Friday, November 28
Luke 23:6-12: Alone among the four Evangelists, Luke tells the story of Jesus’ judicial appearance before Herod Antipas on the day of the Crucifixion (verses 6-12). This is the same Herod whom Luke mentions closer to the beginning of his Gospel, at the inauguration of the ministry of John the Baptist (3:1). Thus, in Luke’s literary construction, these two references to Herod Antipas serve to frame Jesus’ public ministry, which, as that evangelist was careful to note, extended “all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us” (Acts 1:21-22).__
Luke also tells how the animosity of Herod Antipas toward Jesus (cf. Luke 13:31) was later directed against Jesus’ disciples (cf. Acts 12:1, 11). Indeed, Luke regarded the collusion of Antipas and Pontius Pilate, which was sealed at Jesus’ trial (Luke 23:12), as the fulfillment of David’s prophecy (Psalm 2:1-2) of the gathering of the world’s leaders “against the LORD and against His Christ” (Acts 4:25-27). __It is significant that Luke, when he tells us of Jesus’ appearance before Antipas on Good Friday, does more than state the bare event. He goes into some detail about how “Herod, with his men of war, treated Him with contempt and mocked Him, arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him back to Pilate” (23:11). This description implies that Luke had access to an eyewitness account of the event, an event at which, as far as we know, no Christian disciple was present. The historian rightly inquires how Luke knew all this.
__Moreover, in addition to these external items of the narrative, Luke even addresses the motive and internal dispositions of Antipas, saying that “he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him” (23:8). Once again the historian properly wonders how Luke was privy to these sentiments. What was his source for this material, a source apparently not available to the other evangelists?__
Luke himself provides a hint toward answering this historical question when he mentions a certain Chuza, described as a “steward” of Herod Antipas. The underlying Greek noun here is epitropos, the same word that refers to the vineyard foreman in Matthew 20:8, but in the Lukan context it more likely points to a high political office, such as a chief of staff.
__It does not tax belief to imagine that such a person would be present at Jesus’ arraignment before Herod Antipas. Indeed, this would be exactly the sort of person we would expect to be present on that occasion, when Herod was in Jerusalem to observe the Passover. Furthermore, Chuza is also the sort of person we would expect to be familiar with Herod’s own thoughts, sentiments, and motives with respect to Jesus. __And how did Chuza’s information come to Luke? Most certainly through Chuza’s wife, Joanna, whom Luke includes among the Galilean women who traveled with Jesus and the Apostles, providing for Him “from their substance” (Luke 8:3).
Joanna, whom Luke is the only evangelist to mention by name, was surely his special channel of information that only he, among the evangelists, seems to have had. Married to a well-placed political figure in the Galilean court, Joanna was apparently a lady of some means, who used her resources to provide for the traveling ministry of Jesus and the Apostles. Acting in this capacity, she must have been very well known among the earliest Christians. Only Luke, however, speaks of her by name, a fact that seems to indicate that he had interviewed her in the composition of his Gospel.
__We can guess that Joanna’s adherence to Jesus was not without its difficulties for her domestic life. Here she was, the wife of a high political official, providing support for someone who would die as a political criminal. __Her loyalty was supremely rewarded, however, because the risen Lord saw fit to number Joanna among the Holy Myrrhbearers, those surprised women who “came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared,” found the stone rolled away from the tomb, then prostrated before the two herald angels of the Pascha, and subsequently “told these things to the apostles” (Luke 24:1, 57, 10). One suspects that Joanna also had a thing or two to tell her husband Chuza later that day.__
Saturday, November 29
Luke 23:13-25: More than the other Evangelists, Luke stresses Pilate’s repeated declarations of Jesus’ innocence. Immediately after his first interrogation of Him (verse 3), Pilate declares to the crowd, “I find no case [aitia] respecting this man” (verse 4). He would repeat this a second (verses 13-16) and a third time (verses 20-22). __The charge originally brought against Jesus–subversion and encouragement to evade taxes (verse 2)–His own accusers knew to be false (20:25).
After dismissing this charge, however, for want of evidence, Pilate sends Jesus over to Herod, Rome’s representative in Galilee, for further adjudication (verses 6-12). Pilate’s situation being delicate, he wanted to play it safe. Already he had twice been summoned to Rome to answer accusations leveled against him by the Jews. There were limits to Rome’s patience, and Pilate seems to have spent much of that morning protecting his own political interests.__
All things weighed, Luke goes relatively lightly against Rome with respect to the death of Jesus. He does not so much as even mention here the brutal treatment Jesus received at the hands of the Roman soldiers. Indeed, these solders are not even mentioned in the course of Jesus’ trial. Although he speaks of the white robe in which the mocking courtiers of Herod arrayed Jesus (verse 11), he does not speak of the purple robe with which the Roman soldiers clothed Him. Neither does Luke explicitly speak here of the terrible scourging Jesus received at the hands of the Romans, though he had mentioned it earlier (18:33).
