Jerusalem in the Last Days
(Luke 21:5-38)

By: Bob Deffinbaugh , Th.M.

5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” 7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?” 8 He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.” 10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

12 “But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 This will result in your being witnesses to them. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 All men will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By standing firm you will gain life.

20 “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. 23 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

Introduction

The temple fascinated both Jesus and His disciples, but how different were those things which attracted them. Jesus was attracted by a widow, and a contribution which would have little or no impact on the receipts of the temple that day (Luke 21:1-4). The small gift of this widow was singled out by Jesus, above all of the large contributions which were given at that time, for this was all the woman had. She gave out of her need. The others gave out of their abundance. She gave two small and almost worthless coins, but these were all that she had. Jesus commended her gift because it was evidence of her love for God and her faith in Him to care for her needs.

The disciples were attracted by something different, something more tangible, something more inspiring and impressive. They were awe-struck with the magnificence of the temple. What attracted their attention was that the temple was beautifully adorned. Luke alone informs us that at least some of these adornments were the result of gifts that were donated.

The temple was both great and glorious, especially to the disciples of our Lord. The disciples were not from Jerusalem, but from Galilee. We would say that they were “hicks” from the “sticks.” They would have seldom gone to Jerusalem, 71 and thus they would behold the grandeur of the temple as tourists. And the temple was indeed an awesome sight, as Geldenhuys points out:

“The original temple of Solomon was an exceptionally magnificent building, but was destroyed in 586 B.C., by the Chaldaeans. It was rebuilt by Zerubbabel and his companions after the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity. This rebuilt temple was comparatively small and simple. Herod the Great (who ruled over the Jewish people from 37 to 4 B.C.) was a great lover of architecture. And it is due to him that the temple, with its environs on the temple mount, was built up to such a massive and artistic building complex (nearly five hundred yards long and four hundred yards wide). Herod the Great drew up a grand architectural plan according to which the whole temple with all its surrounding buildings had to be rebuilt. He even caused a thousand priests to be trained as builders to do the work (so that the Jews could not accuse him of having the temple built by ‘unclean hands’). With this rebuilding a commencement was already made in 19 B.C., but it was only completed in A.D. 63 under Agrippa II and Albinus. This reminds us of what the Jews said to Jesus in reply to His figurative words about the breaking down and erection of the temple. They understood Him to speak of the temple building and then said: ‘Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou build it up in three days?’ (John ii. 20). When they uttered these words (c. A.D. 28), the temple was therefore already forty-six years in rebuilding. It would take another thirty years and longer before it was to be completed. And it had been finished for hardly seven years when in A.D. 70 it was completely destroyed in fire and blood notwithstanding the fanaticism with which the Jews tried to defend it.” 72

The backdrop to our text is thus the temple and its great beauty. The response of our Lord to the disciples’ awe will evoke two questions, the first pertaining to the timing of the coming of the kingdom, and the second seeking to learn the sign which would precede and prove that His kingdom was at hand. Jesus did not answer the first question, and He indicates a number of evidences that His return is near. But our Lord’s focus is not on the conclusion of history so much as on the conduct of His disciples in the interim period, a period of considerable length, and of much difficulty.

The Structure of the Text

The structure of this text is a bit difficult, because there are two major events in focus, but neither of them are dealt with completely separate from the other. 73 Nevertheless, we can generally view chapter 21 in this way:

(1) The beauty of the widow’s contribution to Jesus—(vv. 1-4)

(2) The beauty of the temple and Jesus’ teaching—(vv. 5-38)The destruction of temple & its implications—(vv. 5-24

(3) The second coming of Christ & its implications (vv. 25-38)

(4) Our lesson will largely be limited to verses 5-24, which may be broken down in this way:

(1) The disciples’ awe and Jesus’ awful revelation—(vv. 5-6)

(2) The disciples’ question and Jesus’ response —(vv. 7-24)

The question—(v. 7)

Do not be deceived and follow false messiah’s—(v. 8)

Do not be frightened, and fail to be witnesses—(vv. 9-19)

Do not seek safety within Jerusalem—(vv. 20-24)

The Background of our Text

Jesus had marched on Jerusalem. While there was an enthusiastic crowd to greet Him, Jesus knew that this was not the day of His coronation. There would be a cross before there was to be a crown, as He had already told His disciples on a number of occasions. Jesus wept over this city, for He knew that as a result of its rejection of Him as Messiah, a day of judgment was coming upon it:

“If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you when your enemies will throw up a bank before you, and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:42-44, NASB).

The official rejection of Jesus is now virtually complete. The leaders of the nation have conspired to put Jesus to death. They have challenged His authority and have asked Him questions which were designed to incriminate Him. These have failed. The leaders have only been embarrassed, causing them to be more resolute in their determination to kill Jesus. All that remains is for Judas to be introduced, and for his act of betrayal to be carried out, leading to the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus. Just as Jesus’ debate with the leaders of Jerusalem is over, so is His teaching of the masses coming to a close. Now, the Lord is concentrating much more on His disciples, preparing them for the treacherous days ahead. They are still “starry-eyed” and optimistic, but Jesus’ words will at least momentarily sober them, or at least puzzle them, for they pertain to the destruction of Jerusalem, the persecution of the Lord’s disciples, and the dangers which accompany discipleship.

Our Approach

In this lesson, we will begin by making some very important observations concerning the entire prophetic passage. We will then focus our attention on verses 5-24 and the destruction of Jerusalem. We will seek to identify the event, to understand Luke’s description of it, and then to consider the practical implications of this event for the disciple of our Lord.

Observations

Before we begin to look at the text in detail, let us be sure to get a feel of the passage by making several important observations:

(1) Two principle events are in view in our text: the destruction of Jerusalem, which is soon to come, and the second coming of Christ, which will take place after some protracted period of time.

(2) These two events are not neatly separated in our text, nor is our text chronological in its organization.

(3) Our Lord’s dealing with these two events, separated in time, is not to distinguish them so much as to intertwine them.

(4) Luke does not describe the destruction of the temple, and so his two works were either written before the temple’s destruction in 70 A.D. or he chose not to describe the event or to allude to it.

(5) Jesus dwells more on the disciples’ conduct than He is on satisfying their curiosity as to either the exact time of fulfillment, its sequence of events, or even some specific sign which unmistakably identifies the end as at hand.

(6) While we view the destruction of Jerusalem as past history and the second coming as unfulfilled prophecy, Luke and the disciples viewed them as both future.

(7) The things which Jesus says to His disciples as “you” cannot all happen to them, and thus “you” must refer to Israel or Israelites corporately, and not just to the disciples individually. 74

(8) The mood of this text is sober. There is no hype, and much warning about the dangers which lie ahead for Jesus’ disciples. It describes the times ahead, up to the second coming as dangerous and difficult. There is no “prosperity gospel” to be found here, but rather a sobering warning about the days ahead.

(9) The subjects of the destruction of Jerusalem and the second coming are not introduced for the first time here. Luke 17:20-37 and 19:41-44 both deal with these future events.

The Disciples’ 
Fascination With the Temple 
(21:5-6)

5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”

As we have already seen, the temple was an awe-inspiring sight. The disciples were understandably impressed. Was it possible that the disciples’ attachment to the temple was based upon some false assumptions concerning it? For example, if the disciples believed that Jesus was about to establish His throne in Jerusalem, would He not make the Temple His headquarters? Did this not mean that their “offices” would be in the temple? If such was their thinking, then no wonder they were impressed with this building. What great facilities this building would provide them.

But this was not at all to be the case. The Lord’s coming would really usher in (or at least intensify) the “times of the Gentiles,” which would be signaled by the downfall of Jerusalem and the destruction of this temple. The huge stones, so impressive to the disciples, would not be left standing on one another. 75 What “cold water” this must have been, poured out, as it were, on the ever warming hopes of the disciples.

The Disciples’ Questions 
(21:7)

7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”

Jesus had been very specific about the destruction of the Temple, but vague as to the time when it would take place. The disciples want to know exactly when these things will take place, and the sign which will signal that they are just about to occur. The disciples, like most of us today, are concerned about the wrong things. They wish to know information which will be of no real benefit to them, largely to satisfy their curiosity. Jesus is much more interested in their conduct than their curiosity, and so He virtually avoids their questions, teaching them instead what they do need to know—how they should conduct themselves in the light of the destruction of Jerusalem, and His second coming. This we see in the next passage.

The Destruction of Jerusalem 
and Its Practical Implications 
(21:8-24)

8 He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.” 10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

12 “But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 This will result in your being witnesses to them. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 All men will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By standing firm you will gain life.

20 “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. 23 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

Though our Lord has little interest in satisfying the curiosity of His disciples concerning the timing of these events, He has a great interest in teaching them about their conduct in the light of these events. How different is His focus from our own. There are many differences and much debate about the timing and the sequence of events in matters of prophecy, but there can be little doubt as to what our Lord’s emphasis is here—on the disciple’s conduct. The conduct of the disciple can be summed up in three somewhat negative statements, which are given in the text above:

(1) Do not be deceived, so as to follow false “messiah’s” (v. 8).

(2) Do not be frightened, either by unsettling world events, or by persecution directed at you personally (vv. 9-19).

(3) Do not flee to Jerusalem for safety when it is under siege (vv. 20-24).

In verse 8, Jesus warned of the danger of following false “messiah’s.” When times are bad, it is easier to accept ready solutions to our problems. The false “messiah’s” have been with us throughout the history of the church. They claim to come in our Lord’s name. Indeed, they are bold enough to claim to be Him. Naturally, they must also claim that the time of the “kingdom” has come. I believe that it is not the “messiah” which is so attractive in the final analysis, but the “kingdom” which he promises. Jesus here outlines very difficult days ahead for His followers. The false “messiah’s” promise “good times,” which is synthetic “good news” for troubled saints. Jesus warns His disciples not to follow such fakes.

Luke’s account has but one verse of warning concerning the false “messiah’s,” but Matthew has much more to say on this subject. He reports of Jesus teaching that these “counterfeit Christs” will be accompanied by “great signs and miracles” (24:23-24). He further informs us Jesus warned that many will “turn away from the faith” in following such “savior’s,” and that the love of most would grow cold (24:10-13). These last days will be difficult ones for the followers of Jesus. To be too eager to escape these tough times will cause one to be susceptible to such errors.

In verse 9 Jesus turns to the difficulties which may tempt the true believer to deny or to distort his faith and practice. The great danger which is in view is that of fear. Fear is both the enemy of, and the opposite of, faith. Verses 9-11 speak of the dangers facing men in general, less personal forms: wars, revolutions, earthquakes, famines, and pestilences. These are not personal forces, but they can have a great personal impact upon an individual. The last days are going to be chaotic, dangerous, and foreboding, but these “dark hours” are the occasion for light, the light of the gospel (cf. Ephesians 5:8-14; Philippians 2:15). All of these chaotic events cannot and must not be avoided, for the kingdom of God will come only after these things have come to pass (v. 9). The cross always precedes the crown.

In verse 12 the difficulties of the disciple become much more personal. Now, the Lord speaks of the persecution which believers in Christ must suffer by virtue of their identification with Him. The persecution spoken of here is characteristic of that which has taken place down through the history of the church, but it is that which directly affected the disciples to whom Jesus was speaking. Luke, in his second volume, the book of Acts, gives a historical account of some of the sufferings of the saints in the days after our Lord’s ascension.

The difficulties of these hard times is no barrier to the gospel, however. Indeed, these hard times provide an excellent opportunity to demonstrate and to proclaim the hope which we have in Christ. Believers will be brought forward, and charged publicly, and thus they have the opportunity for a public witness, whether before Jewish opponents in the synagogues,76 or Gentile opponents, such as kings and governors. In such cases, the saint is not to plan his testimony in advance, but rather to look to the Lord to give the right words for the moment. Stephen’s powerful message (recorded in Acts 7) is but one example of the faithfulness of God to give His servants the right words to speak.

The persecution which men will face will be even more personal, however. Not only will we be opposed by the enemies of the gospel, such as religious and political leaders, but we will be opposed by our own families. Saints in those hard times will be betrayed by their closest relatives, handed over to persecution, and even to death. Now, the hard words of Jesus concerning the disciple and his family (Luke 14:26), make a great deal of sense. The “hard words” of Jesus were intended for the “hard times” ahead, times such as those described here in chapter 21. If we are going to be betrayed by our own family, we must have chosen Christ above family, or we will forsake the faith in such times.

Disciples are not to be apprehensive about what they will say in their own defense, 77 because the words will be given them at the time of need (v. 14). Men need not fear the rejection of family if they have already chosen Christ above all others (v. 16). Men and women of faith need not fear persecution, and even death, because true life, eternal life, is found in Christ (vv. 17-19). It sounds contradictory for our Lord to say that some will be killed for their faith in Him, and then, in the very next sentence to affirm that “Not a hair of you head will perish” (v. 18). How can both statements be true? The problem is at once resolved when we distinguish “real, eternal, life” from “mere physical existence.” In our Lord’s discussion with the Sadducees He taught that with God, all are alive, for God raises the dead. To hold fast to one’s faith, and to die in faith is not to die at all, but to live. As Jesus elsewhere taught,

“For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it” (Luke 9:24).

The third warning of our Lord to His disciples is found in verses 20-24, where the context is the coming destruction of Jerusalem (of which the destruction of the temple was a part). This would happen in the lifetime of the disciples who were with Jesus. It was a warning particularly relevant to them, for most of the saints would have fled from Jerusalem by the time of its destruction, but not the apostles:

And on that day [of Stephen’s stoning] a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles (Acts 8:1b, NASB).

Persecution was to be God’s instrument for removing His church from Jerusalem before its destruction. The disciples (here called apostles), however, would remain behind. Jesus’ words are most relevant to them. When they saw the

Roman army coming to besiege the city, they should flee from it, so as to escape from the wrath of God 78 at the hands of these soldiers. The action which our Lord called for would have first seemed to be suicidal. Under normal circumstances, one who lived in the open ground would have fled to the fortified city for safety: “In time of war country people would come into walled cities for protection. Jesus tells His hearers that in view of Jerusalem’s impending destruction they should keep as far from it as they could.” 79

The destruction of Jerusalem would prove to be as devastating as Jesus had forewarned:

“According to Josephus (The Jewish War, vi, 9) 1,000,000 Jews perished at that time with the destruction of Jerusalem (through famine, pestinences, fratricide, and the Roman sword) and 97,000 prisoners were taken and carried off everywhere. Josephus probably exaggerates. But in any case it is certain that hundreds of thousands perished. The Roman historian Tacitus states (Historiae, v, 13, 4) that the normal population of Jerusalem was 600,000 before A.D. 70. And if we bear in mind that before the investment of the city the Jews poured into Jerusalem in tens of thousands for the Passover and could not again return to their homes and thus remained in the city throughout the five months’ siege, it may be understood that hundreds of thousands would perish in the over-populated city. In any case not a single one was left alive in the ruined city.” 80

In this destruction, foretold by our Lord, a number of the purposes of God would be accomplished. The old order would be done away with. The priesthood would be done away with. The way would be made for the church to be established as the dwelling place of God, the “new temple” (cf. Ephesians 2:18-22). The temple made with human hands would be no more. The Jews would be removed from their land. The times of the Gentiles would be in full swing. Until the Lord’s return, Jerusalem would be the pawn of the Gentiles, to deal with as they chose (in my opinion, this includes the present order in Israel, which exists only because of the Gentiles intention of dealing thus with the Jews).

Conclusion

Jesus’ words here contain a number of important lessons for those of that day, as well as for saints of all ages. Let us consider some of them.

First, the Lord’s words here should have laid to rest the disciples’ visions of an immediate kingdom, with Jerusalem and that temple as its headquarters. That temple was soon to be destroyed, Jerusalem to be sacked, and the times of the Gentiles to prevail for an indefinite period of time.

Second, the Lord’s words clearly spelled out “hard times” ahead for those who would follow Him, rather than “happy days,” as nearly all, including the disciples, hoped for. This was true for those disciples, and for the early church (cf. Acts), but it is just as true for saints of all ages (cf. 2 Timothy 3). There are many today who offer men immediate glory, peace, and good times, but who do not talk of suffering, persecution, and endurance, as Jesus does. Men love to hear of the blessings of the future kingdom as being realized and experienced now. That simply is not the way Jesus told it, my friend. Jesus consistently spoke of hard times to those who would follow Him. He did not dangle promises of immediate relief from suffering and pain, but warned that the way of the disciple was difficult. Jesus was right, and all who differ on this point, are wrong. Those who would follow Jesus should expect the path of adversity and persecution. That is just what Jesus promised.

Third, Jesus here teaches us that times of adversity, chaos, and opposition are days of opportunity for the proclamation of the gospel. We do not need “good times” to preach the gospel. The gospel is “light” to those in “darkness,” and it offers hope to those in despair. That is why Jesus can say that that the gospel is cause for rejoicing for those who weep, who hunger, and who are persecuted for His name’s sake (cf. Luke 6:20-26; Matthew 5:1-12).

Fourth, in order to maximize the opportunity that lies before us, the disciple of Jesus must beware of deception and following false “messiah’s,” must not be afraid, even in the midst of chaos and persecution, and must not seek safety where God’s wrath must abide.

Allow me to expand on this last point by establishing a principle, one on which the teaching of our Lord in this text is based, as I understand it: THE DISCIPLE OF CHRIST SHOULD NOT BE ATTRACTED TO THAT WHICH GOD WILL DESTROY, AND SHOULD NOT SEEK SALVATION IN THAT WHICH GOD HAS CONDEMNED.

Jesus responded to the awe of His disciples toward the temple by informing them that it was to be demolished. Jesus was teaching them, I believe, that they should not be attracted to that which God was about to destroy. They also had a great love for and attraction to Jerusalem, and yet Jesus told them that in the day of His wrath on Jerusalem, they should flee from this city, not flee to it. They should not seek salvation in that place which had rejected Him as Messiah, and which He now was to reject (for a time) and to destroy.

What a lesson for each of us. How often I am attracted to earthly things, things which are to decay and fail in my lifetime, or which God will destroy in the renovation of the earth. If prophecy should teach us anything, it is to stop placing too much value on that which God has told us He would destroy. Peter learned this lesson well, as we can see in his second epistle:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat? But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 2:10-13).

We need not understand the details of prophecy, nor to know the times or the signs of the times, but we do need to know the outcome, and thus we need to order our lives accordingly. We need to love the things of this world less, and the things of the next more. We need to have our trust in Him alone, and to seek to share the gospel with a world that is under condemnation, and soon to be destroyed in judgment.

Notes:

71 It is interesting to note that the 3 synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) mention only our Lord’s appearance in Jerusalem as a child. John, on the other hand, mentions several occasions at which Jesus was there (John 2:13; 4:45; 5:1ff.; 7:10ff.; 10:22; 11:18). In none of the instances of our Lord’s appearances in Jerusalem can I find a reference to the disciples —at least there is no emphasis on their being present. I would not go so far as to say that when Jesus went to Jerusalem He always left His disciples behind, but it would seem that He could have. In my mind, I suspect that Jesus did not want His disciples to get caught up in premature messianic enthusiasm, and He therefore may have purposely not taken them with Him, at least on some occasions.

72 Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1951), pp. 533-534. Geldenhuys goes on to say,

“The group of buildings belonging to the temple as it was rebuilt by Herod occupied a much larger area than that of Solomon, and the whole of the temple-mount was surrounded by a high, strong wall with towers on the northern side. On the other sides there were no towers, because the steepness of those sides of the hill on which the temple was built and the height of the wall made it impregnable on those sides. On the temple square there were beautiful colonnades, stairs and gates by which the various temple buildings … were combined to form a whole. The actual temple … was built on an elevation of white marble blocks with golden ornaments. So it dominated all the buildings on the temple site. The Jewish historian Josephus … gives the following description of the temple: The whole of the outer works of the temple was in the highest degree worthy of admiration; for it was completely covered with gold plates, which when the sun was shining on them, glittered so dazzlingly that they blinded the eyes of the beholders not less than when one gazed at the sun’s rays themselves. And on the other sides, where there was no gold, the blocks of marble were of such a pure white the to strangers who had never previously seen them (from a distance they looked like a mountain of snow’” (v, 14), p. 534.

Morris also writes, “The noble stones were the great stones used in erecting the building (some huge stones can still be seen in the ‘wailing wall,’ but this was part of the substructure, not of the Temple itself). According to Josephus some of them were as much as forty-five cubits long. The offerings would be decorative gifts such as the golden vine Herod gave with ‘grape clusters as tall as a man’ (Josephus, Bellum v.210).” Leon Morris, The Gospel According to St. Luke (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p. 296.

73 The commentators generally agree that while the destruction of Jerusalem and the second coming are distinct events, separated by a considerable period of time, they cannot be neatly separated in this text: “If we arrange the items into an ordered series, it would run as follows: (1) the time of testimony (vs. 12a) indicates this period comes before all the rest); (2) the emergence of false messiahs; (3) political upheavals (including the fall of Jerusalem); (4) cosmic disturbances; and (5) the coming of the son of Man. from this apocalyptic timetable we can extract the Lukan answers to the two questions raised in vs. 7. When will the temple be destroyed? It will occur as part of the political disturbances prior to the End. What will be the sign when this is about to take place? The sign will be when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies (vs. 20). Though it was the oracle about the temple’s destruction that prompted the questions which evoked the discourse, the evangelist’s concerns are broader in this chapter than the fall of Jerusalem and the temple’s demise (though the fall and the demise are a part of the recurrent theme in Luke: 123:31-35; 129:28-44; 23:26-31.” Charles H. Talbert, Reading Luke: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Third Gospel (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1984), p. 200.

“The chronology of the events described in 21:8-19 does not coincide with the order of their appearance in the text where a warning not to be misled by false messiahs and other signs into thinking the End has arrived (vss. 8-9), and references to political upheavals (vs. 10) and cosmic disturbances (vs. 11) precede the section on persecution (vss. 12-19). Chronologically, however, the persecutions precede the other items (cf. vs. 12a—pro de touton panton, ‘but before all these things’): that is, in the interim before the eschaton the disciples will experience persecution (cf. 6;22-23; 8:13; 12:11; Acts 4-5; 12; 16; 18; 21).” Talbert, p. 201.

“… verses 5-24 deal practically throughout (except verses 9, 9) with predictions concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the preceding events, although in a secondary sense even some of these predictions also refer to the Last Things. But in verses 25-8 Jesus looks beyond the foreshadowing of the Final Judgment to that Judgment itself and its attendant signs, in association with His second advent. In verses 29-33 He exhorts His hearers to watch for the former set of events, which are to be accomplished within ‘this generation,’ while in verses 34-6 He warns them 9and through them the whole Christian church) to watch faithfully for the latter set of events, which are to take place at a day and hour known to none save god the Father.” Geldenhuys, pp. 523-24.

“But in all three records the outlines of the two main events, with their signs, cannot always be disentangled. Some of the utterances clearly point to the Destruction of Jerusalem; others equally clearly to the Return of the Christ. But there are some which might apply to either or both; and we, who stand between the two, cannot be sure which one, if only one, is intended. In its application to the lives of the hearers each event taught a similar truth, and conveyed a similar warning; and therefore a clearly cut distinction between them was as little needed as an exact statement of date.” Alfred Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to S. Luke (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1896), pp. 477-478.

74 “Another point of considerable importance remains to be noticed. When the Lord, on quitting the Temple, said: ‘Ye shall not see Me henceforth,’ He must have referred to Israel in their national capacity—to the Jewish polity in Church and State. If so, the promise in the text of visible reappearance must also apply to the Jewish Commonwealth, to Israel in their national capacity. Accordingly, it is suggested that in the present passage Christ refers to His Advent, not from the general cosmic standpoint of universal, but from the Jewish standpoint of Jewish, history, in which the destruction of Jerusalem and the appearance of false Christs are the last events of national history, to be followed by the dreary blank and silence of the many centuries of the ‘Gentile dispensation,’ broken at last by the events that usher in His Coming.” Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965 [Photolithoprinted]), II, p. 433.

75 I have been told that the reason why the stones were so completely torn down was due to the fact that the gold, used in decorating the temple, had worked into the stone, and thus the stones had to be completely destroyed in order to extract the gold. It is at least a plausible explanation for the motivation of those destroying the temple, and thus fulfilling our Lord’s predictions.

76 “We are apt to think of synagogues as places of worship, but we should not overlook their wider functions as centres of administration and education. They were the centres of Jewish life, and Jewish law was administered from them as far as applicable (cf. 12:11). The use of the term shows that Jesus’ followers must expect opposition from the Jews. Prisons points to the certainty of condemnation, while the reference to kings and governors shows that the persecuting authorities will be Gentiles as well as Jews.” Leon Morris, The Gospel According to St. Luke (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p. 297.

77 “… the verb promeletan, meditate beforehand, is a technical term for preparing an address; see AG… ” Morris, p. 297.

78 Morris writes, “Days of vengeance, or ‘the time of retribution’ (NEB, cf. Ps. 94:1; Is. 34:8; etc.), are days when people will be punished for their sins. What is to happen to Jerusalem is not arbitrary, but due penalty. The fulfillment of Scripture shows that the divine judgment is being carried out.” Morris, p. 299.

79 Morris, p. 298.

80 Geldrnhuys, pp. 535-536, fn. 26.

 

The Second Coming of Christ
(Luke 21:25-36)

By: Bob Deffinbaugh , Th.M.

25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

Introduction

It often takes a while for things to “sink in” with me, but I think I finally have a bit of a clue as to why the disciples were so excited about the temple and its beauty. You will recall that in the early verses of this 21st chapter of Luke the disciples were awe-struck with the splendor of the temple. Jesus quickly told them not to get too worked up about it because it would not be there that long. But the question has lingered, “Why would the splendor of the temple be such a big deal for the disciples?” Then it suddenly struck me. It is not a very pious thought, but then few of the disciples’ thoughts about the kingdom and their place in it were pious, until after the cross.

Office space is what this was all about. The disciples, I suspect, had visions of having their own offices in this beautiful building. Jesus had marched on Jerusalem. He had, in many regards, taken possession of the temple, not only by its cleansing (29:45-48), but also by going there daily to teach the masses.

The Messiah was predicted to reign in Jerusalem, from the temple. If His disciples were to have a part in this reign, then surely they would “office” in the temple. Aha! So now I can see why the splendor of the temple was such a big thing.

The splendor of the temple was to be short-lived, however. Jesus told His disciples that not one stone would be left standing on another. It would not be He, nor His disciples who would “reign” from Jerusalem, not at least for some time. The temple and the city of Jerusalem were to be surrounded and sacked by the Gentiles, and this city would be trampled by the Gentiles until the “times of the Gentiles was fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). Jesus has, up to this point, emphasized the nearer prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, which occurred in 70 A.D. In verses 25-38 He will turn His attention to the more distant future, and to the time of His return to the earth. His emphasis, here as usual, will be on the practical implications of prophecy on our daily lives. Let us listen well to His words, especially in the light of this statement, made in our text: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (21:33).

If our Lord would have His disciples “calm down” about the temple, because it was about to “pass away,” surely He would have us approach His words with great excitement and expectation, knowing that they will never pass away.

The Structure of the Text

We have seen from our previous lesson that verses 7-38 have to do with prophecy, with the events of the future and their implications. To a large degree, verses 7-24 have focused on the near prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, but not necessarily entirely so. So, too, verses 25-38 have to do with the second coming of Christ, but not exclusively so. The structure of verses 25-38 may be outlined as follows:

(1) The Coming of the Son of Man—(vv. 25-28)

0.           Signs which precede it (v. 25)

0.           The response of unbelievers (vv. 26-27)

0.           The response of the saved (v. 28)

(2) The Parable of the Fig Tree—(vv. 29-31)

(3) Two Promises: Things That Won’t Pass Away —(vv. 32-33)

(4) Jesus’ Words of Application and Exhortation—(vv. 34-36)

Our Perspective and this Passage

There are many difficulties with some of the details of our text, which at least be put into perspective. Chronologically, our passage deals with events which are all future to the listener, but which are greatly separated in time. Some events, like the destruction of Jerusalem and persecution for following Christ, will be experienced by the listener within a reasonably short time (as the book of Acts will report). Other events—those associated with the Lord’s second coming—will occur much later on, at the “end times.” And still other events will take place in the intervening times. Some events will happen more than once, such as the destruction of Jerusalem. It was to be “trampled by the Gentiles in the near future (which proved to be 70 A.D.), just as it will again be trampled by Gentiles at the end times:

2 But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months. 3 And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth” (Revelation 11:2-3).

Thus, we cannot view the Lord’s prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem as only occurring once, in the lifetime of His listeners. Some events will be, as it were, types of things yet to come. The destruction of Jerusalem seems to be one of these.81 We should bear in mind also that even those events which take place at the end times are a part of an extensive program, which take some time to accomplish, as we can see from the book of Revelation.

Another perspective is the people involved. The people referred to in these verses are those of the various time periods. Thus, the people of that generation in which Jesus lived, those in the intervening years, and those who are alive at His return are in view at various times, or in some cases at all times. In addition, however, the people would include believers and unbelievers, whose perspective and response would be very different. Also, it would seem that there will be those believers who are not alert, and who would thus interpret events quite differently from those who eagerly await His return. All of these dimensions must be kept in mind when we seek to interpret and apply our Lord’s words.

Finally, the end times are viewed here, not from the perspective of the blessings which they will usher in, but from the aspect of divine retribution. According to our Lord’s words in verse 22, these are “days of vengeance.” As you read through the entire prophecy, this fact becomes more and more evident. Jesus could have chosen to speak of the blessings which await the believer (as Peter does in 1 Peter 1:6-9), but He chose instead to speak of divine judgment. This is because the destruction of the temple is an outpouring of God’s wrath.

Signs of the End Times 
(21:25-28)

25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 82 26 Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Verse 25 depicts the end times as being signaled, not by a sign, but by various signs. In particular, the coming of our Lord will be preceded by cosmic chaos. In the heavens, sun, moon, and stars will be affected. On earth, the sea will be tossing and roaring. One must decide how literally to take these, 83 and not all will agree. Nevertheless, I am inclined to see them as literal. 84 In the first place, we know that the heavens, can greatly affect the earth. For example, the moon’s gravitational pull creates our tides in the seas. Second, and more importantly, the prophecies of the book of Revelation speak of cosmic and earthly chaos in what seems to be literal terms:

12 I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, 13 and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. 14 The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Revelation 6:12-17).

8 The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, 9 a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed … 12 The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night (Revelation 8:8-9, 12).

2 But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months. 3 And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth” (Revelation 11:2-3).

3 The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead man, and every living thing in the sea died. 8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire … 9 They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him (Revelation 16:3, 8-9).

God created the cosmos, the heavenly bodies, the earth, and the seas. He also sustains them. Though men have rejected God, they often presume that the things He controls and “holds together” (Colossians 1:17) will remain constant. They predict time and location on the basis of the heavenly bodies. By means of astrology, men even regulate their lives by the heavens. The heavens and the earth are going to pass away, however, and there will not longer be any sea. The heavenly disorders are but a sign of the destruction which lies ahead.

Men will not ignore these signs. Indeed, they will be terrified by them, as Jesus indicated in verse 26. Many will not, however, repent of their sins, so as to be saved. They will continue to “eat, drink, and marry” (cf. Luke 17:26-29). Life will go on as usual, with men living in terror, but also in continued rebellion against God. This may seem inconceivable, but it is true, and we can see illustrations of this going on today. Aids has become a virtual epidemic. It is fatal, and there is no cure for it as yet. Many are terrified at the thought of contracting this disease. The homosexual community, not to mention others, are demanding that the government do more to curb and to cure this deadly disease, and yet they refuse to even discuss forsaking the sinful lifestyle which spreads the disease. Even though terrified by the disease, life goes on as usual in the homosexual community. The only modification that men will make in their practice is to strive to practice “safe sex,” when “godly sex” would stop the disease dead in its tracks. And so men may be frightened to death by a dangerous situation, and yet persist in living just as before at the same time.

The signs which the unbelieving world distort or deny are the same signs which the saint will heed. The signs which bring terror and fear to the unbeliever, will bring courage and hope to the saint. Thus, Jesus instructed believers to “stand up and to lift up their heads,” because their redemption was near (Luke 21:28). The reason is that these signs precede the return of the Lord Jesus, and His return in great power and glory (21:27). When He comes, He will deal with His enemies and ours. He will remove the wicked, as He will reward the righteous. His coming should bring terror to His enemies, and joy to His friends.

The Parable of the Fig Tree 
(21:29-31)

29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

This parable is a simple story, as most of our Lord’s parables were. It pertains to the timing of the events Jesus has foretold. Jesus here teaches what we might call a “seasonal” approach to prophecy, rather than a “specific” approach. Jesus never encourages the setting of dates, just as He refused to indicate a single sign which would accompany and accredit His coming. He did not want his disciples to be ignorant of the approach of His return, as would be the case with all unbelievers. How, then, were His disciples to recognize that His return was near? Not by a single sign, but by a sensitivity to a combination of events which indicated that the “season” of His return was at hand.

This is an agricultural analogy, the discerning of the season by observing the signs of its arrival. When the fig tree (and all the others as well) begins to put out leaves, we know that it is Spring, and that summer cannot be too far off. We can, of course, look at our calendars, but we should all recognize that seasons don’t always follow a calendar. The farmer recognizes the season by noting those evidences of its arrival. Jesus has likewise just informed His disciples (of all ages) of the evidences of the “season” of His second coming. Those who would like to know the exact time of His arrival will not be happy with our Lord’s answer. His nearness of His return will be sensed by those who are alert to and aware of the evidences of its arrival.

Two Promises 
(21:32-33)

32 “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth 85 will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

There are two promises in these verses. The first is straightforward, but perplexing. It pertains to the fulfillment of the events predicted here. The second has to do with the words of our Lord. Both have to do with “that which won’t pass away.”

In verse 32, Jesus said that “this generation” would not pass away until all of “these things” had come to pass. The difficulty with these words should be obvious. How can Jesus say that “this generation” would not pass away until all these things come to pass when “all these things” occur over what we can now see to be nearly 2,000 years? The events described in these verses encompass many generations, so that no one generation will see all of them fulfilled in their lifetime.

The difficulties with this verse have led some to attempt to redefine the term “generation,” so that it may be taken more broadly, to mean either “mankind” or “Israel.” I do not think that the context of Luke (or the term “generation” itself) will allow this broadening. I believe that that generation was specifically in view. That generation had a particular privilege and a particular responsibility, both related to being those who witnessed the coming of the Christ. That generation also had a particular judgment, due to its rejection of Messiah:

49 Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’ 50 Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all (Luke 11:49-51, emphasis mine).

I understand, therefore, that when Jesus said “that generation” would not pass away until “all these things” had come to pass, He was referring to that generation of Israelites. How, then, do we square this with the fact that “all these things” must come to pass, when we know that some will fall upon generations to come? My best answer is that “all these things” really happen twice, not once. They will happen once, to that generation. And, they will happen a second time, in the last days, related to Christ’s return. Thus, Jerusalem was sacked in 70 A.D., in fulfillment of our Lord’s words. And so, too, Jerusalem will be trodden under the feet of the Gentiles again, during the tribulation (Revelation 11:2-3). There is also a sense in which much of what our Lord predicted would happen (e.g. persecution, betrayal by family, etc.) is something which saints have experienced throughout the intervening centuries.

Our Lord’s words, then, have relevance to those who heard Him speak these words. They also have had relevance to the saints over the centuries. And they will be relevant to the saints of the last days as well. No one dares to take these words idly, as though they will relate to a future people at a future time. Jesus does not allow this mentality to prevail.

The second promise is a related one. If the first promise related to the immediate relevance of His words, the second promise related to the eternal quality of his words. The first promise spoke with respect to the immediate value of His words, and the second to the long-term impact of His words. Jesus’ words were true for those who heard Him speak them, but they would be no less true for any saint, even though he might read them centuries later.

Two things strike me about this last promise of our Lord. First, I note that Jesus speaks here with an authority far greater than that of any other prophet. Jesus speaks here as God, not just as a man, and not even just as a prophet. Other prophets could, at best, say, “Thus saith the Lord.” Jesus here speaks of His words, words which will not pass away, as eternal words, and as His words. Jesus was speaking as God. His words were His own words of divine revelation.

Second, Jesus spoke of His words as eternal, never failing. Words, in our day and time (as then) are cheap. Words meant little. In time, even those who may have meant well may forget their word, or break it. Jesus assures His disciples that His words will never fail. Men tend to trust in material things, both because we can see them, and because they appear to have promise of lasting. Jesus here indicates that His words outlast heaven and earth. If we value things on the basis of how long they will last, nothing has greater value than the Word of God. Why is it that we so often value those things which are destined to perish above those words of God which will never perish?

The Application: 
Admonition and Encouragement 
(21:34-36)

34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

In these final verses our Lord underscores the application of this prophecy to His followers. In verse 34 Jesus warned His disciples that they, like the unbelievers, could be caught off-guard by His return. The signs of His coming, brushed aside by the lost, might not be comprehended by the saint. Thus, the Christian would not realized that the season of His return was at hand. The reason in not in a lack of evidence or of signs, but of a dullness of mind and heart which causes the saint to miss these signs, and to fail to see them as such.

Our Lord listed three specific evils which would distract the saint, so as to cause him or her to miss these signs and their significance. The first evil is that of dissipation. 86 This is the “hangover” resulting from drunkenness. The last thing one suffering from a hangover wants is “input.” I believe that the saint may be tempted to “grab all the gusto he can get,” knowing that the end of this world may be near. Thus, he or she may over-indulge in that which this world offers, and then be rendered dull and insensitive to what is really going on.

The second evil, drunkenness, if very much related. If dissipation is the result of drunkenness, drunkenness is the cause of dissipation. We are dealing with cause and effect. Drunkenness may well be a temptation for the suffering, afflicted, persecuted saint, who is also aware of the chaos taking place in the created universe, and who wishes to blot out the danger and the pain by anesthetizing his brain. Thus, dullness results.

The third and final evil is “worry,” the preoccupation with the “anxieties of life.” These are the very things Jesus has warned us against in the earlier chapters of Luke. They include unnecessary and unbelieving worry about our food, our clothing, and our basic needs. In times of great persecution worry might seem more justifiable, but not according to our Lord. Worry about such things only misappropriates our energies to worthless endeavors.

All three of the evils specifically identified by our Lord affect the heart and the mind of the saint, dulling him or her to the “signs of the times,” which should serve to show that they season of Christ’s return is at hand. These are the some of the major dangers facing the saint. In verse 36 our Lord turns to those activities which can promote preparedness, as opposed to those activities (listed above) which hinder it. Watchfulness or alertness toward the times in which we live is one antidote to apathy and dullness of heart and mind. A ready and expectant spirit inspires careful observation of the times, in comparison to the Scriptures which our Lord has provided.

The second antidote is prayer. “Watch” and “pray” are terms that are often found together. Those who are not watching are not praying, and those who are not praying are also no watching. Prayer here is focused on two matters: (1) Being able to escape the destruction occasioned by the coming wrath of God. Perhaps also, prayer that they will escape the wrath of those who oppose the gospel. (2) That we may be able to stand before the living God, who is our Judge and the Judge of all men.

Conclusion

There is no more awesome event than that coming day, here spoken of by our Lord, the day of His wrath. We, like the Israelites of old, tended to think of the “day of the Lord” only in terms of blessings. If there was to be any judgment, it would be on the Gentile “heathen.” But as God told Israel (cf. Amos 5), the “day of the Lord” was a day of judgment on all who were disobedient to Him. The forms and rituals of their religion were an offense to Him. What He sought was their repentance. The theme of judgment was thus a very important one, and it is that which our Lord focused upon in His teaching here in our text. Let us not fail to take heed to this coming reality and its implications for us.

The coming judgment of God is one of the realities to which the Holy Spirit will bear witness (John 16:8-11). It was the “bottom line” of Peter’s message to Israel in his sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2). If you have not come to a personal faith in Jesus Christ, it is a coming reality that you should take very seriously. Then wrath of God is that which every person on earth deserves, as the due reward for his or her sin. Jesus came to the earth not only to speak of God’s wrath, but to bear it personally. The Good News of the Gospel is that Jesus has born the eternal punishment we deserve. Salvation is the escape from God’s wrath which men can experience through faith in Christ. If you acknowledge your sin, and trust in the death of Jesus on the cross of Calvary, as being the payment for your sins, you will be saved from the wrath which is yet to come on those who will not accept the payment which Christ has already made.

What a vast difference there is for men with respect to the coming day of His wrath. When our Lord comes to the earth again, it is to give men what they deserve. For sinners, it is eternal torment. For saints, it is deliverance—salvation—not because they deserve it, but because the Lord Jesus Christ has purchased it, at the cost of His life.

The Second Coming of Christ is, then, for sinners, the day of God’s vengeance, of destruction; for saints, it is the day of their deliverance. That deliverance includes salvation from their enemies, as well as from the presence and power of sin. For the sinner, the “day of the Lord” is something to dread; for the saint, a delight. For the sinner, the day will be unexpected, a shock; for the saint, it will be one that has been eagerly awaited, and sensed to be near for those who have discerned the “season” of His return.

