Luke: Outlines and Commentary
By Derek Leman
© 2017 Derek Leman
Table of Contents
Other accounts and eyewitnesses (1-2), Luke’s account for Theophilus (3), to affirm truth of instruction about Yeshua (4).
Early manuscripts and the Muratorian Canon (second century) attribute the books of Luke and Acts to the Luke known from the epistles of Paul (Col 4:14; 2 Tim 4:11; Phmn 24). Luke-Acts is a single, two-part work. Acts gives indication of a writer who was in the circle of Paul (hence the emphasis on Paul in Acts). The tradition that Luke wrote Luke-Acts is solid and believable, though by no means proven beyond all doubt. The prologue of Luke (vss. 1-4) is typical of Greco-Roman histories. Compare, for example, the prologue to Josephus’ Against Apion, “In the history of the Antiquities, most excellent Epaphroditus, I believe that I have made sufficiently clear to any who would come upon that work the antiquity of our Jewish race . . .” Luke states his purpose: to give historical affirmation, based on first or secondhand reporting of eyewitness testimony (a Greco-Roman value in history writing) to “give assurance” of the teaching Theophilus has received regarding Yeshua. In other words, the oral telling of Yeshua stories by eyewitnesses is, in addition to Mark and Matthew, Luke’s source material. As Fitzmeyer says, it is not that Luke thinks “history” alone is the support for faith. Luke is clear that the Spirit is our assurance of faith. Rather, his history is to support the specific facts of Yeshua’s life. Luke begins in the Greco-Roman style, but after the prologue he falls into the style of the Septuagint version of the Jewish Bible (Fitzmeyer). Theophilus is a common name and theories about his identity have no evidence. Theophilus is a follower of Yeshua, as indicated by the end of vs. 4. The legend that he is an interested non-believer is contradicted by vs. 4.
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Zechariah and Elizabeth (5-7), Gabriel appears to Zechariah (8-12), Gabriel announces John as a Nazirite and as an Elijah-figure (13-17), Gabriel mutes Zechariah for questioning (18-20), the people wonder what happened to Zechariah (21-23), barren Elizabeth conceives (24-25).
Only Luke and Matthew have birth narratives. Historically speaking, it is very difficult to judge what sources they might have been working from. It appears that Luke did not use Matthew as a source for the birth narrative. His account is remarkably different in structure and detail. Luke and Matthew do agree on many of the most important points of the story. Fitzmeyer lists twelve key agreements including the Davidic ancestry of Yeshua, the conception by the Holy Spirit, and the birth in Bethlehem. Yet there are also differences which are difficult to harmonize (did Yeshua’s parents live in Nazareth before the birth? did they go to Egypt?). The birth narratives are doubted by those looking simply for history in the gospels. Those who believe in Yeshua and accept the scriptural tradition as inspired find here a perfect example of the principle: we do not base our faith merely on rational examination of evidence, but also on tradition (see Luke Johnson’s essay in The Historical Jesus: Five Views). And tradition was very important to Luke, who emphasized eyewitness story as the basis of his Gospel. He does not indicate any sources for the birth narrative, so perhaps he simply faithfully recorded one tradition that was known about the events leading to Yeshua’s birth. Once Luke gets past his prologue (vss. 1-4) and begins telling the story, he does so in the style of the Hebrew Bible (or the LXX or Greek version known as the Septuagint). Luke’s manner of telling it strongly resembles other stories from ancient Israel, especially the Samson and Samuel birth announcements. Some of the elements of the story come from standard parts of the gospels (John is in the spirit of Elijah, for example). Others are completely new. Zechariah and Elizabeth are completely unknown from any other gospel and Yeshua’s relationship to John is reported only by Luke. Gabriel, who appeared in Daniel 8 and 9, makes his only appearance in the New Testament here and to Mary in 1:26. With the birth of John, the visitations of God upon Israel have returned as in days of old.
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Gabriel comes to the virgin betrothed to Joseph in Nazareth (26-27), the announcement of the coming birth (28-33), Mary’s concern (34), the Holy Spirit will conceive the child (35), comparison to Elizabeth’s miraculous conception (36-37), Mary’s acceptance (38).
