Friday, November 14

Luke 21:20-28: Comparing this text to its parallels in Mark 13:14-20 and Matthew 24:15-22, we observe that Luke’s description of the siege and fall of Jerusalem is portrayed simply an historical event that is to come. It seems to be the case that Luke (unlike Mark) was written after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70. The end of the world, however, had not accompanied that event. Consequently, in Luke the Lord’s prophecy of this event is plainly spoken, and simply as a matter of fact. It is not loaded with eschatological significance, not regarded as an immediate harbinger of the final times.

We note in particular Luke’s omission of the Abomination of Desolation (cf. Mark 13:14; Daniel 9:27; 12:11; 1 Maccabees 1:57).??When the invading Roman legions arrive to besiege the city, flight is the only rational response, because Jerusalem will offer no protection to those who remain there (verses 21-22). As a point of history, before the siege was established, the Christians in Jerusalem fled eastward across the Jordan to Pella (Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History 3.5.3). Warned by Jesus’ prophecy of the city’s fall, they did not stay around to defend it.

Indeed, they felt no special loyalty to the very city that had rejected the Messiah, certainly that a level of loyalty that would prompt them to stay and defend the place against a doom they knew to be inevitable. That decision of the Jerusalem Christians, which separated them from so many of their countrymen, doubtless contributed to the further alienation of Christians and Jews.

How much time will elapse between the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world? Only God knows, and Holy Scripture discourages believers from speculating on the point. However long this period endures, the time must be spent in evangelizing the world, “until the times of the nations has been fulfilled.”

Having treated of the downfall of Jerusalem without attaching to it a note of eschatological immediacy, Luke next turns to speak of the Lord’s return, when “until the times of the nations has been fulfilled” (verse 24).??The assertion that Jesus Christ is the meaning of history implies that he it is who will bring history to a close.

The Lord’s return at the end of time is so integral and necessary a part of the Christian faith that the First Council of Nicaea, in 325, enshrined it in the Nicene Creed. ??We observe that the language of verses 25-26 draws heavily from the biblical prophets (cf. Isaiah 13:9-10; 34:4; Jeremiah 4:23-26; Amos 8:9; Micah 1:3-4).

The expression “your redemption is nigh” (verse 28) is found only in Luke. Indeed, among the four gospels the Greek word for redemption, apolytrosis, is found only in this place. Luke, often a companion of Paul in his travels, had doubtless heard the Apostle to the Gentiles use this word many times (cf. Romans 3:24; 8:23; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Ephesians 1:7,14; 4:30; Colossians 1:14).

Saturday, November 15

Luke 21:29-38: Throughout the era of the Church there will be times when the fig tree will appear to have died. Nothing looks deader than a fig tree in the wintertime. We may see in the harsh conditions of winter an image of the many persecutions and hardships that the persevering community of Christ must endure until the spring of His return. One thinks, in this connection, of the condition of the Christian Church behind the Iron Curtain for so many decades, in such places as Russia and Poland. From the outside it certainly appeared to be, in not dead, at least near death. As soon as the Iron Curtain was brought down, however, immediately the new buds appeared.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-18: Verse 11 has a play on words impossible to translate literally without losing the force of the expression: meden ergazomenous alla periergazomenous, which may be paraphrased, “not working but working around,” or “not busy but busybodies.”

This letter was written partly in reply to those who took the “last times” so seriously as to affect their duties and responsibilities in this world, with the result that they lived off of the generosity of other Christians. Paul very seriously insisted that such people should not be helped: “If someone is unwilling (ou thelei) to work, neither let him eat.”

This seems harsh. Jesus has said nothing like this in the Sermon on the Mount or in His Last Judgment parable in Matthew 25. Paul, however, is not teaching an ideal of charity here; he is very practically trying to come to grips with a very practical problem. The resources of the Christian community are always going to be limited. Every effort must be made to assist the poor and helpless, but there is no room in the Church for drones and loafers.