The day of the Lord should be a truth that radically changes the Christian’s lifestyle. Knowing that the material world will vanish, we should not place too much value on material things. Knowing that the Word of God will never pass away, we should find it of infinite, eternal, value. And knowing that undue indulgence of earthly pleasures will dull or sensitivity to the time of His return should motivate us to live a disciplined life, a life marked by self-control, not self-indulgence. Neither should we worry or be anxious about the things of this life, knowing that this concern will also hinder our prayers and watchfulness.

Let us live our lives in the light of this reality—that Jesus Christ is to return to the earth to judge the wicked, and to bring deliverance to His saints. Let us live as though the material world is a vapor, and the unseen world (including the Word of God) is our only certainty.

Notes:

81 “This [generation] cannot well mean anything but the generation living when these words were spoken: vii. 31, xi. 29-32, 50, 51, xvii. 25; Mt. xi. 16, etc. The reference, therefore, is to the destruction of Jerusalem regarded as the type of the end of the world.”Alfred Plummer, The Gospel According to S. Luke (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1896 [reprint]), p. 485.

82 Of v. 25, Plummer writes, “Similar language is common in the Prophets: Is. xiii. 10; Ezek. xxxii. 7; Joel ii. 10, iii. 15: comp. Is. xxxiv. 4; Hag. ii. 6, 21, etc… The remainder of this verse and most of the next are peculiar to Lk.” Plummer, p. 483.

83 Plummer takes this reference to the sea symbolically: “It is the nations who are ‘in perplexity at the resounding of sea and surge.’ Figurative language of this kind is common in the Prophets: Is. xxviii. 2, xxix. 6, xxx. 30; Ezek. xxxviii. 22; Ps. xlii. 7, lxv. 7, lxxxviii. 7.” Plummer, p. 484.

84 Plummer seems to agree, when he writes, “By … [powers of heavens] is meant, not the Angels (euthym.), nor the cosmic powers which uphold the heavens (Mey. Oosterz.), but the heavenly bodies, the stars (De W. Holtz. Eridd, Hashn): comp. Is. xl. 26; Ps. xxxiii. 6. Evidently physical existences are meant.” Plummer, p. 484. Plummer takes the heavenly bodies literally, as we see here, but he takes “the sea” more symboically, as we see in the previous note.

85 “Comp. [the expression ‘heavens and earth’ of v. 33] 2 Pet. iii. 10; Heb. i. 11, 12; Rev. xx. 11, xxi. 1; Ps. cii. 26; Is. li. 6. A time will come when everything material will cease to exist; but Christ’s words will ever hold good.” Plummer, p. 485.

86 “Dissipation (kraipale) is properly the hangover after a carousal, ‘the vulgar word for that very vulgar experience’ (Henry J. Cadbury, The style and Literary Method of Luke (p. 54), as cited by Leon Morris, The Gospel According to St. Luke (Grand Rapids: William b. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p. 301.

 

Preparations for the Passion of Christ
(Luke 21:37-22:6)

By: Bob Deffinbaugh , Th.M.

37 Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, 38 and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple. 1 Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, 2 and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. 3 Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. 4 And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. 5 They were delighted and agreed to give him money. 6 He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.

Introduction

At times, my family does not like me to be around when we are watching a television program. You see, I have a way of anticipating the conclusion of the movie, and I tell them how it will end. They would rather have the suspense. In fact, the more accurate I am, the more upset they get with me.

I have come to the conclusion that the fate of the “villain” of the movie is directly proportionate to his meanness in the movie. A villain that is mean and nasty and cruel is sure to come to a terrible end. He will not simply be arrested, nor will he just die peacefully. He will die some horrid death, giving the viewer a kind of satisfaction that justice has been meted out. It is almost always bound to work out this way, and so I predict it, so as to ruin the suspense of the plot.

If there is one thing that our literature and films do well it is to expose the villain early in the plot, setting him up for his just reward at the end of the drama. The worse the villain is portrayed, the greater the agony of his downfall (and likely his death) at the end. Early on in a movie, we are all given clues as to who the villain is, and also who the hero is. As the plot “thickens” the character of each is more clearly and precisely depicted, but we know who the “bad guy” is, and to the degree that he is mean, he will suffer at the end of the movie. A murder mystery is different, but here the writer of the movie entertains the viewer by toying with his or her desire to know who the bad guy is.

In the New Testament, Judas is represented as the betrayer of our Lord, but he is hardly painted as a “villain,” at least in the same sense that the movie-makers do so today. Luke is a very fine and skilled writer. He has highly developed literary skills. Nevertheless, Luke does not make a classic “villain” of Judas. He does not, as we might expect, often refer to Judas, always putting him in a bad light, so that we expect him to do some terrible thing. He does not use Judas for his own literary purposes, so that we almost eagerly await his downfall and destruction.

If you will notice, Judas receives very little attention in the gospel of Luke, and the same could be said for the other gospel accounts as well. A look in the concordance will show that in Luke’s gospel Judas is only referred to by name in chapters 6 (v. 16) and 22 (vss. 3, 47, 48). Luke does not, as we might expect, make a villain of Judas, so that we eagerly await is demise. In fact, Judas receives far less attention than we would expect. The “tension of the text,” as it were, is this: Why is the betrayer of our Lord given so little attention? Beyond this, why does Luke emphasize the role of Satan in the betrayal of Jesus? This we shall seek to learn from our study.

Our approach in this lesson will be to consider Judas in the light of all the gospel accounts, seeking to trace the sequence of events which led to his downfall. We will then turn our attention to Luke’s account, in order to try to discern his unique emphasis and its implications for us.

Judas Chosen as One of the Twelve

13 When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: 14 Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, 15 Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor (Luke 6:13-16).

In each of this and the other two gospel accounts of the choosing of the twelve, Judas is named, identified as the one who would betray Jesus, and is listed last. The fact that Judas was one of the twelve will become important as we consider our next category, the sending out of the twelve.

Judas Sent Out as One of the Twelve

1 When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick (Luke 9:1-2).

The sending out of the twelve is recorded in each of the synoptic gospels, and this text in Luke is the one I have chosen to refer to, since we are studying Luke. The point of this passage is that there is every indication Judas performed all the miracles that the other 11 did. I understand from this passage that Judas not only preached the “gospel of the kingdom,” but that he was used of God to cast out demons and to perform healings. Some might doubt this, but it would seem that Judas was only one of a number who performed miracles in the name of our Lord, yet without really being a child of God:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21-23).

I don’t know who Judas’ partner was, with whom he was teamed up and sent out, but I doubt that this disciple had anything different to report back than any of the others. Judas, without knowing Jesus as the rest, nevertheless experienced the power of God working through him, but to no avail, to no advantage for him. Perhaps some even came to faith through Judas’ preaching, but Judas himself did not really believe that which he proclaimed. That Judas was an unbeliever, I imply from these passages, in which our Lord spoke of His betrayer:

Judas’ Betrayal Foretold

70 Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” 71 (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him (John 6:70-71).

“While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that the Scripture would be fulfilled” (John 17:12).

In John 6:70 Judas was called “a devil,” and so he was, for we shall see that the devil later entered into him. In the Lord’s high priestly prayer (John 17), Judas was viewed as the one “doomed to destruction.” Every indication is that Judas was not one of our Lord’s flock, a true believer. From the text in Matthew chapter 7 we know that one did not have to be a true believer to be able to perform miraculous works in the name of the Lord Jesus.

The Last Straw—
The “Wasted” Perfume

6 While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. 8 When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. 9 “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” 10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. 12 When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13 I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” 14 Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests 15 and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty silver coins. 16 From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over (Matthew 26:6-16).

It is important to take note of the fact that the incident which I refer to as the “last straw supper” is not necessarily reported in its “proper” chronological order. Both Matthew and Mark refer to the meal shortly before our Lord’s betrayal, using the story as an explanation for Judas’ actions. Luke does not record the story at all. Only John records the story before the triumphal entry, which I believe is the actual chronological sequence.

In this account, given to us by Matthew, we find that the woman is here unnamed, and that “the disciples” are those who protest at the waste of money in the anointing of our Lord (Mark’s account suggests that perhaps only “some” of them protested—cf. 14:4). While Matthew reports that the disciples protested, he also indicates that there is a direct relationship between the anointing of Jesus, the protest of the disciples, the rebuke of our Lord, and Judas’ decision to betray our Lord. It was this incident that proved, for Judas, to be the last straw. Matthew alone tells us that not only was payment promised Judas (as the other accounts indicate), but that he was actually paid, thirty silver coins.

John’s account (which I consider to be a report of the same incident, even though this presents certain problems) gives us a slightly different perspective and emphasis, which proves to be very helpful:

1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “ It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me” (John 12:1-8).

Here, it is Mary who is identified as anointing Jesus’ feet (not His head, as Matthew reports—though both were probably done). The dinner is one held in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, as we would have expected. But here, John tells us that Judas protested, and he does not mention any other disciples doing so. This leaves us with at least two explanations. First, Judas is selected here because he was one of those protesting, and he was to betray our Lord. In other words, Judas was simply following the lead of the others. The second (and more likely) option is that Judas is the one who first verbalized a protest, and the others followed his lead. Thus, John refers only to Judas’ objection because he was the ring-leader. Matthew informs us that the rest agreed with him and thus joined in the objection. Either option leaves us with the conclusion that Judas and his fellow-disciples were thinking along the same (wrong) lines.

John has much more to tell his reader. In the first place, John tells us that the dinner was held in Jesus’ honor. Jesus was the honored guest. The use of the perfume was an act of worship. For Judas (and then at least some of the others) to view the use of the perfume as a “waste” was to betray a lack of appreciation for the “worth” of the guest of honor, our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was not worthy of a gift worth one year’s wages. Judas may have been able to judge the worth of the perfume, but he had not rightly esteemed the worth of the Savior.

John’s account provides us with yet another explanation for Judas’ response. Judas was a thief, motivated by his love of money. Judas was the “keeper of the bag,” the treasurer of the group. The money seems to have been used for meeting the expenses of the disciples, as well as for giving to the poor (cf. John 13:29). Judas was taking money from the bag. Perhaps he viewed this as his “commission,” his percentage, his fee. No one else seems to have known he was helping himself to the funds until later.

I cannot help but wonder what Judas did with the money. Did he hide it somewhere? Did he have a “Swiss numbered account”? Was he saving the money up? Or was he sneaking into town for a “big mac,” or perhaps going to the local pub, returning late at night with the smell of liquor on his breath? No matter what he did with the money, it was not his to take. And whether he squandered it, like the prodigal, or saved it, like the rich fool, he loved money more than his Master. I think that one thing is absolutely clear, and that is that Judas betrayed his Master for money. Greed seems to be the principle motivation of this pathetic figure. “How much will you pay me … ?” was his question to the Jewish leaders.

Judas was deprived of his commission from the perfume, which could have been a tidy sum. He seems to have justified his selling of the Savior in his mind as getting what was rightfully his. How deceitful and twisted the human mind can become, especially with the deception and temptation of Satan as a catalyst.

It was, then, at this supper that Judas made one of the most disastrous decisions of his life, the decision to betray the Master for money. Everything would snowball from here on, but the decision was made, the payment was accepted. All that was needed now was for the opportunity to arise and for the act to be carried out.

Incidentally, it should not be overlooked that Judas’ decision to betray his Master, and his proposition to the Jewish leaders, caused them to change their plans and to set aside a decision which they had previously reached—the decision not to attempt Jesus’ arrest and assassination during the feast:

Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him. “But not during the Feast,” they said, “or the people may riot” (Mark 14:1-2).

Arresting Jesus during the feast was simply too risky, they reasoned. Thus, they had determined not to make their move until the feast was over. This was not within the plan of God, however, for Jesus must be sacrificed as the Passover Lamb, at the appointed time. It was Judas’ unexpected (but most welcomed) offer which caused the leaders to set their decision aside. This was too good a deal to pass up. In this way, the sinful choice of Judas was used by God to achieve His divinely determined purposes, and thus to fulfill prophecy.

The Last Supper

And while they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.” 22 They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” 25 Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” Jesus answered, “Yes, it is you.” 26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you” (Matthew 26:21-27).

17 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.” 19 They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely not I?” 20 “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “One who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. but woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born” (Mark 14:17-21).

1 It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. 2 The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; … 21 After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.” 22 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. 23 One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. 24 Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.” 25 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. 27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. “What you are about to do, do quickly,” Jesus told him, 28 but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 29 Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. 30 As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night (John 13:1-3, 21-30).

In Matthew and Mark’s parallel accounts of the “last supper” Jesus is said to have indicated to His disciples that one of them would betray Him. The disciples are greatly saddened, and one by one they say, “Surely, not I, Lord?” Is this an expression of over-confidence, something like that of Peter? Jesus then gave a solemn word of warning, perhaps especially aimed at Judas. He said that He would surely be betrayed so that the prophecies would be fulfilled in this regard, but He warned that the one who betrayed Him would have been better off not to have been born. Surely this was so.

Luke’s account adds an interesting comment (cf. Luke 22:21-24). He passes over the sorrow of the disciples, and the “soul-searching,” to the degree that it happened. Luke informs us that the conversation seems to have quickly deteriorated into a finger-pointing session, where the disciples seemed to look more at one another to find the culprit than to look within themselves. Indeed, they actually ended up in an argument over which of them was the greatest. From a search for the great sinner, the disciples moved to a scrap over the greatest success among them. How typical, of them, and of us.

John’s account is distinct, as usual, giving us yet another perspective on this event. John begins by reminding the reader that the devil had already prompted Judas to betray the Lord Jesus. He further informs us that when Peter prompted John as to who the betrayer was, 87 Jesus indicated that it was Judas, though no one seems to have understood this at the time.

By giving Judas the piece of bread, Jesus indicated to the disciples (in answer to John’s question) that Judas was the betrayer. But by taking the bread, Judas appears to have consciously accepted his role as the betrayer, and this after (so it seems) the warning of our Lord of the danger of doing so. I see this “passing of the bread” to Judas as a kind of counter-communion. Judas had asked Jesus if he was the one, and Jesus had indicated that he was (Matthew 26:25). Now, Jesus said that the one who took the bread was the betrayer. When Jesus handed Judas the bread, he took it. Anyone else of the disciples would have pushed it away. Who would have willingly accepted this role? Only Judas.

Notice from John’s very precise account that it was only after Judas had taken the bread Jesus offered him that Satan entered into Judas. Was Judas “possessed” by Satan? It surely seems so, but this was the result of his own choice. It was not something forced upon him, unwillingly. Satan first prompted Judas at the “last straw supper,” when the expensive perfume was used to anoint Jesus, and then he chose to conspire with the Jewish leaders to betray Jesus. But Satan possessed Judas only after Jesus had indicated to him that he would betray Him, and after His strong words of warning. Judas made a number of choices, all of which were wrong, and which finally resulted in his possession by Satan. This possession, it would seem, enabled him to carry out the dastardly deed of betrayal.

The Betrayal

47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” 49 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. 50 Jesus replied, “Friend, do what you came for.” Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him (Matthew 26:47-50).

43 Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders. 44 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” 88 45 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him (Mark 14:43-45).

1 When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was an olive grove, and he and his disciples went into it. 2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons. 4 Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?” 5 “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) 6 When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7 Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8 “I told you that I am he,” Jesus answered. “If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” 9 This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me” (John 18:1-9).

The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) all give us a similar picture. Jesus was in the garden, along with the eleven disciples, as His custom had been (cf. Luke 21:37). Judas led the leaders and their assistants, armed to the teeth, to Jesus, identifying Jesus by giving Him a kiss. John’s account gives us a further insight, by telling us that when Jesus identified Himself, His enemies fell back to the ground. What authority! All of the accounts tell of the cutting off of the ear of one of the arresting party. While Luke tells of the healing of this man’s ear, John tells us that it was put who wielded the sword. Now why does this fail to surprise me?

The wonder of the accounts of the betrayal of Jesus, and of the accounts leading up to it is the gentleness and kindness of our Lord in His dealings with Judas. Jesus foretold of His betrayal. He seems to have given Judas great privileges and position among the 12. He warns Judas of the danger of carrying out his intended act. He gives him permission to leave them and to carry it out. But even at the time that Judas kissed Him, Jesus still spoke warmly (“friend,” Matthew 26:50) to him. What amazing mercy and compassion! What love! This makes the act of Judas even more detestable.

Remorse and Suicide

1 Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death. 2 They bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate, the governor. 3 When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. 4 “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” “What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” 5 So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself (Matthew 27:1-5).

Only Matthew includes an account of the remorse of Judas after the arrest of Jesus, and of his efforts to reverse what he had done. But there is no repentance here, only regret. Judas cast away the money and took his own life. What a tragedy. There is no sense of satisfaction here, as there often is at the conclusion of a contemporary movie, for Judas is not really a villain, but a tragic victim of his own sin and of Satan’s schemes. Note also the callousness of the religious leaders to Judas’ remorse. Their actions and attitudes seem, to me, almost more evil than those of Judas. How willing they are, like Satan, to exploit the sinful inclinations of others. How glad they were for him to do the dirty work.

Judas Replaced

16 and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17 he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.” 18 (With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. 19 Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For,” said Peter, “it is written in the book of Psalms, “‘May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,’ and, “‘May another take his place of leadership.’… 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs” (Acts 1:16-20, 25).

It is Luke, the author of both the gospel of Luke and of the historical account of Acts, who tells us not only of the death of Judas (as Matthew did), but also of his replacement. One additional element here is the emphasis on Judas as fulfilling the Scriptures, and also on the “scriptural necessity” (as the disciples saw it, at least) of replacing Judas.

Summary

Thus, although Luke’s account of Judas is sparse, we can see this sequence of events in the New Testament pertaining to Judas:

(1) Judas chosen as one of the twelve

(2) Judas sent out as one of the twelve

(3) Judas’ betrayal foretold by Jesus

(4) Judas’ exposure to the teaching of Jesus, not only as to His up-coming death, but also on the danger of loving

(5) The “last straw supper” when Judas was angered by the waste of money on the worship of Jesus, and at which time Satan tempted him to betray Jesus

(6) Judas’ seeking out of the Jewish leaders, who wished to be rid of Jesus, his striking a bargain with them, and receiving payment for his betrayal

(7) Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and His pattern of teaching in the temple and returning to the Mount of Olives at night

(8) The last supper, at which time Jesus again foretold of His betrayal, indicated that Judas was the one, and warned him of the danger

(9) Satan’s entry into Judas, after he took the bread from Jesus

(10) Judas’ betrayal of Jesus in the garden and Jesus’ arrest

(11) Judas’ remorse, suicide, and replacement

Luke’s Unique Emphasis

We can see that there is a great deal more to the man Judas than that which Luke has reported. In comparison with the composite account of Judas which we have just pieced together, Luke’s report is very brief, very concise, very much played down, so far as what could have been made of this man as a kind of literary “villain.” What is Luke’s emphasis? How does his brief account help to further his own argument, as laid out in this gospel?

In the first place, we need to be reminded that Luke is writing to a Gentile audience, and so the Jewish disciple, Judas, and his betrayal are not as much emphasized. In the second place, Luke has his eyes (figuratively speaking) on the cross. He is giving us these details as background for what is coming, not unlike Matthew and Mark, only more concise. Luke does not wish to have us focus on how Jesus came to the cross, but on the cross itself, and its consequences for all mankind. He does not seek to emphasize the human element in Judas’ sin so much as he does the satanic aspect. Judas became, due to his own sin and greed, a tool of Satan in his plot to murder the Messiah. From the divine point of view, Judas’ sinful proposition to the Jewish leaders was used of God so as to perfectly fulfill God’s purposes and the biblical prophecies, so that the “Lamb of God” would be sacrificed on the Passover, even though the Jewish leaders had decided against such action (Mark 14:1-2).

Conclusion

In spite of the brevity of Luke concerning Judas, there are a number of lessons that can be learned. As we conclude, allow me to focus on three areas which are relevant to us.

The first area concerns Judas, and that which we can learn from him. I should warn you that the things we learn about Judas are not necessarily comforting. We tend to think of Judas as an unbeliever and a traitor, and thus we place him in a category all by itself, rather than to see Judas as a man not all that different from ourselves, which is exactly where the discomfort comes from. Consider the following characteristics of Judas:

The Characteristics of Judas

(1) Judas was a man who seemed, for a good period of time, to be a genuine follower of Jesus.

(2) Judas was a man who had experienced and had been a channel of God’s power.

(3) Judas was very much like the other disciples, who did not stand out from them, nor was he ever suspected by them as a traitor.

(4) Judas seems even to have been somewhat of a leader among the disciples.

(5) Judas’ downfall came from a flaw evident earlier in his life, in a secret sin.

(6) Judas was a man who seems to have loved money too much and Jesus too little.

(7) Judas was a man who heard Jesus’ teaching, but failed to obey it.

(8) Judas’ failure was progressive, taking place over a period of time, and by means of a sequence of decisions.

(9) Judas was not forced to sin by Satan, but was surely tempted and assisted in his fall.

(10) Judas was made vulnerable to Satan’s involvement by his sin of greed. Satan was able to get a “death grip” on Judas by means of his fleshly desires and their dominion in his life.

(11) Judas did not choose to follow Satan, but to follow his own lusts.

(12) While it is clear to the reader that Judas became possessed by Satan, we do not know that Judas was ever consciously aware of this. To put it differently, Judas made choices which resulted in his possession by Satan, but we are never told that he actively sought to be possessed.

(13) From Judas’ twisted point of view his sin was not all that bad (he merely pointed out Jesus), and it was justifiable (after all, he did deserve the commission—in his mind).

(14) Judas was a man who was not born a traitor, but became one, by a progressive sequence of wrong choices.

If our text teaches us a great deal about Judas, we also learn some important characteristics of Satan. Consider these characteristics:

(1) Satan can work freely through religious leaders, as well as through the secular powers (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

(2) Satan can work through believers (e.g. Peter, cf. Matthew 17:23; Luke 22:31; Acts 5:3) as well as through unbelievers.

(3) Satan is perfectly willing and able to work through secondary causes (like greed), rather than openly and directly. In particular, Satan works through the world (external pressure) and the flesh (internal pressure).

(4) Satanic possession does not always take the form of foaming at the mouth and unusual behavior. It may seem to act in a normal, even in a spiritual way.

(5) While Satan’s control is more evident to us in the life of Judas, he is ultimately in control of every unbeliever (cf. Ephesians 2:1-3).

(6) Regardless of Satan’s success in working through the lives of men, his activity is subject to the control of God and it ultimately produces that which God has purposed and promised. Satan’s plan to kill the Messiah was the purpose of God. Satan thought that killing Christ would thwart God’s promises, but it ended up thwarting him, forever. The cross of Christ has brought about Satan’s downfall.

I fear that while there are times that Satan is credited with things that are not of his doing, there are also times when Satan’s involvement is simply not detected. All sin, in the final analysis, is to his liking, and is a part of his program and of his control over those who do not believe. Satan’s control in the lives of men and women seems to be strengthened over time, due either to his deception, or due to the decisions which men make which give him a strong grip in their lives. Luke reminds us here that Satan is very much “alive and well on planet earth.”

I hope that we have seen that the way in which Satan worked in the life of Judas is like the way that he works in the life of every unbeliever. Satan promotes and entices men to act in a way that seems to be to their own best interest, but which ultimately extends his control over their lives. Satan’s way of working in the lives of the saints is not all that different. He seeks to influence us through the pressures the world exerts upon us, and to stimulate the inner urges of the flesh, so that he can have control of us indirectly.

How is it that the Christian can avoid the pull of Satan? How is it that we can win over the world, the flesh, and the devil? If the warning of our text is that Satan can work on (Luke 22:31) and through (Matthew 16:22-23) a Peter, the encouragement is that while a Judas will fall hopelessly, never to be restored, a Peter will fall only temporarily. We should be warned by the similarities between a Peter and a Judas, but we should not leave our text without being reminded of the crucial differences between them. Consider these differences with me as we conclude:

(1) While Peter denied his Lord for a short time, Jesus was his Lord. Put in its briefest form, Peter was saved, and Judas was not. Judas did not lose his salvation, he never possessed it (compare Matthew 7:21-23).

(2) While Peter may not have prayed, as our Lord urged that he do (Luke 21:36; 22:45-46), Jesus never ceased to pray for him (Luke 22:32).

What crucial differences these are. The difference between a Judas and a Peter can be boiled down to one thing—faith. Peter was saved, and thus had the shed blood of Christ to pay for his sins, and the intercession of Christ to sustain him. Judas was lost, and thus was left to himself.

Which of the two are you, my friend? Are you a Peter—fallible, stumbling, self-confident, but saved? Or are you a Judas, looking good for a time, but really being a tool of Satan, who will suffer the eternal judgment of God. I urge you to trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. Do it today.

Notes:

87 Note from John’s account that Peter seems to have been sitting some distance, while John and Judas appear to be nearby. I am inclined to think (as some commentators have suggested) that Judas may have been given the place of honor by our Lord.

88 It seems hard to believe that it would be necessary for Judas to identify Jesus to these leaders. The best explanation I can think of is that the top level leaders of Jerusalem did not “lower themselves” (in their minds) to see or hear Jesus, or to debate with Him. The Pharisees and a number of Sadducees were quite willing to “hound” Him. The top leaders, then, seem to have little or no direct contact with Christ. The “police force” who came along to arrest Jesus did not seem to have been familiar with Him either, although you will recall that some of those who were sent to arrest Jesus were so impressed with Him that they did not carry out their assignment (cf. John 7:44-49).

 

The Last Supper
(Luke 22:7-23)

By: Bob Deffinbaugh , Th.M.

Matthew 26:17-30 On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’ “ 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.

20 When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. 21 And while they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.” 22 They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” 25 Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” Jesus answered, “Yes, it is you.”

26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.” 30 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Luke 22:7-23 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.” 9 “Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked. 10 He replied, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, 11 and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there.” 13 They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” 17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

21 But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. 22 The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.” 23 They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.

Mark 14:12-26 On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 13 So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. 14 Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” 16 The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

17 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.” 19 They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely not I?” 20 “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”

22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” 23 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. 25 “I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.” 26 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Introduction

The story was told of a great revival that broke out through the ministry of a well-known evangelist of by-gone days. There were various accounts told of the response of that evangelist on the night when the power of God’s Spirit fell on the audience, causing many to repent and come to saving faith in the blood of Jesus Christ. One version portrayed a very lengthy night of soul-stirring prayer. At a later date a Christian leader had the opportunity to ask the song leader, who accompanied the evangelist what happened that night, after they returned home. The song reported that rather than a lengthy and pious prayer, the evangelist, exhausted from the demands of the day, plopped into his bed with the words, “Good night, Lord, I’m tired.”

That man’s account is believable. But so often stories seem to be embellished with the passing of time. Family folklore is this way. The war stories of my seminary days are a lot more dramatic now than they were some years ago. As time goes on, we tend to glorify and to horrify the past, making our accounts of past events greater than life. This is simply a human phenomenon. We expect it to happen, and so most of us tend to discount stories of the past a little, to compensate for the exaggerations which accompany history.

Looked at from this point of view—expecting the past to be glorified—we find Luke’s account (and, the other gospel accounts as well) of the last supper amazingly brief and unembellished. Somewhere 30 to 50 years after our Lord’s death, resurrection, and ascension, the gospel of Luke was written (depending upon which conservative scholar you read). In spite of all the time which passed, and of the great significance of the “Lord’s Supper” or “Communion,” neither Luke nor any other gospel writer makes a great deal out of the celebration of the last Passover, just before our Lord’s death. I am not saying this celebration was unimportant, but rather that because of its importance, I would have expected it to have been a more detailed account. This brevity is the first of several “tensions of the text.”

There are other tensions as well. Why is nearly as much space devoted to the preparation for the Passover meal as for the partaking of it? Furthermore, why was Jesus so eager to partake of the Passover, when it preceded and even anticipated His death? Finally, why is there such confusion and consternation (including a deletion of some of the text) over Luke’s account of the Lord’s Table, in which it appears that the (traditional) order of the bread and wine may have been reversed?

Events Surrounding the Last Supper

Before we begin to look more closely at the partaking of the Passover, let us pause for just a moment to remind ourselves of the broader setting in which this event is found. The Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem have already determined that Jesus must die (not to mention Lazarus, John 11:47-53; 12:9-10).After the meal at the house of Simon the Leper, at which Mary anointed the feet of Jesus, “wasting” her expensive perfume on him, Judas decided to betray the Lord, approached the chief priests, and received an advance payment (Matthew 26:14-16; Luke 22:1-6). Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and after He cleansed the temple, the sparks really began to fly, with the religious leaders making every effort to discredit Him, or to get Him into trouble with the Roman authorities (Luke 20:19-20). When these efforts, as well as their attempts to penetrate the ranks of our Lord’s disciples miserably failed, the chief priests were delighted to have Judas approach them with his offer. It was only a matter now of waiting for the right chance. This could have been the Lord’s celebration of the Passover, along with His disciples.

At the meal itself, a number of events took place. It would seem that the Lord’s washing of the feet of the disciples was the first item on the agenda (John 13:1-20). During the meal, once (cf. Matthew 26:20-25; Mark 14:17-21), if not more (Luke 22:21-23), the Lord spoke of His betrayer. The meal seems to have included some (perhaps most all) of the traditional Passover elements, and in addition, the commencement of the Lord’s Supper, with words that I doubt the disciples had ever heard at a Passover meal (Luke 22:19-20). John’s gospel avoids giving us yet another description of this ceremony. He, unlike the other gospel writers, includes an extensive message known as the “upper room discourse” (John 14-16), concluded by the Lord’s “high priestly prayer” of intercession for His followers, which may have been prayed during the meal time, or perhaps later on in Gethsemane (John 17). The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) report the disciples’ argument about who would be the greatest, along with our Lord’s response (cf. Luke 22:24-3), the Lord’s specific words to the over-confident Peter (Luke 22:31-34), and then His words about being prepared to face a hostile world (Luke 22:35-38). With this the party is said to have sung a hymn and to have departed to the Garden of Gethsemane, where our Lord prayed, with little help from His disciples (Luke 22:39-46). The arrest of Jesus then follows, concluding in His being handed over for crucifixion.

The point in all of this is simply to remind you that the meal was a lengthy one, during which time the Passover was memorialized, and also the Lord’s Supper was inaugurated. It was also during this time that a great deal of teaching took place, as recorded primarily by John. The so-called “Last Supper” was but a part of a larger whole. We must therefore study and interpret it in this broader context.

Background: The Passover

It is beneficial to briefly review the meaning of the Passover Meal before we look at our Lord’s last Passover celebration. It think it is important to begin by drawing attention to these remarks by Plummer, one of the well-known scholars who has written a classic commentary on the gospel of Luke:

“… we are in doubt (1) as to what the paschal ritual was at this time; (2) as to the extent to which Jesus followed the paschal ritual in this highly exceptional celebration; … ” 89

These days it has become very popular to reenact the Passover, showing how many of the elements have a kind of symbolic, prophetic element. These descriptions of the Passover ceremony come not from the Scriptures, however, but from tradition—traditions which are not necessarily accurate, and even if they were correct, we have no assurance that they reflect a genuine faith and obedience to the Word of God. May I remind you that Jesus often rebuked the Jews for their traditions. We have no assurance that these traditions are entirely correct, nor that Jesus personally observed them. Thus, I am committed to an interpretation which takes only the information supplied to us by the Scriptures themselves.

The Passover itself began at the exodus of the Israelite nation from Egypt. The word which Moses brought to Pharaoh from God, “Let My people go, …” was challenged by Pharaoh: “Who is this God, that I should obey Him?” The plagues were God’s answer to this question. But while Pharaoh often agreed to release the people of Israel, he would renege once the pressure was off. The final plague was the smiting of the eldest son of the Egyptians, which resulted in the release of the Israelites. The first-born sons of the Israelites were spared by means of the first Passover celebration. The Passover animals were slaughtered, and some of the blood was placed on the door posts. When the death angel saw the blood on the door posts, he “passed over” the house. This celebration was made an annual feast for the Israelite nation, with a number of stipulations:

Exodus

11 “This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.” 14 “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD—a lasting ordinance. For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast. On the first day remove the yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel. On the first day hold a sacred assembly, and another one on the seventh day. Do no work at all on these days, except to prepare food for everyone to eat—that is all you may do. Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. In the first month you are to eat bread made without yeast, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day. For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses. And whoever eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel, whether he is an alien or native-born. Eat nothing made with yeast. Wherever you live, you must eat unleavened bread.” 43 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “These are the regulations for the Passover: “No foreigner is to eat of it.” 48 “An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the Lord’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat of it (12:11, 14-20, 43, 48).

“Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast, and do not let any of the sacrifice from the Passover Feast remain until morning (34:25).

Leviticus

The Lord’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month (23:5).

Numbers

4 So Moses told the Israelites to celebrate the Passover, 6 But some of them could not celebrate the Passover on that day because they were ceremonially unclean on account of a dead body. So they came to Moses and Aaron that same day 10 “Tell the Israelites: ‘When any of you or your descendants are unclean because of a dead body or are away on a journey, they may still celebrate the Lord’s Passover. 12 They must not leave any of it till morning or break any of its bones. When they celebrate the Passover, they must follow all the regulations. 13 But if a man who is ceremonially clean and not on a journey fails to celebrate the Passover, that person must be cut off from his people because he did not present the Lord’s offering at the appointed time. That man will bear the consequences of his sin. 14 “‘An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the Lord’s Passover must do so in accordance with its rules and regulations. You must have the same regulations for the alien and the native-born’” (9:4, 6, 10, 12-14).

“‘On the fourteenth day of the first month the Lord’s Passover is to be held (28:16).

Deuteronomy

1 Observe the month of Abib and celebrate the Passover of the Lord your God, because in the month of Abib he brought you out of Egypt by night. 2 Sacrifice as the Passover to the Lord your God an animal from your flock or herd at the place the Lord will choose as a dwelling for his Name. 5 You must not sacrifice the Passover in any town the Lord your God gives you 6 except in the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name. There you must sacrifice the Passover in the evening, when the sun goes down, on the anniversary of your departure from Egypt (16:1-2, 5-6).

There are a number of stipulations and regulations governing the observance of the Passover, as can be seen from the texts above. First, the Passover is to be partaken of only by those who have embraced the faith of Israel. No “uncircumcised” person could eat of it. This did not exclude foreigners who had accepted the faith of Israel, as evidenced by circumcision. Second, the Passover was to be observed on the 14th day of the first month, at the time when the Israelites first partook of the Passover lamb in Egypt. The animal was to be slain on the evening of the 14th, and the meal to follow shortly afterward. Third, no bones of the animal were to be broken, and no leftovers were to be kept until the next day. Fourth, the Passover celebration also commenced the Feast of Unleavened Bread. No yeast was to be used, and all leaven was to be removed from the dwellings of the Israelites on the first day of the celebration. Finally, the Passover animal could only be slaughtered at the place which God would designate (Deuteronomy 16:2, 5-6), which would later be specified as Jerusalem.

Preparations for the Passover 
(22:7-13)

7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.” 9 “Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked. 10 He replied, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, 11 and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there.” 13 They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

There is a note of urgency expressed in verse 7, for the day came when the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. The Passover must be celebrated in Jerusalem, and the lamb had to be sacrificed and eaten at the appointed time. Matthew’s gospel is even more emphatic here:

He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house’” (Matthew 26:18-19).

Jesus sent two of his disciples to make the necessary preparations, two of His most trusted disciples, Peter and John. These were two of the three who were in the “inner circle” of the three disciples (Peter, James, and John), whom Jesus sometimes took along, apart from the others (cf. Luke 9:28). What was so important that two of His most trusted disciples had to prepare the Passover? This becomes evident in the directions Jesus gave as to the place where the Passover meal was to be eaten.

If I were Peter or John, I would have been somewhat distressed by Jesus’ directions. He did not give the name and the address of the man with whom arrangements had been made. 90 When you think about it, there is a kind of “cloak and dagger” dimension to this account. The disciples were sent on what amounted to a treasure hunt. They were to find an unspecified place by going into the city and being found by a man who would be identified only by the fact that he was carrying a water pot. It is not even said that the man would speak to them, but they were to follow him to the house he entered. There, the owner of the house (presumably another man) was to be asked where the guest room was where the “Teacher” could eat the Passover with His disciples.

Had it not been Jesus who gave these instructions, one would probably have not been very inclined to follow this plan. There is a certain similarity in these instructions to those given to the “two” (unnamed) disciples who were to obtain the mount on which Jesus was to ride into Jerusalem in His “triumphal” entry (Luke 19:30-31). The purpose for the two sets of arrangements was the same, and thus required a vagueness in each case.

It had already been determined by the religious leaders in Jerusalem that Jesus should be eliminated, earlier (cf. John 7), and now with even greater determination after the raising of Lazarus (cf. John 11:45-53). The one thing which the religious leaders needed was privacy. They wanted to arrest Jesus, away from the curious eyes of the crowds, who favored Jesus, and who would very likely revolt at the sight of Jesus being arrested and put to death by the religious leaders (cf. Luke 19:47-48; 20:19-20; 22:3-6).

Luke gives the account of Judas’ agreement with the chief priests and officers (22:3-6) just before the Lord’s instructions concerning the preparation for the last supper (22:7-13). This order of events is significant, for had Judas known in advance the place where the Passover was to be eaten, he could have arranged for Jesus’ arrest there. And this would have been an ideal time, for everyone would be off the streets, eating the meal with their own families. Jesus’ gave instructions which assured that this meal would not be interrupted, and that his arrest would take place in the garden of Gethsemane, later that night.

There is, by way of application, a wonderful truth to be seen in these verses. Whenever God truly calls on us to do that for which we feel unprepared and at “loose ends,” that which seems ill-defined, we shall discover that He has long before gone before us, making the necessary arrangements. The two disciples would surely not have felt “in control” of this situation, just as the two disciples who went to fetch the Lord’s mount for His entry would have felt matters were not very well defined. But in each case the text is clear: they found things to be exactly as Jesus had described them. While the disciples may not have been confident that things would work out well, they did.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you believed that God was leading you to do or say something, but you really didn’t know how things would work out? Have you ever done something in obedience to what you believed to be the leading of God’s Spirit, only to find that He had been there long before you arrived? When God instructs us to do something that He intends to come to pass, He will always have gone before us, preparing the way for us. All we need to do is to obey, trusting that things will work out as He has planned. While we may not know the outcome as the two disciples did in our text, we may be assured that it will be just as God has ordained it. How wonderful it is to walk in obedience to His will and His word, and to watch Him open the doors before us, preparing our way. And how wonderful to know that what God has not told us is for our own good.

The Last Supper 
(22:14-23)

14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” 17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. 21 But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. 22 The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.” 23 They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.

Characteristics of the Last Supper

As we begin to consider the “last supper” let us start by considering some of the characteristics of this event.

(1)The “last supper” was a segment of a larger whole. Even in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the account of the actual celebration of the “last supper” brief, but in the gospel of John, it is not even recorded. John’s gospel gives us a much fuller account of our Lord’s rather extensive teaching on this occasion, known as the “Upper Room Discourse.”

(2)The account of the “last supper” is not only brief, it does not “read back” into the event the greatly enhanced understanding of this event in the light of later events, such as the death of Christ on the cross. It is not until Acts and the epistles of the New Testament that the full meaning of “communion” is seen. Luke waits until later to spell out this unseen significance. Luke describes the event from the historical perspective of those who were there, not from that of those saints who can look on the event in terms of its added meaning in the light of the cross.

(3)The “last supper” was the last supper in that it marked the end of one dispensation and the entrance into another. It instituted the age of the “new covenant” and anticipated (at the cross) the end of the period of the “old covenant.” The “last supper” is unique, never to be reenacted. It is the closing of one chapter, and the beginning of a new one.

(4)The “last supper” was the inauguration of a new “church” ordinance, although it was not recognized as such at the time. The church will go back to this celebration as the historical roots of its celebration of “communion,” but the disciples had no grasp of the newness of this celebration at the time.

(5)The meaning and significance of this celebration of the “last supper” was almost totally missed by the disciples. They did not understand what Jesus was doing, and they were busy thinking about the identity of the betrayer, their own sadness, and who was the greatest among them.

(6) Jesus did not seek to explain to His disciples, at this point, all that He was doing meant. Indeed, in the fuller teaching of John’s gospel, it was clear that they would not understand.

(7)The last supper was not, in its observance, a glorious occasion. Regardless of how the artists might have portrayed it, this was a time of confusion, of fear, and of self-seeking on the part of the disciples. Jesus was the only one present who knew the meaning of what He was doing.

(8)The “last supper” was a modification of the Old Testament observance of the Passover. But there is little information given to us about the “ritual” that was observed by our Lord, or even that Jesus followed the normal Jewish ritual of that time. The part of the celebration that is emphasized is that which was utterly foreign to the Passover celebration, that which our Lord added.

(9) The mood of the “last supper,” especially for the disciples, was dominated by the gloom of our Lord’s betrayal and of His imminent death on the cross. The disciples did not know what was about to take place, but there was a sadness, a heaviness, in their spirits, knowing that something ominous was about to occur.