__Luke stresses, rather, that the real impetus for Jesus’ murder was shared among the Jews and was not simply a plot concocted as a connivance between the high priest and the Roman authorities. For Luke the guilt was shared by “the chief priests, the rulers, and the people” (verses 13,18,23). __The modern, politically correct notion that Jesus’ death was brought about by collusion of the Roman authorities with the pro-Roman Jewish priesthood simply will not stand up to the evidence of Holy Scripture. It was certainly not the view of (the Jew) John, in whose Gospel the enemies of Jesus are regularly referred to simply as “the Jews.” Nor was it the view of (the Jew) Paul, who laid the blame for Jesus’ death solidly at the door of the Jews (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 [One laments that the New King James Bible translates the word “Jews” in this text as “Judeans,” with the obvious intent of misrepresenting history in the interest of political correctness.])
__Nor should this historical fact be obfuscated by appealing to the sound theological truth that “all of us killed Jesus” by our sins. This latter dogmatic truth is not pertinent to the historical question of the identity of Jesus’ murderers. As a point of history, the entire New Testament lays the moral blame for Jesus’ death on the international crowd of Jews gathered that day in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.
It should not be necessary to say that that historical fact in no way implicates later generations of Jews in some sort of inherited guilt for the crime committed that day, and only a perverse, deranged mind would imagine so.
Sunday, November 30
The Feast of Saint Andrew: If a Bible-reader takes the care to notice him, the Apostle Andrew is among the most attractive individuals in all of Holy Scripture. A certain measure of careful attention is necessary to lay hold of this fact, nonetheless, for Andrew does not really “put himself forward.” He does not come bounding forth impetuously from the biblical page, so to speak, like a David, a Moses, or a Paul. Indeed, this disinclination to draw explicit attention to himself is one of the very features that render Andrew so attractive.
Not drawing attention to himself, Andrew serves entirely as a conduit for others to come to the Lord. He was apparently recognized to enjoy a kind of special access to the Lord. Thus, when the Greek-speaking visitors to Jerusalem approached Philip (besides Andrew, the only other apostle with a Greek name) saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus,” Philip went first to Andrew so that the two of them might together facilitate that meeting (John 12:21–22). Evidently Philip felt the need to have the helpful, accessible Andrew by his side at that time.
In all of the Gospels, however, there is one scene that seems most clearly to reveal this trait of friendly, relaxed availability in Andrew, and that scene is in John’s narrative of the multiplication of the loaves. Of the six New Testament stories on this theme, only John tells us of the special role of Andrew: “One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, ‘There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?’” (John 6:8–9).
Now, the attentive reader of Holy Scripture should be asking a question of the text at this point, namely, just how did Andrew know that there was a little boy present who was carrying those particular pieces of food? It is unlikely, after all, that a small boy would be holding all seven items in his hands at the same time. The five barley loaves and two little fish must have been carried in a sack of some sort. The lad was part of a large multitude that had been with Jesus for some days (Matthew 15:32), and his mother had packed him several meals in a lunch bag. By now, he has already eaten most of that food—the fresh fruit and sweets are gone, for instance. All that the lad has left in that sack are five barley loaves, possibly a tad beyond their prime, and a couple of salted fish.
So how did Andrew know what was contained in that little boy’s bag? Surely the answer is obvious. He noticed the child standing near him, maybe alone, perhaps a bit distracted, and he simply asked in a cordial, engaging way, “Say there, son, what all did your mama pack for you in that sack?” From such friendly inquiries are missions and ministries begun, and miracles born.
Monday, December 1
Luke 23:26-38: Although we know on the authority of Plutarch that every criminal condemned to crucifixion by a Roman court was obliged to carry his own cross to the place of execution, those soldiers charged with crucifying Jesus evidently believed that His weakened state would not permit Him to do so. Consequently, they obliged a “certain man . . . passing by” (says Mark) to carry Jesus’ cross to the place of crucifixion. That man was returning to the city “from the country” (say Mark and Luke), perhaps for his midday repast. His name was Simon of Cyrene (Matthew 27:31-32; Mark 15:20-21; Luke 23:26).__
A descendent of certain Jews who had settled on the north coast of Africa (in modern Libya) about 300 BC, Simon doubtless belonged to that synagogue in Jerusalem particularly frequented by Cyrenian Jews who had moved back to the Holy Land (Acts 6:9). These were among the Jews responsible for the stoning of Stephen.