With respect to loafers and drones in the Church, Paul criticizes more than their laziness. Worse, they spend badly the time that they have on their hands as a result of their inactivity. Later on he was obliged to deal with this problem of inactivity among the widows at Ephesus, those ladies who used their retirement to no good purpose, spending their time in idle curiosities and rumor-mongering (1 Timothy 5:13). Paul, the heir of rabbinic wisdom on this point, believed that a proper and useful occupation of one’s mind, energy, and time was good for the soul as well as the pocket book.

Sunday, November 16

Luke 22:1-6: Although Luke agrees with Mark and Matthew placing the events of Holy Week in the context of the Passover, he is less precise than the others with placing those events on particular days. (This trait would explain why Luke is less used in the traditional daily lectionaries of the Christian Church during Holy Week.) Thus, for instance, we are not told here on what day the Sanhedrin met to plot the death of Jesus (contrast Luke here with Mark and Matthew). ??Writing for Gentiles, Luke is not careful to distinguish Passover from the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, which immediately follows it. In this respect he resembles Josephus (Antiquities 3.10.5), who was also writing for Gentile readers.

In addition Luke does not specify how Judas was to betray Christ to His enemies, nor does he indicate how much money Judas was to receive for doing so. Luke explains the entire episode by saying that Satan entered into Judas (verse 4; John 13:2,27; cf. 1 Corinthians 2:8). In Luke it is apparent that the Passion is a battle between Jesus and Satan.?? In this respect the Passion in Luke takes up where the early Temptations scene left off. At that time, we recall, after Jesus had resisted all of Satan’s blandishments, Luke remarked that Satan left Him “for a while” (4:13). The “while” is over. Now Satan returns in dead earnest.

Revelation 1:1-8: From the start this most interesting book describes itself as a written prophecy (verse 3; cf. 19:10; 22:7,10,18,19).

In the early Church prophetic utterance played a major role in the determination of practical matters, such as the proper direction to be taken by missionaries (Acts 16:6-7) and the choice of men to be ordained (1 Timothy 4:14). Indeed, the prophets in the New Testament are mentioned with the apostles (1 Corinthians 12:27-29; 14:1-5; Ephesians 2:20), and we even know the names of some of them (Acts 11:27-30; 15:32). The present book contains seven references to these prophets (10:7; 11:8; 16:6; 18:2024; 22:6,9).

The author is John the Apostle, identical to the author of the Fourth Gospel and three New Testament epistles. If the John identified here was not that man, this enigmatic book would never have been included in the apostolic canon. The Church Fathers who determined these matters were very strict on the point of apostolic authorship.

The book itself is addressed to seven particular churches found in Asia Minor. It contains visions, that is, “all things that he saw,” an expression found fifty-four times in this book. Nonetheless, Revelation begins like an epistle, “grace to you and peace,” exactly like the epistles of Paul.

Monday, November 17

Luke 22:7-13: The time has now arrived, declares Luke. All the previous parts of his account have led to this moment. From the beginning of his story, when the life of the First Born Son was redeemed by two turtle dove or young pigeons (2:24), through the Lord’s entire earthly life, during which His face was steadfastly set toward Jerusalem, all has been directed to this hour when the Paschal Lamb (to Pascha; see also 1 Corinthians 5:7; Deuteronomy 16:26) would be offered and the new Exodus (9:31) inaugurated.

All of this must happen, says Luke, using one of his typical words, dei (cf. 9:22; 13:33; 17:25; 24:7,26,44).

Luke is the only Evangelist to name Peter and John as the two apostles deputed to make the Seder arrangements for Jesus and the apostolic band (verse 8). Luke’s considerable attention to these two apostles (cf. Acts 3:1,3; 4:13,19; 8:14) suggests that they may have been among the chief sources of his information about the events of Holy Week. Indeed, among the three Synoptic Evangelists, Luke’s account most resembles that of John’s Gospel.

