would be the result.
Group Appearance and Commission (24:36-49)
In order to ensure that the post-Resurrection appearances were real, and not merely the subjective experience of a few impressionistic people, Jesus made himself known to the whole group, including the Eleven and the others who were with them (vs. 33). Group hallucinations are quite unlikely. Furthermore, the manner in which he made his appearance to them shows that the stories about the risen Lord were not merely illustrations of unseen, heavenly realities, mere word pictures of the immortality of the soul of Jesus. The Resurrection, though something which transcended the limits of time and space, was nonetheless real, and manifested itself in historical time-space forms.
The suddenness of Jesus' appearance to the group when, presumably, the doors were shut and locked (John 20:19), startled and frightened them, even though they had already believed that he was alive (vs. 34). Sudden appearance without visible entrance into the room led them to suspect that they were seeing a ghost (vs. 37). Jesus showed them his hands and his feet, bearing the marks of crucifixion, in order to prove his identity as the One whom they had seen nailed to a cross. He also offered to let them touch him, to show that he was not a ghost but had bodily reality (vs. 39; see 1 John 1:1). Luke gives a profound description of their mood at that time. "They still disbelieved for joy" (vs. 41). This was a mingling of belief and unbelief. They believed, and yet what they believed was too good to be true!
In order to give them a final proof of his reality, Jesus asked for food, and ate in their presence (vss. 41-43). It is difficult to know why Jesus did this, inasmuch as it is out of the question that his Resurrection body needed food. It would be easy, therefore, to remove the passage as the reflection of an overenthusiastic scribe. It is not possible to do this, however, in the light of Peter's statement to Cornelius and his friends, that the witnesses of the Resurrection "ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead" (Acts 10:41). If Jesus did not need food, the disciples needed evidence of the reality of his Resurrection body. This was Jesus' way of showing that his resurrection was an objective reality. It was the final seal of that which makes it possible for us to confess that we believe in "the resurrection of the body" as well as in "the life everlasting." This does not mean, of course, that the molecules of our flesh will be revived. It means, rather, that as the whole person now is not just a spirit traveling around in a body, but is both body and spirit fused into a unity so perfect that each belongs to the other and neither is complete without the other, so in the life to come we shall be both spirit and body, with resurrection bodies like unto that of Jesus, spiritual, glorious, imperishable (1 Cor. 15:42-50; 1 John 3:2). Paul tells us that this is confessedly a "mystery," but the one by which we know that "in the Lord" our "labor is not in vain" (1 Cor. 15:51, 58).
The purpose of Jesus' post-Resurrection appearances was not only to lead the disciples to faith in his resurrection, but to commission them as witnesses of it. His victory over sin and death must be heralded to the ends of the earth. To be adequately equipped for this mission, however, they must be able to relate what had happened to the Scriptures. Jesus' resurrection was no isolated event, no accident of history, taking place without relation to what had gone before and what was to come after. It was rather the culminating point to which all history had been moving. The Resurrection, therefore, gave meaning to the life and teachings of the historic Jesus. It was the climax of all that he had taught them when he was with them in the flesh.
Furthermore, it was the climax of the Old Testament revelation, the fulfillment of what the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings had been talking about (vs. 44). But more than that, the Scriptures had witnessed not only that the Messiah should die and rise again, but that "repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations" (vss. 45-47). This was the task of the Church, to bear witness in such fashion that men should be led to repentance and find forgiveness (vs. 48). This was a renewal of the commission given earlier (9:1-6; 10:1-12), but was also a deepening of it. The commission now included the announcement that he who brought the Kingdom was the crucified and risen One. And this was to be done through the Scriptures. Thus, the purpose of God laid down in the Old Testament, its fulfillment in Jesus, and its proclamation by the Church, are all parts of one grand whole, no part of which can be rightly understood apart from the others. The power to make their witness effective was the Father's promise of the Holy Spirit (vs. 49; Acts 1:5). The Holy Spirit enables us to understand the Scriptures (contrast 18:34 with 24:44-47), and empowers our witness. The Scriptures, the Church, and the Holy Spirit are a sort of trinity which together form God's weapon of impact on the world.
The fact that Luke indicates in Acts that the post-Resurrection appearances lasted during forty days (1:3), shows that the Ascension did not take place immediately, as the account here might seem to indicate. But these post-Resurrection appearances must come to an end. They were not to be continued in the Church. The power of the Church's witness was not to depend on visible experiences of the presence of the risen Christ, but on his Spirit in their midst. Hence, Luke tells of Christ's departure.
The amazing thing, however, is that after his departure, the disciples returned to Jerusalem with "great joy," and were continually "blessing God" (vss. 52-53). This is quite in contrast to the sorrow and disillusionment of his former departure at the time of his death. How could this be? It is to be noted that the departure took place, not after, but while, he blessed them (vs. 51). His parting act of blessing was a continuous one. They were now to live under his constant benediction. Furthermore, his ascension was the crowning act of his victory. He went to sit at God's right hand, "far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come" (Eph. 1:21), in order that "he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living" (Rom. 14:9). The disciples could not but rejoice over their Lord's enthronement, and in the fact that he was now with them through his Spirit, never to be separated from them again.
The story closes, as it opened (1:5-23), in the Temple at Jerusalem. The way is prepared for the Book of the Acts which begins its story in Jerusalem (Luke 24:47), spreads through Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The gospel of the risen Lord "is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Rom. 1:16).
© Copyright 2017 Rediscovering the Bible. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us | Email Webmaster