Luke’s birth narratives are structured to compare John and Yeshua so that 1:5-25 is about the announcement of John’s birth, 1:26-38 about Yeshua’s birth announcement, 1:39-56 brings the stories together, 1:57-80 is about John’s birth, and 2:1-20 about Yeshua’s birth. As noted in the previous scene, the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke present some difficulties for those seeking nothing but historical “facts.” That Mary was a virgin who conceived by a miracle of the Holy Spirit is a tradition whose historical basis is widely doubted. Some say that Matthew, based on his reading of Isaiah 7:14, concocted the idea that Yeshua was born to a virgin and “fulfilled” prophecy. This reading of Matthew 1:23-25 is a poor one (unfortunately and ironically supported by many Christian commentators who do not understand early Jewish modes of using scripture). It should be noted that both Matthew and Luke refer to the tradition of Mary’s virginity and miraculous conception. While this falls far short of historical “proof,” it should be asked why the evangelists would fictively create such a notion. Some might think they were constrained to present Yeshua as having no human father based on some preconceptions of Messiah. This is without any basis. No one thought Messiah would be virgin-born or have God as his father in the sense that Yeshua did. The Davidic Messiah concepts and similar messianic concepts in no way suggest that the early Yeshua-community required a miraculous conception story in order to believe in Yeshua. Thus, the notion that Yeshua was born to a virginal mother who had conceived by the Holy Spirit is an ancient and well-attested tradition which stands on its own to accept or reject based on one’s attitude toward the apostles and the value of gospel tradition (again, see Luke Timothy Johnson’s chapter in The Historical Jesus: Five Views). In the Hebrew Bible, special births often involved certain miraculous and extraordinary aspects. Likewise, in John’s birth announcement he will be a lifelong Nazirite with the power and spirit of Elijah. Yeshua’s birth is by the “overshadowing” of the Holy Spirit and Yeshua will be as the Davidic king is described in 2 Samuel 7: he will have a great name (2 Sam 7:9; Luke 1:32), he will occupy the throne (2 Sam 7:13; Luke 1:32), he will be God’s son (2 Sam 7:14; Luke 1:32), and he will be over the house of Israel (2 Sam 7:16; Luke 1:33; Fitzmeyer). Mary’s acceptance is like that of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1. Luke presents Mary as the model believer here and in Acts 1:14, in spite of some traditions about her great doubts concerning Yeshua in Mark 3:21 and 3:31-35. (Fitzmeyer). These traditions are not contradictory. We might guess that Mary, like many others, believed at first, had great doubts in the middle, and after the resurrection returned to powerful belief.
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Mary hastens to Judea to visit Elizabeth (39-40), the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaps (41), Elizabeth’s pronouncement (42-45), Mary’s canticle (the Magnificat, 46-55), Mary remains and then returns (56).
Luke 1 alternates between Yeshua’s story and John’s and this middle section joins them together beautifully. Mary comes to Judea because of what the angel told her about Elizabeth. Elizabeth has been in seclusion until Mary arrives (see 1:24). The revealing of John’s birth and its significance awaits the perfect time (Fitzmeyer). Elizabeth’s pronouncement is important theology clarifying that John’s role is as the forerunner to Yeshua. John’s name and deeds were well-known in Israel (as we see in references to him outside of the Bible). It was vital to the early Yeshua movement to clarify that Yeshua was John’s Lord (and the Lord of us all). Mary’s canticle (most commonly known as the Magnificat) is a string of verses from the LXX (the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint). Fitzmeyer helpfully lists each reference, which come first and foremost from Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2, but also with references from 1 Samuel 1:11, Psalm 24(25 in the LXX), Psalm 113, Deuteronomy 10:21, Psalm 111, Psalm 89, Psalm 107, Job 22:9, Isaiah 41:8-9, Psalm 98, and Micah 7:20. It is important to note that the Magnificat is a string of scriptures and that some things do not exactly fit Mary’s situation. The overall theology of the canticle is God keeping his Abrahamic promises and fulfilling them in the child Mary will bear. Luke, though a gentile, often returns to the Abrahamic promises and the centrality of the people of Israel (in Acts as well as Luke). Yeshua is the seed of Abraham born to redeem the nations and Israel. Mary portrays her son as the promised ultimate king who will bring the time of God’s reign. She celebrates the way God lifts up the weak and insignificant. Scot McKnight (A Community Called Atonement) describes the Magnificat’s theology: “For Mary, the Abrahamic covenant is the promise of God not only to be faithful to Israel but also to be faithful to all of Israel, including the poor, so that a society is created in which God’s will is established.”