Verse 7 refers not only to the impending annual sacrifice of the paschal lamb in obedience to the Mosaic Law, but also to the approaching immolation of the true Paschal Lamb on the following day, the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Two things are particularly to be noted in verse 10. First, a man carrying water would easily be picked out in a crowd, because in the Middle East this labor was (and is) normally allotted to women. Second, Jesus is portrayed as clairvoyant with respect to the future (cf. also 19:29-30).

One did not simply show up in Jerusalem at Passover time and expect to find a suitable place for the Seder, because the holy city at such a time was crowded with thousands of pilgrims from all over the world, and accommodations were precious. In such a setting, nonetheless, Jesus was provided with a large room upstairs (verse 12).??The preparations made by Peter and John included obtaining a sacrificed lamb from the Temple and procuring wine, unleavened bread, and the other foods requisite for the Seder (cf. Exodus 12:1-27).

Revelation 1:9-20: John’s vision comes “on the Lord’s Day” (verse 10), Sunday (1 Corinthians 16:2), the very day when the seven churches of Asia Minor were celebrating the Lord’s Supper, “the breaking of the Bread.” This service of worship normally began on the night when the Sabbath came to a close and Sunday began; it lasted through the night and ended on Sunday morning (Acts 20:7,11).

John describes himself as being “in the Spirit,” a technical term referring to prophetic inspiration (Numbers 11:25; 2 Samuel 23:2; Ezekiel 2:2; 3:24; Matthew 22:43).

Tuesday, November 18

Luke 22:14-23: There were three cups of wine in the traditional Seder, and Luke’s two cups seem to be identified with the second and third cups of that ritual meal. That is, the cup following the Passover narrative (the haggadah) and the “cup of blessing” (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:16) that came after the consumption of the paschal lamb.

The distribution of unleavened bread came between these two cups, exactly where we find it in Luke. Thus, the Seder itself was transformed into the Christian Eucharist through the symbolic attention given to the bread and the third cup.

The drinking of this third cup was placed between the first and second parts of the Hallel Psalms (113-118 [112-117 in Greek and Latin]). It was associated with the words of Psalm 116:12-13 (115:4), “What shall I render to the Lord, for all His benefits toward me? I will take up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.” This is one of the psalms, then, that Jesus prayed immediately before going out to the Garden of Gethsemani and accepting, from the Father’s hand, the cup of His sufferings (verse 42).

Luke is careful to say that only the Apostles were present with Jesus for the institution of the Lord’s Supper and only they received the dominical mandate to “do this.” From the very beginning of Christian history the presidency of the Eucharist has been reserved to those men who received from the Apostles this particular mandate through the direct succession of ordination.

The “remembrance” of verse 19 refers to God’s remembrance. That is to say, in the Eucharistic rite God remembers His covenant with the Church in Christ (cf. Genesis 9:9-17).

Revelation 2:1-7: The first of these seven letters to the Asian churches, then, makes it clear that the most serious dangers facing those churches did not come from external threat and persecution, but from spiritual problems within. This become clear right from the start.

Among the early Christian churches, that of Ephesus was particularly renowned for the strictness of its doctrinal purity. The apostle Paul, who had labored at Ephesus for three years, stressed the importance of doctrinal orthodoxy to all who ministered and taught there (Acts 20:29-31).

The problem at Ephesus was not a lack of orthodoxy, but a lack of charity; they had forgotten their first agape (verse 4). At one time they had known fervent love (Acts 20:36-38), but now it had grown cold. John’s words to them here stand forever as a warning to those whose zeal for doctrinal purity obscures in their minds the need for true charity. Even though the Ephesian Christians are here commended for their “works,” labor,” and “patience” (verse 2; cf. exactly these three words in 1 Thessalonians 1:3), they have somehow fallen away from their “first works” (verse 5), as they have from their “first love.”

Wednesday, November 19

Luke 22:24-30: The shameless dispute over rank among the Apostles, which Matthew (19:28; 20:25-28) and Mark (9:33-34; 10:41-45) place much earlier in the narrative sequence, is found during the Last Supper in Luke’s account. In this respect, Luke description of the disciples’ attitude during this meal resembles the account of it in John (13:1-20).