(10) In spite of and in contrast to the disciples, Jesus approached this meal with eagerness: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (v. 15).

The Meaning of the Meal

Having familiarized ourselves with the context and characteristics of the “last supper,” I now wish to turn our attention to the meaning of this event, as Jesus reveals it to the disciples here. There is a problem with this passage, as you should know. The basic problem, it would seem, is that there are too many “cups” here, and thus the order of events given by Luke seems to contradict that found in the other gospel accounts. One easy solution is to retreat to the ceremony which allegedly took place at the celebration of the Passover, and to point out that there were numerous “cups.” The solution which some ancient copyist(s) seem(s) to have taken is simply to exclude the last half of verse 19 and all of verse 20. No everything matches, nice and neat. I think there is a much simpler explanation—one which points to the “punch of the passage”—which can be seen by this simple arrangement of the verses in view:

The Celebration and Jesus

15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

The Celebration and the Church

19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

Luke’s account, more dramatically than the other two, emphasizes the fact that the “last supper” had two distinct meanings. The extra cup is no problem when viewed from the standpoint of Luke’s structure. Verses 15-18 refer to the significance of the Passover for the Lord Jesus. The reference to “eating” (the bread, presumably) and “drinking” is to its meaning for Him, as Israel’s messiah. The reason why He can say that He has eagerly desired to eat the Passover is revealed in verse 16: He will not eat it again until its fulfillment in the kingdom of God. So, too, for the cup. He will not drink the cup again until the kingdom of God is fulfilled.

Now this is a very important point, I believe. Normally, we tend to look at the Passover as being a prototype of the death of Christ on the cross. Jesus, in verses 14-18, looks beyond the cross, to the crown. The joy set before Him is the kingdom, and the suffering of the cross is the way this joy will be realized. Thus, Jesus focused on the joy of the fulfillment of the Passover and was encouraged and enabled to endure the cross because of it.

The eating of the first Passover did involve the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, but it was done so as to deliver the first-born sons of Israel from death. It was done as well as a preparatory step to the exodus, their release from Egypt by Pharaoh, their crossing of the Red Sea, and their entrance into the promised land. Thus, the sacrifice of the Passover lamb was not focused only on the preservation of the lives of the firstborn, but on the possession of the promised kingdom.91 In the same way, Jesus saw this Passover as prophetic, as anticipatory of the coming of the kingdom, and in this He could rejoice.

For the disciples (and, indeed, for the Jews) the Passover meal had a very different significance. For them it was the end of one order, and the entrance into another. It spelled the end of the Mosaic covenant, and the inauguration of the new covenant, that which the prophet Jeremiah prophesied (Jeremiah 31:31). That which God promised Abraham was to be realized and accomplished through the faithful obedience and sacrificial death of the Messiah, whose death inaugurated a new order, based upon the new covenant. The full meaning of the meal, and of our Lord’s death would only be grasped after His death and resurrection. It surely was not grasped at this moment by the disciples.

Warning to His Betrayer

They were quickly distracted by what Jesus said next. He told them that He was to be betrayed, and that His betrayer was at the table, one of them (verse 21). At a time when Jesus’ rejection, suffering, and death were imminent, here He is, reaching out one last time to Judas, warning him of the destiny which awaits him if he follows through with his plan to betray Him. Both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man are underscored by Jesus’ words. The Son of Man was going, as it had been predetermined by God, and yet woe to that one who would do it. Judas was going to be held accountable for his actions (verse 22). How sad that Judas did not heed this warning.

How sad it was that one could be so close to the Savior, could have heard so much, and yet did not believe. How many people have thought themselves saints, when they were really wolves and not sheep, falsely religious, but not Christians (cf. Matthew 7:13-23). Judas was warned. He was even urged to turn from his course, but he did not. How tragic is this man.

While the disciples are different than Judas, they are not that different. The principle difference between Judas and the other eleven was that they believed, they were saved, and Judas was not. Judas did not lose something which he once possessed, for he never possessed it. But the disciples are so like Judas in that they are thinking mainly of themselves, and not of Jesus. They, too, are seeking their own self-interest. And so, the discussion among them as to who would betray Jesus quickly deteriorated into an argument as to who was the greatest. How typical—of them, and of us.

At the most “spiritual” times, in the most pious of surroundings and ceremonies, our sinful desires are still present. The significance of the Passover, and of the Lord’s supper has nothing to do with what we add to it, but only with what Christ Himself has done. In that alone we can rejoice. The amazing thing is that the disciples and even Judas, for all their sin, did not ruin this meal for the Savior. They did not ruin it because He observed it in the light of what God was doing, not in what men were doing. There is no benefit to rituals or ceremonies, my friend, there is only benefit in Christ. It is what he has done that gives any ritual significance. May we approach the Lord’s table as the Savior did, with great joy and anticipation, looking back, but also looking forward to that day when the kingdom of God shall come.

Notes:

89 Alfred Plummer, The Gospel According to St. Luke (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1896), p. 495.

90 The assumption here is that Jesus had already made arrangements with the owner of the “upper room,” and this He may very well have done. Jesus did not say so, however. It is also possible, as in the case of the acquisition of the Lord’s transportation into Jerusalem (the donkey and its foal), that the man did not know in advance, by prior arrangement, but gladly let Jesus use the room. The question here is somewhat academic, and would only inform us as to how routine or miraculous this preparation was.

91 I am going to have to think about this more carefully, but let me throw out some points to ponder. As a rule, we tend to equate the Passover lamb with the atonement. It would seem more accurate to see the annual day of atonement in this light, and that sacrificial animal as typical of Christ and His death. The Passover lamb, however, was more anticipatory. It looked forward to the possession of the kingdom, and to the new age, the new covenant, which would make it possible. The Passover lamb did not die in the place of all the nation, but only to save the first-born.

 

Perspective, Personal Ambition, and Prophecy
(Luke 22:24-38)

By: Bob Deffinbaugh , Th.M.

24 Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. 28 You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” 33 But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” 35 Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered. 36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37 It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” 38 The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That is enough,” he replied.

Introduction

Fred Smith, a friend of mine, once said to me, “John Calvin would have made an excellent golfer.” He waited for a response. I bit, and he explained. “You see,” Fred quipped, “John Calvin taught that everything that comes naturally is the wrong thing to do. In golfing, you never do the thing that feels right.” I have played just enough golf to believe that Fred was right. Likewise, in skiing, when one seems to be losing control and gaining speed going down hill, the way to solve the problem is to lean forward. But the natural inclination is to lean back, gain speed, and lose the ability to steer the skis.

Calvin, if indeed he taught as Fred claims, was right too. How often the natural thing to do is the wrong thing, at least when it comes to the Christian life. In many, many, areas of life, if we asked ourselves how we would naturally handle a certain situation or accomplish a particular goal, and then do the opposite, we would be right, biblically speaking. Jesus taught that the meek will inherit the earth, that the mourners will rejoice, that one gains his life by losing it, and that one acquires wealth by giving it away. Jesus’ way of doing things is very often the opposite of the way we would think things should be done. For this reason Donald Kraybill entitled his book on this subject, The Upside-Down Kingdom. 92

Our text consists of three major sections. In verses 24-30, Luke gives an account of a dispute between the disciples as to who was regarded as the greatest, and Jesus’ words of correction and instruction. In verses 31-34, Jesus informed Peter of his three-fold denial, which was soon to occur; but He did so in such a way as to give Peter encouragement and hope after he failed. In the last paragraph, verses 35-38, we come to one of the most difficult texts in the gospels, one which has caused Bible students to scratch their heads.

Remember as we approach these three paragraphs that these are the last words of instruction Jesus gave to His disciples, at least as Luke’s account in concerned. These are very important words, indeed, words that had great meaning for the disciples, and words which contain important lessons for us as well. It is not just the disciples of days gone by who have a problem of sinful personal ambition and who reflect an ungodly and destructive spirit of competition. When we look at the Corinthian church, we find this problem of self-assertion and status-seeking was still one of the major hindrances to the unity and ministry of the New Testament church. In his epistle to the Philippians, Paul wrote that of all those whom he might have sent, those who were both saints and ministers (of a kind), he had only one man who was not self-seeking, and that man was Timothy. All the rest “seek after their own interests” (Philippians 2:21), Paul said. If we but look about the church today, we see that power struggles, ambition, and self-seeking are everywhere—everywhere. Jesus has the answer to this problem, and Luke has recorded the answer in our text. Let us listen well to our Lord, for His words are desperately needed today.

The Setting

Long before, Jesus had set His face toward Jerusalem, where He was to be rejected by the religious leaders and the nation, and where He would be crucified by Roman hands. Jesus has come to Jerusalem, where He made His entrance, to be received by many, but not by the leaders of the nation, and not really by most Jerusalemites. Jesus cleansed the temple, driving out the money-changers, arriving there early in the morning, and then leaving in the evening, to camp out (it would seem) on the Mount of Olives. The Jews sought to publicly challenge and embarrass Jesus, to challenge His authority, and to entrap Him in His words, but this plan failed miserably. They also sought to infiltrate His ranks, in order to obtain inside information which would enable them to arrest Him privately and to put Him to death out of the sight of the crowds, who still favored Him.

But it was through none of these efforts that their plans to destroy Jesus were realized. It was one of Jesus’ own followers who volunteered to turn Jesus over to them conveniently when the opportunity arose, for a price. The actual betrayal is coming quickly count, but not yet. Jesus has gathered with His disciples to observe the Passover meal. At the meal table, Jesus has much to teach the disciples, for this is His last opportunity to speak to them before He is separated from them by His arrest, trial, and crucifixion. It seems to be sometime during the meal that the dispute broke out among the disciples, a dispute which provides the occasion for further instruction and admonition by our Lord. This is the setting for our entire section of Scripture.

The Dispute 
(9:24)

24 Also a dispute arose among them as to which [one] of them was considered [regarded, NASB] to be greatest.

It is impossible to determine from Luke’s account whether the dispute arose before the washing of the disciples’ feet (John 13) or after. It would seem most likely that it arose before, perhaps in connection with the disciples’ eager rush to find the best seats at the table. Where one sat at a meal table in that part of the world indicated how important he was (cf. Luke 14:7-11; Matthew 23:6). It would seem that as the disciples entered the upper room where they were to partake of the Passover Lamb, they rushed past the basin where a slave would normally have washed the feet of the guests (and where no slave was present), in order to gain the best seats. Perhaps the disciples argued because those who thought themselves to be the greatest lost out in the race for the chief seats. Peter, who may have been the oldest, and thus a likely candidate for “first chair,” seems to have been more removed from Jesus than John who was reclining on Jesus’ breast and who also may have been the youngest (cf. John 13:23-25). If this were the case, then Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet was indeed a timely lesson. This act would certainly exemplify our Lord’s claim to be among them as “one who serves” (Luke 22:27).

But why the great concern about where one sat at the dinner table, about who was regarded as the greatest? I think the answer is quite simple: the disciples seemed to think that whoever was the greatest at the time the kingdom was inaugurated would also be the greatest in the kingdom. It is much like those who want to purchase tickets for the finest seats at the Super Bowl, tickets which are in very limited quantities and in great demand. They will go through great efforts and sacrifices to wait in line for hours to be at the head of the line when the ticket office opens.

When I lived in Washington State, one of my favorite sports events was the Gold Cup unlimited hydroplane races sometimes held on Lake Washington. These boats would be out on the lake some time before the starting gun went off. In fact, there was a one minute gun which was fired to serve notice that in exactly one minute, the starting gun was to be fired. While the boats would be in various places before the one minute gun went off, they would all congregate in the same general area, and then, with each driver carefully watching his speed, his position, and the one minute clock in the cockpit, the boats would all race down the lake, passing under the Lake Washington bridge at 160 miles per hour, hoping to cross the line first, a split second after the starting gun was fired.

Every driver knew his chances of winning the race were far better if he began the race in front of all the others. If he were not first, the driver would have to constantly fight the wake of the boat or boats ahead of him, rather than run on relatively smooth water. The boat would also be caught in the rooster tail of water shooting high into the air behind the lead boats. The rooster tail threatened to literally drown out the engine of the boat behind. To start first meant a good chance of staying in front all the way through the race. I believe this was the way the disciples felt about where they were seated at the Passover Celebration, as well as the way they felt about who among them was regarded as the greatest. It is my assumption that the disciples did not consider how Christ regarded them, but rather they debated as to their ratings with the masses. It was not the reality of who was the greatest which was the concern of the disciples, but only the perception of it. Their standing before men seems to be the issue.

Ironically, but not accidentally I think, Luke places his account of this dispute among the disciples concerning who was regarded as the greatest immediately after the verse in which we are told the disciples were discussing who it was among them who might be the betrayer of whom Jesus had just spoken. It is as though the disciples were more interested in their own greatness than in identifying who among them was the traitor. There is little time to look for traitors when one is disputing about his greatness.

I do not know just how “civil” or “subtle” this debate was. Among many, the struggle for position and power can be very polite, very orderly, and very underhanded. Here, I am inclined to see the disciples as more frank and not so subtle. Remember that James and John were known as the “sons of thunder.” These fellows were the kind who could have come to blows over such matters, at least before they met the Master.

We should not move on without also pointing out that this dispute over who was perceived to be the greatest did not erupt here for the first time. It seems to have been the cause for debate frequently among the 12. In Luke chapter 9 (verse 46), after the transfiguration of our Lord and the successful sending out of the 12, the disciples argued about who might be the greatest. Often, it would seem, the disciples’ discussion about their greatness came in the context of Jesus’ disclosure of His rejection, suffering, and death (cf. Mark 9:31-34).

Jesus’ Correction of 
the Disciples’ Competitiveness 
(22:25-30)

25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.

27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. 28 You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Jesus began by contrasting what we might call “Christian greatness” with “Gentile greatness.” In verses 25 and 26, Jesus contrasted the conduct of “great Gentiles” with that of “great disciples.”93 The Gentile kings “use” their greatness; they let others know they have it; they flaunt it. Gentile kings do not simply lead; they dictate and dominate; they “lord it over” others. This dictatorial rule seems to be justified, in their minds at least, by their claim to be “Benefactors.” They had themselves called by the title, “a doer of good,” and thus their being a “public servant,” a doer of good for the people seems to have justified their abuse of power. We hear of men who justify the abuse of power by labor union leaders on the same premise. “I don’t care if there is corruption and graft in the leadership. They have done a lot of good for me.”

How different the disciple of Jesus must be. Jesus does not here argue against greatness. He accepts the fact that some men are great, greater than others. All are not equal. The issue here is not whether some saints should be greater than others, but rather how they use their greatness. Jesus said the first characteristic which should mark the great Christian is that they don’t use their position. While they may be the greatest, they are not to act like it, or to demand they be treated like it. They are to be like the youngest; they are to regard themselves and act like the one who has the least power. (Many of us know how “bossy” older brothers or sisters can get, and how they think they can tell younger siblings what to do.) They would thus speak gently, when they could get away with being harsh and severe. They will not seek to force others to serve them. Instead, they will be characterized by servanthood. They will use their position and their power as a platform of service. The benefits which they could claim for themselves they will pass along to others. In short, Jesus taught His disciples that they should manifest greatness in exactly the opposite way the Gentiles do. They should live in an “upside-down” kingdom.

If verses 25 and 26 contrast the conduct of the great Gentiles and great Christians, verses 27-30 tell us the reasons why this should be so. If verses 25 and 26 contrast the manifestations of greatness (between the disciples and the heathen), then verses 27-30 contain the motivation and the means of true greatness, that greatness which characterizes Christ, His disciples, and the nature of the kingdom of God.

The disciples were not to pattern their lives after the heathen, but rather after their Master. The greatest, Jesus pointed out, was the one who sat at the table—who was served—while the one who stood, the servant, was the lowest. There was no argument that Jesus was the greatest, and yet He told them He was the one who serves (verse 27). When Jesus told His disciples above that the greatest must be the servant of all, He was simply reminding them that they must be like Him. He was not asking them to do anything which He was not doing Himself. How can it be that the greatest—Jesus Christ—is the servant? That answer will be found in the last paragraph of our text.

It would appear Jesus is saying that His disciples are never to possess a position of greatness, power, or leadership, but this is not the case. Jesus says in verses 28-30 that His disciples are giving up position and power in this life because they are to obtain it in the next, in the kingdom of God. Jesus never commands men to give up life, money, family, and power for nothing. He calls upon His disciples to give up the temporary and imperfect riches of this life in order to lay them up for the next. These riches are temporary; they are subject to decay and theft. The true riches of heaven will never perish. So too with position and power. We are to give up “first place” and its prerogatives in order to be given a place of honor in His kingdom. In His kingdom, the disciples are promised that they will sit at the table—His table, and that they will be given thrones on which they will be seated, and from which they will rule.

The disciples’ preoccupation and debate over their own position, prestige, and power was inappropriate for several reasons. Those Jesus has mentioned thus far are: (1) this is the way the heathen behave; (2) it is the opposite of the way Jesus has manifested Himself, even though He is the greatest of all; and, (3) the preoccupation with greatness is untimely, for that which the disciples were seeking will not come in this life, but in the next.

It is neither the disciples’ accomplishments nor their own greatness which gain them a place of power in the kingdom, but it is the Lord who wins this for them. Their blessings and privileges in the kingdom are those which Christ Himself achieves, and then shares with His followers. The Messiah does not “ride on the shoulders of His disciples,” as they seemed to have thought, propelled by their greatness; rather they are carried to their blessings by Him.

Jesus’ Words of Prophecy to Peter 
(22:31-34)

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” 33 But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

It seems to me that Peter was one of the main characters in this debate over the disciple’s perception of greatness. (I suspect James and John were also very much a part of this argument.) Jesus’ words to Peter then would be very directly related to His role in the debate over greatness. Jesus’ words must have smarted as the elder statesman of the group, who thought he was the greatest, heard from Jesus that he would not even survive the next few hours without denying His Lord, three times no less! If Peter felt he was considered the greatest, surely he must also have looked at himself as one of the most loyal, committed members of our Lord’s band. It must have been inconceivable for him to think of himself as such a weakling that he would deny his Lord when the going got tough.

The two-fold reference to Peter (the nickname Jesus gave him, meaning “the rock”) as Simon must have hurt, too. This was Peter’s “natural” name, the one which characterized him, to which he always answered, before he met the Master. It seems to suggest that Peter would be acting like his old self, and not as a disciple of the Lord when he denied Him. He would be acting in his own strength, and not that which the Lord gives.

It was not just that the “old Simon” was going to prevail in the next few hours and thus fail. Jesus informed Peter that Satan himself was involved in what was to take place.94 It amazes me that Satan had the audacity, the arrogance, to demand anything from the Lord. It further amazes me that Jesus did not forbid Satan to “sift” Peter (and the rest—the “you” here is plural = “to sift you all”). Why didn’t Jesus simply forbid Satan from attacking Peter and the others? The answer must be that Jesus intended to use Satan’s dirty tricks to serve His own purposes for the disciples’ good.

Peter’s failure was for his own benefit and for the benefit of all the disciples. While the Master would not prevent Satan’s attack, He would pray for Peter’s faith not to fail. Thus, while Peter was destined to fail, his faith would not. Jesus therefore predicted not only Peter’s failure but also his restoration. And when he had turned back, Jesus instructed, Peter was then to strengthen his brethren. Peter could not be used when he was too “great,” too self-confident, too self-seeking. But after he failed, after he experienced the grace of God, then Peter could lead men. It was not greatness Peter needed to experience, but grace, and this was soon to come.

Peter protested, insisting that Jesus’ words would never come true, and that he would remain faithful, even unto prison and death. There is a sense in which this was true, for it was Peter who drew his sword, seeking to prevent Jesus’ arrest, and cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant. But in the final analysis, Peter was calling our Lord a liar. Peter, as someone has pointed out, was willing to trust his own feelings of love and of self-confidence rather than to trust in these words of prophecy, words from none other than the Lord. Jesus therefore must once again reiterate the fact that Peter would deny Him, and not only once, but three times.

Jesus’ Puzzling Words 
About Satchels and Swords 
(22:35-38)

35 Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered. 36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37 It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” 38 The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That is enough,” he replied.

This passage is, without a doubt, one of the most problematic texts in the Gospel of Luke. The difficulties are obvious:

(1) When Jesus sent out the 12 (chapter 9) and the 72 (chapter 10), He appeared to give them guidelines and principles which would govern their future missionary journeys, even (perhaps especially) after His death, burial, and resurrection. Now, it would seem that He is throwing out all that He had told them.

(2) In the previous sending of the disciples, Jesus gave them assurance of His presence and protection (cf. 10:3, 18-19), but now it would almost seem as though Jesus were telling these men that they are on their own, and that they will have to handle their protection themselves.

(3) Later texts seem to indicate that Jesus did not want His disciples to do that which He seems to be commanding here. When Peter attempted to resist the arrest of Jesus by drawing his sword, Jesus rebuked him with words that clearly forbade the use of force (cf. Matthew 26:52). Neither the Book of Acts (which Luke wrote) nor any of the epistles reiterate or reinforce the practice which Jesus appears to have advocated here.

There is then no question that this is a difficult text, and that these words are hard to understand. But if we believe the Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God, then we must also assume there is a solution, one we are expected to find. As I approach this passage and the difficulties it presents, I do so with several assumptions, which I should spell out before we press on:

(1) The difficulties in this text (I normally refer to these as the “tensions of the text”) are by divine design. They are designed to catch and to hold our attention, to cause us to meditate and to pray, and to study the Scriptures carefully.

(2) This text cannot be understood in isolation, but only in the light of its immediate context, as well as the Bible as a whole (Old and New Testaments).

(3) Jesus has deliberately connected and contrasted (“But now,” v. 36) His instructions here with those laid down in Luke 9 and 10. The nature and the extent of this contrast is a crucial factor, which we must determine.

(4) Jesus’ words here may have long-range implications and applications for these men, but for the moment they must have a very immediate and practical application.

The disciples have a very immediate problem, and immediate dangers and temptations, concerning which they will be encouraged to pray (cf. Luke 22:46). Peter will soon reach for his sword for which he will be rebuked. In John 16, which depicts the same scene but supplies additional teaching, Jesus told His disciples He had much more to say to them, but they were not able to bear it at the moment (John 16:12-13). This seems to be a signal that what He was then telling them concerned the most immediate and urgent matters.

(5) The words of Jesus were not to be taken in a starkly literal way. In the same context in John’s gospel (at least at the same general time frame—at the table with His disciples in the upper room), Jesus said He was not then speaking literally to them (John 16:25). Jesus rebuked Peter for taking His words literally (Matthew 26:50-54).

(6) The key to understanding the meaning of Jesus’ words in Luke 22:35-37 is to be found in context in Isaiah 53:12, the passage Jesus cited as an explanation and basis for His puzzling words.

The Meaning of This Mysterious Text

If we are to understand the meaning of our Lord’s words, we must first consider the context. The setting was described by Luke in verse 24. The disciples were debating among one another which of them was considered to be the greatest. This debate is far from new. It has been going on for a great while. We find the disciples arguing over this matter in chapter 9 (v. 46), immediately after Jesus told them of His coming betrayal (9:43-45). I think the power which had been bestowed on them in their first missionary journey (9:1-6) had already begun to go to their heads. Not only do they argue about who was the greatest, but they wanted to destroy a Samaritan village by calling down fire from heaven (9:51-55).

In chapter 10, the 72 were sent out (10:1-16), and it is obvious from the response of the disciples on their return that they were greatly impressed with the power they had at their disposal (10:17). Jesus did not debate the authority they had been given, and even went on to describe it in terms beyond their own awareness (10:18-19). Nevertheless, the disciples had lost the proper perspective, and so Jesus gently admonished them with these words:

“Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven” (Luke 10:20, NASB).

Not only were the disciples wrong in seeking greatness and in competing with one another to do so, but they were also wrong in seeking greatness as men perceive it. The text does not state this directly, but it likely implies it. The disciples, Luke informs us, were debating “as to which one of them was considered to be greatest” (Luke 22:24, emphasis mine). The question is, “Considered the greatest, by whom?” Surely not by the Lord, but rather by men. In judging their standing in terms of human approval, they became guilty of the same sin as that which characterized the Pharisees:

“You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15, NASB).

Even if one of the disciples was right, as was “number one” of Jesus’ followers, as his ratings went with the crowds this would still be worthy of a rebuke from the Lord, for they were playing to the wrong audience. Their hearts were not seeking God’s approval, but men’s.

The preoccupation with position and power was a long-standing problem with the disciples, and Jesus was addressing it here for the last time before His death. This, it seems to me, is the cause of Jesus’ enigmatic words to His disciples. Jesus pointed out that the Gentiles love to be perceived as the greatest, and they accomplish this by “lording it over” those under them, and they seek to become known as benefactors. The disciples’ behavior is to be the opposite. Even if they are great, they are to be behave as the youngest, and they are to use their power to serve others, rather than to demand that men serve them.

Peter must have perceived his greatness not only as a result of his age but also as a consequence of his faithfulness and commitment. Jesus graciously “let the air out of Peter’s tires” of self-confidence by informing him that in spite of his bold pronouncements of fidelity and loyalty, he would fail three times over, and in a very short time. The final paragraph in this section, verses 35-38, addresses this same evil—the disciples’ preoccupation with position, power, and prestige.

The key to the correct interpretation of Jesus’ words is to be found in the text to which He referred—Isaiah 53:12. Jesus explained His puzzling words to His disciples with this statement:

“It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment” (Luke 22:37, NIV).

Interestingly, the NASB uses the term “criminals” instead of “transgressors” here. This may very well be influenced by these words, contained in Mark’s gospel:

And they crucified two robbers with Him, one on the right and one on the left. And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And He was reckoned with transgressors” (Mark 15:27-28, NASB).95

One can easily understand how the term “criminal” could be chosen here. After all, did those who came to arrest Jesus and His followers not come out, armed to the teeth, something like a SWAT team? And did not Jesus point out that in so doing they were dealing with Him as a robber, a criminal (cf. Luke 22:52)?

The word in the original text which is found here is not the normal word we would have expected to be used of a criminal, although this meaning may be acceptable. The original (Hebrew) term employed in Isaiah 53:12 is one which refers to a “rebel,” one who defiantly sins against God. This may very well result in criminal acts, but the term “transgressor” is, I think, a better translation. Mark is, of course, correct. The fact that Jesus was crucified between two criminals did fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 53:12, but it did so in a kind of symbolic way, so that it also left room for a broader, more sweeping fulfillment. Jesus was numbered (perhaps, as has been suggested, “allowed Himself to be numbered”) among transgressors, and the two thieves were surely that. But it could also be said that since Jesus was now dealt with as a criminal, His disciples were regarded in the same way. Jesus and His disciples were considered transgressors.

Jesus had, to some degree, set Himself up for this accusation. From the very beginning, the “higher class” religious leaders objected to the fact that Jesus associated Himself with very unsavory characters. Technically speaking, men like Matthew probably were criminals before they met the Master. Jesus said, after all, that He did come to seek and to save sinners. Surely criminals too are sinners.

Jesus here said that His instructions to His disciples were to assure that the prophecy of Isaiah 53 was fulfilled. What did this prophecy predict, and why was Jesus making such a point of drawing the disciples’ attention to it? I believe Isaiah 53:12 is the key to unlocking the meaning of Jesus’ words. Let us briefly consider the passage in which it is found. This passage, as you will recognize, is one of the greatest (and most beautiful) messianic texts in the Old Testament. The apostles and the epistles will point to it as one of the key messianic texts. And yet only here, in the gospels, do we find this prophecy identified as Messianic, and as being fulfilled by our Lord. It is a magnificent text.

52:13 See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. 14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him — his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness— 15 so will he sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.

53:1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. 11 After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors (Isaiah 52:13–53:12).

If you were to ask one of the disciples upon what they had based their messianic hopes and aspirations, they would surely respond that their expectations were based upon the Old Testament prophecies concerning the kingdom of God and the Messiah. In reality though their expectations were based on only some of the prophecies, namely those which conformed to their own desires. They would have undoubtedly turned to those passages which spoke of Messiah’s coming in order to judge the wicked and to liberate Israel. The one text to which they would not have referred is the text above in Isaiah 52 and 53. There would be at least two reasons for this. First, this text was not recognized or viewed as messianic until after Christ’s coming. Second (and, to a large degree, the explanation for the first observation), this text did not speak of a triumphant King, but rather of a suffering Savior. It did not fit their expectations. This is precisely the text to which our Lord calls the disciples’ attention, a text which He speaks of as having to be fulfilled through Him and through His disciples as well. What was it about this text that did not appeal to the disciples (or anyone else), yet which Jesus saw as coming to fulfillment?

There is one thing about this prophecy which characterizes it as a whole, yet which I have never before noticed. The entire prophecy utilizes a kind of literary contrast. The Messiah will be the King of Israel, who will mete out judgment to sinners, and yet He will also be the Suffering Savior who dies for the sins of His people. He is innocent, yet He will bear the guilt of men. He is greatly esteemed by God and is elevated to the pinnacle of position and power, and yet He is regarded by men as a sinner (a criminal, if you would), whose rejection, suffering, and death is viewed as just. He who is God is viewed as justly condemned by God. He who bears the sins of men is viewed by men as bearing the guilt of His own sins. The Messiah is perceived by men in a way precisely opposite that of God. Men look down upon Him as worthy of God’s wrath, yet it is He who alone is worthy (righteous), but who bears the sins of men.

The application of this prophecy to the circumstances of our text in Luke’s gospel is incredible. Jesus was not only speaking of the necessity of His fulfillment of this prophecy (as Mark’s gospel informs us—of His being crucified between two criminals), but of the broader implications of the prophecy. Men would reject the Messiah because He would not conform to their expectations of Him and of His kingdom. While God would look upon Messiah as the sinless Son of God, men would view Him as a sinner, condemned by God. Men wanted a kingdom in which they would have riches, freedom, power, and pleasure. Messiah would bring, at least initially, rejection and suffering. And so men would reject Him.

The disciples were debating among themselves who was perceived to be the greatest. They were thinking in terms of a “scepter,” but Jesus spoke to them of a “sword.” The disciples were thinking in terms of a crown, but Jesus was headed for a cross. Jesus, in so doing, was fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning Messiah and His kingdom, but the disciples were wholly missing the point of His coming. What the disciples did not understand was precisely what this messianic prophecy was saying, that the glorious kingdom of righteousness was to be brought about by a “king” who was rejected as a sinner. The crown, as it were, was to be preceded by a cross. Indeed, the cross was God’s means of gaining the crown. All of this was revealed through this prophecy of Isaiah. Yet the disciples failed to grasp it, because they were looking at matters through the eyes of their own ambition.

If God’s Messiah was to be regarded and even rejected as a criminal, this also meant that His disciples would be regarded as such. Were the disciples debating who would have the highest position, the most power, the greatest prestige? Then the disciples were wrong. They, by association with Christ, were to be regarded as criminals, not kings. They would thus need to think in terms of swords (not literal ones, however), not scepters. They must be ready to endure men’s rejection and persecution, not men’s honor and praise. In so identifying with Christ and suffering with Him, the disciples would eventually enter into the victories and joys of His future kingdom, as He had just told them (Luke 22:28-30).

In the broader context of Isaiah’s prophecy and of our Lord’s rejection, suffering, and death, I believe we can now better understand Jesus’ words to His disciples in our text. When Jesus contrasted the disciples’ future experience with that in the past (“But now,” verse 36), He is not overturning every principle and instruction given to the disciples earlier. By and large, the principles and instructions laid down in the sending of the 12 (chapter 9) and the 72 (chapter 10) were those given to govern the missionary outreach of the church as practiced after Pentecost and as described by Luke in his second volume, the Book of Acts.

The “But now” of our Lord in verse 36 is intended to focus the disciples’ attention on the change which was occurring in the minds of the people of Israel toward the Messiah. Jesus asked His disciples if they had lacked anything when they went out before. They responded that they had not lacked anything at all. But why didn’t they lack anything? Because they were popular, as was their message, and the “Messiah.” But now a more complete picture of Messiah is available, and the people do not like what they see, even as Isaiah predicted.

Incidentally, we have a foreshadowing of this sudden change of popularity in the gospel of Luke. At the very outset of our Lord’s public ministry, He went to the synagogue in Nazareth, and He introduced Himself as the fulfillment of a very popular messianic prophecy. At that moment, these people were very open to the possibility that this one might be the Messiah (Luke 4:16-22). But when Jesus went on to speak of His messianic ministry as including the blessing of the Gentiles, the people could not tolerate Him any longer, and they were intent on putting Him to death (Luke 5:23-30). How prophetic this early incident in the ministry of our Lord was, and how much in keeping with the prophecy of Isaiah to which our Lord referred.

No, the disciples need not occupy themselves with thoughts of the kingdom which included popularity and position and power. They must prepare for the rejection and persecution which Messiah was prophesied to experience, in order to eventually enter into the blessed kingdom in time to come. The crown (12 thrones even, verse 30) would come, but not until the cross was borne. What a cause for sober reflection these words of Jesus should have brought to the disciples.

Were Jesus’ words intended to be taken literally? Certainly not. Jesus rebuked His disciples for seeking to use the sword to prevent His arrest. Nowhere in the Book of Acts or the epistles do we ever see the use of force advocated in proclaiming or defending our faith. The sword rightly belongs to the state (Romans 13:4). If we are to bear a sword in our fight, it is a spiritual sword, for it is a spiritual war (Ephesians 6:10-20). Jesus’ words in Luke 22 did draw attention to the contrast in the “climate” of this hour, with that atmosphere which prevailed at the time He sent out His disciples earlier, but even at that time Jesus had much to say about opposition and rejection. It was not that Jesus had not said anything about rejection, but just that the disciples had not experienced it, and neither were they disposed to think about it—until now. Jesus’ words here in Luke 22 then should not be viewed only in terms of contrast, but also for clarification—clarification of what had already been said but which had been overlooked because of the aspirations and ambitions of His disciples, fueled by their power and popularity, thus far, with the masses.

Conclusion

There are many points of application to these words of our Lord, addressed to His disciples so long ago. Let us consider just of few of the implications of these as we conclude.

First, we should expect rejection and persecution also, just as the disciples were instructed by our Lord. If you would, the disciples were suffering from a kind of “dispensational disorientation.” They were eager and willing to enter into the joys of the kingdom of God, when they should have been expecting and enduring the rejection of Christ, as prophesied by Isaiah. Why is it then that the gospel is still being proclaimed as the doorway to immediate popularity, prosperity, power and prestige? Because it is the way we would prefer things to be, rather than the way our Lord and the prophets have promised it would (and must be).

Second, we must, like the disciples, decide whether we are to view the world through the eyes of our own ambition, or through the lens of God’s revealed Word. The words of our Lord were intended to call the disciples to live in the light of what the prophets and He had been consistently predicting—the misunderstanding of, rejection of, and death of Messiah, in order to bear the sins of men and to bring about (ultimately) the kingdom of God. It would not then be by a sword, but by the shed blood of the Savior, that men would be saved. The disciples should not expect power, prosperity, and prestige, but rejection and persecution. Bottom line, the disciples must learn to live in the light of what God says, rather than in the light of what they want, or even what they, for the moment, see. God’s Word is to be our guide, not our own ambitions or desires. Faith is not based upon what we see, or even what we want to see, but on what God has said, even though that is not yet visible to the natural eye.

Third, God’s ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts. The disciples were arguing about a crown while Jesus was speaking of a cross. The Messiah was rejected as a sinner by men, but received as the sinless Son of God by the Father. We must give up our lives to gain them, give up our wealth to gain true riches, serve others to be great. It is often true that man’s values are the reverse of God’s, and that His ways are incomprehensible to man. If we would think and act God’s way, we must do it in accordance with His word.

Fourth, we should not pray to avoid failure, but that our faith does not fail. So often our prayers seem to focus on the avoidance of failure, rather than on the endurance of our faith. Jesus promised Peter that he would fail, but that his faith would not. Failure taught Peter that it is grace that sustains us, not our own performance—as great as our affirmations of its magnitude might be. When we pray, either for ourselves or for others, let us pray that faith will endure and even be strengthened, not that we will not fail.

Fifth, if you would enter into the kingdom of God, you must see yourself as the sinner and Christ as the sinless Son of God. Isaiah’s prophecy indicated that men would regard the Messiah as a sinner. The assumption, borne out by the Scriptures, is that we see ourselves as righteous, and the Son of God as a sinner. If we would come to experience God’s salvation and enter into His kingdom, we must reverse our thinking—we must repent. We must see that it is we who are sinful and He that is sinless. We must see that it is we who were deserving of God’s wrath, and He who is worthy to reign over all the earth. On the cross He bore our sins, and He suffered God’s wrath for us. By trusting in His worth and His work, as personified and worked out through His Son, Jesus Christ, we can experience God’s forgiveness and salvation. In short, we must repent, and we must see things as they are, as God’s Word describes them.

Notes:

92 Donald B. Kraybill, The Upside-Down Kingdom (Scottsdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1978).

93 The question arises, in my mind at least, as to why Jesus did not speak to His disciples about the misuse of power by the Jewish leaders, in a way similar to what we find in Matthew 23. Gentile conduct, however, was readily recognized and accepted as heathen behavior, and that which was ungodly and unseemly. This was the “worst possible case” in the minds of a Jew, even though they may behave similarly.

94 How well Satan should know this matter of seeking position and power. This was the occasion for his fall, and He seeks to make it the basis for the fall of others. The temptation of our Lord, therefore, should come as no surprise, when we find Satan in two of the three temptations offering Jesus power and position. When men enter into the realm of power-seeking, they have set foot on Satan’s turf, and they are thus an easy prey for him. It is also interesting to note here that Jesus did not “bind” Satan, as some pray for, but rather that He prayed for Peter. It is not intervention, but intercession which Jesus employed.

95 The NASB also omits verse 28, supplying it in the margin, based on the fact that some of the earliest manuscripts omit it.

 

The Garden of Gethsemane
(Luke 22:39-46)

By: Bob Deffinbaugh , Th.M.

Matthew 26:36-46 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” 40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” 42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” 43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. 45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!

Luke 22:39-46 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. 45 When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 46 “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

Mark 14:32-42 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34 “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” 35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36 “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 37 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? 38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” 39 Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. 40 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him. 41 Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

Introduction

The six verses of our text underscore for us that the significance of a text cannot always be determined by its length. Sometimes, as we see here, we must discern the significance of the text by its weight or its density. Several indicators point to the crucial importance of our passage. First, the prominent activity of our passage is prayer. From a combined view of Gethsemane gained by a comparison of the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we find that our Lord instructed the disciples to pray three times. They were to pray that they would not fall into temptation. Jesus prayed and persevered. The disciples did not, and they failed. Jesus spent what appears to be at least three agonizing hours in prayer. From what we have already seen in Luke, prayer often accompanied (or, better yet, preceded) very important events. Thus, Jesus was praying when the Holy Spirit descended upon Him at the outset of His public ministry (Luke 3:21). Jesus was in prayer when He was transfigured before the three disciples (Luke 9:29). Jesus is likewise in prayer here in the Garden of Gethsemane. Thus, past experience has taught us to look for something very important to take place in the very near future.

Second, this is our Lord’s final act, before He is arrested, tried, and put to death. So too these are His last words spoken to the disciples, His final instructions to them. A person’s last words are very often of great import, as these words of our Lord are to the disciples, and to us.

Third, there is an emotional intensity to what is described here. The disciples, Luke tells us, are overcome by sorrow, which is manifested by their drowsiness and slumber. Jesus is, according to Matthew and Mark, “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38; Mark 14:34). Never before have we seen Jesus so emotionally distraught. He has faced a raging storm on the Sea of Galilee, totally composed and unruffled. He has faced demonic opposition, satanic temptation, and the grilling of Jerusalem’s religious leaders, with total composure. But here in the Garden, the disciples must have been greatly distressed by what (little) they saw. Here, Jesus cast Himself to the ground, agonizing in prayer. Something terrible was going to happen. Jesus knew it, and the disciples were beginning to comprehend it as well.

The Setting

The Passover supper has been eaten. Jesus has concluded His “upper room discourse,” as recorded in John’s gospel, including the high priestly prayer of Jesus for His disciples, in chapter 17. Jesus and the disciples have sung a hymn, they have left the upper room, and they have crossed the Kidron to the Mount of Olives, and specifically to the Garden of Gethsemane. Luke mentions only that the party went to the Mount of Olives, for his Gentile readers would not have known the precise location that some of the Jewish readers (of other gospels) would have recognized.

The cross now looms large on the horizon. Jesus will pray in the Garden, returning twice to His disciples, only to find them sleeping. He will urge them to pray that they enter not into temptation, and then He will return to His own agonizing prayer.96 In Luke’s account, Jesus was still speaking the words of verses 45 and 46 when Judas and the arresting party arrived (verse 47). The arrest of Jesus would lead to His trials, and then to His crucifixion. The cross was not only near in time, it was also heavy on the mind of the Savior.