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John’s birth, naming, and circumcision (57-63), the sign of Zechariah’s healing portending John’s greatness (64-66), the canticle of Zechariah (Benedictus, 67-79), John grows and inhabits the wilderness (80).
Luke’s birth narrative alternates between John’s story and Yeshua’s. Just as Luke will show Yeshua’s birth and circumcision, and all that they portend, so he does with John. Throughout, Luke makes it clear John is a great prophet, but a forerunner of the greater Yeshua. The miracle of Zechariah’s mute tongue being at last healed leads people to ask, “What will this child be?” The identity and aims and John are matters which Luke and the other evangelists are careful to spell out and identify. Some think this reflects controversy in the first century, perhaps with a cult of John the Baptist which rivaled the Yeshua movement (in Acts there is some indication of this). Zechariah’s canticle (known in tradition as the Benedictus), like Mary’s, is a string of scriptures: Psalm 41:14; 72:18; 106:48; 111:9; 18:3; 1 Samuel 2:10; Psalm 18:18; 106:10; Genesis 24:12; Psalm 105:8; 106:45; Genesis 26:3; Joshua 24:14; Isaiah 38:20; Malachi 3:1; Isaiah 40:3; Psalm 107:10; and Isaiah 59:8 (Fitzmeyer, note that the Psalm verses sometimes vary by 1 from Hebrew to English). Since in vs. 69 the horn of salvation raised up is from the house of David, this is a reference to Yeshua and not John. Thus, Luke makes clear in this string of messianic verses that John is the forerunner and that he runs before the Davidic messiah. Luke is careful here, as in Mary’s canticle, to reflect the Abrahamic promises as being fulfilled in Yeshua. Luke, though a gentile, never forgets that salvation flows from Israel to the nations. He sees the Abrahamic promise as central and leading to the appearance of Yeshua, the seed of Abraham, to redeem Israel and the nations.
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The setting of Yeshua’s birth in Bethlehem (1-5), the birth (6-7), the angels reveal the Savior-child (8-14), reactions to the birth (15-20).
The birth of Yeshua is crafted here to rival the claims of Augustus Caesar to be Lord and Savior of the world. It is fitting that the chapter begins by mentioning the emperor by name. This scene appears to have been written before chapter 1. Fitzmeyer notes that the section does not refer to John and that Yeshua is re-introduced as Messiah and Lord (thought that was already done in chapter 1). Luke begins the scene by addressing a conflict in Yeshua’s origin stories: he grew up in Nazareth and yet was born in Bethlehem. How did this come about? According to Luke, the family came to Bethlehem because of a census in the reign of Augustus and under the governorship of Quirinius over Syria (which included Galilee and Judea). It seems Luke has made a historical blunder, as our best information from many sources informs us that: (a) Quirinius became governor later, (b) that no census required migration to register, and (c) that Luke refers to this same census in Acts 5:36-37 at a totally different time. Those who would rather not say Luke has made an error can posit solutions. More importantly, the gospels tell us that Yeshua was of the house of David (through his legal father, Joseph) and born in the Davidic city of Bethlehem, though he was raised in Nazareth from early childhood. The “lodge” (or “inn” in some translations) is a guest-house. Instead of a more comfortable place in a guest-house, Mary had to give birth in either a courtyard of a house where animals were kept or some type of outdoor animal pen. This detail is unusual and we would guess that the source is Mary. Luke’s story deliberately sets Yeshua as the real Lord and Savior born in the days of the alleged Lord and Savior, Augustus Caesar. The humble surroundings of his birth fit well with Luke’s emphasis throughout his telling of the Yeshua story: Yeshua’s place was with the poor and marginalized elements, not the elite. What a contrast between the prestigious and powerful Augustus and the lowly Yeshua born in an animal pen with shepherds attending his birth. Yet the glory of Yeshua’s identity shines through the humble scene since an angelic choir announces him. Yeshua is Israel’s Savior, like the judges and kings of the Hebrew Bible. Lord here does not mean “deity,” but ruler. He is Messiah (Christ), Savior, and Lord. These titles were very important to early Yeshua-believers persecuted for their faith during the time of the Roman empire. God’s greatness is not about dominance, but goodness.