__Luke’s description of the event is especially instructive: “Now as they led Him away, they laid hold of a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, who was coming from the country, and on him they laid the cross that he might bear it after Jesus” (opisthen tou Iesou). Luke is the only evangelist to express the matter in this way.
__In order to see the significance this expression held for Luke, it is useful to compare the text with other Lukan passages. For example, Luke 9:23: “If anyone desires to come after Me [opiso mou], let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” And 14:27: “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me [opiso mou] cannot be My disciple.” Luke’s latter text (particularly if we contrast it with the parallel text in Matthew 10:38) shows that the bearing of the cross "after Jesus" is the true mark of discipleship. That is to say, Simon of Cyrene, bearing the cross and following after Jesus on the way to Golgotha, becomes the symbolizing embodiment of Christian discipleship.
__Holy Scripture gives us no reason to think that Simon of Cyrene had been a believer in Christ before that day when Roman soldiers compelled him to assume the weight of the Holy Cross. That was the very beginning of his discipleship. He became, however, the model of those who follow Jesus to the place of His crucifixion, outside the walls of Jerusalem (“as they came out,” says Matthew 27:32; “led Him out,” says Mark 15:20). Carrying Jesus’ cross, he shared in Jesus’ shame. Simon paid heed to that exhortation of the Epistle to the Hebrews which is addressed equally to us all: “Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (13:12-13).
Tuesday, December 2
Revelation 9:1-12: The first four trumpets produced plagues that resembled the seventh, first, and ninth plagues of Egypt (Exodus 9:22-26; 7:20-21; 10:21). These plagues, prompted by the trumpets, affect only the physical and astrophysical world, not human beings–at least not directly. The final three, described by the heavenly eagle as “woes,” afflict mankind directly (8:13).
The image of a fallen star already appeared in 8:10-11. Now another star falls in response to the fifth trumpet (verse 1; cf. Isaiah 14:12-20). This star opens the bottomless pit, from which arises a hellish smoke (verse 2; cf. 8:12) that contrasts with the incense smoke of prayer. The abyss represents existence without the worship of God — the theological term for which is “hell.” As John watches, a massive swarm of locusts takes form within that hellish cloud (verse 3), reminiscent of Egypt’s eighth plague (Exodus 10:12-15). Unlike those former locusts, however, these locusts attack men themselves, not the plant life (verse 4). Their activity is limited to five months, which is roughly the normal life span of locusts.
Indeed, this may be the only feature in which these particular locusts in Revelation resemble any other locusts in the world. These are not your usual, run-of-the-mill locusts (verses 8-10). They are satanic locusts, denizens of the abyss, who afflict men with despair. They deceptively have human faces (verse 7), but they represent a worse than human evil. Their king is called “Abaddon,” which is the Old Testament’s personification of the underworld, or grave. It literally means “destruction” (cf. Job 26:6; 31:12). John translates this name into Greek as Apollyon, meaning “destroyer” (verse 11). It is possible that John intends here a word play on the name “’Apollo,” which name, according to Aeschylus (Agamemnon 1082), comes from the verb apoluein, “to destroy.” We may bear in mind, in this respect, that the Emperor Domition, not a man easily outdone, it must be said, with respect to a high self-opinion, proclaimed himself a manifestation of Apollo. (There is simply no evil as evil as official, government-sanctioned evil.) The torture inflicted by these followers of Abaddon is spiritual, not physical, and the Christians, sealed with the sign of the Living God, are exempt from it.
Wednesday, December 3
Revelation 9:13-21: To the citizens of the Roman Empire the Euphrates River was a symbol analogous to the “Iron Curtain” of the Cold War era, that is, a border beyond which the enemy world lay massively in menace (verse 14). The enemy in their case was the Parthian army, whose most memorable feature was its cavalry of archers. Guiding their mounts with their knees, and thus leaving both hands free, those fearsome Parthian horsemen could shoot arrows very quickly in all directions, including to the rear. This is perhaps the point of reference for John’s image of horses that bite with both their mouths and their tails (verse 19). By such means, says John, God will further chastise those who persecute His people.
Many details of this vision evoked by the sixth trumpet have striking parallels in Ezekiel 38-39. Fierce as it was, however, the Parthian army was never as fearsome as that described by John (verses 17-18). This is the army of hell, whose immense reserves are superior to all merely human forces. The number given by John, “two hundred million” (verse 16), would certainly constitute the largest army ever assembled. To gain something of its magnitude, we may bear in mind that Alexander the Great captured everything from the Danube to the Indus with an army of a hundred-thousand.
