Friday, December 8

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 appear. The tree had been alive all along.

About the year 252, an African Christian bishop, Cyprian of Carthage wrote with respect to these verses, “the Lord had foretold that these things would happen. Instructing with the voice of His foreknowledge, teaching, preparing, and strengthening the people of His Church unto all endurance of things that lay in the future. He foretold and declared that wars, famines, earthquakes, and plagues in each place. And lest an unexpected and new fear of evils should overtake us, He earlier warned us that in the final times adversities would grow more and more (De Mortalitate 2).

The nearness (eggys) of the spring (verse 30) symbolizes the nearness (eggys) of the Kingdom of God (verse 31). This is identical to the nearness (eggizei) of our redemption (verse 28). ??Until then, the Lord’s disciples are to cling to His words. These words will remain steadfast, even if everything else passes away (verse 33).??In speaking of the words of Christ in this fashion, Luke takes up again his own final verse of the explanation of the parable of the sower: “But that on the good ground are they, which in a noble and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience” (8:15). That Lukan emphasis on purity of heart comes here again in verse 34 (compare 8:14).

This later section verses 34-38), proper to Luke, bears notable affinity to the teaching of the Apostle Paul. For example, the exhortation to avoid excessive drinking and eating, lest we be overtaken suddenly by the events of the final times (verses 34-36) is very reminiscent of 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10.?? The stress on constant prayer (verse 36) is, of course, very typical of Luke (cf. 18:1). ??Verse 36, which contains the last of Jesus’ public teaching in Luke, calls forth ideas contained in the beginning of Jesus’ public teaching. For instance, it speaks of endurance for the sake of the returning Son of Man (cf. 6:20-23; 9:26). ??Verses 37-38, which prepare immediately for the account of the Lord’s Passion, portray Him as teaching each day in the Temple, beginning early (orthrizen), after spending the night in prayer on the Mount of Olives. It was, Luke will tell us (22:39), the “custom” of Jesus to pray there during the night. This pattern is also found in John 8:1-2.

Saturday, December 9

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.

As for Judas Iscariot, he was heavily engaged in quantitative thinking. He wanted measurable results. Judas was a practical man. He knew a good price when he saw one. Shrewdly he could size up any situation and calculate what it was worth on the basis of cost and output. Like many modern thinkers, Judas believed that objective, verifiable truth is invariably logical and quantitative. Only then does it have “significance.” If you can measure it, these folks tell us, then you can know it. Everything else is just opinion, purely subjective and unverifiable.

In the Gospel of John, Judas Iscariot is described as a common thief: “As keeper of the common purse, he used to take from what was put into it.” Simply put, he loved money more than anything, and certainly more than loyalty. In this respect, he followed a pattern exemplified in the OT character, Delilah, who betrayed Samson. She wanted to have some cash, and when it was available, there was not the faintest hesitation on the lady’s part. The Philistines had to do more than name their price.

Sunday, December 10

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).

Monday, December 11

Luke 22:14-23: The extant manuscripts of Luke’s Gospel differ greatly among themselves with respect to these verses. Indeed, the great differences among the Lukan manuscripts draws me to the tentative conclusion that Luke wrote two versions of his gospel. Leaving aside that question, I base the present comments on the longer Received Text represented in the Eastern manuscripts, special attention being given to the earliest extant manuscript of Luke, the Papyrus Bodmer XIV.

Luke refers explicitly to the Kingdom of God in regard to both the Eucharist (verses 14-15,29-30) and the Lord’s Passion (22:69; 23:37-38,42). In the Church’s celebration of the Holy Eucharist the Kingdom itself becomes present in the presence of Christ.

It is a feature of the longer text of the Gospel of Luke that there are two references to the cup (verses 17,20). In both cases Luke uses the standard Eucharistic verbs: took, gave thanks, said, take, share (cf. also the multiplication of the loaves in 9:12-17). ??In fact, there were three cups consumed 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).

Tuesday, December 12

Luke 22:24-34: 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.

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 himself 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.

Wednesday, December 13

Luke 22L35-38: 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 of that,” He sighs.

Revelation 15:1-6: This shortest chapter in the Book of Revelation introduces the imagery of the seven bowls of plagues, which will be poured out in the next chapter.

The ocean of blood, with which the previous chapter ended, has now become a kind of Red Sea (verses 1-3), which also inserts the theme of the Exodus. This theme itself is appropriate to the outpouring of the plagues. Other components of the Exodus theme likewise appear in this chapter: the Song of Moses, the cloud of the divine presence, the tent of testimony, and so forth.

The “sea of glass”?(verse 2) we have already considered in Chapter 4. Beside this sea stand God’s people who have passed over it in the definitive Exodus. They are musicians—harpists to be exact—identical with the one hundred and forty-four thousand whom we saw with the Lamb in the previous chapter; there was harp music in that scene too.

These elect have “overcome,” the very thing to which John had called the seven churches in Chapters 2-3. They are now beyond the power of the beast to harm them.

John sees in heaven the tabernacle of testimony from the Book of Exodus, the traveling tent of the divine presence that Moses and the Israelites carried through the desert. This tent, however, is “heavenly,” which means that it is the original model, the very pattern that Moses copied (Exodus 25:9,40; ?Acts 7:44; Hebrews 8:5).

Since the tent is a place of worship, we are not surprised that John sees seven angels coming out of it, clothed in priestly vestments (verse 6; cf. Exodus 28:4; 39:29), very much as Jesus was clothed in the inaugural vision (Revelation 1:12-13).