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Yeshua’s circumcision and naming (21), purification and redemption of the firstborn (22-24), Simeon’s canticle (25-35), Anna the prophetess (36-38), their Torah observance complete (39), Yeshua grows (40), the incident of the boy Yeshua at the Temple (41-51), Yeshua grows (52).
The eighth-day circumcision of Yeshua parallels John’s circumcision and naming in 1:59-63. In vss.22-24 Luke runs two laws of Torah together: redemption of the firstborn (Exod 13) and the purification of the mother after childbirth (Lev 12). Some have argued that Luke is confused about these laws and mixes them up. His account is brief and need not be read as a confusion. Simeon’s canticle is in the language of Isaiah 40-55. “Consolation of Israel” is a term related to Isaiah 40:1. The whole section of Isaiah 40-55 is about a time when Israel will be consoled and restored. The Servant in Isaiah 40-55 is a light to gentiles and the Savior of Israel. Simeon also prophesies the controversy and pain that will surround Yeshua. Anna the prophetess looks for the redemption of Israel. She and Simeon are part of a community at the Temple of devout pray-ers believing the promises of restoration and salvation. Luke shows the infant Yeshua in a context of a Torah-observant family, making pilgrimage to the Temple annually, and a community of the faithful looking for the end-time promises to come true. Yeshua is the fulfiller of these promises, according to Luke. The childhood incident at the Temple is not, as is commonly asserted, related to a bar mitzvah (the custom did not exist until the Middle Ages). The story of Yeshua’s youth is tantalizing, the only such story we have in the canonical gospels. It is hard to imagine what source Luke could have for this story, but it portrays the young Yeshua as a prodigy of Torah knowledge and foreshadows the way he will stymie the official teachers and scribes in his later career.
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Greco-Roman style prelude to the narrative (1-2), the mission of John (3), the Isaianic midrash of John (4-6).
Vss. 1-2 are a prelude to the public career of Yeshua. The infancy narratives that come before are thus separated from the rest. This probably reflects the way the traditions were viewed: the Passion and Resurrection narratives being most familiar and fixed from the earliest times into a pattern, the Miracles and Sayings narratives being the second oldest, and the Infancy narratives being the latest layer of the tradition and the least fixed in order and contents. Luke introduces the story in the fashion of a Greco-Roman history, but will, as in chapter 1, abandon that style as soon as the story begins and write in the style of the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, the LXX). He locates John in the time of the various rulers over Galilee and Judea. This is a strong indicator that Luke is deliberately casting Yeshua’s movement as an alternative to Roman pretensions to divine power over the world. A modern reader can easily misunderstand John’s aims. His preaching is not so people can find personal salvation per se, but a national restoration movement in which people sought forgiveness for their own sins and for the corporate sins of the people of Israel as a whole. The entire notion of going back to the Jordan river (where Israel first entered the land in Joshua) is about national revival. Likewise, the verses describing John’s work are about Israel’s restoration in the last days from Isaiah 40:3-5. Luke, ever interested in the gospel to the poor and marginalized, quotes all the way to Isaiah 40:5 (Mark has a shorter quotation) which sees salvation available to “all flesh,” meaning even the poor and marginalized as well as gentiles (a particular emphasis in Luke is salvation for Gentiles). The midrash on Isaiah 40 (which the Qumran community also used for itself) works on two levels: John is in the desert asserting his voice, just like the mysterious voice in Isaiah’s prophecy, and also is working to bring about the messianic renewal promised there.
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John’s repentance message to the crowds (7-9), ethical instructions for various groups (10-14), John on the Greater One who is coming (15-17), John preaches the gospel (18).
Whereas Matthew 3:7 has the harsh message of John directed at Pharisees and Sadducees, Luke simply says this message is to the whole crowd. There is wrath coming, a time of God’s judgment on Israel. The people need to repent and bear the fruit of good deeds to stand in covenant favor with God. John attacks the notion of covenantal nomism, a modern term for the idea that belonging to the elect people (Israel) rendered a person right with God automatically. National apathy resulted from a widespread idea that as the Chosen People, Israel was right with God. The leaders of the Temple State had a vested interest in maintaining the status quo (just bring offerings to the Temple and trust that our system is working). John is a prophet whose message is like that of the Hebrew Bible: God demands ethical action and social justice, not arrogated privilege and worship divorced from repentance. Luke would want this message emphasized for two reasons: to show that the people of Israel need to be a part of the Yeshua-movement and to show that gentiles are just as welcome to God as Jews. John’s ethical instruction, as in the Israelite prophets of old, centers on social justice. If the people will practice justice, God will revive the land. John explains that a Mighty One is coming. Luke says that in this message, probably the whole message about the coming wrath, about repentance and justice, and about the Mighty One to Come, is the gospel (the good news).
