Friday, December 1

Luke 20:9-19: The parable of the vine-growers—listed prominently in Jesus’
teaching during the last week of his earthly life—provides a sharp, defining outline of how he came to understand, not only his ministry to his contemporaries, but also his larger significance in the history of Israel. It illustrates how Jesus thought about his mission and destiny. No other of his parables, I believe, contains such an obviously “autobiographical” perspective.

This parable of the vine-growers, in which the sending of God’s Son is presented as the defining moment of history, may be regarded as an extension of what Jesus said when he first preached on Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). In the story of the vine-growers, we see the clearest evidence that Jesus addressed, in his own heart, the large dimensions of his destiny.

As to the meaning of the “vineyard,” the explanatory note in Isaiah left no doubt: “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, / And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant” (Isaiah 5:7). The “vineyard” has the same meaning in Jesus’ parable.

Jesus’ parable narrates the history of Israel in terms of God’s expectations: “Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit.” This feature of the vineyard, too, Jesus took from Isaiah, who declared that God “expected it to bring forth grapes” (Isaiah 5:2).

The narrative arrives at its culminating point, which is the mission of the Son. In Luke, as in Mark (12:6), the son in the parable is described as “my beloved,” agapetos mou, the same expression the Father used to address Jesus at both his baptism and his Transfiguration.

This identical expression—agapetos mou—is found, likewise, in the Septuagint (Greek) version of Isaiah’s poem—“My beloved has a vineyard.” Here agapetos mou translates Isaiah’s Hebrew expression dódi, “my beloved.” Jesus’ parable, then, identifies the son as the “my beloved” in Isaiah’s poem. It is to him that the vineyard truly belongs, because he is the heir. He is the son with regard to God, and the heir with regard to Israel’s history.

This, then, is Jesus’ interpretation of both his mission and his coming death: He is the “heir” of the ancient ministry of the prophets. Because of this, says Jesus, the unfaithful vine-growers “cast him out of the vineyard and killed him” (20:15). He sees that his own murder will be the culminating crime in Israel’s continued rejection of God and his messengers.

Saturday, December 2

Luke 20:20-26: The payment of the head tax to the Roman government was a source of resentment and occasional rebellion among the Jews, both because it was a sign of their subjection to Rome and because they disliked handling the graven image of the emperor on the coin. To this question, then, either a yes or a no answer could provide the basis for a political accusation against Jesus—or at least could gain Him new enemies. If Jesus forbade the paying of this tax, He would offend the Herodians. If He approved of it, He would further offend the Pharisees. Either way, He would give offense.

The Lord’s enemies commence with manifest flattery, evidently to put Jesus off His guard before springing their loaded question (verse 16). All three Synoptics mention this detail.

Reading their hearts and reprimanding their hypocrisy, the Lord obliges them to produce the coin in question, thereby making it clear that they all do, in fact, have the coin and do pay the tax.

That point established, He then obliges them to identify the head and name on the coin, namely, Tiberius Caesar (A.D. 14-37). Obviously, the coin belongs to the emperor, so they can continue doing what they have always done—pay the tax. Caesar minted and distributed the coin. It is his.

The concern of Jesus is not identical with that of His enemies. He is not concerned about what is owed to Caesar, but what is owed to God. This, too, must be paid, and Jesus is about to pay it. “Rendering unto God the things of God” refers to our Lord’s approaching sufferings and death. Thus, what began as a mundane political question is transformed into a theological matter of great moment, leaving them all amazed.

It is important, however, to keep this story in the context where the Gospels place it, the context of the Lord’s impending death. The question posed to Jesus is not a theoretical question. Indeed, it is not even a practical question. It is a loaded question—a question with an evil ulterior motive. It is a sword aimed at the Lord’s life.

And this is the sense in which we should understand Jesus’ response. Understood in this way, the Lord’s directive is full of irony. He tells His enemies to give back to God that which belongs to Him. And, in context, just what is that? It is Jesus Himself, whose life they will steal, and in their act of murder that which belongs to God will be rendered unto God.

Sunday, December 2

Luke 20:27-40: The group most threatened by Jesus’ assertion of authority in the Temple was that of the Sadducees, the priestly family, the sons of Zaddok. ??This group was also distinct in Judaism by reason of two doctrinal denials that characterized it: First, the denial of the resurrection, which was a standard doctrine of the Macchabees and the Pharisees. Second, the denial of canonical authority to any writings other than the Torah.