The Text

One can quickly see that Luke’s account of the agony of our Lord in Gethsemane is considerably shorter than those of Matthew and Mark. Luke, for example, does not set the three disciples (Peter, James, and John) apart from the other eight, even though these three were taken by our Lord, to “watch” with Him at a closer distance. Neither does Luke focus on Peter, although in the other accounts, Jesus specifically urged Peter to watch and pray. While Matthew and Mark indicate three different times of prayer, with our Lord returning twice to awaken His disciples and urge them to pray, Luke refers to only two.

The unique contribution of Luke to the account of the Lord’s prayer in Gethsemane is to be found in verses 43 and 44. These verses have been omitted by a very few manuscripts, which has caused some to question their originality. It is my opinion that these verses are not only original, but that they are the unique contribution of Luke to the gospel narratives of the event. It is much easier to see how a copyist could have left them out than to comprehend how they could have been added. We will look carefully at these two verses and consider their unique contribution.

The Superhuman 
Suffering of Jesus in Gethsemane

39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

Jesus was pressing on to His own cross, even while in the Garden of Gethsemane. Luke tells us that Jesus “went out as usual to the Mount of Olives” (verse 39). Furthermore, we are told that the Savior and the disciples “reached the place” (verse 40). This was all a part of the plan. While Jesus had deliberately been secretive about the location of the place where the Passover meal was to be celebrated, He was completely open and predictable about the place where He would be on that fateful night. He followed His custom, He acted according to a very predictable pattern. Judas would know exactly where to lead the arresting officers, at “the place,” the place where they had stayed every night. There is no elusiveness here, for it was Jesus’ time to be betrayed. He will be taken, but it is not by surprise. Everything is proceeding according to the plan, and according to our Lord’s predictions.

On reaching “the place” Jesus instructed His disciples to pray. There was a specific purpose, a particular object in mind, “that you will not fall into temptation” (verse 40). They were to pray that they would not succumb to temptation. Notice that Jesus did not conduct a prayer meeting, as we sometimes have. He left the disciples in one place, while He went off, by Himself, to another. Neither does Luke or any of the other writers tell us that Jesus prayed for His disciples, as He did in John 17. Furthermore, Jesus did not ask His disciples to pray for Him, as though He might succumb to temptation. It was the disciples who were in danger of failing, not Jesus. Nowhere in this text (or its parallels) do I see any reference to Jesus being in danger of forsaking His path to the cross. Neither the Lord Jesus nor the plan of salvation were in danger here. That had been settled in eternity past. Throughout the account of our Lord’s life in the gospel of Luke we have seen only a resolute purpose to do the Father’s will, to go to Jerusalem, to be rejected by men, and to die. That resolute spirit continues here.

Three times Jesus urged His disciples to “pray that they would not fall into temptation,” that is, that they would not succumb to it. To what temptation was our Lord referring? I believe that the temptation is specific, not general, and that it can be known from the context of our Lord’s words. What was it, in the context, that the disciples were in danger of doing, that would be considered succumbing to temptation? The temptation, as I see it, was based upon the disciples’ predisposition to view their circumstances in the light of their own ambition and desires, and their own distorted view of how and when the kingdom would come. Early on, Peter had attempted to rebuke the Lord for speaking of His own death (Matthew 16:21-23). This, however, is not recorded in Luke’s gospel. In the immediate context of Luke’s gospel we find the disciples debating among themselves as to who was perceived to be the greatest. We also find Peter boldly assuring Jesus of his faithfulness, even though Jesus has already told him he would fall. The danger is that the disciples would attempt to resist our Lord’s sacrificial death on the cross of Calvary, even as was the case when Peter drew the sword in an attempt to resist His arrest (Luke 22:49-51). In addition to this, there was to be the scattering of the disillusioned disciples when their Lord was arrested, and when their hopes of an immediate kingdom were dashed on the rocks of His rejection by the nation Israel. To put the matter briefly, the disciples were going to be tempted to resist the will of God for the Savior and for themselves, rather than to submit to it.

Having charged His disciples with their duty to pray for themselves, Jesus went off from them a ways—about a stone’s throw, Luke tells us—and began to pray Himself. Our Lord’s prayer, while it had three sessions, and it took up a fair amount of time, could be summed up in these words, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

For what is our Lord praying? What is He asking from the Father? Is Jesus, at the last moment, trying to escape from His commitment to go the cross? Is He seeking to change the Father’s mind? Does the fate of all mankind hang in the balance here? Was there a very real danger that Jesus might change His mind?

Let me point out first of all that it was not Jesus who was in danger of changing His mind. Jesus was seeking to learn from the Father what His will was. Jesus was, all along, committed to do the Father’s will. From a purely hypothetical viewpoint, Jesus could have told the Father He had changed His mind, and that He was not going to the cross. Jesus has not changed His mind about obeying the Father; He is asking the Father if He has changed His mind, as it were. Our Lord’s submission to the Father’s will is never a matter that is in question. If there is any question, it is what the Father’s will is. In one way, Jesus is simply seeking one last “reading” as it were as to what the Father’s will was. And even at this, there was never really any doubt.

Second, Jesus was probing the matter of the cross with His Father to see if there was any other way to achieve the salvation of men. Jesus is asking the Father whether or not there is any other way for the sins of men to be forgiven. The answer is obvious, for the purpose and plan of God stands, and is faithfully pursued by the Lord Jesus.

Let me pause for a moment to underscore this very important point: THERE WAS NOT OTHER WAY FOR MEN TO BE SAVED THAN THROUGH THE INNOCENT AND SUBSTITUTIONARY SUFFERING OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. Jesus had said it before. He was the way, the truth, and the life. No man could come to the Father, except through Him, except through faith in His death on Calvary, in the sinner’s place. How often we hear men speak of the cross of Calvary as a way, one option among many as to how men can attain eternal life. Let me say that if there were any other way Jesus would not have gone to the cross, and the Father would not have sent Him. The prayer of our Lord in the garden underscores the truth of the New Testament that there is but one way, and that way is the shed blood of the sinless Savior, shed for sinners.

Third, we should note from our Lord’s prayer in the garden that He greatly dreaded “the cup” and that it was this “cup” that Jesus was asking be removed, if possible. Why is “the cup” such a dreaded thing? What is “the cup” to which Jesus the Lord Jesus is referring? The answer is crystal clear in the Bible. Let us consider just a few of the passages that speak of this “cup” which our Lord dreaded so greatly, and we shall see that His dread was fully justified.

The “Cup” of God’s Wrath

For not from the east, nor from the west, Nor from the desert comes exaltation; But God is the Judge; He puts down one, and exalts another. For a cup is in the hand of the LORD, and the wine foams; It is well mixed, and He pours out of this; Surely all the wicked of the earth must drain and drink down its dregs. But as for me, I will declare it forever, I will sing praised to the God of Jacob. And all the horns of the wicked He will cut off, But the horns of the righteous will be lifted up (Psalm 75:6-10, NASB).

Rouse yourself! Rouse yourself! Arise, O Jerusalem, You who have drunk from the LORD’s hand the cup of His anger; The chalice of reeling you have drained to the dregs (Isaiah 51:17, NASB).

Then I took the cup from the LORD’s hand, and made all the nations drink, to whom the LORD sent me: Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, and its kings and its princes, to make them a ruin, a horror, a hissing, and a curse, as it is this day; Pharaoh king of Egypt, his servants, his princes, and all his people; and all the foreign people, … (Jeremiah 25:15-20a).

And another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If any one worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or upon his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; and they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name” (Revelation 14:9-11).

What, then, is the “cup” which our Lord dreaded? It is the cup of God’s wrath, poured out on sinners. It is the cup which will be poured out in those who are unrighteous, whether they be Jews or Gentiles. It is the “cup” which was foretold in the Old Testament, and which is still prophesied in the Book of Revelation. It is the cup of the wrath of God, beginning with the Great Tribulation, and enduring throughout all eternity. The cup 97 which our Lord dreaded drinking was the wrath of God, manifested in eternal torment.

No wonder our Lord was “sorrowful and troubled” (Matthew 26:37), and His soul was “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38). Jesus’ agony was due to the cross which loomed before Him. He was not in agony because He would be forsaken by men, but that He would be forsaken and smitten by God. Jesus was dreading, suffering in the anticipation of His bearing of the sins of the world and the wrath of God which they deserved.

This text tells us that because Jesus bore the wrath of God (the “cup,” as it were) in the sinner’s place, it is not necessary for men to drink this cup as well. Salvation comes when a person comes to faith in Christ as the One who was innocent, and yet died in their place, bearing the wrath of God which their sins deserved. Those who reject Christ and His atoning sacrifice must bear the wrath of God, which will be poured out on unbelievers in the future. It is this wrath to which the Book of Revelation refers (see text above).

There are many disagreements among evangelicals as to when and how the Lord’s return will come, but one thing seems certain to me, based on our text: No Christian will go through the Tribulation, the future outpouring of God’s wrath upon an unbelieving world. All who are godly will suffer “tribulation” (small “t”), which is the wrath of unbelieving men toward God (cf. 2 Timothy 3:12), but the Great Tribulation (big “T”)—the outpouring of divine wrath on sinful men—will only come upon the unbelieving. The Great Tribulation is a horrifying repeat of the agony of Calvary, which men must endure because of their rejection of the Savior, and it will only come upon unbelievers.

A Problem Passage

43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

Verses 43 and 44 pose a problem for some. First, these verses are not found in a very few of the “older” manuscripts. Since “older” is not necessarily “better,” and since only a few manuscripts omit these verses, I find it easy to assume that the verses are original. The very fact that these verses are difficult to understand and that they are not found in the parallel accounts is strong evidence for their originality, in my opinion.

Assuming that the verses are genuine, the problem of interpreting them remains. The two verses might, at first look, seem to be in reversed order. One would tend to think that Jesus should have been strengthened by an angel from heaven at the end of his time of prayer in the garden, not somewhere in the middle. One must also wonder how it is that an angel could strengthen Jesus at all. How could an angel “strengthen” the Son of God? If this is not a problem in your mind, imagine that it was you who was dispatched from heaven to go to the earth and strengthen the Son of God. What would you have done? What would you have said or done?

Fortunately for us, the term “strengthened” is found one more time in the New Testament, in Acts 9:19, where Paul was said to be “strengthened” after taking some food, after his three day fast (which commenced by the appearance of the Lord to him on the road to Damascus). Here, it is evident that Paul’s strengthening was physical in nature. It would seem that our Lord’s strengthening by means of an angelic ministry at the end of His temptation was also primarily physical (cf. Matthew 4:11).

But why would Jesus have needed physical strengthening here? Matthew and Mark both tell us that our Lord was sorrowful to the point of death. I take this very literally, and not in some metaphorical sense. Luke, a doctor you will recall, tells us that sorrow was the cause of the disciples’ drowsiness (22:45). If these disciples were sleepy from their sorrow, with as little knowledge of the situation as they had, how do you think the sorrow of our Lord must have affected Him. Luke does not leave us to our imaginations here. He tells us that Jesus’ agony was so great that “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (22:44).

I believe that our Lord’s sorrow was so great that He was virtually at the point of death. I believe that apart from supernatural sustenance (brought by the angel from heaven) Jesus would not have died on the cross, He would have died in the Garden of Gethsemane. So great was His agony at the thought of the cross and all that it implied, our Lord was sorrowful to the point of death. The physical strengthening was, no doubt, intended to carry our Lord on through all of the physical and emotional demands of His arrest, trials, and crucifixion, but it was also given to Him to sustain Him through His night of prayer. Thus, after He was strengthened, Jesus returned to His prayer in the garden, praying, as Luke tells us, even “more earnestly” (22:44).

The suffering of our Lord was not merely Him, in his humanity, struggling with the ugly realities of the cross. It was a supernatural suffering, the unique, unparalleled, suffering of the sinless God-man, who alone could fathom the depths of God’s righteousness, man’s sin, and the measure of divine wrath which these required. Jesus was supernaturally strengthened because He supernaturally suffered. We do Him a great injustice to liken Him to us, and His sufferings to what ours would have been in such a setting.

An Explanation and a Rebuke 
(22:45-46)

45 When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 46 “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

The last two verses conclude the section on the Garden of Gethsemane and lead us right to the point of our Lord’s arrest. In verse 47, Luke will go on to tell us that it was as Jesus was saying these words (of verses 45-46) that Judas and the arresting party arrived on the scene. In a general description of the disciples as a whole, Luke informs us that when Jesus returned to the place where His disciples were to be “watching and praying” He found them asleep. Luke alone tells us that their sleep was induced by sorrow. This was not merely physical fatigue, or the lateness of the hour, nor apathy. The disciples, I believe (cf. “The spirit is willing, but the body is weak,” Mark 14:38) wanted desperately to stay awake and to “keep watch” with Him, but could not. Their sorrow, perhaps somewhat vaguely understood or recognized by them, was too much for them.

The human weakness of the disciples did not totally excuse the disciples, however, and thus the final rebuke of the Savior in verse 46. They were urged, one final time, to awaken, to arise, and to pray, so that they would not fall into temptation. There was no more time, however, for Judas had now arrived, along with a group that was heavily armed, coming on Jesus as though He were a dangerous criminal, a robber, perhaps.

Conclusion

This passage may be short, but it is weighty indeed. I find myself emotionally worn down just in the reading of it. Let us consider some of the implications and applications of our text as we conclude.

First, the suffering of Jesus was not only his humanity struggling with the physical agonies of the cross, but Jesus’ deity and humanity inseparably coming to grips with the awesome agony of Calvary. It is not Jesus’ humanity which dominates this text, but the disciples’ humanity. It is His deity and humanity, dying for man, that is in focus. It is supernatural suffering that is in view here.

Second, the measure of Christ’s agony in Gethsemane is the measure of man’s sinfulness and of its disastrous and painful consequences. We read the words, “the wages of sin is death,” but these words take on a vastly deeper and more personal meaning in the light of Gethsemane.

Third, the measure of Christ’s agony in Gethsemane is the measure of the suffering which Christ endured in bearing the wrath of God toward sinners at Calvary. 98 The immensity of Christ’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane is in direct proportion to the agony which unsaved men and women will face in hell, when they drink of the “cup” of God’s wrath. The doctrine of propitiation focuses on this area, stressing the fact that Jesus bore the wrath of God on the cross, satisfying His righteous anger, so that men might have peace with God.

Fourth, the measure of Christ’s agony at Gethsemane is the measure of the love of God for sinners, which caused Him to die that we might live. The songwriter put it well when he wrote, “What wondrous love is this … ?” It is, indeed, amazing love which caused the Son of God to voluntarily pursue the path of pain which led to the cross. If you are troubled by the thought of an angry God and of hell, do not forget that this same God bore His own wrath for sinners. Those who will suffer the torment of hell will do so only because they have chosen to reject the love of God which brought about salvation on the cross for all who would receive it.

Fifth, this text makes it clear that what Jesus did for the salvation of men, He did alone. The disciples did not understand what Jesus was doing. They tried to resist it when it began to take place, by drawing the sword. They did not watch and pray with the Savior. They did not bear Him up in His hour of grief. Jesus suffered and died alone, unaided by men, even the closest of His followers. What Christ did, He did in spite of men, not because of them.

Sixth, the suffering of our Lord is the test, the standard, for all suffering. Let those who think they have suffered for God place their suffering alongside His, as described here. The writer to the Hebrews reminded his readers that they had not yet suffered to the shedding of blood (Hebrews 12:4). But whose suffering will ever begin to approximate His? The best that we can do in our suffering is to gain some sense of fellowship with Christ and His suffering, some minutely small sense of what He underwent for us (cf. Philippians 3:10). His suffering should surely silence our complaints of giving up much for Him.

Finally, we are reminded of the tremendous power of prayer. Prayer, in this text, did not deliver our Lord from suffering, but it did deliver Him through it. So often we pray that God might get us out of adversity, rather than through it. Prayer is one of God’s primary provisions for our endurance and perseverance. His words to His disciples apply to us as well: “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”

Notes:

96 It would seem from Matthew’s account that there was some progress in the prayer(s) of our Lord in the Garden. In His first prayer, Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (26:39). In the second prayer Jesus said, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Thy will be done” (26:42). The prayer of our Lord thus changed from “If it is possible… ” to “If it is not possible…”

97 Much less frequently, the Bible speaks of another cup—the cup of salvation or of rejoicing (cf. Psalm 16:5; 23:5; 116:13; cf. Jeremiah 16:7). I think that the disciples had the two “cups” confused. Thus, when James and John sought permission to sit at the right and left hand of Jesus in the kingdom, and Jesus asked them if they were able to drink the “cup” that He would drink (Matthew 20:20-23), they were thinking of the “cup” of salvation, of rejoicing, not of His suffering on the cross, when they quickly responded, “We are able.”

98 It is my understanding that our Lord endured suffering all of His earthly life. He endured suffering in His identification with sinful men, and in having to “put up with” us (cf. Luke 9:41). He suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane, and perhaps other times as well, in anticipation of the wrath of God which He would bear (cf. Hebrews 5:7-10). And finally He suffered the ultimate agony of the cross of Calvary.

 

The Rejection of Israel's Messiah - Part I
(Luke 22:47-71)

By: Bob Deffinbaugh , Th.M.

The Arrest

47 While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” 49 When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. 51 But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. 52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? 53 Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns.”

Peter’s Denial

54 Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. 55 But when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56 A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” 57 But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said. 58 A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” “Man, I am not!” Peter replied. 59 About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.” 60 Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.

Mocked and Abused

63 The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. 64 They blindfolded him and demanded, “Prophesy! Who hit you?” 65 And they said many other insulting things to him.

Condemned by the Sanhedrin

66 At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. 67 “If you are the Christ,” they said, “tell us.” Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68 and if I asked you, you would not answer. 69 But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.” 70 They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?” He replied, “You are right in saying I am.” 71 Then they said, “Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.”

Introduction

The arresting party made its way to the place where Judas had assured them Jesus could be found. I have to wonder if some of those who made up this party had “butterflies” in their stomachs. This time, could they pull it off? Could they actually succeed in arresting Jesus? You see, it was the first time something like this had been attempted. One such abortive attempt, which occurred in Jerusalem, was recorded by John in his gospel. It was the during the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:2), and Jesus went up to Jerusalem somewhat secretly (v. 10). There was a great deal of controversy surrounding the person of Jesus as the time, but people were fearful to talk about Him because of the Jews (vv. 10-13). Jesus then went to the Temple and began to teach. The subject of Jesus’ death—that is, of those who wanted to put Him to death—was on the lips of many, including our Lord (v. 19). The Jews were seeking to arrest Jesus, and then to put Him to death. This brings us to the events surrounding the failed arrest attempt of the Jews:

30 At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come … 32 The Pharisees heard the crowd whispering such things about him. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest him … 37 On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. 40 On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.” 41 Others said, “He is the Christ.” Still others asked, “How can the Christ come from Galilee? 42 Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” 43 Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. 44 Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him. 45 Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?” 46 “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards declared. 47 “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48 “Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.” 50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51 “Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?” 52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.” 53 Then each went to his own home (John 7:30, 32, 37-53).

It is, in some respects, a humorous account. The Jewish religious leaders are angry that Jesus has come to Jerusalem and to the Temple and almost taken over. His teaching and presence has created a sense of expectation, and even a certain amount of tension. They purpose to do away with Jesus, and yet, as John tells us, it was not His time (v. 30). An arresting party was sent out by the Jewish leadership to bring Jesus in. They planed to arrest Him, accuse Him and to put Him to death.

The arresting officers—the temple guards—that had been dispatched to arrest Jesus came back, empty handed. They must have shuffled their feet a great deal when the religious leaders began to fume at their “failure.” Jesus had not eluded them, by some clever escape route or method. They simply could not find it in themselves to arrest Him. To put the matter briefly, they were so impressed with the person of Christ, they could not find it in themselves to do as they had been commanded. Jesus had more authority than the religious leaders. Wow! Were the leaders ever angry when they heard this explanation from the soldiers. The haughty snobbery of these leaders didn’t convince the soldiers either. Did the masses believe in Jesus, though their leaders did not? Maybe the leaders needed to go and hear Jesus for themselves.

The religious leaders were not able to press the matter any further, because it quickly became apparent that they did not hold a unanimous view among themselves. When they met as a council, Nicodemus called his fellow-leaders to account by reminding them that they were condemning Jesus without having heard Him. They brushed aside his rebuke by reminding him that no prophet comes from Galilee (v. 52). 99

And so I say, the arresting party which came to lead Jesus away from the Garden of Gethsemane was not the first? Would they succeed? And if so, why? Was it because they were right, because they had truth on their side, because they had so ordered and arranged things that it couldn’t be avoided? Or was it because it was Jesus’ time now and He allowed them to get away with it, in spite of their own blindness and blundering.

Obviously, my view is that it is the latter of these two options. I see the account of the arrest and trials of our Lord as a pathetic, almost humorous, bungling effort, which succeeded only because God purposed for it to succeed, in spite of the failings and wicked motives of men, because it was through these events that the salvation of men would be accomplished by the Savior.

The Structure of our Text

I have chosen to deal with the “religious” side of our Lord’s rejection and condemnation, which thus focuses on verses 47-71 of Luke chapter 22. In chapter 23, we come to the more secular side of the story, where Jesus is brought before Pilate and Herod. The major events of our text are as follows:

(1) The betrayal and arrest of Jesus—(vv. 47-53)

(2) The denial of Jesus by Peter—(vv. 54-62)

(3) The soldiers’ abuse of Jesus—(vv. 63-65)

(4) The condemnation of Jesus by the Sanhedrin—(vv. 66-71)

Luke’s Account and the Rest of the Gospels

Descriptions of the events surrounding the arrest, trials, and crucifixion of the Savior are found in each of the four Gospels. Luke’s account of the betrayal, arrest, denial, and condemnation of Jesus is the most concise. I believe that this is because Luke is aware that other accounts of these events exist, some with much more detail (as John contains, for example). The things which Luke does report are those which he has selected because they contribute to the theme or message which he is trying to convey here. As we look at Luke’s text, I will, from time to time, fill in some details supplied by other Gospel writers.

It should be understood that we cannot piece together all of the details supplied by all of the Gospels and come up with one “complete” story. There are some aspects of the Lord’s arrest, trials, and execution which none of the Gospel accounts chose to record. On the other hand, those details which are supplied may, at times seem to contradict. This is due to our limitations, however, and not to the “failings” of any of the inspired writers, whose words have been divinely directed by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21). 100

The Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus 
(22:47-53)

47 While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” 49 When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. 51 But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. 52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? 53 Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns.”

At the meal table that evening, while they were celebrating Passover, Jesus had once again told His disciples that He was to be betrayed (22:21-22). In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told His disciples that the betrayer was at hand. Rather than Judas and the arresting party coming upon Jesus and His disciples, still at prayer, Jesus aroused His disciples and went forth to meet them (Matthew 26:46; Mark 14:42). Jesus was not “caught off guard” by their appearance, for He knew all that was going to happen to Him (John 18:4), but they were “shaken” by His response. They obviously expected something very different.

They came in large numbers, with a large number of Roman soldiers (John 18:3), who were heavily armed. They even came with torches, as though they would have to search for Him in hiding. They expected a fight. Jesus did not resist, and He rebuke His disciples for trying to resist. Jesus did not hide from them; indeed, He went to them (cf. John 18:4-8). They found Jesus totally unshaken, totally in control. It was these arresting officers who were shaken up. John’s account informs us that they actually drew back and tripped over themselves when Jesus identified Himself to them (John 18:6). 101

Luke does not go into detail concerning the arrest of Jesus, as do some of the other Gospels. Instead, he sticks to a very basic account of the approach of Judas, of the arresting party, and of the attempted resistance of Jesus’ disciples, one of whom (John tells us it was Peter, John 18:10) struck the servant of the high priest (John, again, tells us his name was Malchus, 18:10), severing his right (thanks to Luke’s report) ear.

The focus of Luke’s account is not on what was done to Jesus, but on what was said and done by Jesus. In the final analysis, Jesus rebuked three times and He healed once. In response to Judas’ approach to kiss the Savior, Jesus rebuked him with the words, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” These were serious words to ponder. Words that would haunt him until his death. Words which will likely haunt him throughout all eternity. In response to His disciples’ attempt to resist His arrest, Jesus rebuked His disciples, healing the severed ear of the high priest’s servant at the same time.

Before we can fully grasp the significance of what Jesus said and did here, I think we must pause to reflect a moment on the explosive atmosphere of the moment, and the very real dangers that existed. This incident, which ended up being amazingly peaceful, was not expected to go down that way. The arresting party that came was a large one, a crowd, in fact. They were heavily armed, and they even had torches. If this were to have happened in our day and time, this would have been a swat team, accompanied by the national guard. There would have been helicopters hovering overhead, with searchlights fanning the area, seeking to illuminate the “criminal band,” which they feared might be in hiding in the trees. The soldiers would be armed with automatic weapons. You would have been able to hear the safety latches clicking off on each of them as they approached the place where Jesus was praying.

Now let’s suppose that Peter was not carrying a sword, but a 357 magnum automatic pistol. What do you think would happen if one of those whom you were seeking to arrest began to open fire? I can tell you, with a reasonable measure of confidence. Guns would have been blazing. The casualties would have been great. Peter’s drawing of his sword was the most volatile thing he could have done, which, apart from our Lord’s intervention, would have been devastating to the cause of our Lord. Granted, Peter thought he was helping, but he greatly endangered the eternal plan (from a human point of view).

Apart from the quick action of our Lord, I believe that a blood bath would have occurred. Jesus first took charge of the situation with the words, “No more of this!” This expression has been taken in a number of ways, but I think that Jesus is calling a truce. Both the disciples and the arresting officials heeded the Master’s command. He surely was in charge here, and fortunately so. Jesus healed the ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest. In the other accounts, Jesus told His disciples that to resist His arrest would have been to resist the eternal purpose of God, which was for the Messiah to die as a sin-bearer. He also reminded them that if He wished to defend Himself, He could have called 12 legions of angels to His side (Matthew 26:53). But the Scriptures must be fulfilled (Matthew 26:54).

Had Peter swung his sword on a Roman soldier, things could have been different, at least for him, for this would have been assaulting an officer (at least in our terminology). Why wasn’t Peter arrested for assault? Well, it surely would have proven somewhat embarrassing for this servant to attempt to prove to a judge that he was, indeed, assaulted by Peter? If his ear were perfectly restored, who would ever believe someone cut it off, and another put it back on him?

I think, however, that there is something even greater here. I believe that the diffusing of this explosive situation, even after Peter had swung his sword, was the direct result of the power and authority which Jesus possessed here. Jesus id portrayed by the Gospels here not only as a person of great composure and dignity, but also as a man of great personal power. When Jesus spoke, men did listen. Just as the power of our Lord caused the soldiers to draw back from Him and to fall on the ground (John 18:6), so His dignity and power here caused the soldiers to “cease fire” at the command of our Lord. Jesus was in charge here, so that when He said, “Enough of this!” everyone stopped dead in their tracks. Jesus’ power was so great that no one even thought about taking Peter into custody, even though he had just assaulted a man with a deadly weapon. Its really amazing when you think of it, isn’t it?

In the first place, then, Jesus rebuked His betrayer, Judas, for betraying Him with a kiss. In the second place, Jesus ordered a “cease fire” and was obeyed, by both His own disciples and by the crowd of armed men who had come to arrest Him. Third, Jesus healed the servant’s ear, so that all damages were corrected.

Finally, Jesus rebuked the religious leaders for the way in which they dealt with Him. In verses 52-54, Jesus spoke to the chief priests, the temple guard, and the elders of the Jews, rebuking them for dealing with Him underhandedly and inappropriately, as though He were a criminal, rather than a peaceful, law-abiding citizen. Every day He had been in the Temple. His teaching was in the open and subject to public scrutiny. He had not hidden out, but had taught publicly. Yet they chose not to deal with Him openly, but to secretly capture Him late at night, in the cloak of darkness and deceitfulness (the kiss of Judas, for example). They should be admonished for the way they were dealing with Jesus. The reason that they are able to carry out their plans, wicked though they may be, is that this is, in God’s eternal purpose and plan, “their hour.” It is also the hour when “darkness reigns.” This does not mean, however, that they are somehow frustrating the purposes of God. They are fulfilling them, for God is able to use those things men mean for evil to achieve His good purposes (cf. Genesis 50:20).In Jesus’ rebuke we see that He is, even now, in charge.

Peter’s Denial 
(22:54-62)

54 Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. 55 But when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56 A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” 57 But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said. 58 A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” “Man, I am not!” Peter replied. 59 About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.” 60 Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.

Before we attempt to show what Luke wants us to learn from this account of Peter’s denial of the Lord, let me make a few comments about what we are not told here. I admit, this is one of my “hot” buttons, and I need to let off a little steam before we proceed.

Nowhere in this account do I see either fear or cowardice as being the reason for Peter’s denials, at least so far as the Gospel writers’ words would indicate. We project the response we would have had into the account and thus conclude that Peter was acting as we would. I hear preachers speak of Peter, “warming his hands at the enemy’s fire,” using this as an illustration of the danger of worldliness or wrong associations. I think we have missed the point. If Peter was denying His Lord out of fear, then how do we explain the following facts?

Peter is not portrayed as a fearful man. Peter was certainly willing to stick his neck out when other disciples held back. It was Peter who walked on the water (so he sank), while the rest watched from the safety of the boat. It was Peter who not only promised to stay with His Lord, even unto death, but was the first and only one to draw his sword and use it. In the Garden, Peter was willing to die for His Master. And think of the odds—one man, one sword (two, at best, if someone else had the guts to use it, cf. Luke 22:38), against an entire crowd, armed to the teeth. That doesn’t look like fear to me. From Mark’s account, I believe that the soldiers had every intention of arresting Jesus and all of His followers. The young man in Mark’s account got away only by leaving his clothing behind (Mark 14:50-52). According to John’s account, if the soldiers had not been so overwhelmed by the presence of Jesus, the disciples would not have been dismissed, but this miracle occurred in order to fulfill prophecy (John 18:4-9). 102 If the soldiers intended to arrest all of the disciples, then surely they would have wanted Peter the most, for he was the only one, to have drawn his sword and used it.

There was no more dangerous place for Peter to have been than in that courtyard, where the soldiers must have stood by, and where Peter could not only be identified as a disciple of Jesus, but also could be detained. And if Peter were lying, out of fear for his life, all he had to do to “save his own skin” was to leave. The amazing thing is that Peter stayed there in that courtyard, even after he had been spotted, and even after he knew that this young servant girl was not going to give up in getting him arrested. One more thing. The text seems to make it clear that Peter did not realize that he was denying his Master, as Jesus had said he would, until after the third denial. If Peter were acting out of fear, you would have thought that he would have realized what he was doing, and that he would have felt guilty each time he denied the Savior, rather than only after the third time. Had he been aware of what he was doing, I think he would have fled, weeping bitterly, after his first denial.

I do not know why Peter denied His Lord. And none of the Gospels tell us. I should probably stop right here. I admit it. But I will nevertheless press on to say that it could have been out of anger that Peter acted. Peter had been frustrated all along that Jesus had it in His mind to die. Peter tried to talk Him out of it. Jesus could have called down fire from heaven, or 12 legions of angels, but He did not. Jesus’ arrest, Peter knew, was Jesus’ will. Knowing this, and having your own hopes of quick power and glory and prestige dashed, could have made Peter angry at the Lord. Have we not heart someone say to us, “I don’t know you” when they are angry at us?

And then again, it could have been out of misdirected loyalty that Peter denied His Lord. In Peter’s mind, his lies may have been a kind of necessary evil, justified by the good end they were aimed to accomplish. And what would this “good end” be? The release of Jesus. Peter may have staying in that courtyard, not only to find out how things where going, but with the intention of “breaking Jesus out of jail.” Does this sound fantastic? Well so does drawing a sword against a mob. If this were the case, Peter would be warming himself by the fire to learn the whereabouts of Jesus and the plans which the religious leaders had for transporting Jesus elsewhere, as they would.

So much for speculation. My point is that we need to be careful not to accuse Peter of doing as we might, when he was acting for other reasons, reasons which he may have considered commendable, at the moment. Now, back to the story.

Luke’s account of Peter’s denial gives us no explanation for Peter’s presence there in the courtyard of the high priest’s house. Neither does he give us the reason why Peter denied his Lord, when confronted with the fact that he was one of His disciples. Luke simply gives us a straightforward account of Peter’s three denials. Luke’s conclusion to this account is, I believe, the key to why it is included. In verses 60-62, Luke tells us that immediately after Peter’s last denial, Jesus was somehow able to look Peter straight in the eye, at the very time that the cock crowed. It was only then that it struck him, full force, that he had done exactly as Jesus had said earlier that night (cf. Luke 22:31-34). It was then that he went out and wept bitterly.

Jesus is under arrest. He is being interrogated, and even abused. It would seem, at this point, that things are out of His hands. But they are not. Even at this point in time, Jesus is fully in control. After Peter has denied his Lord three times, Jesus is able to “give Peter the eye,” right at the time the cock crowed. Jesus was able to communicate to Peter that those things He had foretold earlier in the evening had taken place, even though this was the “hour when darkness reigned.” Prophecy will be fulfilled. Jesus’ words were prophecy, and they were fulfilled precisely at the time and in the way Jesus said they would be. Once again, we see that Jesus Christ is in control, even when life seems to be unraveling at the seems, at least for Peter.103

Mocked and Abused 
(22:63-65)

63 The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. 64 They blindfolded him and demanded, “Prophesy! Who hit you?” 65 And they said many other insulting things to him.

Both Matthew and Mark record mockings and abuses of our Lord after the Lord’s “trail” before the Sanhedrin. Luke tells us of mockings which occurred before this trail. It is my opinion that the abuse of the Savior by His “guards” occurred all through His trials, up to the time of His death.

But why this very brief account? For the same reason, I believe. Luke is once again informing us that it is Jesus who is “in control.” Think about it for a moment. Law enforcement officials are trained to keep their emotions under control. The ideal policeman remains calm in the execution of his duties. He is not supposed to be goaded by the prisoner, or by the crowd. But look at these men! They have utterly lost control of themselves. And notice that they are not abusing Jesus as though He were a hardened criminal, a violent man who has caused others to suffer, and so He deserves to suffer as well. They are mocking Jesus as a prophet. They want Him to give them some kind of magical display of His powers. In the process, they are fulfilling Jesus’ own words, that a prophet is persecuted, not praised, for his work. Thus, Jesus is here identified with the prophets who have gone before Him to Jerusalem, to be rejected and to die.

Condemned by the Sanhedrin 
(22:66-71)

66 At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. 67 “If you are the Christ,” they said, “tell us.” Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68 and if I asked you, you would not answer. 69 But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.” 70 They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?” He replied, “You are right in saying I am.” 71 Then they said, “Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.”

The other Gospels give a much fuller account of the “mock trials” of the Sanhedrin. 104 We know that there were two “pretrial hearings” late that night, the first in the home of Annas, 105 a kind of high priest emeritus, and the second in the home of Caiaphas,106 the high priest and son-in-law of Annas. The scholars also have much to say to us about all of the ways in which these religious leaders, with all of their meticulous rules and demands on others, violate the legal protections and processes assured by their laws. Luke brushes past all of this. He does not record the chaos and ad hoc kind of spirit which dominated these trials. Luke chose rather to focus on the Savior.

The Sanhedrin had come to its wits end. It looked as if this meeting once again (remember John 7) would end up not only with their failing to rid themselves of Jesus, but also in internal discord. They had to resort to another illegal ploy. Could they somehow trick Jesus into bearing witness against Himself? While the law of that day had its own fifth amendment, which prevented the accusers from forcing a man to testify against himself, could they somehow get Him to acknowledge that He was Messiah, and even better, that He was the Son of God? If so, then they could find Him guilty of blasphemy, a crime punishable by death.

Jesus answered their question, not because they had the right to ask it, and not because it would bring about pleasant results, but because His time had come. But first shows us Jesus, the accused, rebuking His accusers. The Savior pointed out that the trial was a sham, and that “justice” was not being administered in this court. If He told them He was the Messiah, they would not believe Him. And if He did give testimony against Himself, they would not allow Him to question (cross examine) them. Thus, He informed them that His answer was not one that was elicited by their trickery.

Yes, Jesus affirmed, He was the Messiah, in spite of their response toward Him. You can almost see the Sanhedrin hush with silence and with anticipation. Did He refer to Himself as the “Son of Man”? This expression, found in Daniel’s prophecy, implied not only humanity, but deity. Could they now press Jesus just a bit further, to admit that He was the Son of God? If so, they had Him. The room must have become absolutely quiet. They all asked with anticipation, “You are the Son of God, then?”

Jesus’ response was not evasive, nor was it indirect, as some tend to take it. Jesus spoke directly, in the idiom of that day. It was a firm “yes,” precisely what they had been looking for. No matter that their trials were a sham. No matter that this man’s rights had been violated. No matter that no witnesses could agree on the charges against Him. No matter that the accused had been beaten beforehand and that a testimony had been drawn from Him. They had the evidence they needed. Now, all they needed was the cooperation of the state, to kill Him.

Conclusion

I want to end with one simple, but overwhelming, point: Jesus was still in charge, even at the time of His arrest, His trials, His abuse, and His denials. Men consistently fail in our text. Not one man is faithful. Not one man understands fully what is going on. No one man stands by the Lord. Virtually everyone has or will soon abandon Him. But He is faithful to His calling. And even in this “hour of darkness” His is in control. His prophecies are coming to pass, even if by sinful men. Jesus is not overtaken by His enemies. Jesus went out to them, and He was taken captive and condemned because He purposed to do so. Men did not even take His life from Him. He gave it up Himself. Jesus was in charge, even in the worst hour of history.

As I have studied this passage, it occurred to me that virtually every section of Luke’s account is the fulfillment of something which Jesus told His disciples earlier in the book. Compare with me, if you would, the history of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, denials, mocking, and condemnation with the prophecies of our Lord, as Luke has recorded them. Note with me how perfectly prophecy is fulfilled.

47 While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” 49 When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. 51 But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. 52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? 53 Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns.” 54 Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest.

Peter followed at a distance. 55 But when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56 A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” 57 But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said. 58 A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” “Man, I am not!” Peter replied. 59 About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.” 60 Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.

63 The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. 64 They blindfolded him and demanded, “Prophesy! Who hit you?” 65 And they said many other insulting things to him. 66 At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. 67 “If you are the Christ,” they said, “tell us.” Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68 and if I asked you, you would not answer. 69 But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.” 70 They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?” He replied, “You are right in saying I am.” 71 Then they said, “Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.”

9:43 While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples, 44 “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.”

22:21 But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. 22 The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.”

37 It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”

22:31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” 33 But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

13:33 In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

18:32 He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. 33 On the third day he will rise again.”

17:25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

9:22 And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

13:34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

There is a song about the birth of Jesus which goes like this, “Je-sus, Lord at Thy birth.” I agree with that song, but I must also add a line, as it were, to it. “Je-sus, Lord at Thy Death.” There is but one reasons why Jesus died on the cross of Calvary. It is not that men rejected Him. It was not that His mission failed. It was that His hour had come, and He was doing His Father’s will. Jesus was in charge at every point. What an awe-inspiring thought.

There are implications to this. Jesus not only spoke of His own rejection and suffering, but also of that of His disciples, which would include those who believe in Christ today (cf. Luke 21). There are going to be dark times ahead, Jesus warned, times when it would appear that it is the “hour” of the powers of darkness (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:13-16; 2 Timothy 3:12). And so it will be, during the time of the Great Tribulation as well (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:3-8; Revelation 12:7ff.; 20). Even at such dark hours as this, He is in control, and His purposes and prophecies are being fulfilled. Let us not lose heart.

Notes:

99 Isn’t is interesting to see that when the chips were down, the religious leaders twice found they had to resort to social stratifications and snobbery, rather than to facts, in order to prove their points. In the first case, the leaders rebuked the soldiers for taking the same position the ignorant masses held, rather than the more informed view of their leaders. In the second case, the leaders again revealed their snobbery by reminding Nicodemus that nobody of any importance (certainly not a prophet) comes from Galilee.

100 Some would see the differences in the accounts of the Gospels as to who accused Peter of being a disciple of Jesus as proof of error or sloppiness in recording, but there is a much easier explanation. Morris, for example, poses a very satisfactory explanation for these differences:

“In Matthew the second denial appears to be elicited by a question from a slave girl different from the first one, in Mark by the same slave girl, in Luke by a man and in John by a number of people. A little reflection shows that in such a situation a question once posed is likely to have been taken up by others round the fire.” Leon Morris, The Gospel According to St. Luke (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p. 315.

101 It is a rather humorous scene, and one that is easy to believe, once you grant the divinity and the dignity of the Savior, whose poise and confidence (a dimension of His deity, I suspect) disarmed them. There was a large crowd present. When Jesus and His disciples came up to the arresting party, the rest of the crowd pressed in behind. When those in the first row backed away from Jesus, they tripped over those behind them, and thus a mass of bodies and confusion. How hard it must have been to regain their compose and get on with the arrest. It was a little like the Keystone Cops.

102 Incidentally, it is interesting to note that in John’s account, Peter is not said to have drawn his sword until after the release of the disciples had been secured. Had all the other disciples already begun to escape for their lives?