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John’s imprisonment (19-20), Yeshua’s baptism (21-22).
Why does Luke give such a short version of the imprisonment of John the Baptist and of the baptism of Yeshua? Mark’s account of John’s imprisonment and death is long (Mark 6:17-29). Matthew’s account of the baptism is longer than Luke’s (Matt 3:13-17). There are some things we would not know if Luke’s account was the only record of these events. He doesn’t even mention that Yeshua’s baptism is by John and part of John’s movement (one can imagine how scholars would debate “was Yeshua baptized by John?” if Luke were the only record). Regarding both incidents, the death of John and the baptism, it is obvious that Luke assumes his readers already know the story. He has no intention of completely telling about these events. So we can consider what he has to say about them his commentary on the events, looking for the subtle ways Luke shapes the story with his message. First, regarding the imprisonment of John, Luke places it much earlier in the story than either Mark or Matthew. He shows that John’s work was ending and Yeshua’s starting and is careful to bring John’s story to an end because up till now he has been showing them in parallel. Second, regarding the baptism, Luke’s account is notable for three emphases not found in the other versions: that Yeshua came with “all the people,” that he prayed during the baptism, and that the dove-Spirit appearance was in “bodily form.” The “all the people” theme continues an emphasis in Luke, that there were many righteous people in Judea and Galilee seeking the kingdom. He depicts Yeshua’s baptism as a part of this renewal movement in Israel. The praying of Yeshua in this transcendent moment, when his Sonship is revealed, is Luke’s way of making clear Yeshua’s relation to the Father was known to his disciples by his frequent and intimate communication. There was something remarkable about the way Yeshua prayed which is a Lukan theme. And the bodily form of the dove apparition is part of Luke’s realism, as also in the Shavuot (Pentecost) scene in Acts 2. Divine manifestations happen in visible, bodily forms to the prophetic movement of Yeshua. The kingdom for Luke is not something ethereal, but a transformation of real people.
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Yeshua’s age and ancestors.
In the best manuscripts, Luke’s genealogy has seventy-seven generations (Fitzmeyer). The use of sevens is one point Matthew’s genealogy and Luke’s have in common. The differences between Luke and Matthew’s genealogies are notable. The third generation from Yeshua in Matthew is Jacob, but in Luke’s is Heli. Most of the names in their two genealogies are different. Matthew’s goes back to David’s line through Solomon while Luke’s goes back to David through Nathan (not the prophet, but David’s son as in 2 Sam 5:14). Luke’s account goes back to Adam; Matthew’s to Abraham. Luke emphasizes Yeshua as Son of God, whereas Matthew emphasizes Yeshua as the Son of David and Son of Abraham. The relation of the two genealogies has been much discussed in Christian tradition. A common theory is that the Matthean genealogy is Joseph’s and the Lucan is Mary’s line. But there is no basis for this tradition and Luke says his genealogy is through Joseph. The problem of the third generation (Heli vs. Jacob) has been theorized as a Levirate marriage (i.e., someone died and the brother gave a child in the deceased brother’s name). It is not likely, says Fitzmeyer, that Luke is showing Yeshua as Second Adam (as in Paul). This is not likely since Luke takes the next step of showing Yeshua as Son of God. Therefore, he does not emphasize Adam, but God. The emphasis, then, would seem to be of Yeshua as the savior of all peoples, the one looked for since the time of Adam. Humanity has been waiting for the Son to appear.
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Yeshua, filled with the Spirit, is tempted (1-2), desert-bread (3-4), world-kingdoms (5-8), Temple-pinnacle (9-12), the devil waited for an opportune time to test him again (13).