The tent itself is full of the cloud of the divine presence, the very cloud that led the Israelites through the desert of old. When that tent was dedicated in the desert, the divine cloud took up residence within it? (Exodus 40:34-38). That cloud later took residence in Solomon’s temple (I Kings 8:1-12), where Isaiah beheld it (6:1-4). In prophetic vision Ezekiel ?saw that cloud return to the second temple built in 520-516 (Ezekiel 44:4).

Thursday, December 14

Luke 22:39-46: We now come to the Agony in the Garden, our (apparently) earliest description of which is found in Hebrews 5:7. This brief description in Hebrews is important, because it indicates that the prayer of Jesus, made “with vehement cries,” was loud enough to be heard by at least some of the Apostles. It is their immediate testimony to the event that lies behind the descriptions in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Luke is the only Evangelist to observe that Jesus was accustomed to spend the night in that place (cf. also 21:37), a custom that explains how Judas knew where to find Him that night.

Luke’s version of the Agony is simplified. He does not, like Matthew and Mark, indicate that the agony lasted a long time. He includes no threefold reprimand to the Apostles, nor does he describe them as fleeing at the time of the Lord’s arrest, nor does he single out three of them as special witnesses to the event.

Indeed, Luke does not even say it happened in a garden. He describes Jesus’ prayer as being made, rather, on a hill, “the Mount of Olives.” In fact, the Garden of Gethsemani is found on the west side of the Mount of Olives, but it is significant that Luke mentions the hill, not the garden. In fact, Luke normally pictures Jesus as praying on hills (cf. 6:12; 9:28).?? Even though verses 43-44 are missing from some of our oldest and best manuscripts of Luke (including Papyrus Bodmer XIV), they were certainly original and should be preserved. It is fairly easy to explain how they might have been left out of copies of the original text, whereas it is virtually impossible to explain how they might later have been added.

In truth, these Lukan features appear so soon after his Gospel’s composition that it seems downright rash to claim they were not part of the “original” text. In addition, the longer text was quoted by several second-century Christians.

Let us consider more closely, then, the Lord’s bloody sweat and the angel who strengthened Him.
First, there is the sweat of blood, a condition called hematidrosis, which results from an extreme dilation of the subcutaneous capillaries, causing them to burst through the sweat glands. This symptom, mentioned as early as Aristotle (Historia Animalium 3.19), is well known to the history of medicine, which sometimes associates it with intense fear. It is not without interest, surely, that only the evangelist that was also a physician mentions this phenomenon.
Unlike Mark (14:34) and Matthew (26:38), Luke does not speak of Jesus’ sadness in the garden scene, but of an inner struggle, an agonia, in which the Lord “prayed more earnestly.” The theological significance of this feature in Luke is that the Jesus’ internal conflict causes the first bloodshed in the Passion. His complete obedience to the Father in His prayer immediately produces this initial libation of His redemptive blood, the blood of which He had proclaimed just shortly before, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (22:20). Prior to the appearance of His betrayer, then, the Lord already begins the shedding of His blood. He pours it out in the struggle of obedience, before a single hand has been laid upon Him. In Luke the agony in the garden is not a prelude to the Passion, but its very commencement, because Jesus’ stern determination to accomplish the Father’s will causes His blood to flow for our redemption.
Second, there is the angel sent to strengthen the Lord during His trial. Luke, in his earlier temptation scene, had omitted the angelic ministry, of which Matthew (4:11) and Mark (1:13) spoke on that occasion. When Luke did describe that period of temptation, however, he remarked that the devil, having failed to bring about Jesus’ downfall, “departed from Him until an opportune time” (4:13). Now, in the garden, that time has come, and Jesus receives the ministry of an angel to strengthen Him for the task.

Friday, December 15

Revelation 16:8-16: The fourth plague listed here does not appear in Exodus at all; Moses had been able to blot out the sunlight, but not even he was able to make the sun hotter. Even this plague, nonetheless, does not bring the idolaters to repentance (verse 9).

The darkness of the fifth bowl (verse 10) corresponds to the ninth plague in the Book of Exodus (10:21-29). The sixth bowl, the drying up of the Euphrates, includes the proliferation of frogs, which corresponds to Moses’ second plague against Pharaoh (Exodus 8:2-6). The hailstones that accompany the seventh bowl (verse 21) are parallel to Moses’ seventh plague against Egypt (Exodus 9:13-26).

The sixth bowl of plagues here is a composite. There is, first of all, a drying up of the Euphrates, so that the Parthian armies can march westward. This puts one in mind of the “drying up” of the Jordan, so that the Israelites could move west against the Canaanites. Because of the great difference between the two instances, however, this symbolism should be read as an example of theological “inversion” (in the sense used by John Steinbeck, who often employs biblical symbols in this way), so that the identical image is used for both good and bad meanings.

With respect to the drying up of the Euphrates, John knew a precedent in Jeremiah (50:38), who spoke of the drying up of the waters of Babylon, to facilitate its capture by the Persians. Indeed, John will have a great deal to say about the fall of Babylon.

Verse 15 contains a well-known saying of Jesus, in which He compares His final return to the coming of a thief in the dead of night. This dominical saying is preserved in the Gospels of Matthew (24:43) and Luke (12:39).

The final battle takes place at Armageddon (verse 16), which literally is “hill of Megiddo.” Megiddo sits on the edge of the Plain of Esdralon and was in antiquity the site of two famous battles, in each of which a king was killed. In Judges 5 the Canaanite king Sisera was slain there, and 2 Kings 23 describes the death of Josiah there in 609. In John’s mind, Armageddon symbolizes disaster, catastrophe, and violence.