103 It might be worthwhile to ask, at this point, “What could or should Peter have done, other than what he did do?” One of my friends suggested that Peter should have been praying for the Savior, that He would be obedient to the Father’s will, and that the purposes of God for Him would have been realized. Peter could have been praying for himself, that he would not succumb to temptation. This is possible, although I am inclined to say that now, at this point, there was nothing for Peter to do but fail. Peter had not prayed, when Jesus had told him to do so. The time for taking the right course of action was earlier. Peter (and the others as well) had not done so, and thus they had set themselves up to fail. Jesus had told them this would be the case, so it was also in accordance with God’s purposes and prophecies. My point here is simply to illustrate that there is a kind of “point of no return,” spiritually speaking. There is a time when we can act, so as to prevent our failure under fire. But when that time to take evasive action has passed and we have neglected it, we are destined to fail, and nothing (save divine intervention) at that point in time can save us from ourselves. Some Christians pray and plead for deliverance after it is too late. How grateful we can be for a Savior who prays for us that even when we fail, our faith will not fail.

104 “The Sanhedrin, or Jewish Council at Jerusalem, consisted of seventy members plus the chairman (the high priest), and exercised the supreme authority over the ordinary as well as the religious life of the Jewish people (though at that time in subordination to the Roman authorities).” Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, [Photolithoprinted], 1975), p. 589., fn 3.

Concerning the trials of Jesus, Morris comments: “The details of Jesus’ trial are not easy to piece together, for none of the Gospels gives a full account. But it seems clear that there were two main stages. First, there was a Jewish trial in which the chief priests had Jesus condemned according to Jewish law and then tried to work out how best to get the Romans to execute Him. Then a Roman trial followed in which the Jewish leaders prevailed on Pilate to sentence Jesus to crucifixion. The Jewish trial was itself in two or three stages. During the night there were informal examinations before Annas (as John tells us) and Caiaphas (who had some of the Sanhedrin with him). After daybreak came a formal meeting of the Sanhedrin. This was probably an attempt to legitimate the decisions reached during the night. It was not lawful to conduct a trial on a capital charge at night. It was not even lawful to give the verdict at night after a trial had been held during the day. But the Jewish hierarchy was in a hurry, so they rushed Jesus into an examination immediately after His arrest, night-time though it was. To give this an air of legitimacy they proceeded to hold a daytime meeting in which the essentials of the night meeting were repeated and confirmed. Even so they came short of what was required, for a verdict of condemnation could not be given until the day after the trial (Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4:1).” Morris, p. 317.

Shepard adds, “The regular place for the meeting of the Sanhedrin was in the Temple, but they led Jesus away to the house of the high-priest Caiaphas, situated in a place just outside the present wall of the city, where all the chief priests and elders and scribes had been summoned to meet. Nor was the legal hour of meeting for trials in the night. Other features in the illegality practiced in the trials of Jesus were: undue haste, seeking or bribing witnesses, neglecting to warn the witnesses solemnly before they should give evidence, forcing the accused to testify against Himself, judicial use of the prisoner’s confession, and failure to release the prisoner when there was failure of agreement between witnesses.” Shepard, p. 575.

105 “They seized Jesus and tied His hands behind Him. He was led away, first to Annas, who had served as high-priest from 6 to 15 A.D., and, through astute politics, had succeeded in securing from the Romans the succession of this office to his five sons, and how his son-in-law Caiaphas, who was the present occupant of the high-priesthood. Annas owned the famous Bazaars of Annas, which ran a monopoly on the sale of animals for the sacrifices and the stalls of the money-changers. It was the vested interests of this monopoly that Jesus had assailed in the first and second cleansing of the Temple.” J. W. Shepard, The Christ of the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company [Photolithoprinted, 1971]), p. 573.

106 “Caiaphas, the high priest (18-36 A.D.) and his son-in-law, was thoroughly lined up with Annas in all that he might perpetrate against the hated Nazarene. Weeks ago, he had suggested in a secret session of the Sanhedrin, when plotting the ruin of the ‘pretender-Messiah,’ that it was very convenient that one man die for the people rather than that the whole nation perish.” Shepard, p. 573.

The Rejection of Israel's Messiah - Part II
(Luke 23:1-25)

By: Bob Deffinbaugh , Th.M.

Jesus Before Pilate

1 Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.” 3 So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. 4 Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” 5 But they insisted, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.” 6 On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. 7 When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.

Jesus Before Herod

8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle. 9 He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. 11 Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. 12 That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies.

Jesus Again Before Pilate

13 Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.” 17 [Now he was obliged to release one man to them at the Feast.] 18 With one voice they cried out, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” 19 (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.) 20 Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. 21 But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” 22 For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.” 23 But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided to grant their demand. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.

Introduction

Sometimes we hear of “an offer you can’t refuse,” especially by those like me who are bargain hunters. We also hear of those “offers you can’t accept,” or perhaps we should say, offers people assume you will not accept. As a college student, I lived in the upstairs of a house owned by the college with two roommates who lived on the second and third floors. An older man and his wife lived on the first floor. One day the man came up to ask two of us to help him carry a desk from the top floor down the stairs to the driveway where it was to be loaded onto a trailer. It was a very easy task which couldn’t have taken more than a few minutes. I have often helped with such things without even thinking about it.

Except this time, when we had finished placing the desk on the trailer, the man reached into his wallet, pulled out a five dollar bill, and offered it to me. Looking back, I see that his offer was “one I could not accept.” But he didn’t know me very well. Perhaps he thought he had couched his offer in such a way I couldn’t take it—but he was wrong. I was in need, and I took it—gratefully—but I did take it. My roommate couldn’t believe it, and after thinking about it, neither could I. But the man offered it. If he had not intended to give me the money, I reasoned then, he should not have offered it.

We all make offers we really don’t expect others to accept, don’t we? I believe Pilate made the leaders of Israel—the chief priests and rulers of the people—an offer they would never accept—but they did. The religious leaders of Israel brought Jesus to Pilate, accusing Him of being a criminal worthy of death. But Pilate did not see it this way at all. Eventually, he made these leaders an offer I think he was sure they would not accept. His offer was to release to them Barabbas, a thief, a revolutionary, and a murderer. Which would they choose—to turn Barabbas loose on their city—or Jesus? Jesus was a man of peace, a seemingly harmless fellow. Barabbas was a dangerous criminal. Surely they would leave Barabbas in prison, where he belonged, and be content to have Jesus found guilty of a crime and then pardoned.

If Pilate thought the Jews would accept this offer, he was wrong. They demanded the release of Barabbas, and the execution of Jesus. Now this was something this Gentile ruler could not comprehend. He had made them an offer which they accepted. What an amazing thing!

When we read the account of the trial of our Lord before the political rulers of that day, it is like watching a table tennis match. On the one hand, Jesus is passed back and forth between Pilate and Herod. On the other, the dialogue between Pilate and the religious leaders bounces back, from one to the other. Pilate repeatedly pronounces Jesus innocent of any crime, but the Jewish religious leaders respond by even more vigorously affirming His guilt, demanding nothing less than the death penalty. One would think that Pilate, with the power of Rome behind him, would have little difficulty enforcing his will on the people, but such is not the case. We see that indeed the people prevail, and the story ends with Pilate giving them their way, even though this means the death of an innocent man.

The Structure of the Text

Portrayed in our text are basically three scenes. Scene one (verses 1-7) takes place in the presence of Pilate. Scene two (verses 7-12) takes place before Herod, to whom Pilate has referred the Jews and Jesus, gratefully breathing a sigh of relief, because Jesus’ alleged offenses seem to have occurred in Herod’s jurisdiction. Scene three (verses 13-25) takes us back, once again, to the judgment seat of Pilate who unhappily finds himself the one who must make the decision concerning the accusations made against Jesus. In spite of repeated pronouncements of Jesus’ innocence, by Pilate (primarily) and Herod (by inference), Jesus will not only be mocked and beaten, but He will be put to death as a common criminal, while one of the nations most dangerous criminals will be set free.

Characteristics of Luke’s Account

Each of the gospels has a unique emphasis which causes each writer to include or exclude certain material, as well as to arrange his material uniquely. Luke’s account of the secular trial of Jesus is quite distinct from the other accounts. Before beginning to study the text in Luke, let us first consider some of those distinctive characteristics.

(1) Luke’s account is a very short, concise version of the trial of our Lord before Pilate. It is not the shortest, for Mark’s account is only 15 verses, while the text of Luke is 25 verses. Matthew covers the trial in 26 verses (with verses 3-10 dealing with the remorse and suicide of Judas), and John’s account is the most detailed, with 27 verses.

(2) Luke is the only gospel to include the trial of our Lord before Herod. The significance and contribution of this will be pointed out later.

(3) Luke’s account describes Pilate more in terms of his intentions and desires, than in terms of his actions. Luke tells us that Pilate proposed that he would punish Jesus, and then release Him. We are never told by Luke that Jesus was actually severely beaten, as seen in the parallel accounts in the other gospels. The fact is that most of what Pilate intended to do—such as releasing Jesus—he was not able to do. That is significant in light of the fact that this man was a dictator, with great power and with armed forces at his disposal to back up any action he decided to take.

(4) Luke does not emphasize the external pressures brought to bear on Pilate, as the other gospels do. As I view Luke’s account, we see two major forces at work: Pilate’s decided purpose to release Jesus, whom he judged to be innocent, and the religious leaders, who were determined that Jesus must die, and at the hand of Rome. Matthew tells us Pilate’s wife warned him not to condemn this “innocent man,” due to her tormenting dream that night. John’s account depicts an increasing sense of Pilate’s wonder and fear at the person of Jesus.

(5) Luke has a strong emphasis on the innocence of Jesus, as repeatedly stated by Pilate, and as at least implied by Herod.

(6) Also impressive in Luke (though apparent in the other accounts) is the silence of Jesus. Herod pressed Jesus with many questions, but with no answer. Pilate received more answers, as recorded in the other accounts, but in Luke’s version of these events, Jesus said only these words, “Yes, it is as you say” (verse 3). Nothing more is recorded in these 25 verses as to anything Jesus said. This is not surprising in light of the Old Testament prophecies which foretold the silence of the sinless Messiah (cf. Isaiah 53:7).

(7) The account has a kind of “ping-pong” structure, with a back and forth dialogue between Pilate, who maintains Jesus’ innocence, and the Jews, who insist He is guilty. Notice this characteristic when we indent the verses in a way that demonstrates the back and forth nature of the debate between Pilate and the religious leaders of Israel:

1 Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.” 3 So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. 4 Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” 5 But they insisted, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.” 6 On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. 7 When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time. 8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle. 9 He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. 11 Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. 12 That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies.

13 Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.” 17 [Now he was obliged to release one man to them at the Feast.]

18 With one voice they cried out, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” 19 (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.) 20 Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. 21 But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” 22 For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.” 23 But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided to grant their demand. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.

Jesus Before Pilate 
(23:1-7)

1 Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.” 3 So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. 4 Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” 5 But they insisted, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.” 6 On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. 7 When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.

It would seem that it was very early in the morning when a very persistent pounding commenced on the front door of Pilate’s 107 house. 108 Pilate, probably begrudgingly, slipped out of bed, angry at the interruption of his sleep but nonetheless trying not to awaken his wife who was probably still asleep. As Pilate’s day begins, his wife’s sleep will be disturbed by a very unpleasant dream, the essence of which is that Jesus is an innocent man who should not be put to death (cf. Matthew 27:19). The Jewish religious leaders are bold and aggressive in their attack against Jesus, and in expressing their expectation that Pilate will give them what they want. Not only do the Jews seem “pushy” in demanding Pilate’s attention at this hour, they also refused to enter into the palace, forcing him to come out to them (cf. John 18:28-29).

Luke informs us in verse 2 that the Sanhedrin (who apparently all came along to bring charges, cf. 23:1) pressed three charged against Jesus, all of which were political (that is, against the state), and none of which were religious. 109 The charges against Jesus were:

(1) stirring up unrest and rebellion: “subverting our nation” 110

(2) opposing taxation by Rome

(3) claiming to be a king.

These, of course, were very serious crimes against the state, crimes which could not be brushed aside, and crimes which would have brought the death penalty. 111

Pilate seems to know the Jews better than they may have thought. Roman rulers had no interest in being “used” by one Jewish faction against another. 112 It did not take very long for Pilate to see that this was, indeed, a power struggle (Matthew 27:18; Mark 15:10). He saw Jesus standing before him, already beaten and bloody from the abuse the temple guards had hurled on Him during the night (Luke 22:63-65). He did not look very awesome or dangerous to this political power broker.

Notice that Pilate passed right over the first two charges. If Jesus were a revolutionary, would not the Romans have known about Him much sooner? Indeed, did not the Romans know of Jesus? Surely they had long ago determined that He was no threat. Revolutionaries there were, but Jesus was not among them. And neither did the Roman IRS have any evidence that Jesus had ever so much as implied that the Jews should not pay their Roman taxes. And, as Jesus had emphasized to His arrests, had He not taught publicly, day after day, so that His teaching was a matter of public record (cf. Luke 22:52-53)?

No, if any of these three charges had any substance at all, it was the last. At least this was the real issue with these Jewish religious leaders. And so Pilate passed over the first two charges, asking Jesus only to respond as to whether or not He was “the king of the Jews.” I understand Pilate not simply to be asking whether or not Jesus is a king of the Jews, but the king of the Jews. Would this man not be aware that the Jews looked for a Messiah. After all, were not some of those who were guilty of insurrection those who claimed to be the Messiah (cf. Acts 5:33-39)? I believe, therefore, that while Pilate may have been cruel and ungodly, he was at least shrewd and well-informed about the Jews. 113

One would think our Lord’s acknowledgment that He was the Messiah, the King of Israel, would have caused Pilate considerable distress. Pilate, however, does not seem surprised at all. Did he not already know this was, indeed, Jesus’ claim from the beginning of His public ministry? And did not John the Baptist and the disciples go about introducing Jesus as Israel’s king? Contrary to our expectations, Pilate is not at all distressed by Jesus’ admission of His “claimed” identity—claimed, that is, so far as Pilate was concerned. At this point, I believe Pilate probably looked upon Jesus as one would respond to a “hippie” who claimed to be Albert Einstein. “How pathetic,” Pilate could have reasoned, “but certainly Jesus is no political threat to Rome or to me, and not even to these Jewish leaders.” Pilate’s appraisal of Jesus will change considerably over the course of his interrogation, to the point where he will actually begin to fear Jesus, or at least fear putting Him to death (cf. Matthew 27:19; John 19:7, 12).

Pilate announced his verdict, but it was not well-received. He said, “I find no basis for a charge against this man”114 (Luke 23:4). In effect, Pilate had just functioned as a one-man grand jury. He had listened to the charges and to the evidence, and he “no-billed” Jesus. There was insufficient evidence to prove that Jesus was a criminal, worthy of the death penalty, which these leaders wanted.

The chief priests and the crowd would not be so easily denied what they had determined to have—Jesus’ blood. They protested, insisting that Jesus “stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching, starting in Galilee, and now reaching all the way to Jerusalem.” The Jewish leaders had sought to reinforce their indictment, but they had gone too far. They had disclosed that Jerusalem was simply the last place where Jesus had created some measure of unrest. He was not a Judean, a man of Jerusalem, but a Galilean. This was where His ministry began. Most of Jesus’ ministry had been in Galilee, and thus Pilate delighted in ruling that this case was really not in his jurisdiction. The case must go to Herod the Tetrarch, for he was the one who ruled over Galilee. And so Jesus, along with the religious leaders and the rest of the crowd, were sent, still early in the morning, to bother Herod.

I can see Pilate smiling to himself, congratulating himself for getting rid of this thorny problem. In fact, he had succeeded in passing the buck to a man he really didn’t get along with anyway. “It serves him right,” I can hear Pilate thinking to himself. Perhaps Pilate leaned back in his chair and ordered breakfast. What a leisurely and enjoyable meal it must have been. What a great day it would be. No more worries about Jesus, or so it seemed. How fortunate it was that Herod was also in Jerusalem at this season (cf. Luke 23:7).

Jesus Before Herod 
(23:8-12)

8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle. 9 He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. 11 Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. 12 That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies.

While Pilate seemingly had little interest in Jesus and virtually no previous contact with Him, Herod at least had a fair amount of indirect contact. Remember that one of the women who followed Jesus and helped to support Him was Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward (Luke 8:2; cf. 24:10). And then, of course, there was Herod’s relationship with John the Baptist. Let’s briefly review what Luke has had to say about Herod115 thus far in his gospel.

Herod Antipas

Luke 3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene—2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Luke 3:19 But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, 20 Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.

Luke 9:7 Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was going on. And he was perplexed, because some were saying that John had been raised from the dead, 8 others that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life. 9 But Herod said, “I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about?” And he tried to see him.

Luke 13:31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

Mark’s gospel records a very interesting incident related to Herod the Tetrarch, which Luke’s gospel does not include:

11 The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. 12 He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.” 13 Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side. 14 The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. 15 “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” 16 They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.” 17 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they replied. 20 “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.” 21 He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:11-21)

In Mark’s account, Jesus warned His disciples to “watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod” (v. 15). The disciples could only think in literal terms of “yeast” and of “bread.” The moment Jesus mentioned “yeast,” they had the word association with “bread.” That brought to mind that they had not remembered to bring “lunch” with them. And so in the midst of a very important word of warning, the disciples’ thoughts are diverted to food. Jesus’ words which follow are not an interpretation of “yeast” but are rather a rebuke for being concerned about “bread,” the very lesson which the two miraculous feedings was intended to teach them.

Jesus therefore reminded them that in both instances where many people lacked food, when all was said and done there was an excess, so that the leftovers had to be collected in several baskets. The point is that Jesus’ disciples need not be concerned about “food,” for the Lord will meet their material and physical needs, a principle frequently found in the gospels (cf. Luke 12:22ff.). And so, when Jesus speaks of “yeast” His disciples should not be distracted by thoughts of their next meal, but they should be free to consider the spiritual implications of His words.

And what was the spiritual lesson Jesus had in mind when He warned them of the “yeast” of the Pharisees and of Herod? The preceding context of Mark chapter 8 tells us (Mark 8:11-12). The Pharisees and Herod both wanted Jesus to perform some great sign, to prove that He was, indeed, the Messiah. Both were looking for external evidences, rather than looking at the Old Testament prophecies concerning Messiah, to see if Jesus had indeed fulfilled them. In this sense, the disciples of our Lord suffered from the same preoccupation that blinded Herod and the Pharisees—a preoccupation on the external and the physical, that which can be seen, as opposed to the “unseen” things which faith “sees” (cf. John 20:29; Hebrews 11:1).

We should not at all be surprised, then, when Luke informs us that Herod was more than happy to see Jesus, unlike his Roman counterpart, Pilate (Luke 23:8). Herod was very eager to see Jesus. Indeed, he had been hoping to see Him for a long time (Luke 9:9). But, as Jesus had warned His disciples earlier (in Mark chapter 8), his motives were wrong. He wanted to see Jesus work some wonder. If He did so, he would show Himself greater than John who performed no such signs. And if Herod could be so fortunate as to make an alliance with a miracle-working Messiah, what would this do for his own position and power?

So far as we can tell from the gospels, Jesus never came in direct contact with Herod. There were various “links” between the two men, as we have shown above. And there was, as well, the “threat” which the Pharisees conveyed to Jesus, warning Him not to flee because Herod wanted to kill Him (Luke 12:31). If this were a true report, something which one cannot be certain about, then Jesus ignored it, giving the Pharisees a message to take back to Herod, a message which conveyed His determination to carry out His mission, without any deviations or compromises.

The chief priests and scribes were standing nearby, constantly reiterating their charges against Jesus, pushing Herod to find Jesus guilty. It seems as though Herod was completely ignoring them. And, likewise, Jesus was not responding to Herod. How disappointed Herod must have been after eagerly bombarding Jesus with questions which were intended to induce a barrage of miraculous signs, or at least some compelling evidence of His power. Luke informs us that Jesus did not speak so much as one word to Herod. All he received in response from Jesus was silence. This must have been a severe blow to the pride of this man, who was used to having things his way, and to having people submit to his power. Jesus had no words for him, not one.

Herod was in a very awkward position here. It was obvious that the religious leaders wanted Jesus put to death. All the time he was trying to interrogate Jesus, they kept pressing their charges. But the fact was they had no real evidence to back up these charges. And because Jesus would not testify, they were at a stalemate. It would seem like a no-win situation for Herod. It is it this point that he makes a very shrewd move. He conceals his own frustration, at being unable to persuade Jesus to produce some miraculous sign, and at the same time pleases his own soldiers and at least sides with the religious leaders by mocking Jesus. And yet in all of this he has avoided taking a clear stand on Jesus. Although Pilate will infer that Herod found Jesus innocent, Herod has avoided the wrath of the chief priests and scribes by not pronouncing any verdict. He seems to be “firmly standing” on both sides of the issue at the same time. What a politician! In the final analysis, Herod forced Pilate to make the decision which he did not want to make himself. And he did so in a way that actually won the friendship of a former enemy.116 Now that is quite a feat.

Why does Luke include this incident with Herod while no other gospel writer does? I believe it is important to see that everyone rejected Jesus as the Messiah, including Herod. But it was absolutely necessary for Rome and the Gentiles to share in the rejection and the crucifixion of Christ so that all men, not just the Jews, might be guilty of His innocent blood. Thus, Herod does play a part, but this is the time for the Gentiles to show their own disdain for the Savior.

Jesus Again Before Pilate 
(23:13-25)

13 Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.” 17 18 With one voice they cried out, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” 19 (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.) 20 Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. 21 But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” 22 For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.” 23 But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided to grant their demand. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.

If Pilate thought his problems were over with Jesus, he was wrong. Perhaps it was during the time Jesus was standing trial before Herod the message came from Pilate’s wife that she had a frightening dream, warning her husband not to have anything to do with “that innocent man” (Matthew 27:19). He may thus have thought to himself, “Not to worry. I sent Jesus on to Herod. He’s his problem now.” As the noise of the unruly crowd began to draw nearer and became noisier, Pilate knew that his desire to duck the issue of Jesus’ guilt or innocence was not to be realized.

It would seem, not only from verse 13 but also from the parallel accounts, that Pilate took Jesus aside after He was brought back from His “trial” before Herod, and that He attempted to satisfy himself concerning Jesus’ guilt or innocence. When he came out, Pilate called the chief priests and rulers of the people (for it was they who were pressing him for a guilty verdict) and reiterated that he was unconvinced of any criminal charges which the case presented against Jesus merited, reminding them that by his actions, Herod had also acknowledged the innocence of Jesus.

Having just repeated, for the second time in Luke’s account, the innocence of Jesus, Pilate makes a very perplexing statement to these Jewish religious leaders. He tells them that he is going to punish Jesus, and then release Him (Luke 23:16). I am assuming the punishment referred to is that which is described in the parallel accounts when Jesus was beaten severely (cf. John 19:1-3). Now why, if Jesus has been convicted of no crime, would He be punished? Because Pilate is trying to appease his own conscience, while attempting to appease the hostile crowds at the same time. Pilate hoped, it seems, to satisfy this bloodthirsty crowd by beating Jesus so badly that He would present them with such a horrible sight they would have mercy on Him. Pilate had not judged the animosity of the chief priests and religious leaders correctly.

It is interesting that in Luke’s account only the intentions of Pilate are recorded. That is, Pilate announced it was his intention to “punish” Jesus, but Luke does not go on to report that Jesus was beaten. It is not what happened to Jesus that Luke focuses on so much here as that which Pilate (and Herod too) wanted to do with Him.

It is at this point the name of Barabbas appears. The editors of the NIV and the NASB have chosen to omit verse 17 because of its omission in a few of the older manuscripts (although not necessarily “better”—here is a subject of hot debate). I believe that it should not only be accepted as a part of our text, but that we should accept it because of its clear mention in the parallel accounts. Somehow the custom had come about that Pilate would release one prisoner to the Jews, seemingly as a kind of “goodwill” gesture.

From the record in the parallel accounts, I believe Pilate raised Barabbas as a second proposal to these Jewish leaders in the hope that he would appease them and also secure Jesus’ release. Every year at this time, we are told, Pilate would release one prisoner. Why not convict Jesus as being guilty of the crime of treason—giving government approval to the condemnation of Jesus by the religious community—and then release Him, as a gesture of goodwill? There was, of course, another “criminal” whom Pilate could release—Barabbas—but he was a violent and dangerous man. (Is it possible that he was scheduled to be executed that very day, and that Jesus, indeed, took his place? Surely they would not want him back on the streets.

Here was the shocker, which I don’t think Pilate expected at all. How could these people possibly prefer the release of Barabbas to that of Jesus? Barabbas was a thief, a revolutionary, a terrorist (it seems) and a murderer. Jesus, while He may have had some misguided delusions of grandeur (or so Pilate may have thought at the time), was not a dangerous or violent man. He was a man of peace, a man who had done many kind and wonderful things to help His fellow-countrymen. The offer of Barabbas was, it appears, an offer no sensible Israelite could accept; the offer of Jesus’ (release), was one no sensible Israelite could turn down. If Pilate thought thus, he was very mistaken indeed.

The crowds, incited by the chief priests and scribes, called for Jesus’ death and for the releasing of Barabbas. I suspect Pilate could hardly believe his ears. Why did they hate this man so much? Pilate wanted very much to release Jesus (23:20). While it is not said plainly, surely Pilate did not want to release Barabbas. That man was nothing but trouble. His kind deserved to stay in confinement. And so Pilate pled, once again, for the release of Jesus. Again the innocence of Jesus was reiterated, and Pilate’s intention of beating Him unmercifully and then releasing him was repeated.

The Jews who were present would not hear of it. With loud shouts they demanded the crucifixion of Christ and the release of the revolutionary. And Pilate caved in, giving them their way. The final verses tell it all. Pilate released to them the man who was a danger to society, Barabbas, while He kept Jesus in custody, so that He could be hung on a Roman cross, crucified for crimes Pilate knew He did not commit.

Conclusion

The first thing our text establishes is that Jesus died, not because He was guilty of any offense, or of breaking any law, but simply because He was the sinless Son of God, and because He acknowledged that He was the “King of Israel.” Pilate, who was no “friend” of the Jews nor of Jesus, repeatedly reiterated the fact that Jesus was not guilty of any crime, and most certainly not of any crime worthy of death, even though this is precisely what the religious leaders demanded.

The second thing I believe the Holy Spirit intended for us to learn from Luke’s account of Jesus’ trial before Pilate and Herod is this: the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus was not just that of the Jews, nor of the Gentiles, but it was a rejection by both. I believe this is why Luke alone includes the account of Jesus before Herod. Note the apostles’ commentary on this matter as recorded in the Book of Acts by none other than Dr. Luke:

24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: “‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.’ 27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen (Acts 4:24-28).

Luke thus informs us that his gospel account was intended to historically establish and document the collaboration between Herod and Pilate, and in a broader sense between the Jews and the Gentiles, to put Jesus, the Messiah, to death.

If the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah was a mutual action of both Jews and Gentiles, it was also a unanimous decision, reached by all. No one stood for the Savior. All rejected Him, as this moment in time. The disciples had fled. Judas has now taken his own life. Everyone who is mentioned in these verses in chapter 23 has rejected Jesus as the King.

While the form which their rejection takes is different, the essence is the same in every case. The chief priests and leaders of the Jews took a very hostile and aggressive stance with respect to Jesus. That is very evident in our text, for they, in a very pushy and offensive way demanded nothing less than His execution.

The third thing this text teaches us is the utter sinfulness of men, as evidenced in the rejection of Jesus as the King of the Jews. As I view the individuals described by Luke at this trial of our Lord, I find that the description of the sinfulness of man in Romans 3 is remarkably appropriate for this occasion. As you read these markedly descriptive words, remember that these are a collection of statements from the Old Testament, descriptive of man’s sinful and lost condition:

“There is none righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. There mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:10-18).

This is the one thing which Pilate failed to take into account. He seems to have thought that his audience was a reasonable, rational group, who would objectively hear, consider, and accept his verdict. If he thought thus, he was wrong. He seems to have felt that if Jesus were beaten severely enough, they would take pity on Him and give up their demand that He be crucified. If this was his thinking, again he was wrong. And he seems to have thought that if he found Jesus guilty, and then gave the crowd the choice between pardoning Barabbas, a hardened and violent criminal, and Jesus, they would have to take Jesus. He was again wrong.

It is important crucial to recognize that all of those who were at this trial were wrong, and that indeed they all rejected Jesus, not just the Jews. Clearly, the religious leaders were hostile to Jesus and demanded that he be put to death. In a different way, Herod also rejected Jesus. He was eager to see Him. In some ways, he was a religious man, a man who had listened with keen interest to John the Baptist. But when Herod saw that Jesus was not going to “jump through his hoops,” that He would not perform for him, and that He was not going to further his own personal interests and ambitions, Herod rejected Jesus, making a public mockery of Him. The soldiers, both of Herod and Pilate, were wrong, for they mistreated and mocked Messiah. And then there was Pilate. Granted, he harbored no great hostility toward Jesus, but neither did he accept Him for who He was. Granted, Pilate seems only to wish that Jesus would just go away. His rejection is polite, aloof, disinterested. But, my friend, it was rejection.

I do not know what your response is to Jesus Christ, but if it is anything less than receiving Him as the divine Son of God, the King of Israel, and the Savior of the world, it is not enough, and it is rejection. Your rejection may be polite. Indeed, it may appear that you have not rejected Him at all. Perhaps you have ignored Him. But if you have not received Him as God’s Messiah, you have rejected Him. If you and I had been there that day when Jesus was on trial, I am convinced that we would have sided with one of these rejecting groups, and not with the Savior.

It seems hard to believe, doesn’t it, that men can actually hate God, that they can hate Him as God? Those who rejected Jesus in our text, rejected Him as the promised Messiah, as their King, even though He was innocent. Far more, even though everything about His life and ministry bore witness to the fact that He was righteous, and that He was the Son of God.

In the politeness with which men often reject Christ, we have lost sight of the deep hatred and animosity which unsaved men and women have toward God. As I was preparing this message, I was reminded of a book by R. C. Sproul, entitled, The Holiness of God.117 Sproul’s concluding chapter is entitled, “God in the Hands of Angry Sinners.” In this chapter Sproul reminds us that fallen men are not neutral toward God—they hate Him. He writes,

By nature, our attitude toward God is not one of mere indifference. It is a posture of malice. We oppose His government and refuse His rule over us. Our natural hearts are devoid of affection for Him; they are cold, frozen to His holiness. By nature, the love of God is not in us.

… it is not enough to say that natural man views God as an enemy. We must be more precise. God is our mortal enemy. He represents the highest possible threat to our sinful desires. His repugnance to us is absolute, knowing no lesser degrees. No amount of persuasion by men or argumentation from philosophers or theologians can induce us to love God. We despise His very existence and would do anything in our power to rid the universe of His holy presence.

If God were to expose His life to our hands, He would not be safe for a second. We would not ignore Him; we would destroy Him. 118

I not only believe Sproul is biblically correct, I also believe that this description of man and his animosity toward God describes both those who were a part of our Lord’s trial, and describes us, apart from God’s initiative and grace in saving us. Have you experienced this salvation? If so, your love for God is a supernatural thing, the result, not of your reaching toward God, but of His reaching out toward you, through the very One whom men rejected—Jesus Christ.

Just as Pilate could not avoid making a decision about Jesus, so you and I must make a decision as well. And if we should think we can avoid a decision by ignoring Him and ignoring a decision, let me simply remind you that this is a decision—to reject Him. May this not be so for you.

We find in our text that Pilate ultimately feared man more than he feared the Son of God. Pilate was willing to sacrifice Christ, as it were, for his own ambitions, for his own self-interest. I believe he thought he had to “sacrifice” Jesus for his own survival, and yet his decision spelled his own doom. Pilate, like Herod, soon fell from power. Their ends were not pleasant. How tragic.

This text should teach us that human government is, like men, sinful and fallible. The very government which was given by God to protect the innocent and to punish the evil-doer (cf. Romans 13:1-5), is that government, in Jesus’ day, which condemned the innocent and freed the wicked. If there was ever a dramatic demonstration of the need for a new government, a new “kingdom” where righteousness reigned in the person of Jesus Christ, it was at the trial and crucifixion of our Lord.

This text also serves to illustrate, at least to my satisfaction, the limitations and liabilities of the political system and its approach to getting things done. I hear Christians today talking about taking over the political system, as though they can use it to further God’s kingdom. I hear others talking about “beating the humanists at their own game.” In our text, I see the inability of the political process to achieve the righteousness of God. The problem lies not only in the system itself, but in the fallen humanity which operates it. Herod was never finer, as a politician, than in his maneuverings in which he rejected Christ, maintained the support of the chief priests and leaders, and won Pilate as a friend. But righteousness and justice were not served here. Pilate, though he knew Jesus to be innocent, also knew that politics require compromise and keeping the constituency happy. God’s work is not done in man’s way, and nothing is more human than the political process. It may be the best means of getting the business of state done, but it is not the means of doing God’s work. Let us beware of using “politics,” whether it be office politics or church politics, to do God’s work.

One last remark. If men are so utterly angry with God that they will always hate, oppose, and reject Him, how can they ever be convinced, converted, and changed? It will not be through human might or methods, my friend, but only through the Holy Spirit of God. As we read the Book of Acts we learn that men were convinced and converted—miraculously so, such as Saul—but they were convinced and converted through the work of God’s Spirit, as He empowered men and their testimony for Christ. May we go about His work, dependent upon His Word and dependent upon His Spirit.

Notes:

107 “Pontius Pilate was the Roman Procurator from 26 to 36 A.D.. He resided ordinarily in Caesarea, but during the feasts was accustomed to be present in Jerusalem, so as to quickly suppress any disorder. He was born in Seville, Spain, was twice married, having abandoned his first wife to marry Claudia, the daughter of Julia, the prostitute daughter of the Emperor Augustus. After a checkered political career as procurator, he was banished by Caligula on account of his cruelty and inability to maintain order, to Vienne, Gaul, and at Mount Pilatus he ended his life by suicide. He was a typical Roman—stern and practical. He had a contempt for religious superstitions and traditions, and an imperious desire to rule with a high hand, compelling obedience. He had not tactfully managed his government, and soon became odious to the Jews and Romans. He planted his standards on the citadel on his first entry to the city, regardless of the religious feeling of the people, prohibiting all images. The people were greatly incensed at the standards, bearing the Emperor’s image, and requested their removal. Pilate at first condoned their request, and threatened them later with violence; but, with extreme persistence, the Jews won out and the Governor submitted. Later, when he would have constructed an aqueduct for supplying the city with water, he made the serious blunder of defraying the cost from the Temple treasury. When the people revolted, he suppressed the tumult with great cruelty. Just a short while before the trial of Jesus, he had a company of Galileans in the Temple court and mingling their blood with their sacrifices, a thing which sent a shudder of religious superstition and horror through the whole nation.” J. W. Shepard, The Christ of the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. [photolithoprinted], 1971), pp. 582-583.

108 According to Mark’s account (15:25), Jesus was put to death at 9:00 a.m. This would mean that the judicial proceedings must have begun quite early that morning. Mark also begins the account of Jesus’ trial before Pilate by telling the reader that the Sanhedrin reached their verdict that Jesus was guilty “very early in the morning” (15:1), and then he immediately moves on to say that they bound Jesus and led Him away, taking Him to Pilate. The inference here as well is that Pilate was disturbed early in the morning to pronounce Jesus guilty so as to crucify Him before the day is far along. John’s Gospel tells us clearly that Jesus was led to the palace of the governor in the early morning (John 18:28).

109 John tells us in his gospel that a fair bit more took place before Pilate inquired of our Lord as to whether or not He was “the king of the Jews.” He informs us of the Jews’ hope that Pilate would simply take their word for the fact that Jesus was guilty of whatever crimes they were to indicate (John 18:29-32). Pilate wanted specific charges and evidence that these were true. I think that he had too much experience with these folks to give them too much latitude. He did, however, invite them to proceed on their own, judging Jesus by their own laws. Then, they had to admit that they could not do so because they did not have the authority to utilize capital punishment.

110 The Jerusalem Bible renders this, “inciting our people to revolt.”

111 It is generally agreed that the Jews had lost the freedom to carry out capital punishment some 40 years before this. Nonetheless, they did, as in the case of Stephen (Acts 7), execute people at times, taking their chances with the state by doing so without prior permission. There were times in Jesus’ life when they would have killed Jesus, if they could have done so out of the sight of the crowds (e.g. John 7:19, 25, 30). But now, I think they sought the approval of Rome, not so much out of concern that they would incur its wrath for executing Jesus without permission, but that this was the justification with the crowds for His death. Let Rome take the heat for Christ’s death.

112 Acts 18:12-17 is a parallel text, which shows that Roman officials had no intention in getting involved in the “in fightings” of Judaism.

113 It is my understanding, for example, that Pilate normally resided in Caesarea, but because this was the season of the Passover, he had temporarily stationed himself in Jerusalem, since this was both the most likely time and place for a revolt to occur.

114 The Jerusalem Bible renders it, “I find no case against this man.”

115 There are a number of “Herods” in the New Testament, so that we can easily confuse one with another. Herod the Great was the Herod who sought to kill the baby Jesus, who is the villain of Matthew chapter 2. He died in 4 B.C. He had three sons. Archelaus, the oldest, succeeded his father in ruling over Palestine (cf. Matthew 2:22). It was Herod Antipas, the younger brother of Archelaus, who ruled over Galilee during the lives and ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus. Herod Philip was tetrarch of Ituraea and Trachonitis, whose wife Herodias, left him to elope with Herod Antipas. Herod Agrippa I was the “Herod” of Acts chapter 12, who killed James, and who arrested Peter with the intention of putting him to death as well (Acts 12:1ff.).

116 We are not told precisely why the two men, Pilate and Herod, were enemies, nor are we told exactly what it was that healed this wound. We do know from Luke 13:1 that the blood of a number of Galileans had been mingled with their sacrifices in Jerusalem, by none other than Pilate. As Galilee was Herod’s territory and Jerusalem was under Pilate’s control, this was surely one source of tension between the two men. Did Herod go to Jerusalem at this time to insure the safety of other Galileans?

117 R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1985).

118 Sproul, pp. 229-230.

The Rejection of Israel's Messiah - Part III
(Luke 23:26-49)

By: Bob Deffinbaugh , Th.M.

Via Dolorosa

Luke 23:26-32 As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then “‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!” ‘ 31 For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” 32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.

The Crucifixion of Christ 
(23:33-49)

33 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” 38 There was a written notice above him, which read: This is the King of the Jews. 39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” 44 It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. 47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” 48 When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. 49 But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

Introduction

People never cease to amaze me. One area of fascination, to me at least, is the way in which people view themselves and God. There are those (few) who say there is no God, but these are few I think. The majority of folks believe there is a God, and yet find a way to avoid Jesus Christ as either Savior or Lord. If some of these folks were honest, they would say they have rejected the claims of Christ, not because He claimed to be God and not because He was not God. Their reason, I think, would be because they believe that man is not nearly as bad as God’s Word says, nor is God is not nearly as good as His Word says. Put even more crassly, they would say that man is kind, compassionate, and good, while God is cruel and evil.

While few would be so blunt, many really believe this. The goodness of man is a “doctrine” taught in every corner. It is taught in the liberal seminaries and institutions of higher learning. It is popularly (and how popular it is) taught in the media. It is said that man may, from time to time, deviate from his intrinsic goodness, but this may be explained by a bad background, or a bad environment, and certainly by bad institutions. God, on the other hand, has a lot of explaining to do. If God is both good, and powerful, and all-knowing, then why is there so much suffering to be seen, and much of it happening to the innocent? What of the heathen in Africa who are destined to hell, yet have never heard the name of Christ or of Christianity? What of the children who die cruelly at the hand of disease, war, or abuse?

No, many will have nothing to do with a God who fails to “rise” to the level of their expectations and demands. “If that is the kind of God who is there,” they would tell us, “then I don’t want anything to do with Him.” They would rather eternally protest in hell, with other good folks, than to live in heaven with God, and with hypocritical saints.

This kind of thinking is not only popular—whenever men are honest enough to admit to it—but it is also dead wrong. When we come to the crucifixion of our Lord, all would have to admit that this is, without question, the worst moment in the life of our Lord. We all justify our own unacceptable actions by saying that, “it was a bad time for me” or something similar. Surely, if there was ever a “bad time” for Jesus, when acting out of character would have been understandable, it would have been at this point in His life. And yet what we will find is that even at this moment, Jesus continued to act fully “in character.” This incident, on the road to Calvary, and then at the sight of the crucifixion itself, reveals both God and man as they truly are. It exposes man as incredibly cruel, and God as amazingly kind and compassionate. It is man who is evil, and God who is good, not only in this text but everywhere in the Bible, and throughout all of life as well. Let us look at our text with this in focus.