It is often assumed that the Spirit is either present or not present, that the “filling” of the Spirit has only one meaning. But Luke’s use of the Spirit in both the gospel and in Acts shows that the Spirit’s filling comes at different levels and has different meanings in different contexts. It is not that Luke would deny the Pauline emphasis that all of Yeshua’s followers have the Spirit. Rather, Luke is aware of a more subtle and variegated view of the Spirit’s Presence. As is the case with the Glory in the Hebrew Bible, the Spirit manifests in different ways and levels. One evidence for this is that in Acts, the Spirit’s power is imparted specifically by the presence of one of the Twelve or Paul. Luke emphasizes the Spirit in the life of Yeshua more so than the other gospels (an emphasis somewhat similar to John’s mystical perspective on Yeshua). Mark’s “the Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness” becomes “Yeshua, full of the Holy Spirit . . . was led by the Spirit.” Yeshua will conquer Satan’s temptations with the Spirit’s power and will emerge on the other side with the power of the Spirit in vs. 14. The order of temptations in Luke is desert-bread/world-kingdoms/temple-pinnacle whereas Matthew has desert-bread/temple-pinnacle/world-kingdoms (from a high mountain, says Matthew). The order of Deuteronomy allusions in Luke is 8:3; 6:13; 6:16 (while Matthew’s order is descending: 8:3; 6:16; 6:13). Some argue Matthew’s order is original: the elevation moves up from desert to pinnacle to high mountain and the Deuteronomy verses are in simple descending order. If so, then Luke has moved the world kingdoms temptation earlier and ended with the Temple pinnacle. All three temptations concern false notions about the identity of the Messiah: cheap miracles and the stones-to-bread, messianism as ruling power and the world-kingdoms, and signs to prove messiahship and the temple-pinnacle. Yeshua doesn’t do cheap miracles, teaches a different idea of how power and kingdom work, and doesn’t give signs to prove his identity. The order in Luke probably suggests two things about his emphasis in the scene: (1) Jerusalem is last in Luke’s presentation because Jerusalem and the Temple will be the final test for Yeshua and (2) the Temple-pinnacle is the most potent temptation for Yeshua, to prove his identity by signs (Johnson).
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Yeshua in the power of the Spirit in Galilee (14-15), Yeshua reads and comments in the Nazareth synagogue (16-21), the crowd reacts and Yeshua responds (22-27), the crowd takes him from the synagogue and intends to cast him down (28-29), Yeshua walks through their midst unharmed (30).
Luke has put the story of the Nazareth synagogue out of order, relaying it at the beginning of Yeshua’s work in Galilee. Vss. 14-15 indicate that Yeshua did other things before the Nazareth incident, so Luke’s placing it here is not a chronological disagreement with Mark. It is, rather, a literary decision. What can it mean that Luke places this story at the beginning? It becomes for Luke’s telling of the gospel the quintessence of what Yeshua is all about in Galilee. He is the Anointed Conqueror of Isaiah (from Isaiah 56-66), but the conquering, warlike aspect of Isaiah’s figure is omitted. Thus, when Yeshua reads, he omits the part from Isaiah 61 about the day of God’s vengeance. The crowd expects great things from Yeshua. He has done great things and a great report has circulated about him. He is a healer and he talks about the kingdom. It is a not so subtle technique of Luke to show that the part of Isaiah’s Anointed Conqueror the people want is the conquering, warlike part. Yeshua deliberately avoids that aspect of his messianic authority. He emphasizes the other aspect: the anointed healer and helper of the poor and broken. The reaction of the crowd is at first confusion and then, as the words settle in, disbelief. Yeshua’s message has disappointed them and they turn to their familiarity with Yeshua as an ordinary son who grew up among them. Yeshua further challenges them, even goads them, with an insulting response, as if saying, “I’m not surprised my fellow Israelites do not understand since they did not understand in the days of the prophets either.” The crowd understands the insult and they intend to cast him down the hill, which is the first part of a stoning. Yet, and Luke shows it without telling, Yeshua walks through them miraculously and they are unable to harm him. The rest of what will happen in Galilee will be showing Yeshua doing what he said here: preaching good news to the poor, setting captives of demonic power free, and proclaiming a Jubilee of sorts with the arrival of the kingdom.
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Teaching and exorcising in the Capernaum synagogue (31-36), reports circulate in Galilee (37), Simon’s mother-in-law (38-39), the sick and possessed seek him out and he does not allow demons to proclaim his identity (40-41), Yeshua goes away to pray and says he must preach in other towns (42-43), he preaches in the synagogues of Judea (44).