The proper answer to the question of apostolic rank is that it should never arise. This being the wrong question, any answer to it is necessarily the wrong answer. The ministry of the Christian Church is modeled, rather, on the example of Christ our Lord, who became the Servant of His people. In John’s account of the Last Supper this servant quality is illustrated by the Lord’s washing of the disciples’ feet.

By placing this discussion during the Last Supper, Luke brings it into greater proximity to the Lord’s Passion, in which He does show Himself to be God’s Suffering Servant foretold in the Book of Isaiah. ??In verses 28-30 the Eucharistic table becomes the effective symbol of God’s table in the Kingdom, where these same Apostles, scandalously squabbling among themselves for rank, will be afforded places of prominence. They will receive such prominence because they have persevered with Jesus in His trials.

Revelation 2:8-11: Smyrna, the modern Turkish city of Izmir, was a seaport rivaling and then surpassing Ephesus. The Book of Revelation is our earliest historical witness to the presence of a Christian church at Smyrna, but it does not indicate when or by whom the place was evangelized.

A second century bishop of that church, the martyr Polycarp, one of the most revered men in early Christian history, personally knew the apostle John at one end of his ministry, and, at the other end, was the friend of Irenaeus of Lyons in Gaul, who lived to the dawn of the third century. Polycarp thus became the very embodiment of primitive Christian tradition, and because of him Smyrna’s status among the early churches rivaled that of Ephesus.

At Smyrna there seems to have been considerable conflict between the Christians and the local Jews, who are here referred to as “a synagogue of Satan,” not even worthy to be called real Jews (verse 9). Even in the mid-second century the Jews of Smyrna took steps to prevent the Christians from recovering the body of the martyred Polycarp (The Martyrdom of Polycarp 18.1).

The four verses here under consideration indicate that, unlike the situations in Ephesus, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, and Laodicea, in Smyrna the problems faced by the church came largely from without. Thus, unlike the Ephesians (2:5), the believers at Smyrna were not told to repent. John did warn the congregation, however, that they would soon be severely tested (verse 10). How many Christians perished in that testing? It is very difficult to say, but we do know that Polycarp, who was martyred in A.D. 155, was the twelfth name on the list of martyrs at Smyrna (The Martyrdom of Polycarp 19.1).

Thursday, November 20

Luke 22:31-34: The dispute over rank among the Apostles shows how spiritually vulnerable they really are, and these next verses address that spiritual vulnerability.

The scene described here is found at the table of the Last Supper in Luke and John, whereas in Matthew and Mark it is narrated as taking place while Jesus walked with His disciples on the way to the Agony in the Garden. It is not unreasonable to suppose that the conversation was somewhat longer than is recorded in the Gospels and that it extended for some time, both in the upper room and after they left it.

In either setting the prediction of Peter’s denials is placed in the context of the Lord’s Supper and is included in all four Gospels as an exhortation to Christians with respect to the temptations that may befall them even while partaking of the Lord’s body and blood. Satan does not boycott the Eucharist.

In contemporary English (which makes no distinction between “thou” and “ye”), it is difficult to discern all the subtlety in these verses. The “you” in verse 31 is plural. That is to say, it is not only Peter that Satan desires to sift as wheat; it is all of the Apostles. Indeed, it is all Christians. Satan has “asked,” he has sought permission, to try them, just as he had formerly asked such permission with respect to Job (Job 1:12; 2:6). In the Lord’s Passion the disciples will be tried as Job was tried, and the Lord warns them of this in his words to Peter.

The “you” in verse 32, however, is singular, not plural. That is to say, it is Peter for whom the Lord prays. In fact, as the story goes on to show, Peter is the one most in danger, and Jesus foresees this. He also foresees Peter’s repentance, for which He prayed. In connection with this repentance, the Lord commands him to strengthen his brethren. Indeed, the story of Peter’s fall and repentance has been strengthening his brethren down to the present day.