The Structure of our Text

The events surrounding the death of our Lord, as described by Luke, fall into several distinct sections. The first of these is the via dolorosa, the way to the cross, described in verses 26-32. The second is the actual crucifixion scene, the events surrounding the execution of our Lord, taking place on Calvary, in verses 33-43. The final section, in verses 44-49, is the account of the death of our Lord, along with Luke’s description of the impact of these events on some of those who witnessed it—namely, the centurion, the crowd, and the women who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee.

Our Approach

The approach of this lesson will be to consider the crucifixion of Christ, as described by Luke, in more than one lesson. In this lesson, we will consider verses 26-43, with a focus on the cruelty of men and on the kindness of God in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. In our next lesson, we will study verses 33-49, with the focus on the change which Calvary brought in the lives of many of those who witnessed this incredible event. The lives of all who were present would never be the same from this point onward.

Characteristics of Luke’s
Account of the Crucifixion

Before we begin our study of some of the particulars of the passage, let us take a step backward, characterizing the account as a whole, particularly in comparison to the parallel accounts found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John.

First, Luke’s account is one that is obtained second-hand, from witnesses who personally saw what took place. From all that we know, Luke was not a personal disciple of Jesus, and not an “apostle” in any sense that the 12 were. Luke was a man who traveled with Paul (cf. the “we” passages in Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-16; 21:1-18; 27:1—28:16), and who was probably greatly impacted by his life and ministry. It would seem that Luke had a fair bit of contact with the personal witnesses to these events in the life of our Lord, and that his account in Luke is the result of research he did over a period of time. He may well have recognized the need for a gospel account that was geared to Gentile saints during his ministry with Paul, and set his hand to the task, inspired by the Holy Spirit as he did so. Having said all this, we should realize that Matthew and John were witnesses (John alone stayed close to the Lord, to provide the great detail of Christ’s trials and crucifixion), and Mark’s account may be largely gained through Peter.

Second, Luke’s account is selective. Luke’s account of the trials, crucifixion, and death of Jesus leaves out much that has been reported elsewhere, in the parallel accounts. Luke, unlike the other gospel writers, does not often seek to emphasize the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, 119 simply because, I believe, these were not well-known to the Gentile audience that he was addressing.

Third, Luke’s account is unique, making contributions omitted in the other accounts. In this study and the next, we will be looking at three incidents which are not reported elsewhere in the gospels:

(1) The account of the words of Jesus to the “Women of Jerusalem,” vv. 27-31.

(2) The account of the conversion of the thief on the cross, vv. 38-43.

(3) The words of our Lord, “Father, forgive them, … in verse 34.

As we study the account of our Lord’s death according to Luke’s gospel, we shall endeavor to be aware of what other gospel writers have written, and yet to focus on that which Luke has recorded, and on the unique message which the Spirit of God intended to communicate through this book.

The Via Dolorosa: 
On the Way to the Cross 
(23:26-32)

26 As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then “‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!” ‘ 31 For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” 32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.

There are two major incidents described in Luke’s gospel, both of which occurred on the way to Calvary.120 The first was the commandeering of Simon of Cyrene. The second was Jesus’ response to the wailing “women of Jerusalem,” with regard to the danger which lay ahead for them as a part of the generation which rejected Him. The incidents, at first glance, seem unrelated, but they are not. These two incidents are both prophetic of the unpleasant “things to come” for the nation Israel, and specifically for those who lived in Jerusalem.

A very large crowd followed Jesus out of the city of Jerusalem, as He made His way to “Calvary,” the place of His execution. While we do not know for certain where Calvary was, we would at least be safe in concluding that it was outside the city. Thus, Jesus, followed by a large crowd, a crowd no smaller than that which is described as being in Jerusalem at Pentecost, after our Lord’s death and resurrection:

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven … Parthians, Medes and Elamites; resident of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Lybya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs … (Acts 2:5, 9-11a).

Thus, it is not far from the facts to say that this crowd must have, to a fair degree, represented the whole world.

As Jesus, bearing His cross, and the large crowd which followed, made their way out of the city of Jerusalem, there was at least one man going in the opposite direction. Simon was coming into the city from the country, Luke tells us, and thus he may have passed by Jesus just at the time when He collapsed beneath the burden of His cross. He was greatly weakened by His agonizing hours in the garden at Gethsemane (where he sweat, as it were, great drops of blood), and by His numerous beatings, handed out during the night of His arrest (Luke 22:63-65), at the palace of Herod (23:11), and by Pilate, at least once (Luke 23:16,22; cf. Matthew 27:27-31; Mark 15:16-20).

We do not know a great deal about Simon. He was from Cyrene, a city in Africa (cf. Acts 2:10; 6:9) founded by the Greeks, but with a fairly large Jewish population. He was, according to Mark’s account, the father of Alexander and Rufus (15:21). By inference, we might conclude that this man, along with his sons, came to faith in Christ, perhaps as a direct result of this incident described by Luke. But this is not the point which Luke wants to get across. Luke’s words tell us very little, but they tell us enough to prove his point. Simon was an “innocent by-stander,” so far as the rejection and crucifixion of Christ was concerned. He was a man from another place, a faraway place, and he was not in Jerusalem; he was heading to it, from the country. He was as removed from the rejection of Jesus as was possible. And yet this man was the one who was made to carry the cross of our Lord the rest of the way to Calvary. Suffice it to say, at this point, that it was the Roman soldiers who commandeered this man, Simon, and who forced him to go in the opposite direction, with his burden being the cross of another man, a man whom he may never have seen before. The primary reason for the inclusion of this story is yet to be seen.

The second incident on the way to the cross involved a large crowd of people who followed Jesus to His place of execution. It is not, however, the large crowd that is in focus. Our Lord looked not at the over-all crowd, but to a small segment of it—those women from Jerusalem (not the Galilean women who had followed Him to Jerusalem, cf. 23:49) who came along, wailing and mourning for Jesus. Had Barabbas been crucified that day, as he should have been, there would have been a very small party of mourners indeed. Most of Jerusalem would have celebrated his death—good riddance. Only his mother, and perhaps a very few other family members would have mourned that man’s death. But with Jesus there were many more mourners. The reason for their mourning seems to be their knowledge that Jesus was to die, but that He was innocent, indeed, righteous.

Jesus turned to these mourning women with words that must have caught them off guard. He told them not to weep for Him, but for themselves and for their children. The tragedy to which Jesus was referring was that which had caused Him to weep as He had entered Jerusalem at His “triumphal entry”:

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you” (Luke 19:41-44).

The future destruction of Jerusalem, which caused Jesus to weep as He entered that city, was the same destruction over which the women of Jerusalem were now told to weep. These women should not mourn so much over Jesus’ death (after all, it would be the cause of their salvation), but they should mourn over that destruction which would take such a terrible toll on them and on their children. Looking back, we know that the destruction was that brought on the city and its inhabitants by Titus, the commander of the Roman army which sacked the city and executed thousands (or more) of the people.

At the time of the writing of this gospel, Luke himself did not know the particulars because this was, in his day, still prophecy. The gospel of Luke was written approximately ten years before the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus and his Roman army. In the providence of God, these words were recorded, words which spoke of the coming destruction of Jerusalem several years ahead of the event. These words of Jesus, pertaining to the downfall of Jerusalem, were prophetic, even from Luke’s point of view, at the time of his writing. Luke had not yet seen these words fulfilled. He did not know exactly how God would bring their fulfillment to pass. But they were a prophecy, given to the Gentiles, pertaining to God’s use of a Gentile army to punish this wicked generation for rejecting the Messiah. The impact of Luke’s gospel may well have been intensified by the fulfillment of Jesus’ words here. The Gentile readers should have been humbled by the realization that the sovereign God of the Bible, the God of Israel, could use a disobedient and wicked Gentile world power to accomplish His purpose, as a divine chastening rod, though not for the first time, mind you (cf. Habakkuk 1).

What then was Jesus telling these women, and why did Luke include this episode when no other gospel writer chose to do so? In order to grasp what Jesus was saying, we must understand the change in the pronouns as the text develops. Look at the text again, giving special attention to the underscored words:

27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when [they] 121 will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then “‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!” ‘ 122 31 For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

The first group Jesus referred to in verses 27-28 is the “you group.” Jesus spoke to the “women of Jerusalem” as “you.” They were not to weep for Him, but for themselves and for their children. The tragedy is not that which Jesus was experiencing, but that which these women and their children were yet to undergo. The next group is the “they group,” referred to in verses 29-30. This is a reference to men more generally, especially those who would be living in Jerusalem at the time of the tragedy. Things will be so bad that child-bearing, normally a blessing to women (with barrenness being a curse), will be considered a curse. Better not to be a mother, than to be a mother at this future time, Jesus said.

The last group, referred to in verse 31, is “another ‘they’ group,” which this translation renders “men.” The reference to this group is the key to understanding this entire section. The “men” to whom Jesus was referring is clearly (in my opinion) the Roman army which is to come to Jerusalem, to sack it, and to bring great suffering to the city, especially to the women and children.

Jesus’ reference to the two trees in verse 31, the “green tree” and the “dry tree” is puzzling to some. I do not see this as a technical reference to the terminology of the Old Testament, such as Ezekiel 17:24. The Gentile audience to whom Luke is writing would not be familiar, I suspect, with such “in house” terminology of the Old Testament saint or the Jew of that day. I believe we will understand Jesus’ words once we have decided on the identity of the “men” to whom He refers, on what these “men” do, and on what the difference is between a green tree and a dry one.

The analogy is a simple one, I believe. The “men” are the Roman soldiers. Jesus is saying, in context, “If the Roman army will deal with me in this way now, what will they do to you, then?” That which the Roman army is doing is unjustly and cruelly killing an innocent (indeed, a righteous) man. If they will crucify a righteous man now, what will they do then? What s the difference between “now” and “then”? It is the difference between “greenness” and “dryness.” A tree is alive and vital when it has life; when that life is absent, the tree is dead. A growing tree (especially in some parts of the world, including Israel) is something of great value, something which is treated tenderly. A dead, lifeless, “dry” tree is not prized, but is used for fuel—it is fit only for the fire. Jerusalem’s “greenness” is the presence of her God. Her “dryness” is the absence of God. Jesus is therefore saying, “If, when the Messiah, the very Son of God, is in your fair city, and the Roman army deals with Me as such, what do you think your destiny will be in My absence, when Jerusalem is abandoned by God, and fit only for the fire of destruction?”

It is now time to go back to verse 26, for here is where the thought of our Lord (and Luke) originates. Who was it that commandeered Simon of Cyrene to stop his journey, to forsake his plans, to take up Jesus’ cross, 123 and to go in the opposite direction. It was the Roman army which compelled Simon to do so. It was an act of cruelty. 124 This was but a small taste of what was to come. While crucifixion was not a Jewish means of executing men, nor was it all that common at the time of our Lord’s death, crucifixion would be the rule of the day when the Romans came to sack the city of Jerusalem. It is said that thousands were crucified, at least, and that there was a shortage of crosses and of wood to build them, due to the demand. What was happening to Jesus was, indeed, the tip of the iceberg.

And then, there were the women of Jerusalem. Would they weep because the Roman army had been persuaded to condemn the Christ and to crucify Him? This was nothing, comparatively speaking (from their point of view), to what the Roman army was going to do in the days to come. This army, fed up with the rebellion of this nation, was going to take out its frustration and vengeance on the people. Those who would be especially victimized would be the women and children—as is always the case in a time of war.

I think the words of Jesus do much to explain what is said to the Jews in Acts pertaining to repentance, believing in Jesus as the Christ, and being baptized as a public testimony to their faith. Peter’s preaching at Pentecost called upon his Jewish audience to be saved “from this perverse generation” (cf. Acts 2:40). That generation of Israelites who lived in Israel at the time of Jesus, and especially those who lived in Jerusalem, had a particular privilege in seeing and hearing Messiah. They also had a greater guilt for having rejected Him. The sacking of Jerusalem was to be a special judgment of God on that generation and on that city for their rejection of Jesus as God’s Messiah. We will never understand the preaching of the apostles to the people of Jerusalem at and after Pentecost until we have understood the peculiar guilt and doom which will come upon this city.

Back, however, to the point which Luke is trying to make here. There is a distinct emphasis here, which I believe the Holy Spirit was conveying through Luke’s words. Luke has been constructing this text in a way that would highlight the contrast between the cruelty of men (specifically the Roman army—in the commandeering of Simon, and, in the future “rape” of the city of Jerusalem) and the compassion of the Lord Jesus, Who thinks not of His own suffering, but of those who follow after Him, mourning. It is unbelieving men who are cruel, and it is God Who is kind, contrary to many popular misconceptions of God and man. This contrast is to be heightened in the next section, for in the events which took place at the crucifixion of our Lord the cruelty of man is emphatic and repeated, and the kindness and compassion of our Lord is so awesome, some think the very text which describes it is not a part of the original text. 125

The Cross, Man’s 
Cruelty, and God’s Compassion 
(23:33-43)

33 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” 38 There was a written notice above him, which read: This is the King of the Jews. 39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

It is my intention in the remainder of this exposition to focus on two topics, both underscored (and contrasted) in the verses above. The first is the compassion and kindness of God, and the second is the cruelty of man. Notice that Luke begins with the compassion of Christ:

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (verse 34).

There were many things spoken by dying men, hanging from their own cross, but these words were new, unheard of before. The name of God was, perhaps, frequently to be heard, but only in the form of profanity, or, at best, in a cry for help or mercy. But Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of those who were taking His life.

What was Jesus praying for here, and why was He doing so? First and foremost, I believe we should understand Jesus’ words to have a specific reference. While He had come to die for the sins of the world, so that the sins of men would be forgiven, Jesus is here praying for a specific forgiveness, as I understand it. He is praying that the sin of these people be forgiven. That is, He is praying that those who were participants in His rejection and death be forgiven of this specific sin, the sin of crucifying the very Son of God. The reason, Jesus said, was because of their ignorance. Their ignorance was also specific. It was the ignorance of who He was. They knew that He claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of God, but they did not believe Him. Had they known that this One was the only begotten Son of God, they would surely not have put Him to death, nor would they have mocked Him. They would have rejected Him, but not ridiculed Him.

I believe that Jesus’ prayer conveyed several things. Among other things, it conveyed the heart of the Son, and of the Father. It revealed the compassion of our Lord, who came to seek and to save sinners, and the Father, who sent Him. But perhaps most of all, the prayer of our Lord may have spared the city of Jerusalem from immediate destruction. We tend to focus on our Lord, and on the taunting of the people that He prove His deity by coming down from the cross. But think of the restraint of the Father. How would you feel toward this city, this people, if they were treating your son in this way? The Holy Father, to whom Jesus was praying, is the One who said to Moses on Mt. Sinai, at the sin of Israel in worshipping the golden calf,

“I have seen these people,” the LORD said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation” (Exodus 32:9-10).

If God the Father wished to destroy the nation Israel for their idolatry while Moses was on Mt. Sinai, what do you think God the Father would liked to have done to these stiff-necked Israelites (and Gentiles) who were mocking His Son and who were putting Him to death? I think Jesus’ prayer spared the lives of these people and delayed the wrath of God until after His resurrection, and after the gospel was preached to them so that they would no longer be ignorant of His identity, and so that they might repent and be saved from the destruction of their own generation. The prayer of our Lord was thus answered in the salvation of many (e.g. Pentecost, Acts 2) and in the delay of God’s wrath for the rest, so that they had ample opportunity to repent and be saved.

If Luke has underscored the compassion of our Lord as evidenced by this, His statement, from the cross, he has also informed us of the incredible cruelty, which is also seen at the cross. First, we find the cruelty of the soldiers:

And they divided up his clothes by casting lots (verse 34b).

The soldiers, as can happen in such tasks, became hardened to their task and to the suffering it caused. There Jesus was, the innocent, righteous Son of God, hanging from a cross, His blood being shed for our sins. And there they were, on the ground below, rolling the dice to see who got what. They were only interested in the material gain they would receive from Jesus’ death, but they were not interested in His suffering and sorrow. They were aloof, while He was in agony. They were seeking a little gain, while He was giving up His life. How cruel!

And this was not the only cruelty of the soldiers. 126 Later, they would mock Jesus by offering Him wine vinegar:

The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself” (verses 36-37).

Kings were offered wine, but only the finest. That which was offered to Jesus was the “dregs,” the cheapest form possible. It was thus an act of mockery as the text indicates. Jesus, in the process of His mocking by the people, was given a mock scepter (a reed), a mock royal robe, a mock crown (of thorns), and a mock submission and worship. How appropriate (or at least consistent) that He should likewise be given a mock toast.

And then there were the people. Some would suggest that the people were only by-standers, and that it was only their leaders who reviled Jesus. This may be so, technically, but I am convinced the people’s idle curiosity was culpable. The word “even” in verse 35 seems to link, in some way, the sins of the people with those of their leaders. These people, by their presence, were participating in this cruel and evil execution of Christ. They were as cruel in their curiosity as the “rubber-neckers” are as they pass by an accident, looking to see how great the damages or injuries were.

Then there was the exceeding cruelty of the religious leaders (verse 35). How “out of character” they were, railing at Jesus, mocking Him, and daring Him to come down. Nearly always, at executions, the clergy is present, but with a view to ministering to the one being put to death. Not so here. They were adding to His suffering, not seeking to minister to him.

Even Pilate, in absentia, was adding to the cruelty of the moment. He had not only found this innocent man guilty and beaten Him, He had sanctioned His execution. He may not have been present, but none of this could have happened without his permission, and thus, his participation. Pilate’s participation and his cruelty were symbolized by the sign which hung above the head of Jesus, which, in mockery, titled Him, “King of the Jews.”

Conclusion

There were many forms which the rejection of Jesus took, as seen there at the cross of Christ, but all of them were cruel. They all had this in common. And they had other elements in common as well. They all rejected Christ as what He Himself claimed to be, the “King of the Jews,” the “Messiah,” the “Son of God.” They rejected Jesus as what He claimed to be. And this rejection was not based on the fact that Jesus was guilty of any sin, or even of any crime, but rather of failing to meet men’s expectations of how Messiah, should—indeed, how Messiah must—perform in order to be accepted. All of those present at the cross who rejected Jesus insisted that if He were the Messiah, He should first of all save Himself. What they failed to grasp was that the only way He could save others was not by saving Himself, but by giving up His life, as the once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of men. He was innocent, but He died in the sinner’s place, so that the sinner might be forgiven. Jesus may not have acted in accordance with men’s expectations or demands, but He did act in the only way possible to save sinners, by His substitutionary death, in the place of the sinner, bearing his, or her, punishment.

Of what then was Christ guilty? He was not guilty of cruelty; the people were guilty of this. Jesus was “guilty” of compassion. He was guilty of being both God and God-like. Cruel men, who regard themselves to be good, must likewise regard kindness to be evil. From the very outset of Jesus’ ministry, one of the first and strongest protests against His practice and preaching was that it was marked by compassion. He came to seek and to save sinners, and the “righteous” did not like it at all. He associated with the unworthy, and the “worthy” did not appreciate it. In the final analysis, men reject Jesus because He is good, because He is kind and compassionate, and because we are evil and cruel. If the cross of Christ revealed anything about man and about God it was this: Men are incredibly cruel; God is unfathomably compassionate.

What then of those who say they reject God and His salvation, because God is really cruel, while man is really kind? They are ignorant. More than this, they are blinded—blinded by Satan, who keeps men from seeing things as they are, and thus justifying their own sin, they pave the way for their own destruction (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4). It is only as the Spirit of God enlightens the minds of lost men, and as He quickens them to repent of their sin and to believe on the sinless Son of God and to accept His compassion, that men can be saved. Have you acknowledged your cruelty, your sin—and His kindness? I urgently must tell you that the kindness of God has limits. It is limited to a period of time in which men are given the opportunity to repent and to believe. And then, it will consummate in the wrath of God, such as that of which Jesus spoke to the women of Jerusalem, such as that which God brought on Jerusalem through the wrath of the sinful Roman army. The final outpouring of God’s wrath is yet to come, and it will be experienced by men for all eternity, if they reject the salvation which Christ made possible on the cross of Calvary. May you receive it today.

Notes:

119 For example, in Luke 23:34, the NASB renders the following words, all in caps: “AND THEY CAST LOTS, DIVIDING UP HIS GARMENTS AMONG THEMSELVES.” In John 19:24, the same reference is found, but introduced with the words, “that the Scripture might be fulfilled, … ”

John sought to show that what happened was the fulfillment of prophecy. While Luke may intend for those who are aware of the prophecy to be aware of its fulfillment, I believe his principle purpose is to focus on this event as an evidence of the cruelty and lack of compassion on the part of the soldiers.

120 It has been pointed out that the term, “the skull,” in Latin, = calvaria, from which we get the word “Calvary.”

121 Unfortunately, the translators of the NIV departed from the original text, which clearly indicates that the rendering here should not be “you” (NIV), but “they” (NASB, King James Version, Amplified). The Jerusalem Bible perhaps best catches the sense by rendering it “people”:

“For the days will surely come when people will say, ‘Happy are those who are barren, the wombs that have never borne, the breasts that have never suckled!”

122 Cf. Hosea 10:8; Revelation 6:16.

123 It is utterly incredible to me that some commentators would refer to Simon of Cyrene as a “model of discipleship.” Jesus urged men to take up their own cross voluntarily, and to follow Him. Simon was no volunteer, and the cross was not Simon’s, but that of our Lord. He may have become a believer, and a disciple, but at the beginning he is a mock-disciple, the opposite of what our Lord advocated.

124 Those who would look on Simon as a “model disciple” have to water down the words which speak of his being forced into labor, which undermines the very point which Luke and our Lord were attempting to emphasize.

125 Liberal scholars are inclined to reject the originality of verse 34 on the basis of the fact that it is not recorded in the parallel accounts, and because some texts omit it. The fact that some texts omit these words, and that some scholars reject them is but a testimony to the fact that God’s thoughts and ways are vastly beyond our own, so that what Jesus does sounds so foreign to man’s ears we are tempted to reject it as non-authentic. What a commentary on both man and on God.

126 I am not certain that the “soldiers” mentioned in verse 34 are the same “soldiers” mentioned in verse 36. There were four soldiers actually carrying out the execution of the Lord Jesus, and these were those dividing the clothing of our Lord. But there would have been many other soldiers present, at least to keep order at such a potentially explosive occasion. Thus, the second group of soldiers, who offered Jesus the vinegar-wine, could have been a different group, but not necessarily so.

 

The Rejection of Israel's Messiah - Part IV
(Luke 23:26-49)

By: Bob Deffinbaugh , Th.M.

26 As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then “‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!” ‘ 31 For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” 32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” 38 There was a written notice above him, which read: This is the King of the Jews. 39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” 44 It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. 47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” 48 When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. 49 But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

Introduction

Things do not always work out the way we plan them. I remember our first (and last) family camping trip as a boy. My parents took us on a trip to Montana. Glacier National Park was beautiful. The lofty, snow-capped mountains were spectacular, accented with deep ice-blue lakes, sometimes with an island in the center. We reached our camp sight with great optimism and expectation. The day was beautiful. The tent went up nicely. The family stood smiling in front of the tent, with the mountains as the background, all framed in a blue sky, with a few puffs of clouds for contrast. I took the picture. We have come to call that picture, “the lull before the storm.”

It was a glorious conclusion to a wonderful day. In a while, we ate our picnic dinner, and then when it got dark we all climbed into our sleeping bags. Granted, the ground was a little hard, and we had to move about so that a protruding stone was not in the center of our back. No one told us about the mountain storms, however, nor did we think about the direction from which the wind (and the rain) would come, or the slight dip in the ground where we had erected our tent. These factors soon became very important.

It was a little later when the thunder and the lightning began. It was not until the rains began to fall heavily that the real concern began. Somewhere in this time frame, my brother began to sing “Jesus Loves Me” quite loudly. The tent leaked, as I guess all tents do in heavy rains, and this was not helped by the fact that the tent door was facing the wind and the torrent of rain. We still determined to weather the storm, until we discovered that the tent was beginning to fill with water. The little “hollow” that seemed like such a nice spot for a tent filled with the runoff, so that an inch or two of water had filled the tent and swamped our sleeping bags before we determined we had to give it all up.

The storm continued as we tried to break camp. We did not try to do anything in an orderly fashion. We collapsed the tent, wadded up the sleeping bags, and stuffed the entire muddy mess into the trunk of the car. On one of the last trips to the car, which was also parked in a little hollow, my brother slipped in the mud and slid most of the way under the car, and into the puddle beneath it, thoroughly soaking himself. We plucked him from beneath the car, climbed in amidst some of the camping gear, which would not fit in the trunk, and drove on to a very welcomed motel.

Things don’t always work out the way we expect. And so it was with the crucifixion of Jesus. This was not the Jewish way of executing people, but the Romans used it with some degree of regularity. It served to make a public example of those who chose to ignore or to actively resist the laws of Rome. The event had become a social event, at which a crowd would gather to watch. With crucifixions, as with other events, there developed a rather predictable routine. A new-comer to a crucifixion could quickly be “brought up to speed” as to what would happen, in what sequence, and at about what time. Allow me to begin our lesson by attempting to describe the event, somewhat in 20th century Western terms, so that we can identify with the event in a general way. We will then attempt to demonstrate that this execution did not at all go as planned, and the impact which this had on many of those present, and, in particular, on the thief, for whom his execution became the time of his conversion, and the commencement of eternal life.

The Crucifixion, 
Twentieth Century Style

Imagine with me that the crucifixion of our Lord were taking place in our day and time. Given the popularity of Jesus, His execution would probably be given national news coverage. I suppose that the crucifixion would be handled something like the launching of the last space shuttle, Discovery. Television coverage of our Lord’s last week in Jerusalem would have been extensive. On the night of Jesus’ arrest, programming would have been interrupted to announce that Jesus had been taken into custody. Reports from the trials of our Lord would have been given as events progressed and as the location of Jesus shifted. Coverage in the early hours of the morning would have included the trial before Pilate and Herod.

Mobile cameras would have captured the agonizing journey from the palace of Pilate to Calvary, the sight of the crucifixion. I can imagine that there would have been an interview with some Roman official, in charge of executions, telling precisely how and when the crucifixion would take place. The execution, he would have said, was scheduled for 9:00 that morning. In light of the religious holiday, the Passover, there would be a special effort to conclude matters by no later than 3:00 P.M. For humanitarian reasons, those scheduled to die would be given a wine, mixed with a pain-dulling drug, making the ordeal less torturous. A medical expert might then be interviewed, who would describe the actual process of death, ending with the necessity of breaking the legs of the felons, so that their deaths might be expedited. By the time the execution was under way, the viewing public would have a mental picture of the sequence of events about to unfold before them. Some details might change, such as the exact time of death, but by and large everyone knows what is going to happen.

During the grueling 6 hour long process, file footage of coverage of Jesus’ life would be played to fill the gaps in time and to keep the audience interested. Interviews with various individuals would be done, some live, and others taped: individuals who had been healed or helped by Jesus, none of the disciples, as they were “unavailable for comment,” one of the arresting officials, the chief priest, a member of the Sanhedrin, members of the family (if available). A few details would be given about the other two criminals, and perhaps brief coverage on Barabbas, maybe even an interview. The whole thing would seem to be routine, under control.

The Sequence of Events at Calvary

The sequence of events is not always clear, and Luke leaves out a number of unusual and significant phenomena, 127 so that we cannot tell for certain the exact order of events that actually occurred. Generally speaking, however, the events appear to have happened something like this:

           0.                                The victims were nailed to their crosses, which were raised and fixed in position

           0.                                Either prior to this or shortly after drugged wine was given to deaden the pain

           0.                                The clothing of Jesus was divided among the four soldiers, by lot

           0.                                Railing accusations and mocking occurred throughout the ordeal—the crowd somehow seems to file or pass by the cross

           0.                                Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive them … ”

           0.                                The criminals joined in reviling Christ

           0.                                The thief on the cross came to faith in Jesus as his Messiah

           0.                                Darkness falls over the scene, from 6th hour (noon) till 9th hour (3:00).

           0.                                Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why has thou forsaken Me?” (Matthew, Mark)

           0.                                Jesus said, “I thirst” (John), drank a sip of vinegar

           0.                                Jesus said, “It is finished” (John)

           0.                                Jesus bowed His head and said, “Father, into your hands, … ” and died

           0.                                Immediately, the curtain of temple torn in two, top to bottom (Luke)

           0.                                Earthquake and the raising of dead saints (Matthew)

           0.                                Legs of other two were broken, but Jesus’ legs not broken, seeing He was already dead (John)

           0.                                Soldier pierced Jesus’ side with a spear—blood and water gushed out (John)

           0.                                Centurion (and the other soldiers) who witnessed it said, “Surely this was son of God”

           0.                                The crowds left, beating their breasts, while the Galilean followers stay on, watching from distance

 

A Departure from the Normal

The unusual events seem to begin with the statement of Jesus (recorded only by Luke), “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (verse 34). This would have taken many by surprise. God’s name was a very frequent word on the lips of the accused, no doubt. For some, it would have been in the form of profanity. For others, there may even have been a petition for mercy or death. But on the lips of the Savior, it was an expression of His own forgiveness, and a petition for the forgiveness of the Father. Now this was something new.

I can see the television commentators picking up on this, in our twentieth century setting. “What do you suppose he meant by that statement?” the commentator would have queried. “Let’s replay the tape, to make sure we got the words right.” This could have led to a fairly extensive discussion on “forgiveness” in the vocabulary and teaching of Jesus, throughout His public ministry.

The television camera now slides down the cross, zooming in on the soldiers, who are dividing up the garments of the Savior. Did they divide the garments of the other two? Why were Jesus’ garments so desirable? Were they nice enough for a soldier to want them for himself? Were they a souvenir? The incident served to show that prophecy was fulfilled (in the other gospels), but for Luke it was an evidence of the callousness of the soldiers, and their indifference the this man from Galilee. That, too, will change, and soon.

The change is evident in the responses of many of those who observed the death of the Son of God. The soldiers, who had little regard for Jesus (certainly for His suffering) at first, and who later joined in mocking him, had a change of heart (as reported by Matthew 27:54). The centurion, according to Luke, declared the innocence and the righteousness of Jesus (23:47), while in Matthew and Mark His deity is also affirmed (Matthew 27:54; Mark 15:39). These hardened soldiers had a very distinct and unusual change of heart toward Jesus.

The crowd, too, went away different from the way that they came, and even from the way they had been midway through the crucifixion. While they stood by passively at first (Luke 23:35), they later seemed to get into the reviling themselves (Matthew 27:39-40; Mark 15:29-30). But when the whole event was over, the crowd left, silent, sobered, and deeply disturbed—beating their breasts (Luke 23:48).

The Conversion of 
the Thief on the Cross

No change, however, was more dramatic than that of the thief, who hung beside the Savior, who came to faith in Him while both hung dying on their own crosses. I am convinced that no one left the scene of the cross of Jesus the same that day, but no change was so dramatic or so exciting as that which happened to the thief who hung beside the Savior. I wish to focus, as Luke alone does, on his conversion. It is indeed a remarkable event. Let’s read the account again:

32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left … 128 39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 129 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” 130

Luke’s account of the conversion of the thief on the cross is unique, and it is also very significant. It serves as a crucial turning point in the crucifixion of Jesus. There was a period of time, early in the crucifixion, where opposition to Jesus appears to have built up. In verse 34 of Luke’s account, the soldiers are indifferent to Jesus’ suffering. They care only about His clothing. In Matthew 27:36, this writer tells us that the soldiers sat down, keeping watch over Jesus. Jesus’ lack of aggressiveness, of verbal rebuttal, and of forgiveness, may well have struck them as a sign of weakness. The crowd, too, was miffed by Jesus’ inactivity. Some actually expected to see a miracle, or at least thought it possible (cf. Matthew 27:49; Mark 15:36). As time went on, everyone seemed to get more abusive of Jesus. The crowd seemed to get up its courage (cf. Matthew 27:39-40; Mark 15:29-30). The soldiers also joined in (Luke 23:36). The conversion of the thief is a turning point for Luke. From this point on, all railing and mocking stops. The supernatural phenomena immediately commence in Luke’s account, beginning with the 3 hour period of darkness (Luke 23:44), the tearing of the temple veil (23:45), followed later by an earthquake and the raising of the dead (only indirectly referred to by Luke, cf. 23:47-48).

The conversion of the thief cannot be questioned. It was a genuine conversion, indicated by Jesus’ strong words of assurance and hope: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (23:43). It was not, as some might conceive of it, a kind of second-class conversion, allowing for much error or misunderstanding, based upon the shortness of time and the crisis at hand. Notice with me some of the characteristics of this conversion:

Characteristics of the Thief’s Conversion

(1) The thief was thoroughly and genuinely converted. Jesus assured him that on that very day he would be with Him in paradise. The others who witnessed the death of Christ were changed, never the same, but they only came to a point of fear at this point in time, not the faith of this thief.

(2) Initially, the thief joined in with the railing of the others against Jesus.

(3) The thief spoke to Jesus, requesting salvation, before any of the miraculous signs and wonders which were to follow.

(4) The thief believed in Jesus, in the midst of the rejection and railing of others, at a time when no one was showing faith in him. He was moving against the grain of the moment, out of step with the crowd.

(5) It was in response to the scoffing of the other thief that this man’s faith was evidenced. He spoke first to the thief, and then to Jesus.

(6) The second thief rebuked the first for not “fearing God.” This was at least a recognition of Jesus’ innocence, but also appears to be a recognition of the deity of Jesus. He was speaking to God in such an irreverent manner.

(7) To the thief, Jesus was not merely innocent, He was who He claimed to be, the Messiah, and thus the key to entering into the kingdom of God. It is this kingdom into which the thief asked Jesus to enable him to enter into.

(8) The thief recognized, as Jesus had told Pilate, that His kingdom was not of this world. Thus, the thief and Jesus could both die, and yet enter into it.

(9) The thief saw that his own salvation did not require Jesus coming down from the cross, saving Himself, or getting him off of the cross.

(10) This thief recognized his own sin, and that he was deserving of death.

(11) The thief requested Jesus’ mercy on the basis of His grace, offering nothing in return.

(12) This man had some kind of resurrection faith—believed in an afterlife, for he was about to die—a kind of resurrection faith.

The thief seems to have come to a point of seeing what he already believed in a different light, and of acting upon it. I do not think that the thief ever thought of Jesus as a guilty man. Even the reviling of the other thief is expressed in such a way that we are encouraged to think he believed Jesus might be the Messiah. His words, “Aren’t you the Christ?” imply (in the original text) that He was the Messiah. But now, suddenly, the thief looks at what he believed differently.

There are those who have noted and capitalized on the fact that this thief was not baptized, but may I suggest that he fulfilled the essence of even this commandment. The purpose of baptism was to make a public profession of faith, to disassociate with that unbelieving generation (from the standpoint of those Jews living in that generation), and to publicly associate with Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection. What this man said was surely witnessed by more Jews of his day than of those who would later be baptized as a public profession of faith. Even in this matter, the thief is a model (if there can and should be such a thing) of conversion.

Let us not pass by this conversion without noting several essential ingredients. First, there is the recognition of one’s personal sin, and of his deserving of death, of divine wrath. Second, there is the recognition that Jesus is precisely who He claimed to be, the sinless Son of God, Israel’s Messiah, the only way by which men can enter into the kingdom of God. Third, a belief that Christ’s kingdom lies beyond the grave, and that resurrection will enable us to be enter into it. Fourth, a belief in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which prompted Him to die in our place, to provide a salvation for the worst of sinners, which is not merited or earned, but which is achieved in accordance with grace alone. A simple trust in Jesus for forgiveness and eternal life, by virtue of what He has done.

How Did It Happen?

We have given considerable thought to what happened at the conversion of this thief, but how did it happen? What was the trigger? What was it that changed this man from a scoffer to a saint, from a hell-bent heathen to a heaven-bound believer? I have looked long and hard for an explanation in the text, for a key, but I have not found one. I have since concluded that there is no key, there is no process outlined, which we are encouraged to follow. In answer to the question, “What changed this man’s attitude toward Christ?” the answer must be, “Luke didn’t tell us.”

In John’s gospel, Jesus told Nicodemus that the process of being born again is a mysterious working of the Holy Spirit. While the results of the Holy Spirit’s word are evident, the process is not seen by the eye. The final answer to the question, “What changed the heart of the thief?” is simply this, “God did!” We know not how. We need not know how. Indeed, we cannot even tell how it was that our heats were opened. We can only say, as Luke writes of Lydia, “The Lord opened her heart to believe … ” (Acts 16:14). So it is for all who believe. Salvation is not only the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit, it is His secret work.

The one thing which seems obvious in the conversion of the thief is this: While the thief knew, from the beginning that the Lord Jesus was innocent, and that His death was not deserved, it was at the point of his conversion that he can to understand that Jesus’ death was in order to save such as him. The crowds had not caught the point. All who railed at Jesus had the same basic premise: If Jesus was to save men, He must first save Himself. The thief now understood that in order to save men, Jesus had to sacrifice Himself for their sins. His death was not the destruction of His promises to save men but the means of it. It was this that the Spirit of God somehow made clear to the thief. It was faith in the substitutionary death of Christ which saved him, like it can be for any who believes.

Conclusion

There are a number of lessons to be learned from our text. The first is this: God is sovereign in salvation. It is not men who open their hearts God-ward, it is God who opens the hearts of men. He is the Savior. There is no method, no mechanical system, which can be relied upon to draw men to Christ. All that we can do is to proclaim the gospel and pray that His Spirit will open the hearts of those He has chosen.

Second, while it God who sovereignly opens the hearts of men, to save them, He never turns one who comes to Him in faith away. Some have argued that if it is God who opens men’s hearts, it is futile for any man to seek God. Notice that in our text the Lord Jesus did not “witness” to the thief, and then invite him to come to salvation. The thief turned to Jesus and asked to be saved—and his request was granted. The Scriptures are clear that all who come to Him in faith are received and saved, for He does not turn any away who come in sincere faith (cf. Romans 10:11, 13; John 6:37).

The third lesson is this: God is not selective in the social class of those whom He saves. Of all those gathered around the cross that day, this man would not have been at the top of our list of most likely candidates. But from the very beginning Jesus was drawn to those who were sinners, as they were drawn to Him. Somehow they knew, as this thief knew, that Jesus loved men and that His desire was to save them. No one is too sinful to save. Even this man, who had moments before his conversion, reviled the Son of God, was readily forgiven his sins and assured of eternal life.

May I ask you, very pointedly, my friend. Have you believed in Jesus the way this man did? Have you come to a faith which goes beyond the facts and comes to trust in the Son of God, who died in your place, who was raised from the dead, and who now is in heaven at the side of His Father? May the Holy Spirit of God open your heart, as He did this thief. What a blessed hope! What a Savior! If God can save a sinner, condemned by man, He can and He will save you as well.

There is a final lesson which I would like to underscore from out text. In the paradox of God’s eternal methods and means, life comes to others through the death of those who proclaim it. More than anything else it was the way Christ died that shook those who witnessed this event, and which was instrumental in the conversion of the thief. Christians today often fall into the trap of wanting God to perform according to their expectations, rather than submitting to His sovereign plan and purposes, as clearly laid out in His Word. They want God to convince men of their need to be saved by proving Himself through healings, signs and wonders, and by delivering His saints (and others) from pain and suffering. It was Jesus’ death which men could not grasp. It was Jesus’ death which was God’s means of saving men. One of the most powerful signs of this or any other age is the way in which men and women of faith handle suffering, adversity, and death.

Evangelism is often heavily method-centered, and one of the compromises we have made with the world is to try to sell faith in Christ like Procter and Gamble sells soap, or like Coca Cola sells “coke,” which “adds life.” That is, we want to emphasize the “life” aspect of the gospel, and to avoid the death dimension. This simply does not square with the gospel. As Christ drank His “cup” of death on the cross of Calvary, we have our own “cups” to drink of, and we have our own crosses to take up in order to follow Christ. It is often by the giving up of our lives, figurative or literally, that is instrumental in bringing men and women to faith in Christ, as the Holy Spirit bears witness through us. That is why, I believe, the prisoners in that Philippian jail did not flee, even though their cell doors were all opened (Acts 16). They had witnessed Paul and Silas singing and praising God, just after they had been unjustly and illegally beaten and imprisoned. There is something about watching people die for their faith that carries more weight than prospering as Christians. It is often suffering more than success that God uses as His instrument for bring about His purposes in this world.

As we conclude, let me remind you of some of the texts in which death characterizes Paul’s ministry.

As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered” (Romans 8:36).

9 For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. 10 We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! 11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world (1 Corinthians 4:9-13).

29 Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? 30 And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31 I die every day—I mean that, brothers—just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:29-32).

8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. 9 Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many (2 Corinthians 1:8-11).

15 For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? (2 Corinthians 2:15-16).

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you (2 Corinthians 4:7-12).

The use of the imperfect tense in verse 39 implies that this malefactor persisted in his railings.

In the words, “Let Him save Himself (and us)” do we not see a parallel to the mentality of men in all ages? Is this not the same view which the world, and too many Christians take toward suffering? They assume that God would not tolerate or allow suffering, and especially not in the life of His beloved Son. They assume that if God is God, He will prove Himself by delivering the sufferer from his suffering, when the suffering itself is the means God has appointed to achieve His purposes. Here is where the “name it and claim it” version of faith healing flies in the face of Scripture.

