Friday, December 6

Luke 21:20-28: 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, December 7

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 section after the fig-tree parable, 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.

Sunday, December 8

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 SatanÕs blandishments, Luke remarked that Satan left Him Òfor a whileÓ (4:13). The ÒwhileÓ 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 amny 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.

Then comes the Passover. All the previous parts of Luke’s account have led to this moment. From the beginning of this gospel, 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 9

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 10

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 (vv. 31-34) 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 11

Luke 22:35-53: 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.

Next comes 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.

Thursday, December 11

Luke 22:54-71: It is most significant, surely, that Peter’s triple denial, so embarrassing to the chief of the Twelve Apostles, is narrated in detail in each of the four canonical Gospels, for it is thus made to stand fixed forever in the memory of Holy Church. From this story, all believers down through the ages are to learn two lessons that they must never forget:

First, anyone may fall, at any time. If Simon Peter could deny Jesus, any one of us could do so. Simon, after all, had not believed himself capable of such a thing. “Even if all are made to stumble,’ he boasted, ‘yet I will not be” (Mark 14:29). He was so utterly resolved on the matter that, when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus in the garden, Simon had attacked them with violence. Alas, he was neither the first man nor the last to confuse human excitement with divine strength, nor to mistake the pumping of adrenaline for the infusion of grace. Within a very short time after he swung his sword at the unsuspecting Malchus, we find Peter backing down embarrassed before the pointing finger of a servant girl.

The Holy Spirit took particular care that Christians throughout the ages would never forget that falling away remains a real possibility for any of them. In the words of yet another converted sinner, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Second, Christians were also to learn from this story that, as long as they are alive, repentance and a return to forgiveness are always live options. In this respect, the repentance of Simon Peter is to be contrasted with the despair of Judas. Thus, the Gospel stories tell us, until our very last breath, it is never too late to return to God in answer to the summons of His grace. It is probably today’s Gospel that gives the most poignant description of this conversion: “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. . . . So Peter went out and wept bitterly” (verses 61-62).

The Sanhedrin, Israel’s governing body, was modeled on the seventy elders who assisted Moses in the governing and judging God’s people (Numbers 11:10-24; Mishnah “Sanhedrin” 1.6). Although rabbinical sources places its origins much earlier, it appears that this body developed from the political needs of the Jews during the nation’s struggles with the Seleucids in the Hellenic period.

Indeed, the group’s very name was derived from Greek: synedrion = “council” (syn = with, hedrion = little seat). Although it was a representative body, made up of “elders, priests, and scribes” (verse 66), it was an aristocratic rather than a democratic group. In this respect it resembled the Roman Senate. Modeled on that ancient group of Moses’ judicial assistants, the Sanhedrin had seventy members, the presiding high priest being the seventy-first. Under the Romans it had religious authority in the Holy Land.

Friday, December 13

Luke 23:1-12: 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 2:1ø2) 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.