Revelation 2:12-17: The problems in the church at Pergamos seem to have been largely internal. There was a laxist group, apparently to be identified with the Nicolaitans (verse 15), who advocated sexual immorality and the eating of sacrifices made to idols (verse 14). Those internal problems were compounded, nonetheless, by external pressure in the form of occasional
persecutions, during one of which there perished the martyr Antipas (verse 13), identified by Christian tradition as the first bishop of that city (with an annual feast day on April 11).

So resolute was the opposition to the Gospel in Pegamos that Satan was said to throne there, perhaps a reference to the temple of the god Asculepius, whose symbol was a staff with a coiled serpent. That image, now universally known as the symbol of the healing professions (for Asculepius was the god of healing), would have reminded the early Christians of the serpent in Genesis 3, which will reappear several more times in the Book of Revelation (cf. 12:9 and 20:2, for instance). Pergamos also boasted temples to Zeus and to Roma, the deified personification of the empire. In verse 16 Jesus says that He will come quickly, a promise repeated six more times in Revelation (3:11; 16:15;

Friday, November 21

Luke 22:35-38: These verses are found only in Luke, who is also the only one of the Evangelists to treat of Christian evangelism in the context of the Lord’s Supper. This fact is significant, suggesting the outward thrust of the Eucharist into the Church’s mission to the world.

Comparing these verses to 10:4, we see that the terms of the Church’s engagement with the world are now changed. Those earlier restrictions, though they did not impede the ministry at the time, are now lifted, and the Church is instructed to take such measures as will prove necessary for the greater and lengthier mission. (To borrow a metaphor from Matthew 24, the Church will need to provide oil for the lamps, because time will be the trial of her success, as the return of the Bridegroom is delayed.)

According to nearly all commentators (and certainly to all those commentators that the present writer is disposed to trust), the purse, the wallet, and the sword are to be understood figuratively. They imply that the Christian mission will be costly, strenuous, and fraught with peril. The Church must be ready for anything (verse 36). ??A crisis is now about to fall. With the betrayal of Christ begins the last age of world history. What has been written must be fulfilled (to gegrammenon dei telesthenai, verse 37). The Lord refers here to His own fulfillment of the Suffering Servant prophecies from the Book of Isaiah, specifically Isaiah 53:12. This is the proper context for considering the Church’s mission in the world.

Alas, the Apostles, misunderstanding the Lord’s reference to the sword, announce that they have two swords (at least one of which will be used in the Garden that night!). To this announcement our Lord expresses a definite despondency. “Enough!” he sighs.

Revelation 2:18-29: Thyatira, the modern Akhisar, was a city more modest than the previous three. The church in that city, too, was praised for its works, love, service, faith, and patience (verse 19).

In spite of that praise, the congregation was tolerating in its midst the activities of a pseudo-charismatic woman whom John likened to the ancient Queen Jezebel of Israel, that fine Phoenician feminist responsible for so many of the ills condemned by the prophet Elijah in the ninth century B.C. (verse 20). The moral offenses of the woman at Thyatira, which included the advocacy of sexual sins and the eating of food sacrificed to demons, seem similar to those of the Nicolaitans, but in the present case John took care to single out an individual rather than to talk about a group. Against her he prophesied a dire judgment (verses 22-23). This woman seems also to have been a sort of mistress of the occult, here called “the depths of Satan” (verse 24).

But John does not condemn solely that woman; he speaks very critically, in addition, of the church that tolerated her activities (verse 20). Toleration, which today is everywhere regarded as a virtue to be cultivated, is everywhere in the New Testament regarded as a vice to be avoided (for example, Romans 1:32).

In the instance studied here, the church at Thyatira was permitting a very forceful woman, who claimed the authority of a prophetess, to bring moral havoc into the congregation. Whereas the members of the congregation were intimidated by her influence, or were simply reluctant to deal harshly with a woman, John, as we see, suffered from neither that intimidation nor that reluctance. In the present text he accomplished the moral equivalent of that robust defenestration suffered by the aging Phoenician princess of Samaria on that judgment day when Jehu came a-riding.