The similarity between the taunting of the people and the temptation of Satan does not demonstrate that this is a temptation, but rather that the thinking of the people is reflective of Satan’s values and mindset (cf. Luke chapter 4 and Job 1), rather than of God’s, as described in the prophecies of the Old Testament.

Notes:

127 What Luke Omits in His Crucifixion Account: He omits the beatings of Matthew 27:27-31 and Mark 15:16-20, in preparation for His execution, and also the mocking, scarlet robe, the crown of thorns, the mocking homage paid to him, and the references to His words about destroying the temple (as Stephen was also later to be accused, cf. Acts 6:13-14). The first offering of wine mixed with gall (Matthew 27:34) or myrrh (Mark 15:23), which Jesus refused. Luke records only the offer of “wine vinegar” (23:37), with no indication of whether or not He took it. The chief priests and teachers said if Christ came down from the cross they would see and believe (Matthew 27:42; Mark 15:32). “He saved others … ” (Matthew 27:42; Mark 15:31). The people (passers by) reviled Jesus (Matthew 27:39-40; Mark 15:29-30). Both thieves reviled Jesus (Matthew 27:44; Mark 15:32). “Here is your son … Here is your mother”—John 19:26, 27). “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). “Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him/take him down” (Matthew 27:49; Mark 15:36)—they really wondered if something miraculous might happen. The earthquake and splitting of rocks and the tombs opened—Matthew 27:51-54). Matthew indicates that while the raising of these dead saints occurred at the time of the earthquake, and thus at the time of our Lord’s death, the appearance of these saints in the city was not until three days later (27:54). John says Jesus said, “I am thirsty” after He saw that all prophesy had been fulfilled (John 19:28-29), after which He drank and then gave up the spirit (Matthew 27:50; John 19:30) and died. Jesus’ legs not broken, but His side was pierced, which fulfilled prophecy (John 19:31-37)

128 All four gospels mention that Jesus was in the middle, between the two thieves. Is this to indicate that He was placed in the position of prominence, that He was the center of attention? It seems so. Surely the crowds came because of Jesus, and not the other two.

129 The use of the imperfect tense in verse 39 implies that this malefactor persisted in his railings.

In the words, “Let Him save Himself (and us)” do we not see a parallel to the mentality of men in all ages? Is this not the same view which the world, and too many Christians take toward suffering? They assume that God would not tolerate or allow suffering, and especially not in the life of His beloved Son. They assume that if God is God, He will prove Himself by delivering the sufferer from his suffering, when the suffering itself is the means God has appointed to achieve His purposes. Here is where the “name it and claim it” version of faith healing flies in the face of Scripture.

The similarity between the taunting of the people and the temptation of Satan does not demonstrate that this is a temptation, but rather that the thinking of the people is reflective of Satan’s values and mindset (cf. Luke chapter 4 and Job 1), rather than of God’s, as described in the prophecies of the Old Testament.

130 The term “paradise” is found twice elsewhere in the New Testament, in 2 Corinthians 12:4; and Revelation 2:7. In both cases, the reference is to heaven.

 

Dealing with the Death of Jesus
(Luke 23:40-24:35)

By: Bob Deffinbaugh , Th.M.

23:50 Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea and he was waiting for the kingdom of God. 52 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid.

54 It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. 55 The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 56 Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment. 24:1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” 8 Then they remembered his words. 9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him. 17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. 28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” 33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Introduction

Joseph of Arimathea 131 is the Melchizedek 132 of the New Testament: he is a man who appears without prior introduction and who does not appear again. He is a man whom all of the gospel writers name and of whom all speak highly. Together, the gospels inform us of his request for the body of Jesus, of his placing Jesus in a new tomb, carved out of the rock, and prepared for himself.

When we read our text with Joseph of Arimathea in mind, we surely would feel positive about him. And yet our passage also leaves me, at least, with some rather discomforting questions. There is first the rather unnerving question: “If Joseph of Arimathea had not buried Jesus, who would have done so?” I take it that the body of Jesus would have been disposed of as were the bodies of the other two men, who were crucified along with Jesus. The bodies might not even have been buried, but only cast on the proverbial dung heap of the city. 133

Closely related to the first question is the second: “Where are the disciples?” I differ strongly with the conclusion of Norval Geldenhuys, who writes:

The Gospel narrative of Jesus’ passion ends on a note of exceptional beauty in the description of His burial. For in it we see how the dead body of the Savior, from the time that is was removed from the rough cross by hands of affection, was cared for by no other hands than those of His faithful followers. 134

While the efforts of Joseph of Arimathea were noble, he was for all intents and purposes, a stranger. He, with the help of Nicodemus, had to hastily remove the body of Jesus from the cross, purchase the necessary materials (including 75 pounds of spices), wrap the body as well as could be done quickly, and place it in a stone tomb, sealing it with a large stone (cf. John 19:38-41). Both of these men seem to have come to the point where they looked upon Jesus at least as a prophet, sent from God, whose ministry was a part of the commencement of the kingdom of God.

But Joseph and Nicodemus were both, to a great degree, strangers to our Lord and to the disciples. They were outsiders. What these men did, they seem to have done because of their position and authority. What they did, they did apart from any involvement on the part of the disciples of our Lord or the women who had long been following along with Him. While the disciples of John the Baptist claimed the body of John and buried it (Mark 6:29), the disciples of Jesus did not do so. Instead, a stranger claimed His body and buried it, with the help of Nicodemus, and not with the help of Jesus’ disciples or even the women who accompanied Him to Jerusalem.

Here, I finally realized, is that which bothers me about this part of Luke’s gospel (and, to some degree, all of the gospels). The disciples, who have been so prominent and visible throughout the public ministry of our Lord, are almost invisible. In our text Luke describes the burial of our Lord and men’s response to it in three segments: (1) the response of Joseph of Arimathea; (2) the response of the women who accompanied Jesus; and (3) the response of two of the “disciples” of Jesus (none of whom are among the eleven). The eleven disciples, who spent much of their lives with Jesus, are hardly visible. Why? This is the “tension of our text.” Why would a relative stranger—albeit a secret admirer, and disciple, of Jesus—be the one to bury His body rather than His disciples or even the women who accompanied Him? Where are the eleven? Why are they so removed from what is taking place? What is Luke trying to tell us? That is what we will seek to learn from our study of the death of Jesus and the response of men to it.

The Structure of our Text

The text we are studying falls into three divisions, which can be summarized as follows: 135

(1) Joseph’s Response to Jesus’ Death (23:50-53)

(2) The Women’s Response to Jesus’ Death (23:54–24:12)

(3) The Two Disciples’ Response to Jesus’ Death (24:13-35)

Our Approach

Our approach in this lesson will be to focus on the three responses Luke describes in our text to the death of the Lord Jesus: that of Joseph of Arimathea, that of the women who followed Jesus, and (in but a cursory fashion) that of the two “disciples” on the road to Emmaus. We will look at each individually, with a special emphasis on the two men on the road to Emmaus, and then seek to show what all of these three accounts have in common and the lessons which Luke seeks to teach us by recording them.

The Response 
of Joseph of Arimathea 
(23:50-53)

50 Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea and he was waiting for the kingdom of God. 52 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid.

Joseph of Arimathea is an enigma to me—someone who, like Melchizedek, appears out of nowhere, plays an important part, and then disappears. Nowhere do we find this man mentioned, before or after, in the gospel accounts, and yet every gospel includes the fact that he acquired permission to bury the body of Jesus from Pilate and buried it in his own tomb. John’s account in his gospel also tells us that Joseph was joined by Nicodemus, and that the two of them (alone) prepared Jesus’ body and buried it in the tomb (John 19:38-42).

Joseph of Arimathea was, from Arimathea, needless to say. It would seem somewhat self-evident that he lived in Jerusalem, and not in Arimathea, a place that cannot be identified with certainty. Joseph must have lived in Jerusalem (and not Arimathea), because he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the “Council” there. He also had a tomb prepared for himself in Jerusalem, the tomb in which our Lord’s body was placed. Why, then, do all the gospel writers tell us that he was from Arimathea? I believe the explanation is found in the fact that he was said to be a man who was “waiting for the kingdom of God” (Luke 23:51). You would not wait for the “kingdom of God” in Arimathea, but in Jerusalem, for this was to be the capital of Israel where the King would reign (cf. Zechariah 1 & 2; 8:1-8; 9:9; 14).

Joseph was also a “a good and upright man” (Luke 23:50). He was an influential man, not just a “member of the Council,” the Sanhedrin (Luke 23:50), but (according to Mark’s gospel), “a prominent member of the Council” (Mark 15:43). Any member of the Sanhedrin was a man of influence, but Joseph was a man of influence among those on the Council. Luke quickly informs us that while Joseph was on the Council he did not consent to their decision and action to put Jesus to death (23:51).

At first, this seems to be impossible. Joseph was a member of the Council, we are told. The inference of Luke’s account is clearly that the Council came to a unanimous decision that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy, and that they unanimously pressed Pilate to put Him to death (Luke 22:70–23:1; Mark 15:1). I believe the decision of the Council was unanimous, but that neither Joseph nor Nicodemus were called to attend this meeting or to take part in the decision. The reason is somewhat obvious: they would not have wanted any present who might differ with their decision, and so any marginal members or those known to oppose such action would have been “overlooked” when the Council was summoned, illegally, and late that night of Jesus’ arrest. Luke simply wants to make this clear. The fact that Joseph was not a part of the decision to kill Jesus does, in my opinion, play a significant role in Joseph’s actions (and those of Nicodemus as well) the afternoon of Jesus’ crucifixion.

John’s gospel informs us that while Joseph was a “disciple of Jesus,” he was a “secret disciple, for fear of the Jews” (John 19:38). Up to this point, he had kept his “faith” a secret. While he carried considerable weight with his colleagues, he did not think his attitude toward Jesus would be popular, and so he kept quiet about it, until this day. What was it that caused this “closet disciple” to go public? What change took place?

While my answer is speculative, it does have some basis. A significant clue may be found in the fact revealed by John that Joseph had a partner who helped him bury Jesus that afternoon. His name was Nicodemus (John 19:39). While Joseph is mentioned nowhere else in the New Testament, Nicodemus is. I believe the two men had much in common and that the reasons for the actions of Nicodemus were very similar to those which prompted Joseph to request the body of the Lord Jesus.

Nicodemus was also a Pharisee, a leader of the Jews (John 3:1), and likely also a member of the Council (cf. John 7:32, 48-50). He was also fascinated by Jesus and drawn to Him, but when he sought Him out, he came to Jesus by night (John 3:2). It would appear that Nicodemus and Joseph shared a fear of the Jews, as well as some kind of interest in Jesus. When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about the necessity of being “born again,” it puzzled him. Jesus went on to explain that a man must be spiritually reborn if he would enter into the kingdom of God, a foreign thought to this man, even though one of the prominent teachers in Israel (cf. “the teacher” in John 3:10). Nicodemus had many things to ponder when he left Jesus that night. He had to ponder what it meant to be born again. He also had to ponder what Jesus meant by saying that in order for men to have eternal life, the Son of Man would have to be “lifted up” like Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness (John 3:14). If this Jesus were the Messiah, His way of bringing about the kingdom of God was greatly different from that taught by the Jewish leaders and teachers. Nicodemus had much to reflect upon.

Nicodemus was eventually forced to make take some kind of stand when the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles created great division among the people and between the people and their leaders:

At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Christ? But we know where this man is from; when the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from.” “… they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come. Still, many in the crowd put their faith in him. They said, “When the Christ comes, will he do more miraculous signs than this man?” … On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.” Others said, “He is the Christ.” Still others asked, “How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him (John 7:25-27; 30-31; 40-44).

The religious leaders, sensing that Jesus was causing them to lose control, ordered the temple guard to arrest Jesus, but they came back without Him, explaining, “No one ever spoke the way this man does” (John 7:46). To this, the Pharisees defensively challenged, “Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them” (John 7:48-49).

Did any of the Pharisees believe in Jesus as the Messiah, or at least as a prophet sent from God? No; here was a most interesting question. Nicodemus was at least thinking about it, as we can see from his interview with Jesus in John 3. And at some point in time, Joseph of Arimathea did become a secret disciple of Jesus. It was time for Nicodemus to speak up, and so he did, but not very boldly:

Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?” They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee” (John 7:50-52).

I believe Nicodemus took a weak-kneed stand here, not on the identity of the person of Christ, but rather on a principle of law. Nicodemus challenged his peers on the subject of what we might call Jesus’ “constitutional rights.” Under Jewish law, the accused had the right to be heard before he was pronounced guilty. Jesus had never had a “hearing.” I would suppose the Sanhedrin felt they were responding to Nicodemus’ objections when they gave Jesus His “hearing” the night of His arrest. But the challenge of the Pharisees is perhaps the means God used to stimulate further inquiry on the part of Nicodemus into the claims of Jesus to be the Christ, Israel’s Messiah. If Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was not born in Bethlehem, as the Scriptures required (Micah 5:2), then how could He be Messiah? It is my personal opinion that Nicodemus took the challenge from his peers and inquired into the birthplace of Jesus, only to find that He was born in Bethlehem, of the lineage of David. And when he considered the early verses of Isaiah 9, a messianic prophecy, he also found that Messiah would have a ministry in Galilee as well. Thus, any serious inquiry on the part of Nicodemus would have led him to conclude that his peers were wrong to reject Jesus, and that He was, indeed, the Messiah.

I admit this is pure conjecture on my part, but we do know that both Nicodemus and Joseph became disciples of Jesus, albeit secret believers because they feared the rejection of their peers. Did these men, both of whom seem to be members of the Council, begin to talk with each other about their new faith in Jesus? Did they carefully feel each other out on this subject, finally confessing to each other that they had come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah? This would explain how it was that these two men became partners in the burial of Jesus, the day of His crucifixion.

But why did they step forward now? Why did they finally come “out of the closet,” after keeping their beliefs about Jesus quiet so long? Why now, after Jesus’ death? The answer, to me, is simple: because faith required it of them in these circumstances. Up to this point, these two men had been able to keep their opinions to themselves. Nicodemus only spoke up on the principle of the law which required that the accused be given a hearing. But now the Council had acted. Up to this point, it would seem, the Council had not been able to take a united stand. But when they called a session of the Council without inviting either Nicodemus or Joseph (and Joseph was, you recall, a “prominent” member—Mark 15:43), condemning Jesus as a blasphemer, and unanimously calling upon Rome to put Him to death as a criminal … this was too much. Even though Jesus was dead (and I doubt that they expected Him to rise from the dead), they were determined to take a stand, a stand in protest to the decision of the Council of which they were a part.

For Joseph (and Nicodemus) to request the body of Jesus in order to give it a proper burial was a public statement that Jesus was not a criminal, but the Christ. Jesus would have been buried on the proverbial “boot hill” of that day, had Joseph not boldly gone before Pilate to ask for the body. Joseph will, in the severe limitations of time, give Jesus the finest burial possible, placing His body in his own tomb. I have the impression that Joseph would have done better by Jesus if time had allowed. But there was so little time to obtain permission to claim the body (which required time for Pilate to verify that Jesus had actually died, so soon—Mark 15:44-45), to take it down from the cross, to prepare it with spices, and then to place it in the tomb. The Council had to know what Joseph had done, for when they asked for a guard to be posted at the grave site, they would have had to have been told that Joseph claimed the body and buried it. They would likely have had to ask Joseph where the body was buried. Remember, the women knew this only because they followed Joseph and Nicodemus, spying out the place where Jesus lay. 136 Showing respect for the body of Jesus was the only thing that Joseph (and Nicodemus) could do, at this point in time, to disassociate themselves from the actions of the Council, and to associate themselves with Jesus, His message, His ministry, and His Messiahship. They did what they could, and they did it well. The gospels commend Joseph especially (did he take the lead?), and Nicodemus by inference.

Joseph is a man, unlike the disciples, who showed courage at the occasion of Jesus’ death, and who showed his love for the Savior by showing respect for His body. He is, it seems to me, recorded for all of history to regard highly, not unlike the woman who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears. How fondly we read of him and of his labor of love over the body of Jesus. Did he become one of those who trusted in Jesus as the Christ? Was he a vocal member of the early church? We are not told. But he is a striking contrast to the absence of the eleven. Where were they? Why did they not ask for Jesus’ body?

The Response of the Women 
(23:54–24:12)

54 It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. 55 The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 56 Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment. 24:1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” 8 Then they remembered his words. 9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

From Luke’s words it would seem that the group of those who stood at a distance, viewing the events of Calvary, included not only many of those women who followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem, but also the disciples (including the eleven) as well:

But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things (Luke 23:49, emphasis mine).

Some of these same women, who followed Joseph and Nicodemus to the tomb where Jesus was buried (23:55), refused to leave the body of Jesus. They were especially taking note of the location of the tomb and of the way the body was positioned in it (verse 55). They could hardly have failed to see that the body was prepared for burial, with the use of 75 pounds of spices (John 19:39). But this does not seem to have been good enough. They would do a better, more meticulous, job of preparing the body of Jesus after the Sabbath. They went home, bought the necessary spices (Mark 16:1), prepared them for when they would return (Luke 23:56), but then waited for the Sabbath to pass, according to the commandment. They knew that the large stone would pose a problem and that somehow it would have to be moved (Mark 16:3).

The women were not hindered by the difficulties posed by their task. 137 It would seem that they could not be stopped. One can almost see these women, fatigued by the burden of the spices they carried, perhaps sweaty and out of breath. What a shock, in the dim light of the morning (cf. Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1), to see that the stone, about which they had worried, was already moved. Entering the tomb, they found that the body was gone! At that moment of amazement, two angels appeared in very bright clothing, bright as lightening, Luke tells us. (This could have served to illuminate the inside of the tomb, evidencing that the body was gone, and also revealing the orderly way in which the grave clothes were arranged (cf. John 20:6-7).

The sight of the angels was almost too much. The women fell with their faces to the ground. The angels, however, gently rebuked the women for coming to the grave, expecting to find the “Living One” among the dead (verse 5). The angels explained that Jesus’ absence was because He had risen from the dead, and they also reminded the women that this was exactly as Jesus Himself had told them, while He was alive and with them, back in Galilee (verses 6-7). The women then remembered that Jesus had told them these words.

It is my conviction that Joseph acted as he did based upon his personal search of the Scriptures from which he concluded that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah. I believe these women were rebuked for not believing Jesus’ words. Later, the two men on the road to Emmaus will be rebuked for being “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25). It is my opinion that the men had greater access to the texts of the Old Testament Scriptures than did the women. Thus, the two men were rebuked for not searching the Scriptures, while the women were rebuked for not believing Jesus. The women were, however, a step ahead of the men in this regard (as I see it): they did not have so much trouble believing that Jesus would be rejected and put to death as they did that He would rise again. The two men had to be shown from the Scriptures that the Messiah “must” “suffer these things and then enter his glory” (Luke 24:26). The women needed only to be reminded that Jesus would rise again, and thus were rebuked for looking for Jesus among the dead.

It seems likely that Mary, the sister of Lazarus, would have been among those returning to the tomb. If so, she was the one who, only a few days before, had anointed Jesus, in His words, “for the day of My burial” (John 12:7). I doubt that the ointment lasted that long. Rather, I believe Jesus was indicating that she understood, while others did not, that He was soon to die. Thus, her act of devotion was one of the few things she could do at the time to show her love and affection for Him, knowing that the time of His death was near.

These women who came to the tomb to prepare the body of Jesus may have sensed—far more than the men—that Jesus was to die. This would not have come on them as a shock. They would have known this from Jesus’ own words. But what He had also said, which they may not have grasped, was that He would not only die, but rise from the dead. It is for their failure to believe this that the angels gently rebuked the women. Like Joseph before them, however, these women did what they could to honor Jesus in His death.

The women quickly returned home, leaving, I suspect, the spices behind, to inform the men of what they had learned. The eleven were there (wherever that may have been), as were the rest (24:9). They did not believe the women, however. Can’t you just see the men shaking their heads and saying, at least to themselves, “These poor hysterical women. They just can’t face up to the facts. Jesus is dead and gone.” It was, to them, just an irrational refusal to accept things as they were.

Peter, however, seemed at least to believe that the tomb was empty. He had to look for himself. And so he ran to the tomb (we know from John’s gospel that John also accompanied him—John 20:2-10). Peter saw the evidence—the strips of linen lying by themselves, and it left him puzzled, but not believing. It was, to him, an unsolved mystery, but not yet a resurrection. John, it seems, was convinced and believed it was a resurrection, at least in his heart (John 20:8-9). These things only added to the grief and misery of the disciples, who now did not even have a body or a grave by which to remember Jesus.

Peter is mentioned, but only very briefly, in this text. Perhaps he was the spokesman of the group. He was, to some degree, still their leader. Peter’s actions portray the eleven at their best, and that was not very much to talk about. It is this very brief appearance of Peter, yet without any faith, which is so puzzling. Where are the apostles138 in all of this?

It is the absence of the disciples which stands in contrast not only to the actions of Joseph, but now to that of these women as well. Preparing the body of Jesus does not seem to have been “women’s work,” from the fact that Joseph and Nicodemus seem to have done this work themselves. Lugging that load of spices was “a man’s job,” or it should have been (I would guess this to be at least a 75 pound load, based on that which Nicodemus brought.—John 19:40). But the apostles were not there. It could not have been that the apostles were ignorant of what the women planned and purposed to do. They had purchased and prepared the spices earlier but were forced to wait until the day after the Sabbath to go out to the tomb. The smell of those spices would have had to permeate the place. The women may very well have asked the apostles to go out to the burial place of Jesus with them, at least to help remove the stone, which they knew to be a problem (Mark 16:3). They went out early in the morning, leaving while it was still dark. Surely this was not a very safe thing to do. Should the men not have at least accompanied the women for safety’s sake? The apostles are visibly absent. In the account of the two men on the road to Emmaus, again Luke turns to someone other than the eleven. This is no accident.

Conclusion

While it may seem strange, perhaps it should be pointed out that our text may have something to say to us about burials. In my younger days, I used to say that when I died my body could be placed in a pine box (or better yet, a particle board box) and planted in the “back 40.” That may be well and good for me. After all, I would be “absent from the body and present with the Lord.” But the reality of life is that we do show our love for another by the care we evidence in disposing of their body. In years gone by there were a lot of accusations made about the funeral directors and the high cost of dying. I do not in any way wish to advocate extravagance in funerals, but I do wish to point out that the love and admiration of Joseph, Nicodemus, and the women for Jesus was shown by their care for His body when He died. Let us be careful not to despise that which God created, and the person whom we have loved in life, by showing a disregard for the body at the time of death. There is a need for balance here.

This, however, is surely not the lesson which Luke has for us to learn here. I believe Luke is commending the faith of Joseph and the women, as reflected by their concern for our Lord’s body and burial, at a time when this was a most unpopular, and even dangerous, thing to do. Faith in Christ requires an identification with Christ, which includes an identification with Him in His death. That is precisely what Joseph and these women did—they identified themselves with Jesus in His death. And, in the process, they clearly set themselves apart from those who determined that Jesus was worthy of death. They, in their actions, stood with Jesus, and they stood apart from the Jewish religious leaders.

Saving faith requires this. Those who would be saved from their sins must stand apart from a world that has rejected Jesus, and stand with Him who was rejected and put to death. Saving faith does not ignore nor reject Jesus because He died, rejected by men, but it identifies with Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, because He died in our place. Joseph, Nicodemus, and the women are a picture of what faith requires by those who would be saved. Faith is expressed by an identification with the Jesus who died on the cross of Calvary. No wonder there is no focus on the eleven at this point, whose faith may not have failed, but whose faith surely is not praiseworthy at this point in time.

This text serves to remind us that the eleven disciples were surely not the most “spiritual” disciples who followed Jesus. Joseph, Nicodemus, and these women are far more in tune with God’s purposes here than were the eleven, who were either cowering or wallowing in self-pity, while these others occupied themselves with their expressions of love and devotion for Jesus. Nowhere are we told that Jesus chose these men because they were more spiritual, more committed, or more promising than others. Jesus chose them to do a task, and that task they would accomplish by His power. But being chosen as one of the eleven apostles was no proof of greater piety. Our text surely informs us of this.

It does remind us that even when those who are chosen to lead fail to do so, God always has someone in the wings. Joseph was a man whom the disciples would never have considered a prospect for discipleship. He was a prominent member of the Council which, as a group, rejected Jesus. He was a man of influence and apparent wealth. And yet he was the one whom God had prepared so that the body of Jesus would be honored in death. God always has a person in place, but this is often not the person we would have expected to be God’s choice.

Finally, this passage points us to the crucial role of the Scriptures. I believe it was due to the challenge of their peers that Nicodemus and Joseph did “search the Scriptures,” and thus found that Jesus was who He claimed to be—Israel’s Messiah. The very things which brought despair to the disciples were the things, when viewed through the prophecies of the Old Testament, that proved Jesus to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world. All too often, we view our circumstances through the dimmed vision of our own understanding, our own aspirations and ambition, just as the disciples viewed Jesus’ death in this way—as the end of their dreams for power and position. But, in fact and in light of God’s Word, the events surrounding Jesus’ rejection and death were those which God had ordained in order for men to be saved and for the kingdom to be established. If we fail anywhere, we do so as the disciples did—we view our circumstances through our own eyes, rather than through the Scriptures. And when we do so, we withdraw to ourselves, we wallow in self-pity and disappointment, and we fail to show the love and devotion to Christ which He alone deserves. May we not despair as did the “apostles,” but like Joseph, Nicodemus, and these women, evidence our love and devotion to Christ.

Notes:

131 “Arimathea was Joseph’s native town, but at that time he was an inhabitant of Jerusalem (otherwise he would not have been a member of the Sanhedrin and would probably also not have possessed a tomb near the city). Arimathea is regarded by some as identical with Ramah (Ramathaim-Sophim), the birthplace of Samuel. This is, however, not certain.” Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1951 [photolithoprinted], p. 620, fn. 1.

132 Melchizedek was the “king of Salem,” who appeared in Genesis 14, after Abraham defeated the kings who took Lot captive and to whom Abraham paid a tithe. The priesthood “after the order of Melchizedek” is referred to in Psalm 110:4 and is spoken of as fulfilled in Christ in Hebrews 5-7.

133 I have no doubt that the body of Jesus would have been quickly removed and given a “proper burial,” but only after it had been abandoned by the Roman authorities.

134 Norval Geldenhuys, p. 618.

135 It would be possible to add a fourth section: “Peter’s Response to the Death of Jesus—Luke 24:12,” but his role here is so much less than the rest that I have chosen to merge him with the women’s section, which is far more emphatic.

136 In our cemeteries, we would know the burial place by the fresh earth that would be mounded up. But this was a cave-like tomb, hewn from the rock. Once the rock was rolled in front of the tomb, no one would have known whether this was a recent burial site or not.

137 I’m not sure that they even knew all of the difficulties. Did they know, for example that a guard had been posted at the grave, which would most likely have prohibited entrance into the tomb? The request for such security came after Jesus’ burial (Matthew 27:62-66).

138 It is noteworthy that even in this “low” state of despair, the eleven disciples are referred to as the “apostles” (cf. 24:10).

 

"From Heartbreak to Heartburn"
(Luke 23:54-24:35)

By: Bob Deffinbaugh , Th.M.

54 It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. 55 The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 56 Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.

24:1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” 8 Then they remembered his words.

9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him. 17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.

32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” 33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Introduction

It is at this time of year, unfortunately, that the people of Dallas are reminded of a very tragic event—the assassination of President John Kennedy. If you are like me (and old enough), you probably can vividly remember just where you were and what you were doing at the time of his death. What you and I were doing was probably not that important, but because it occurred in close proximity to this national disaster, it has been indelibly etched in our minds.

The Lord’s table, or Communion, is a similar occurrence, I believe. It was deliberately associated with a very warm and wonderful event—the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and thus it was etched in the hearts of the disciples of our Lord. The “last supper,” so-called, was a very significant event, but not an altogether pleasant memory. The disciples were very sad because Jesus was talking about His own death, and about one of them being His betrayer, and even about Peter’s denial. In addition to all of this, the disciples argued among themselves as to which of them was regarded to be the greatest. One would hardly wish to re-enact the “last supper,” for one of these was enough. While the Lord’s appearance to the two men on the road to Emmaus began on the road to this village, the realization that this man was Jesus did not come until the time when the Lord broke the bread at the table. It was this association of the realization of the Lord’s presence and the breaking of bread which created a very positive warmth to the breaking of bread, and specifically to the Lord’s table. We see in the Book of Acts that the breaking of bread was a daily experience in the early church (cf. Acts 2:42, 46).

Tensions of the Text

The story of the two men on the road to Emmaus is one of the heart-warming accounts of our Lord’s appearances to men after His resurrection. By virtue of the length of this account, one can see that Luke places a great deal of importance on this incident. It takes up much of his account of our Lord’s post-resurrection appearances. And yet, in spite of the length of this text and the warm reception the account has historically received, there are several “tensions of the text” to be dealt with, several difficulties which need to be explained.

First, there is the fact that these two “disciples” are never mentioned, either before or after. Why is Luke’s spotlight on these two unknown disciples, (Cleopas, of course, is named, but not really known 139), when he has little to say about the eleven? Where are the eleven disciples? Another difficulty is why these two men are on their way to Emmaus in the first place. One would expect them either to be on their way to Galilee, as Jesus and the angels had instructed the disciples (Matthew 28:7, 10; Mark 16:7), or to remain in Jerusalem, at least until the “mystery” of the disappearance of Jesus’ body had been solved. Still another tension is this: Why did Jesus not reveal Himself to the disciples by simply appearing to them, rather than as He did here and elsewhere? How easy it would have been simply to appear, as He did later, and to show them His hands and side. Finally, I am puzzled by the sequence of events in this story. Why did Jesus not reveal Himself first, before He rebuked the two men, 140 rather than to reveal Himself after all He said and did, and simultaneously with His “disappearance” or vanishing from sight? Why did Jesus not give these men any time with Him as the Lord Jesus? These tensions will be addressed as we proceed with our study.

Background 
(23:54–24:12)

54 It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. 55 The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 56 Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.

24:1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” 8 Then they remembered his words.

9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

The women had no part in the burial of our Lord, which was done by Joseph of Arimathea (23:50-53), assisted by Nicodemus (John 20:38-39). They did manage to watch the burial of the body of Jesus and to mark in their minds the exact place where Jesus was placed. This was more than just knowing the correct tomb; it was knowing where the body lay in that tomb. 141 In the providence of God, the women were not able to return to the tomb earlier than on the first day of the week, the “third day,” since the evening was rapidly approaching at the time of Jesus’ burial, and since the next day was the Sabbath. The women procured the necessary spices and had them on hand, but could do nothing with them until the day following the Sabbath. They waited until early in the morning, and then went out to the tomb. So that it could not be said that the women merely forgot the burial place of Jesus and went to the wrong tomb, Luke (along with the other gospel writers) reports that the angels informed the women that they had come to the right place, seeking Jesus, but that He was not there (Luke 24:5-7; cf. also Matthew 28:5-6; Mark 16:6). Matthew tells us that one angel invited the women to see the place where He once lay (28:6).

The angels gently rebuked the women for seeking the body of Jesus on the third day, when He had told them while still in Galilee that He would be rejected, put to death, and rise again on the third day (Luke 9:22). Jesus was alive. Why were they looking for the living among the dead? The angels’ words jogged the minds of the women, and they remembered that this was exactly what Jesus had told them, long before His death. They now saw that His death, as well as His resurrection, was a necessity, and also a prophecy which had to be fulfilled. For them to be seeking for His body was then an act of unbelief—a loving act of unbelief, but unbelief nonetheless.

In Matthew and Mark, the angels and Jesus both instructed the women to return to Jesus’ disciples to tell them that He was alive and that He would meet them in Galilee. Luke only tells us that they went to the disciples and when they told their story, the disciples refused to believe them, thinking that these “emotional women” were simply out of their heads, totally hysterical, and overcome with their grief. Peter did go out to the tomb (there seem to have been numerous trips to the tomb that day), and he found everything as the women had described it, but still he was not convinced. He simply went home puzzled. 142

But the puzzling thing to me is that no disciple seems to have seen an angel in the tomb that day. 143 The women saw the angel(s), but not the disciples. Even the guards who were posted at the tomb saw the angel who rolled away the stone and were frightened nearly to death (Matthew 28;2-4). But not so much as one disciple? Why not? Why did Jesus not make it easy for the disciples to believe He had risen from the dead? Why did He delay in revealing Himself to the men, when the women were privileged to see Him sooner? I believe the reason may be suggested by an earlier incident, which was the first realization of Jesus’ identity by His disciples at the time of His transfiguration. Jesus first asked His disciples who men thought Him to be. Then He asked them who they thought He was. Peter responded that He was the Christ, the Messiah, to which Jesus responded,

“Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17b).

Jesus did not want to hurry the process, to rush the conclusion as to who He was. He wanted His disciples to be absolutely convinced of His identity. Fundamental to this was an understanding from the Scriptures that His own prophecies about His rejection, death, and resurrection were consistent with the prophecies of the Old Testament prophets. Let us now turn to the account of the appearance of our Lord to the two men on the road to Emmaus to observe more closely the way in which Jesus revealed not only His resurrection, but His personal presence.

The Risen Lord and 
Two Downcast Disciples 
(24:13-24)

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him. 17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”

In this section, the scene is set. The characters are Jesus and the two men, one of whom is named Cleopas. Let us look first at our Lord and then at the two men. The Lord appeared to these two men as a man. From His appearance one would have thought of Jesus as only a man. From Mark’s gospel (16:12) we learn that Jesus appeared to these two “in a different form.” This might only mean that Jesus appeared to the men in His resurrected body, but it seems to mean that He appeared to them in a body that was not immediately recognizable in appearance. Might this mean, for example, that the nail scars were not apparent, so that all the tell-tale indications of His identity would have been concealed? 144

Not only did Jesus appear to these two as a man, He also appeared to them as one very much like them. He too was a traveler, it would have seemed. He was, like them, walking to Emmaus. To be more accurate, it appeared that He was walking further than Emmaus, for He acted as though He would go on when they stopped. Strangely, it would seem, Jesus even appeared as one slightly below those with whom He traveled. By this I mean that Jesus was perceived by these men either to be totally “unplugged,” totally aloof to what was going on, or somewhat slow on the uptake. The words of these two men to Jesus were a mild rebuke, as though as to say, “Come on, man, get with it!”

Now let us turn our attention to these two men. These men were disciples, men who were intimately acquainted with and associated with the eleven. Luke referred to them as “two of them” (verse 13), the “them” obviously referring back to the eleven apostles (Luke 24:9-11). From what they tell our Lord, they were privy to all that had taken place and to all that was reported to the apostles by the women. They were not numbered among the eleven, but they were closely associated with them. They were, in truth, disciples of our Lord.

These disciples were, however, very discouraged. They had, for all intents and purposes, given up all hope. Their faces were sad and downcast (verse 17). They had hoped that Jesus was the Messiah (verse 21), but due to His death they had concluded that He was only a prophet—a true prophet of God, a powerful prophet, but only a prophet, who died like many of the other prophets of old.

These two men told Jesus of other data which they had chosen to ignore, reject, or misinterpret. It was, they said, the “third day” since He had died. This must be a reference to Jesus’ words that He would rise again on the third day. What was more, some of the women, they told Jesus, had gone out to the tomb and found it empty. They further claimed to have seen angels, but alas they did not see Jesus. 145 The very things which seemed to point to the resurrection of Jesus had no impact on these two men at all.

These men were on their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They were “on their way to the country” (Mark 16:12). We do not know the exact location of the small village of Emmaus, but only that it was approximately seven miles from Jerusalem. What we do know is this: they were not going to Galilee, as the angels and Jesus had given them instructions through the women. Both Matthew (28:7,10) and Mark (16:7) specifically state that the angels and Jesus told the disciples that Jesus would meet them in Galilee. Where then should all of Jesus’ disciples have been (or at least have been on their way to) if they had believed in the Lord’s resurrection and had obeyed His instructions? Peter “went home” (Luke 24:12), which I understand to mean that he went back to the place where he was staying in Jerusalem. The two men on the road to Emmaus may have been doing similarly. If they did not live in Emmaus, they may have been staying there, in the suburbs as it were, for the Passover celebration. The huge influx of people may have necessitated finding accommodations outside the city. They did not even stay in Jerusalem, until the mystery of the disappearance of Jesus’ body was solved. They certainly did not leave for Galilee. 146

I see these men as utterly unbelieving, utterly defeated, throwing in the towel and going home. In the face of much evidence to the contrary, these two disciples seem determined not to believe in the Lord’s resurrection. They have absolutely no hope. Had Jesus not sought them out, one wonders what would have become of them. And these two men, I believe, are typical of all the rest, especially of the eleven. The eleven seem to have stayed in Jerusalem, but in heart they are just as downcast, just as defeated, just as unbelieving. These men are a picture of complete defeat and despair. There was to them no hope left. It was all over.

Jesus’ Correction and Instruction 
(24:25-27)

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Jesus’ words to these two men were not flattering. They were a rebuke for their spiritual dullness and for their failure to believe all that the prophets had spoken. The word “all” 147 is an important one. It indicates that the belief of the disciples was selective. They believed part of the prophets’ revelation, but not all. Which part did they believe, and which part did they not believe? Our Lord’s words in verse 26 give us the answer. The message of the prophets concerning the coming Messiah was a blending of suffering and glory. The prophets spoke in what appeared to be a contradiction in terms. They spoke of Messiah’s rejection and suffering, as we see in Isaiah 52 and 53, yet they also spoke of His triumph and glory (cf. Daniel 7:13-14; Zechariah 9,14).

There is a difference in the way the prophets dealt with the tension of the two truths of Christ’s suffering and of His glory. The prophets accepted both aspects of prophecy, even though they did not understand how they could be compatible. They searched the Scriptures to understand how both could be true. This is what Peter has written in his first epistle:

As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow (1 Peter 1:10-11).

The prophets accepted God’s word as it was revealed, even though they did not understand how it could be true. But most of the Israelites chose to reject the suffering side and only to focus on the glory dimension. They did this not only with respect to the Messiah, but also with respect to themselves. The false prophets were those who gave warm, reassuring, promises of peace and prosperity, while the true prophets spoke of suffering and of tribulation. Thus, the people were inclined to listen to the false prophets and to persecute those who spoke for God (cf. Jeremiah 23, 26,28,32,38).

The disciples of our Lord did not wish to hear of Jesus’ sufferings, but only of His triumph. Thus, Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked Him for speaking of His coming rejection and death (Luke 9:22; cp. Matthew 16:21-23). All of the disciples, including these two men on the road to Emmaus had so rigorously held to a non-suffering Messiah, a triumphant King, but not a suffering Servant, that they concluded Jesus could not possibly be the Messiah because He had suffered and died. In spite of a mountain of evidence, all of which pointed to His resurrection, they were solidly convinced it was all over, and that He, alas, was only a prophet.

Jesus first rebuked these two men for their spiritual dullness, and then He went on to show them from the whole Old Testament, beginning with Moses 148 and culminating in the prophets, that the Messiah was prophesied to suffer and to be glorified. While it is not spelled out, I understand Jesus to be saying it was not enough to grant that Messiah’s suffering was somehow compatible with His glory; it was not enough to grant that suffering was a means to His glory; suffering was a part of His glory. Take careful note that the worship of the Messiah in Heaven is the worship of the One who was slain (cf. Revelation 1:17-18; 5:1-14, esp. vv. 6, 9, 12).

The passages which Jesus taught, and His interpretation of them, are not given to us. How wonderful it would have been to have had this message on tape or in print. Why, then, are we deprived of it? Let me suggest two possibilities. First, this presents us with the opportunity and the challenge to search the Scriptures for ourselves. We know from what Luke has told us, so to speak, that there is “gold in them thar’ hills,” that the Old Testament Scriptures are rich in prophecies pertaining to Christ, but it is for us to search it out. Second, we are given some helpful clues and some “starters” from the texts that the apostles used, as recorded in the Book of Acts. Thus, we have at least some of the passages revealed which Jesus must have brought to the attention of His disciples when He taught them. 149 Among the texts that Jesus must have referred to would be these: Deut. 18:15-19; Psalm 2; Psalm 16; Psalm 22; Psalm 118:22; Cf. Exodus 20:11; Ps. 146:6; Daniel 9:24ff. 150

We are not told until later what impact this teaching had on the disciples, but when we get to verse 32 we overhear them saying to each other,

“Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?”

Here was the basis for the change, from “heartbreak” to “heartburn”: the Scriptures were taught and were “caught.” There was no more need for despair.

The Recognition of the Lord Jesus 
(24:28-35)

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” 33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Jesus acted as though He would go on. Why? I think it was to provide the two men with the opportunity to respond to what He had been teaching. Jesus had begun with a rebuke, and His teaching had cast a whole new light on the Old Testament prophecies. How would they respond? Did they wish to reject it? If so, they would gladly have let Him go on His way. But they urged Him to stay with them. They wanted more. They desired to be with Him, even though they did not yet realize who He was. Humanly speaking, had they not urged Him to stay, they would not have had their eyes open to recognize who He was. What joy lay ahead for those who would sup with the Savior.