In defense of their position on the first point, the Sadducees present to Jesus a reductio ad absurdum, a hypothetical problem respecting the doctrine of the resurrection. They pose this hypothesis on the basis of the Torah, which prescribed that a widow, if she had borne no children to her husband, should be married to her brother-in-law, in order to give birth to children who would carry the name of the original husband. In principle this arrangement could be repeated if the brother-in-law should die before such children were born. Now, asks the interrogators, whose wife will the woman be when the dead of raised?

In support of the doctrine of the Resurrection, Jesus ironically adheres to the Sadducee’ limited canon by taking his argument from the Torah. If the
Sadducees can quote Moses, so can He!

Most striking of all in this passage is Jesus’ reading of Exodus 3. Buried and concealed in the story of the Burning Bush, he finds plain evidence of the doctrine of the Resurrection. In doing this, our Lord demonstrates that the true meaning of Holy Scripture is not always on the surface. Would we otherwise have guessed that the doctrine of the Resurrection was proclaimed from the Burning Bush? This style of reading of Holy Scripture, which uncovers deeper meaning concealed in the Sacred Text and in the event narrated there, is the “teaching” (didache) of Jesus, and it has always flourished in the theology of the Christian Church.

There is a further irony in that some of the scribes, standing nearby, express appreciation of the Lord’s solid answer to the Sadducees. It is significant that only Luke mentions this detail. Later on, in the Acts of the Apostles, he will record Paul’s efforts to turn the Pharisees against the Sadducees on this point of the resurrection.

We may note, in passing, that verses 35-36, also found only in Luke, provide an argument for consecrated celibacy (cf. also 14:26; 18:29), along the lines of Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 7.

Monday, December 3

Luke 20:41-47: As His enemies, frustrated by Jesus’ answers to them hitherto, are not disposed to confront Him any further, the Lord Himself takes the initiative (verse 41). ??Jesus’ question with respect to the meaning of Psalm 110 (109) serves to introduce all Christian exegesis of that psalm. Because of Jesus’ question about this psalm, Christians learned from the words “The Lord said to my Lord” that Jesus is not only David’s descendent but also his pre-existing Lord. He is the Son, not only of David, but also of God.

Having mysteriously addressed the identity of Christ, this same line of the same psalm goes on to speak of his triumph and enthronement, with the solemn proclamation: “Sit at My right hand.” These majestic words were quoted in the first sermon of the Christian Church, that of Pentecost morning at the third hour (cf. Acts 2:34), and became the foundation of some of the most important Christological and soteriological statements of the New Testament (cf. Mark 16:19; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2.).

In this one line of the psalm, then, Christians profess in summary form those profound doctrines at the foundation of our whole relationship to God, the eternal identity of Jesus Christ, His triumph over sin and death, and His glorification at God’s right hand: “God . . . has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, . . . who . . , when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high . . .” (Hebrews 1:1-3).

The rest of the psalm follows from that context. It goes on immediately to speak of those who oppose the triumph of Christ: “‘. . . till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’ The Lord shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion. Rule in the midst of Your enemies.”

Once again, in the writings of the New Testament these few words were quoted to lay the basis for the Christian interpretation of history and eschatology (cf. Acts 2:35f, 36 1 Cor. 15:25; Eph. 1:22; Heb. 10:12, 13; and perhaps 1 Pet. 3:22).

In the present Lukan passage, then, Jesus is doing more than biblical exegesis. The “enemies” in the psalm are implicitly identified with those very interlocutors who have been engaged in questioning Jesus with malice and foul intent.

Tuesday, December 4

Luke 21:1-6: Though naos is the Greek noun properly used to refer to the temple at Jerusalem, in the New Testament we more often find the word hieron (“holy place”) employed in this sense, particularly when the reference is to some specific part of the temple.

For example, hieron is the word of choice to designate the Court of Women, that precinct of the temple complex closed to Gentiles but open to Jewish women. Jewish men could congregate in that precinct as well, but the men were also free to move on to the Court of Israel, to which the women had no access.

Thus, besides being the place in the temple where the women could pray (cf. Luke 2:37), the Court of Women was the one place in the temple where all Israelites could gather.