The army that John sees, like the army of locusts summoned by the previous trumpet, comes right out of hell. Both of these invaders, the locusts and the horsemen, are sent to encourage men to repentance, but men’s hearts, like the heart of Pharaoh, are hardened. The idolatries listed in verse 20 are the root of the other moral evils listed in verse 21. This relationship of idolatry to moral evil is identical to that in Romans 1:21-32 and Ephesians 5:6.
Thursday, December 4
Revelation 10:1-11: Just as there was a double interrupting narrative immediately prior to the opening of the seventh seal, so a pair of visions will now precede the sounding of the seventh trumpet: the angel holding the little scroll, and the two faithful witnesses.
In the first of these, John is struck by the angel’s numinous character, at once bright and obscure. The angel’s body is clothed in a cloud, reminiscent of the cloud of the divine presence during ancient Israel’s desert journey and the cloud associated with the tabernacle of the divine presence. The face of the angel, on the other hand, has the luminosity of the sun. Nonetheless, the very fierceness of his countenance is tempered by the rainbow arching over his head, a reminder of the eternal covenant between God and creation in Genesis 9. The angel’s legs are pillars of fire, an image also reminiscent of the Exodus. His voice is like the roaring of a lion (verse 3), which is echoed by the seven thunders from Psalm 29 (Greek and Latin 28).
With one foot on the earth, one foot on the sea, and his hand into the air, the angel touches, as it were, all three aspects of physical creation: solid, liquid, and gas (verse 5). Moreover, all three of these components are mentioned in his oath (verse 6; Exodus 20:4,11), in which he swears that God’s secret purpose (to mysterion) in history will not be delayed of fulfillment.
The scroll that the angel holds is smaller than the scroll in Chapter 5, suggesting that its message may be less universal. Indeed, the message of that scroll is not directed to the world, but to the community of faith (verses 8-11). It is not read but eaten; John absorbs its message into himself. He assimilates the Word that he might then give expression to it. In this respect he imitates the prophet Ezekiel (2:9—3:4).
Friday, December 5
Revelation 11:1-10: In our reading of the Book of Revelation thus far we have encountered the Danielic expression, “a time, times, and half a time” (Daniel 12:7). If we substitute the word “year” for “time,” the meaning of the expression is clear, “three and a half years,” or forty-two months, or (following the Hebrew calendar of thirty days per month) twelve-hundred and sixty days. In the Book of Daniel this was the length of time during which the Jerusalem temple was violated by Antiochus Epiphanes IV (Daniel 9:27).
Similarly here in Revelation it is the symbolic length of time of severe trial and the apparent triumph of evil (verses 2-3; 12:6; 13:5). John’s contemporaries must also have been struck by the fact that the Roman siege of Jerusalem also lasted three and a half years, from A.D. 67-70. In the present chapter this length of time refers to the persecution of the Christian Church, of which Jerusalem’s temple was a type and foreshadowing.
There is found within the Christian Church, however, an inner court, as it were, a deep interior dimension that the forces of evil cannot trample. This inviolability is conferred by being sealed with the sign of the living God. It asserts that believers are not to fear those who can kill the body but can do no more, because there yet remains an inner court that is off-limits to the invader and defiler. This is the inner court of which John is told to take the measure (cf. Ezekiel 40:1-4; Zechariah 2:1-2), a measuring that he will narrate later (21:15-17).
The literary background of John’s vision of the two witnesses is Zechariah 4:1-3,11-14, where the prophet had in mind the anointed ruler Zerubbabel and the anointed priest Jeshua, the two men who preserved the worship in God’s house that they rebuilt between 520 and 516. Those two figures represented royalty (for Zerubbabel was a descendent of David) and priesthood (for Jeshua was a descendent of Aaron), which are two essential aspects of the life in Christ (cf. Revelation 1:6; 5:10).
“Two” witnesses are needed, of course, this being the minimum number required in order “to make the case” (Deuteronomy 19:15). But the two witnesses in this chapter of Revelation are the heirs, not only to Zerubbabel and Jeshua, but also to Moses and Elijah. It was the first of these who afflicted Egypt with plagues, and the second who closed up heaven for three and a half years (cf. Luke 4:25; James 5:17). This is John’s way of asserting that the Christian Church, in her royal priesthood, continues also the prophetic war against false gods. She will destroy God’s enemies by fire (verse 5), as did Moses (Numbers 16:35) and Elijah (2 Kings 1:9-12).
When the monster from the abyss kills these two servants of God (verse 7), the forces of evil seem to have triumphed (verse 10), but they will be carried up to heaven, again like Moses (Josephus, Antiquities 4.8.48) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11), because the victorious Lamb has the final word.