I have come to the conclusion that there was no mysterious or mystical revelation of Jesus in the breaking of the bread. I am not sure these men saw the “nail-scarred hands.” They surely do not say so, nor does Luke. The reason they recognized Jesus was because “their eyes were opened,” their blindness was removed. It was not that which Jesus did in the breaking of the bread which was so convincing, but the work of the Spirit, who convinced the men of the meaning of the Scriptures and thus enabled them to see Christ for who He was. Jesus did take the lead in the breaking of the bread, which would seem to be unusual, but this, in and of itself, is not the key to the opening of the eyes of these two men.

It was during the breaking of the bread that the identity of this “stranger” was made known to the two men. Jesus immediately disappeared. They immediately returned to Jerusalem to report to the rest what they had experienced, only to be told that they already knew Jesus was alive, because He had appeared to Peter in the time of their absence.151

Conclusion

As I understand our text, there are two major points of emphasis. These are: (1) the breaking of bread; and, (2) the Word of God. Let us consider each of these as we conclude the study of this text.

It was not some mystical, magical event which occurred here, as Jesus broke the bread, but rather the simple (but miraculous) opening of the eyes of these two men which enabled them to see Jesus as Jesus. The breaking of the bread was not the means of revealing Jesus, but rather the occasion for it. Thus, Luke tells us the means was the opening of their eyes (verse 31), something which I believe the Spirit of God did. And so too when the men looked back on the occasion, they spoke of the breaking of the bread with delight, but they also spoke of the “burning” in their hearts, produced by our Lord’s teaching of the Scriptures. The effect of linking the revelation of Christ with the breaking of bread was to create a very warm, a very positive attitude toward that institution which the church would regularly observe—the Lord’s table. It is no wonder the early Christians found such joy in daily breaking bread together.

There is a sense, I think, in which this breaking of bread with these two men was a prototype of heaven and of the joys which await the Christian. Jesus eagerly looked forward to the “last supper” even though it was a sad occasion in many respects (Luke 22:15). He spoke of the kingdom in terms of a banquet meal (Luke 22:24-30), at which time He would serve them (Luke 12:37). Jesus said that He would not eat the Passover again until it was fulfilled in the kingdom of God (Luke 22:16). The fellowship which the two men would have wished to have must wait until the kingdom. The Lord’s supper looks back, as it also looks forward, to that banquet. Jesus disappeared because that great day was yet ahead when they would fellowship at His table in the kingdom. But this meal made the joy and anticipation of that occasion even greater.

The second area of emphasis is that of the Scriptures. 152 In the upper room discourse (John 14-17), Jesus spoke a great deal about the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. He urged His disciples to abide in Him, which was linked with abiding in His Word (John 15:7, 10). Those who loved Him, Jesus said, would keep His Word (14:23-24) and His commandments (15:10, 14). When Jesus departed, the Holy Spirit would come (14:25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7ff.). The Holy Spirit would bring the words of Jesus to the disciples’ remembrance and would teach them all things (14:26). Jesus prayed that His disciples would be sanctified, and that this would happen by His Word (17:17). As they proclaimed the Word, the Holy Spirit would empower their message, convicting men of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment (16:8-11).

The angels rebuked the women for looking for the living one among the dead, or for forgetting the words of Jesus which He spoke to them while still in Galilee, that He would be rejected, put to death, and then rise again. These words of Jesus were the “living Word,” the “Word of God.” They should have believed the Word of God.

The two men on the road to Emmaus were rebuked for being slow to believe all that God’s Word taught about the coming of Messiah. They failed to understand or to believe that the Savior must both suffer and be glorified. Their failure was with respect to the Word of God, the Old Testament Scriptures. And so too Jesus turned the attention of the eleven disciples to the Scriptures, which spoke of Him, of His suffering, death, and resurrection (Luke 24:44-46).

The method which Jesus used was, at first, perplexing, but now it all makes sense. Why did Jesus simply not reveal Himself to the disciples as the risen Savior? Would that not have convinced them quickly and easily? Why did Jesus wait to reveal His identity until after He had rebuked and instructed the two men? Would they not have paid more attention to His words if they knew who it was who was speaking to them?

The first thing this text indicates to me is that the two disciples desperately needed the Word of God, just as all men need it. Apart from divine revelation, who would have ever conceived of God bringing about the salvation of man as He did, through the suffering of the Savior? Prophecy is needed by fallen and finite men because God’s ways are infinitely higher than ours, and His thoughts higher than our thoughts. Thus, if God did not make His thoughts known to us, through the Word of God, we would never know them. The reason these two men (and the other disciples too) viewed their circumstances with despair was because they did not view them from God’s point of view. They did not judge their circumstances spiritually. When viewed biblically, everything that had happened was a part of God’s plan, which included not only the suffering and death of Messiah, but also His resurrection. Finite, fallen men need the Word of God if they are to recognize the hand of God in history.

Fallen and finite men need not only the Word of God; they need the Spirit of God. While men would not know God’s ways apart from His Word, they would not know God’s ways from His Word, unless it were rightly understood. These disciples had the Scriptures, but their understanding of them was warped by their sin, their presuppositions, and their ambitions. It was only when our Lord explained the Scriptures to them, and when the Holy Spirit opened their eyes, that they understood the mind of God. This is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2. No wonder the upper room discourse focused so much on the Word of God and the Spirit of God.

I believe you and I fall into the very same trap into which the disciples fell. We read and study the Scriptures through the grid of our own sin, of our own desires, our own ambitions and preferences. We arrive at our own idea of what God should be like, and what His kingdom should be, and then we rearrange the Scriptures, over-emphasizing some, and ignoring others, so that we have nicely (but wrongly) proof-texted our own thinking. How often we do this in those areas of tension, where two seemingly contradictory things are somehow linked; for example, in the biblical truths of divine sovereignty and human responsibility, or in the areas of suffering and glory (our own, I mean). We would rather have one of these areas (the pleasant, warm and fuzzy one, of course) and reject the other. This we cannot do. We may, like the prophets, have to hold two truths in tension, seeking and praying to understand their inter-relationship, but we dare not reject one and hold to the other exclusively. Let us give much thought to this.

Why did Jesus not reveal Himself to the disciples, rather than to teach them from the Old Testament? The reason has already been given in Luke. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man requested that Lazarus be sent to his Father’s house, to his five brothers, so that they can be warned (16:27-28). Jesus’ answer was that they had Moses and the prophets (16:29), to which the man protested that a warning from one who had risen from the grave would be more forceful, more convincing. To this Jesus replied,

“If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31, NASB).

There is a very important principle taught here, and it is this: THOSE WHO REJECT THE WORD OF GOD WILL NOT BE CONVINCED BY HIS WORKS.

Is this not patently clear throughout the gospels? The scribes and Pharisees rejected Jesus’ teaching, and so too they rejected all of His works. Men who reject the Word of God will not be convinced by His works.

Jesus could have appeared to His disciples as the risen Lord. But He deliberately restrained Himself, finding it necessary first of all to turn them to the Word of God. Once these men were enabled to understand the Scriptures, they were then free to see that Jesus had risen from the dead. Jesus would put first things first, and thus He laid the biblical foundation; He outlined the biblical necessity of His suffering, death, and resurrection, and then He revealed its fulfillment—in Him!

But wouldn’t Jesus’ words to these two men have been more forceful, would they not have had a greater impact, had the men known who was speaking to them? Strangely enough, I think the answer may be both “Yes” and “No.” Surely Jesus’ teaching would have had a great impact if they knew it was Jesus. On the other hand, the joy and emotion of knowing it was He would probably have distracted them from a serious consideration of the Old Testament passages.

There is a principle here which applied to Jesus’ teaching, just as it does to all teaching of the Scriptures. Consider it with me for a moment: THE AUTHORITY OF THE SCRIPTURES IS INDEPENDENT OF THE AUTHORITY OF THE SPEAKER.

God’s Word, as the writer to the Hebrews put it, has been communicated in various ways (Hebrews 1:1). At times, God has spoken through pious, godly, faithful men. He has often spoken through less than godly men. Jonah, for example, was in rebellion, but God’s message, spoken by him, converted the entire city of Nineveh. Balaam spoke for God, and even his donkey did. Paul spoke of those who proclaimed the message of the gospel from false motives, and yet the gospel was advanced (Philippians 1:12-18). It is not the proclaimer who gives power to the Word of God. The Word of God itself has power:

For the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4;12-13, NASB).

Thus, when Paul taught, he avoided persuasive human techniques which would focus men’s attention on him, rather than on the Word of God itself. Paul did not seek to convince and persuade, but to speak in simplicity and clarity, looking to the Holy Spirit to convince men and to change them. Paul’s method of teaching was governed by his confidence in the Scriptures and the Spirit of God:

“And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32, NASB).

And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:4-5, NASB).

For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God (2 Corinthians 2:17, NASB).

There are some versions of the Bible in which the words of our Lord are printed in red, as though they are more important than those other biblical words, spoken by prophets who were divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote that all Scripture was inspired and thus profitable (2 Timothy 3:16-17). In our text, Jesus’ actual words are not recorded. Our attention is turned to the Old Testament Scriptures and to its prophecies pertaining to Christ.

When you think about it, Jesus could have identified Himself as the Lord to these two men, and then proceeded to teach them on the basis of His authority. As it turns out, Jesus taught them on the basis of the authority of the Scriptures. Think of it, instead of teaching this lesson as the Christ, He taught this lesson about the Christ, but as a mere man, as a total stranger, even as a man who seemed poorly in tune and not in touch with what was going on. The two disciples rebuked Him for asking what things were going on in Jerusalem. They saw Him as one who was ill-informed, out of touch. And yet, as such, Jesus rebuked them and taught them the most marvelous survey of the Old Testament ever taught. The men later recognized the impact of Jesus’ teaching—it set their hearts afire, not just because Jesus taught them, but because the Scriptures were taught accurately, and thus with their own power and that of the Holy Spirit. It was the Scriptures, then, as explained by Jesus Himself and as illuminated by the Holy Spirit, that opened the eyes of the disciples so that they were ready and able (in God’s timing) to discover who it was who was with them.

This text sharply underscores the importance of the Scriptures. The Word of God is authoritative; it is powerful, and it is also of the highest priority. How are men to live today? How is God’s plan and purpose to be known to fallen, finite, men? By the Word of God. How can we know the will of God for our lives? How can we rightly interpret our own circumstances? Only through the Word of God, interpreted and applied by His Spirit. In the closing verses of the Gospel of Luke, we are emphatically reminded of the priority which the Scriptures should and must have in our lives.

This text should provide us with the motivation to make the Word of God a priority in our lives. It should also teach us a method by which to study the Word. We should first study the Word of God recognizing our own fallenness, our own inclination to twist and distort the Scriptures to proof-text our own preferences and preconceived ideas. We must come to the Scriptures looking for God to change our lives, suspecting our temptation to change God’s Word to conform to our lives. We must depend upon the Holy Spirit to enable us to understand the mind of God. And, we must read and study the Bible as a whole, not just in its parts. We must read and study the Bible in much bigger chunks, and not simply race through a couple of devotional thoughts on passages randomly selected. It is the whole counsel of God which we must learn. Our goal should be to learn all that God has taught us about Himself, ourselves, the gospel, and our mission, not just the parts we like to hear, that make us feel good. Let us go to the Word of God so that He can rearrange us, rather than to rearrange His Word.

In our text, God’s Word was being perfectly fulfilled, but these depressed disciples didn’t know it. God’s risen Son was walking with them, but they didn’t recognize Him. How often is that true of us? How do we think of Jesus as far away, when He is beside us, indeed, through His Spirit, is within us? The nearness of God, and the enjoyment of Him, comes from being immersed in His Word, and being illuminated by His Spirit.

Notes:

139 There are a number of attempts to identify this man, but all of these lack proof, and thus all must be seen as highly speculative.

140 It has been pointed out that the wording of the text does not really demand that it be two men, but that it could conceivably be two people, even a husband and wife. I am nevertheless inclined to view it as two men.

141 Since the tomb was hewn out of the rock, there would have been no mound of fresh earth, as we might expect, to give away the location. It would also seem that this tomb was a “family tomb,” a burial place not just for Joseph, but for other family members as well. This would explain the statement that it was a tomb in which no one had yet been laid. It could have been a tomb where the bodies of others already lay. There must have been shelves carved out of the stone, so that the women observed the exact place where Jesus was laid. This was the place that was now empty, except for the burial cloths, still remaining.

142 John, you will recall (John 20:2-10), accompanied Peter to the tomb. Unlike Peter, John was convinced by the evidence at the tomb alone (the way that the burial garments were found, perhaps?) that Jesus had risen, but without seeing this as a biblical, prophetic necessity. Since he did not yet understand the Scriptures to teach that Jesus must rise from the dead, he did not believe out of necessity, but out of the weight of the evidence and the illumination of the Holy Spirit.

143 I take it from the account that the angels “appeared” to the women, that is, that they were not just sitting there waiting, nor that they walked up, but that they were there, unseen, and then, at the right time, revealed themselves to the women (cf. Luke 24:4). I believe the angels were also present when Peter (and John) arrived, but that they did not reveal their presence to them.

144 I have, in the past, held that the two men recognized Jesus as he was breaking the bread, because they saw the nail prints in His hands. The text does not tell us this. The text only tells us that the disciples recognized Jesus while He was breaking the bread, not necessarily that they recognized Him because He broke the bread.

145 We know that Jesus did appear to some of the women on their way home from the tomb (Matthew 28:9-10), but this must have been on some later trip to the tomb. These men left the city of Jerusalem before this later report came in.

146 It is my personal opinion that had Jesus not sought out some of the men disciples in Jerusalem, none of them would have gone to Galilee to meet the Lord there. Jesus therefore appeared to Peter (cf. Luke 24:34), causing the others to finally be convinced of the truth of the account given earlier by the women.

147 Note the two “all’s” in verse 27—”all the prophets,” and “all the Scriptures.” Jesus was very thorough in His exposition. He taught the “whole counsel of God pertaining to Messiah’s suffering and glory, and He did so from all the Old Testament.

148 I take it that “Moses” means “the books of Moses,” that is, the Pentateuch. In other words, Jesus led them through the Old Testament, from Genesis to Zechariah, showing them that suffering and glory could not be separated in the prophecies pertaining to Messiah.

149 I am inclined to think that Stephen’s message in Acts 7 is similar, in many ways, to Jesus’ teaching of the two on the road to Emmaus. Stephen emphasized the hardness of heart that kept the Jews from understanding that suffering was a part of God’s promise to give them a kingdom, and because of this, they rejected and persecuted the prophets, culminating in the crucifixion of Christ. Note how much suffering is a part of Stephen’s message.

150 Some of the passages in Acts which supply us with the preaching of the apostles and the texts to which they referred are: Acts 2:22-36 (The resurrection of Christ); Acts 3:11-26 (esp. v. 18); Acts 7—Stephen’s sermon which summarized the history of Israel; Acts 17:1-3; Acts 26:22-23

151 One almost gets the impression that Jesus was in more than one place at one time, as all of these appearances are compressed into a relatively short period of time.

152 There might well be a connection between the first area of emphasis—the breaking of the bread—and the second area—the Word of God. If the Scriptures are the “bread of life,” then it was in the breaking of the bread of God’s Word that the Lord made known to the two men. Is this not true for men today? Jesus is made known as the bread of His Word is broken.

 

From Invisibility to Invincibility
(Luke 24:36-53)

By: Bob Deffinbaugh , Th.M.

36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” 40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things . 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

Introduction

The distressing thing about our text is that the disciples, at the beginning of our passage, more closely characterize the church today than the disciples, at the end. The disciples’ initial response to the death of Christ was total devastation. Their response to the reports and evidence pointing to His resurrection was disbelief—hard core, persistent unbelief (cf. Mark 16:14-15). The disciples are almost invisible in the text. They are hiding behind closed doors, or silently grieving in the safety of their own quarters (cf. Luke 24:12). At the end of our text, the disciples’ fear has turned to boldness; their confusion to conviction; their troubled spirits to joy; their wallowing in self-pity and disappointment to worship.

It was Frank Tillipaugh, in his excellent book, The Church Unleashed, who referred to the “fortress mentality” of the church. I fear that he is right, that the church is more concerned about nurturing itself than it is with reaching a lost world with the gospel. We are more concerned with our own self-image than we are with the salvation of the lost. We seem to be more caught up in safety and security than in faith and obedience. We persist in constructing programs which protect us from the pagan world in which we live, rather than to penetrate it with the good news of the gospel. In the name of edification, the home and the family, we have preoccupied ourselves with ourselves. We are, I suspect, very much like the disciples, at the time of their unbelief.

If this is so, it is not a hopeless or incurable malady. The troubled and doubting disciples were transformed in our text, to men and women of joy, of boldness, and of worship. Soon, they will be characterized by their witness as well. Whatever it was that hindered these disciples is curable. And whatever the cure, it is just as available and as applicable today as it was 2,000 years ago. Let us consider our text, first to learn what transformed these almost invisible (the eleven disciples hardly appear in the gospels after the death of Christ) disciples to an invincible force that turned the world of that day upside-down. Let us then learn the same lesson for ourselves.

The Structure of the Passage

The structure of the text is quite simple. Verses 36-43 depict the unbelief of the disciples and emphasize the “physical evidence” for the physical, literal, resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Verses 44-49 deal with the “biblical evidence” for what has taken place, and for what is yet to happen. Verses 50-53 describe the ascension of our Lord, and the dramatic difference which all these things had on the disciples. Summarized, the structure of the passage is as follows:

(1) Verses 36-43 — Exhibit 1: The Physical Evidence

(2) Verses 44-49 — Exhibit 2: The Biblical Evidence

(3) Verses 50-53 — Exhibit 3: The Difference in the Disciples

Background

Before we consider these three sections, their meaning, and their relevance, let us make a few observations about the passage in general.

First, the time which is spanned in these verses is 40 days. We know this from Luke’s words in Acts chapter 1, where he wrote,

To these [apostles] He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).

We might gain the impression that these three paragraphs describe incidents all occurring on the same day, if it were not for these words in Acts 1, along with the parallel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and John. Luke’s purpose is not to tell us all that happened in those 40 days, nor even to indicate a change in location, as much as to sum up the way in which Jesus convinced His disciples that He was raised from the dead, according to the Scriptures. We may, therefore, suspect that a change in time and place might be found, for example, in verses 44 and 50. We do know at least that the ascension of our Lord took place 40 days after His resurrection, and thus more than a month after His first appearance to the disciples, as described in verses 36-43.

Second, Luke’s account of the last days of our Lord on the earth may be more thorough than the account given by Matthew, but his account in the first chapter of Acts is even more detailed. Luke’s purpose, like that of the other gospel writers, was not to tell us everything, but to tell us a few important things, and thus they are selective in what they choose to relate. They have much more to tell us than what they have written (cf. John 20:30-31).

Third, Luke’s emphasis in his account of the post-resurrection appearances of Christ is on what took place in Jerusalem, not so much on what happened in Galilee (as, for example, Matthew recorded (28:16-17). There are many appearances, some of which are described in one or more gospel, and others of which may be described by another. There were probably a number of appearances which were not even mentioned. We should not expect to be able to neatly harmonize all of the accounts, for there is simply too much that is not said. If all the facts were known, the details would perfectly harmonize.

Fourth, while Jesus referred to the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures, Luke did not include any references for us in his account. Furthermore, Jesus’ teaching is not really recorded, but only the most general thrust of it. We will discover some of the central passages when we come to our study in the book of Acts, 153 but the passages are not listed here. I think that the Spirit of God is challenging us to read and study the Old Testament and to find them for ourselves. We should look for prophecies pertaining to Christ in the Old Testament, indeed, in every part of it. Luke’s report of Jesus’ words tells us what to look for, and where, but the searching is still our task. 154

Exhibit One: 
Physical Evidence of Jesus’ Resurrection 
(24:36-42)

36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself 155 stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” 40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.

The two disciples whom Jesus intercepted on the road to Emmaus could not wait to return to tell the good news to their brethren at Jerusalem. Immediately after they recognized Jesus and He disappeared, they rushed back to Jerusalem, and to the disciples. They were not even able to get their words out because Jesus had already appeared to Peter, who told them Jesus was indeed alive. Thus, the two disciples first heard of the certainty of Jesus’ resurrection from their peers. The best they could do was simply to add their own testimony to the same truth. Jesus was really risen from the dead, and they believed it.

Or so it seemed, but when Jesus actually appeared, it was clear that their “belief” in His resurrection was insufficient. Jesus’ first words to this group were, “Peace be with you” (verse 36). That was not their response, however. They were “startled” and “troubled,” Luke tells us (verse 37). Why? Why were they not overjoyed? Why were they frightened and upset? The word “startled” suggests that the disciples were “caught off guard,” as though they never expected to see Jesus. If He was really alive, as they professed, why would His appearance be such a shock? If Jesus had greeted with a pronouncement of “peace,” why were they troubled, the very opposite of peace?

The answer is that they though Jesus to be only a ghost, a spirit, and they were frightened of ghosts. 156 The disciples believed in ghosts, and, at the moment, they believed Jesus was a ghost. This is, to some degree, understandable. John’s gospel informs us that the room in which the disciples were gathered had a “locked door” (John 20:19). Jesus’ appearance was, therefore, not a normal one. How could Jesus have entered the room in a normal body? The ghost explanation made sense to them. It was their first (and seemingly unanimous) conclusion.

The fact was, it was easier for the disciples to believe in a “ghostly” Jesus, than in a Jesus who was literally and physically present. The issue really comes down to “belief” or “unbelief.” The disciples thought they really believed. They said that they believed (Luke 24:34). But they did not really believe it. In Mark’s account, he tells us that Jesus Later appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen (Mark 16:14).

Belief, we know, is not just a matter of our professions, but of our practice (cf. James 1:19–2:26). In the book of Acts we are told of the vision which Peter received, convincing him that he was no longer to avoid contact with Gentiles (Acts 10:9-16). This was to pave the way for Peter to go to the house of Cornelius, and to preach the gospel. Peter did so, and these Gentiles came to faith. But the Jewish leaders of the church in Jerusalem called Peter on the carpet for his actions. After he gave a very thorough explanation, they had to acknowledge,

“Well, then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18b).

In spite of this profession, their practice lagged behind, for in the very next verse we are told,

So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone (Acts 11:19, NASB, emphasis mine).

If our belief and our behavior do not match, it is often our belief that is inadequate. So it was for the disciples. And so it is, I might add, for most of us as well.

It is noteworthy to observe that the “insufficient belief” of the disciples at the appearance of our Lord is very similar to the “insufficient belief” of many today, when it comes to the resurrection of our Lord. They would hastily admit that Jesus is, in some sense, alive today. He is alive in spirit, alive in our hearts, not unlike the way in which the memory of those who have died lives within us. But He is not viewed to be physically raised from the dead and present with His people today. Such unbelief is like that of the disciples. And this unbelief Jesus was determined to change to genuine faith.

The thrust of verses 36-43 is our Lord’s gracious provision of ample physical evidence for His physical resurrection. The first evidence was the Lord, standing before them. He was not, as they supposed, a ghost. He encouraged them to touch Him, 157 and to see that He had flesh and bones (verse 40). He also encouraged them to look at His hands and His feet (verse 40). The inference is clear that both His hands and His feet bore the nail prints which He had from the cross. In this sense, at least, His body was “like” the body He had before His death. The body of our Lord was not like the former body in that it was not corruptible, and it was somehow capable of appearing and disappearing, as was evident in His appearance in the room where they met, with the door locked. Finally, Jesus ate some of the fish which they were eating, the final proof that His body was, indeed, a real one—one which may not require food for life, but which did assimilate it. How else would Jesus be able to share a banquet with His disciples in heaven, and to drink the cup and eat the bread anew in the kingdom (cf. Luke 22:15-18)?

The evidence was compelling. The disciples were convinced. This is most apparent by the change in their disposition. There are three sets of descriptions given to us in verses 36-37. Pause for a moment to note them:

(1) Startled and Frightened (verse 37)

(2) Troubled and Doubting (verse 38)

(3) Joy and Amazement (verse 41)

The disciples’ first response to Jesus’ appearance was that they were “startled and frightened” (verse 37). Jesus pressed past these symptoms, to the deeper roots, which was that their spirits were troubled and doubting (verse 38). Once the evidence was grasped by the disciples, their “troubled spirits” turned to “joyfulness” (which I think includes the “peace” of which our Lord spoke in His greeting 158), and their “doubt” turned to amazement. The former “doubt” was that of unbelief, the latter “amazement” was due to joy, equivalent to, “I can’t believe this is happening to me!,” or “It’s too good to be true!”

We should not leave these verses behind without suggesting that Lord’s use of the term “peace” is more than just the usual form of greeting, which it seems to be. The term “peace” should have been a pregnant one, first of all from its Old Testament roots. Very often (e.g. Lev. 26:1-13; Num. 6:22-26; Judg. 6:11-24; Isa. 9:1-7; 48:17-18; 59:1-8; 60:17-20; Ezek. 37:24-28; Micah 5:5; Hag. 2:3-9) the peace of God is closely associated with His presence. Conversely, the absence of peace is associated with His absence or withdrawal. Second, Jesus’ words to His disciples, recorded by John in the upper room discourse (John 14-17) contained the word “peace” several times. The “peace” of which our Lord spoke there had to do with the future, when His presence with His disciples was manifested through His Spirit, who was yet to come. The peace of God and the presence of God are virtually inseparable. It is not surprising, then, that Jesus would show His disciples that He was physically present, and also speak to them about peace.

Exhibit Two: 
Exegetical Evidence 
(24:44-49)

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

With the two disciples who were on the road to Emmaus, Jesus began with the exegetical (biblical) evidence concerning His rejection, suffering, death, and resurrection. He then existentially (experientially) was revealed to them, only to immediately disappear. Here, the order is reversed, but both the existential and the exegetical elements are present.

The first thing that catches my attention in these verses is that there is nothing “new” here, either concerning what has happened to the Lord Jesus, or concerning what was to take place in and through the disciples. All of it has been prophesied in the Scriptures, and also foretold by the Lord Jesus. There are three specific areas of focus here: (1) the rejection, suffering, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ; (2) the proclamation of the gospel to all nations; and, (3) the promise of the Holy Spirit, coming on the disciples to endue them with power.

The first of these three will come as no surprise to us. The rejection, death, and resurrection of Messiah was one of the prominent (albeit perplexing, cf. 1 Peter 1:10-12) prophetic themes of the Old Testament. The rejection and suffering of the Lord Jesus was alluded to by Simeon (Luke 2:34-35). It was hinted at by the treatment of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus. It was anticipated by the rejection of Jesus on the occasion of His first (recorded) public presentation of Himself as Messiah in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:14-30). As Jesus’ ministry and message became more widespread, the opposition of the Jewish religious leaders became more intense and organized. On several occasions or Lord told His disciples that this would be His divinely determined destiny (cf. Luke 9:21-23; 9:44-45; 18:31-34). While the disciples did not grasp this truth, and even resisted what they knew of it, they needed only to be reminded that this is what He had told them.

The rejection, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus was not only something which He had told them previously, on a number of occasions, it was also that concerning which the Old Testament prophets had foretold, beginning with the Law Moses, and including the Prophets and the Psalms. These three—the Law of Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets—are not just references to general witnesses to the suffering and Messiah; they are the three main categories or divisions into which the entire Old Testament was sub-divided. Thus, Jesus was reminding His disciples that the entire Old Testament, in all of its three major divisions, bore witness to His suffering and death. All of the Old Testament, beginning with the Law of Moses, looked ahead to the coming of Jesus as the Messiah. And all of the Old Testament spoke of His rejection, suffering, death, and resurrection, either by direct statement or by inference. Thus it was the Jesus could say, as recorded in John’s gospel, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day; and he saw it, and was glad” (John 8:56).

Twice now, in the last chapter of Luke’s gospel, Jesus had made reference to the prophecies of the Old Testament referring to His rejection, suffering, death, and resurrection. At least in His conversation with the two men on the road to Emmaus (24:27), Jesus specifically referred to a number of Old Testament texts and explained them in the light of their fulfillment in Him. But we are not given so much as one reference here. Why did Jesus spell out to His disciples the Old Testament prophecies which referred to Him, but Luke does not enumerate them for us? I suspect that there are at least two reasons. First, we will see what some of the key prophecies are when we get to the Book of Acts. In Acts chapter two, for example, Peter will refer to some Old Testament texts to prove that Jesus had to suffer, die, and be raised from the dead. Luke is simply waiting for a better time. Second, however, I think that God may have intended for us to search out these texts for ourselves. He chose not to give us a concordance or a topical reference set to this subject. He expects us to read our Old Testament with an eye for those prophecies pertaining to Messiah. God does not do all our homework for us.

Verse 45 is crucial, I believe, for it indicates to us that while there was an unbelief of which the disciples were guilty, and for which they were rebuked (e.g. Mark 16:14), there was also a natural inability to understand the Scriptures, which had to be divinely removed. In verse 45, Luke informs us that Jesus removed that veil, enabling the disciples to understand, for the first time, the Old Testament Scriptures pertaining to Him as Messiah, especially as related to His rejection, suffering, and death. This is consistent with what Paul will later write in his first epistle to the Corinthians:

But we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for it they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written,

“THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED INTO THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.” For to us God revealed them through the Spirit, for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no man. For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE SHOULD INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:7-16).

From this text we can see that all men, unaided by the Spirit of God, are incapable of understanding the things of God because God, His ways, and His means, are vastly beyond our ability to comprehend. In addition to this barrier, there is an additional “veil” which must be removed from the eyes of the Jews. Of this Paul also wrote in his second epistle to the Corinthians:

But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; BUT WHENEVER A MAN TURNS TO THE LORD, THE VEIL IS TAKEN AWAY. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit (2 Corinthians 2:14-18).

It was not until after His resurrection that the eyes of the disciples were opened to understand all that the prophets had spoken pertaining to the ministry of the Messiah, and especially of His rejection, suffering, death, and resurrection. That veil was now removed. From this point on the disciples will turn to the Old Testament prophecies to prove the Jesus was the promised Messiah, and that all that happened to Him was a prophetic necessity.

The second facet of Old Testament prophecy to which Jesus pointed the disciples was the proclamation of the gospel to all nations, and not just to Israel:

46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things (Luke 24:46-48).

Notice the “and,” the only thing between the first facet and the second. There is no disjunction here, but conjunction. It was written that the “Christ must suffer and rise on the third day,” and it was also written that “repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations.” Here was a truth just as difficult to grasp as the first. How the Jews resisted this aspect of Christ’s Messiahship, as He clearly indicated it must be at the very outset of His ministry (Luke 4:24-27). And this was not the first time that the salvation of the Gentiles would be spoken of in Luke. At the birth of the Lord Jesus, the angel told the shepherds that the “good news of great joy” which he was bringing to them was “for all the people” (2:10). The universality of the gospel—the fact that the Messiah would die for the sins of all who would believe, Jew or Gentile—was one of the greatest irritations for the Jews, especially for those who did not see themselves as “sinners.”

The Abrahamic Covenant, which was made with Abraham, is usually viewed as focusing on the blessings which will come to Israel, but the blessings God promised Abraham were those which would extend to all nations:

“And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3, NASB).

The later prophets will affirm this same promise of salvation and blessing for the Gentiles. We see, for example, these prophecies:

28 “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. 30 I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 31 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. 32 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, among the survivors whom the Lord calls (Joel 2:28-32, NASB, emphasis mine).

3 ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? 4 But now be strong, O Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. 5 ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’ 6 “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. 7 I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. 8 ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. 9 ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty” (Haggai 2:3-9, NASB, emphasis mine).

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations (Isaiah 42:1, NASB, emphasis mine).

In the light of the fact that the salvation which Messiah came to bring was for all nations, the Great Commission comes as no new revelation, but as an outflow, both of the work of Christ on the cross of Calvary, and of the Old Testament prophecies which foretold of the salvation of men of every nation. Notice that Luke (both here and in Acts 1:8) records the Great Commission, not so much as a command as a promise, a certainty.

In order for the gospel to be proclaimed to men of every nation, beginning at Jerusalem, the disciples must be endued with power, the promised power of the Holy Spirit, which would turn hearts of stone to hearts of flesh, which would convict and convert some of the very ones who, only a little more than a month before, had called out for the murder of Messiah. This promise of the Holy Spirit was, like the two previous areas of prophecy, something of which Jesus spoke to His disciples, and which the Old Testament prophets had foretold. Let us look briefly at some of these references to the Holy Spirit’s coming.

The coming of the Holy Spirit was a “clothing with power from on high,” as Jesus said (verse 49). It was also that which the Father had promised. This “promise of the Father” (cf. Acts 1:4) must have its roots in the Old Testament prophets, and so it does. Once again, however, if Jesus told the disciples what the specific prophetic texts were, Luke did not record them. We know from Acts chapter 2 that Joel chapter 2 will be one of those texts. But let us look at several other texts which promise the coming of the Spirit in a greater way than Israel had experienced to that point in time:

12 Beat your breasts for the pleasant fields, for the fruitful vines 13 and for the land of my people, a land overgrown with thorns and briers—yes, mourn for all houses of merriment and for this city of revelry. 14 The fortress will be abandoned, the noisy city deserted; citadel and watchtower will become a wasteland forever, the delight of donkeys, a pasture for flocks, 15 till the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field seems like a forest. 16 Justice will dwell in the desert and righteousness live in the fertile field. 17 The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever. 18 My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest. 19 Though hail flattens the forest and the city is leveled completely, 20 how blessed you will be, sowing your seed by every stream, and letting your cattle and donkeys range free (Isaiah 32:12-20).

1 “But now listen, O Jacob, my servant, Israel, whom I have chosen. 2 This is what the Lord says—he who made you, who formed you in the womb, and who will help you: Do not be afraid, O Jacob, my servant, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen. 3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. 4 They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams. 5 One will say, ‘I belong to the Lord’; another will call himself by the name of Jacob; still another will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s,’ and will take the name Israel (Isaiah 44:1-5).

20 “The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,” declares the Lord. 21 “As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever,” says the Lord (Isaiah 59:20-21).

The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” … Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord’” (Ezekiel 37:1-3a,11-14).

I will no longer hide my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit on the house of Israel, declares the Sovereign Lord” (Ezekiel 39:29).

10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. 11 On that day the weeping in Jerusalem will be great, like the weeping of Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. 12 The land will mourn, each clan by itself, with their wives by themselves: the clan of the house of David and their wives, the clan of the house of Nathan and their wives, 13 the clan of the house of Levi and their wives, the clan of Shimei and their wives, 14 and all the rest of the clans and their wives (Zechariah 12:10-14).

The “promise of the Father” was reiterated by John the Baptist, who contrasted his baptism with that of the Messiah who would come after him (cf. Luke 3:16). Jesus also spoke of the coming of the Holy Spirit in Luke 11:5-13. When the disciples were drug off and put on trial for their faith, they were told not to prepare their defense in advance, but that in that hour the Holy Spirit would give them the words to speak (Luke 12:12; Mark 13:11; Matthew 10;20). It the Gospel of John primary source of our Lord’s teaching on the Holy Spirit. Jesus offered the Holy Spirit to all who thirsted (John 7:37-39), and He especially promised the Holy Spirit to His disciples in His absence (John 14-16).

The nature of the ministry of the Holy Spirit will be taken up in our study of the Book of Acts, but suffice it to say that Jesus commanded His disciples not to go forth with their witness to the things which had happened apart from the power which He would provide through His Spirit. He who commanded the disciples to be His witnesses also commanded them only to witness in the power that He would provide. He who commands is He who enables.

The Ascension and the 
Disciples’ Boldness in Worship 
(24:50-53)

50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

Forty days have passed, as Luke will make clear in Acts 1:3. The disciples are now led to the outskirts of Jerusalem, a “Sabbath day’s journey” for that city, to the mount called Olivet (Acts 1:12). As He lifted His hands in blessing, He was taken up from them. A slightly more detailed account will follow in Acts. Luke jumps ahead to those days which will follow (I think that these are after Pentecost). These disciples who were so distraught and disarmed by the death of Jesus are now described as transformed.

Notice the change that Luke describes here. These once despondent disciples are now characterized by praise. And these followers of Jesus who only days before were cowering behind locked doors, hidden from the Jewish religious leaders who crucified their Lord, are now persistently, publicly praising God—in the temple, the very headquarters of Judaism. The change is briefly described. The transformation will be depicted in much greater detail in the Book of Acts, the sequel volume, which perhaps is already under way.

Conclusion

The last chapter of Luke serves as a kind of conclusion, as we would expect. But in reality it is hardly a conclusion. There is but one verse, the very last verse, which gives us any sense of conclusion, and that is incredibly brief. The reason should be obvious. The Gospel of Luke cannot provide us with an ending. It is a gospel, and as such, it can tell us of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ, but it cannot tell us the whole story. This is precisely why Luke found it necessary to write another volume, a sequel to the gospel. In this book, Luke will continue the story of the work of Christ in the world through His church, empowered by His Spirit.

As I read the Gospel of Luke and then the Book of Acts, I can rather easily understand why the disciples felt and acted as they did in the Gospel of Luke. I can even somewhat grasp how their feelings and actions changed in the Book of Acts. But what troubles me is that the church today seems to act more like the disciples in Luke than they do the apostles in Acts. Is it possible that we need to undergo the same change of heart, mind, and action that the disciples did? Are we so much like they were then? I think so.

How, then, must we change, to be more like the apostles in Acts than to continue to be like the disciples in Luke? What must change? First of all, I think that we believe, far more than the disciples did, that Jesus had to be rejected, put to death, and rise again. I don’t think our problem is understanding what the Old Testament taught about Jesus. To take this a step further, I don’t think that we have a great problem understanding what the gospels teach, concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. I think our problem is that in spite of all that we know about Jesus, we don’t really believe it. Our “profession” (our creed—what we say we believe) may be post-Pentecost, but our practice, our conduct is pre-Pentecost. We live more like the disciples lived in Luke than like they lived in Acts. The facts we know, but do we really believe them. The power we profess, but do we really practice it?

In short, I see the problem exposed here in Luke, but the solution is yet to be worked out. It is solved in Acts. While a believe in the resurrection of Christ is vital, there is yet more that is needed. What is it? Let us press on to Acts to see what it is. On to volume 2!

Not quite so fast. Before we press on, let me give you a hint. The disciples had come to believe that Jesus had not only died, but had risen again. The nature of the resurrection, as the disciples grasped it, was inadequate—they thought of it only as a “spiritual” resurrection. They did not really believe Jesus was present with them. That was the truth that was so hard to grasp. Jesus was not only alive. Jesus was with them, in their very midst. He would be even more present with them, and in them, through His Spirit, but this was the promise of what was still to come. The resurrection of Christ is so much sweeter when we come to realize that Him whom God raised from the dead is not only alive, but present, by means of His Spirit. May we come to grasp His presence in us, individually and corporately. Herein in joy and power. As Paul will later put it,

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you (Romans 8:11).

The greatest reality of the resurrection that can be seen today is the reality that a body which is incapable of living in a way that pleases God and fulfills His commandments, which is subject to the power of sin, can be given life by the same Spirit that raised the dead body of our Lord to life. The Spirit who raised Christ from the dead can give life to our dead bodies. Here is a reality of the resurrection which the disciples were soon to experience. May we experience it as well.

Notes:

153 It may well be, as some have suggested, that Luke had already begun to write Acts by this time.

154 Interestingly enough, the marginal notes and references are virtually barren at this point, not giving us specific texts, either. The commentaries, too, are not very helpful.

155 This emphatic “himself” seems to underscore the fact that it was Jesus himself, the same Jesus as had been with them, the one about whose resurrection they were talking, was among them. He was personally present.

156 Compare Matthew 14:26 and context, where Jesus was seen by His disciples, walking on the water near their boat. Thinking that He was a ghost, they were very frightened.

157 Some have thought our Lord’s invitation to “touch” Him to be a contradiction to His words to Mary: “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to My Father… ” (John 20:17, KJV). The problem is mainly with the translation of the King James Version. The NASB renders the Lord’s words: “Stop clinging to Me; for I have not yet ascended to the Father… ” It was not her touching Jesus which was forbidden, but her clinging to Jesus as though she would never let Him go. The fact was, He must go to the Father, and thus she must “let go.” The contradiction thus vaporizes. Jesus invited men to touch Him, to see that His body was real, but not to attempt to keep Him with them forever. His presence would be more intimate after His ascension, because He would not only dwell among them, but in them, through His Spirit.

158 The word peace is often found in the epistles, especially in the introductions. While “peace” may be a common form of salutation, its meaning is much deeper. Thus, the term should and must be understood in terms of the meaning given to it by our Lord, by the gospel, and by the epistles. Neither Jesus nor the apostles used words lightly.

 

 

From http://bible.org/