Thus, too, it naturally became the place where Jesus spoke when He taught in the temple (John 8:20; 18:20). It was there that His enemies found Him sitting and teaching one morning, when they came dragging a woman who had been taken in adultery during the preceding night (8:2–3). One of the notable features of the Court of Women was the glazophylakion or “treasury,” thirteen trumpet-shaped receptacles placed there to receive the offerings of the faithful for the maintenance of the temple and its ministry.

Because pagan coinage was often adorned with engravings of political leaders and images from mythology, such “idolatrous” money could not be placed in the temple treasury. For this reason there were moneychangers in the temple to provide the acceptable coinage for the offerings. Since they were not expected to work for free, the monetary exchange involved a measure of profit for the exchangers (much as we have today in international airports), and on at least one occasion our Lord seems to have manifested a rather dim view of such transactions.

One day the Lord called attention to a poor widow whom He saw casting her last two coins into the treasury. Jesus knew that these two small pieces of change were the sum of this poor widow’s assets (pace Rudolph Bultmann who doubted how Jesus could possibly have known this!). Therefore it is significant that she gave both of them, holding back nothing for herself.

For Jesus, this latter fact became a point of contrast between the widow and the wealthier benefactors of the temple. Our Lord’s reaction was typical of Him, nor was this the only occasion on which He took compassion on a widow (cf. Luke 7:11–17). Indeed, He was obviously fond of an old story of a strikingly similar widow who likewise sacrificed her last resources to advance God’s cause (1 Kings 17:8–16; Luke 4:25–26).

Wednesday, December 6

Luke 21:7-19: Comparing Luke with Matthew and Mark, we observe that he changes the locale of this discourse of the Lord, placing it inside the Temple itself. Also, unlike Mark, Luke makes this an open and public speech, not a private one. ??Luke’s version of this discourse especially stresses that Christians must not speculate about, nor anticipate, specific times and dates regarding the plans and purposes of God in the world. They must simply hold on until the times of the nations be fulfilled. If we compare this passage with the corresponding texts in Mark 13 and Matthew 24, we observe that Luke has removed any expressions that might be misinterpreted as referring to the end of the world. This latter subject he has already treated in 17:20-37.

The original remarks of the Apostles, which prompted this prophecy, were inspired by Herod’s fairly recent renovation of the Temple (cf. John 2:20). According to Flavius Josephus (Antiquities, 15.11.3), “the Temple was constructed of hard, white stones, each of which was about 25 cubits in length, 8 in height, and 12 in depth.” That is to say, the walls of this mountain of marble, towering 450 feet above the Kidron Valley, were 12 cubits, roughly 15 feet, thick! The various buildings of the Temple complex were colonnaded and elaborately adorned. Its surface area covered about one-sixth of the old city. The Roman historian Tacitus described it as “a temple of immense wealth.” (Histories 5.8). It was because of the Temple that Josephus remarked, “he that has not seen Jerusalem in her splendor has never in his life seen a desirable city. He who has not seen the Temple has never in his life seen a glorious edifice.”

Thus, the present text in Luke is concerned with the events connected with the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in the summer of A.D. 70. ??Jesus’ predictions of the persecutions that Christians must endure are partly fulfilled in Luke’s stories of the early Church in the Acts of the Apostles. He there describes their ill treatment in synagogues, their beatings before tribunals, their trials in the presence of governors and kings. For instance, the promise given here in verse 15 (“I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.”) we see fulfilled in Acts 4:9-10:

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead by him this man is standing before you well.

What will be required of Christians, in no matter what age they live, is patience (verse 19; cf. Romans 2:7; 8:25; 15:4-5).

Thursday, December 7

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 now 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).

The root meaning of this verb, “buying back,” is a metaphor that should not be pushed as a precise description. In the Bible it does not convey a legal or commercial sense. When God redeemed Israel out of Egypt, for instance, He did not pay a price to Pharaoh; on the contrary, He hit Pharaoh with a series of disasters. Similarly, when Jesus redeems us from the power of Satan, there is no legal or mercantile transaction, as though Jesus paid a price to Satan for our release. On the contrary, the victorious Jesus descended into the realm of death, conquering Satan and taking the spoils of him.?? In the present context in Luke, we may note, redemption refers to our deliverance at the return of Christ at the end of time; in the writings of the Apostle Paul that final redemption is more often called salvation (soteria).

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.