Luke follows very closely the outline in Mark 1:21-39. The main difference is vs. 44, in which Luke says that Yeshua’s preaching in other places brought him to the synagogues of Judea. Mark does not mention that Yeshua took his kingdom message into Judean synagogues. Does Luke intend to say that Yeshua traveled and preached in Judea specifically? The broader picture, incorporating the account of John with the synoptic gospels, suggests that Yeshua’s work of healing and teaching in synagogues happened in Galilee while his travels to Jerusalem were to the Temple and involved dialogues in the Temple courts. So where does Luke get this note that Yeshua taught in Judean synagogues? First, he may mean “Judean” in the broader sense that the people (even in Galilee) include people from the whole nation (Judeans in Galilee). Second, and in parallel with this point, in 5:17, 6:17, and 7:17, Luke tells us that Judeans came to Galilee where Yeshua was to hear him (Fitzmeyer). Luke has a concern to show that Messiah came to Judea. He states this rather baldly in vs. 44, differing from Mark, and justifies this wording by showing that Yeshua’s audience was more than simply Galileans. The larger message of this section is Yeshua fulfilling what he said was his mission in the Nazareth synagogue: setting at liberty the oppressed and preaching good news to the poor.
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A crowd presses in and Yeshua uses Peter’s boat to speak the Word from (1-3), a miraculous catch of fish (4-7), Peter prostrates himself (8), Peter, James, and John follow Yeshua (9-11).
This story, as Luke tells it, is quite unusual in comparison with the other gospels. Luke’s main source is Mark and this story has many features drawn from Mark 1:16-20, the call of the first disciples: (1) it takes place at the lake of Galilee, (2) it has the saying about “catching men,” (3) it relates that Peter, James, and John (but Andrew is strangely omitted) follow Yeshua. It is also somewhat similar to Mark 4:1, in which Yeshua taught a crowd from a boat. Yet the story of the miraculous catch of fish, of Peter’s guilt and prostration, is not in Mark or Matthew. There is a parallel in John — though it is of a story that takes place after the resurrection. The story in John 21:1-11 makes us wonder if the two evangelists are relating the same event with some difference of details or if two miraculous catches of fish happened. If there were two miraculous catches of fish, we have to wonder why John did not record them both (which would have suited his purpose in John 21). One of the unusual features in Luke’s story is Peter’s sense of guilt. What reason does Peter have for believing himself to be such a sinner? Is this, perhaps, a result of John the Baptist’s teaching about repentance and the coming kingdom? It is always possible that Luke took a story which actually occurred after the resurrection (by when Peter had denied Yeshua and had reason to be guilty) and, not knowing its proper context, used it as part of the background story to Peter’s discipleship and call. We could definitely wonder what Luke’s source is for this story which does not occur in Mark. We are left with three rather different stories about the initial call of the first disciples: Mark’s immediate call, Luke’s miraculous catch story, and John’s note that the first disciples knew Yeshua from the work of John the Baptist. The Lucan version emphasizes repentance and belief as marks of discipleship. Peter’s experience of Yeshua’s power led to a realization of unworthiness, a deep-felt need for repentance. In the presence of such miraculous command of the forces of nature, a person would feel as if the veil had been pulled back a little between everyday living and the unseen, eternal realm which we rarely perceive. The proper response to such grandeur is wonder and awe.
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A leper begs to be cleansed (12), Yeshua’s word and touch cleanses (13), Yeshua commands him to report to the priest (14), Yeshua’s fame increases (15), Yeshua often goes away alone to pray (16).
Luke’s account follows Mark 1:40-45 pretty closely, though he omits reference to the emotions of Yeshua during this incident. He also omits the detail that the leper disobeyed Yeshua’s command to secrecy. Basically the miracle stories in Luke follow the same general pattern as in Mark and Matthew, showing how the miracles Yeshua did in Galilee brought him notoriety and attracted the attention of Jewish leaders. Thus the next section is a series of controversies. The healing of the leper is particularly noteworthy to a Galilean crowd because of the severity of the disease and its implications. Yeshua is demonstrating the kingdom wherever he goes and making signs of the age to come. In the face of increasing crowds, Yeshua often withdraws to pray alone. The Gospel of Luke has a consistent theme encouraging imitation of Yeshua, including descriptions of his prayer practices and more detail than any other Gospel about the filling of the Spirit. Luke has learned and passes these on as models of discipleship. Yeshua gets strength from his withdrawals to pray and from the filling of the Spirit, practices which the Gospel implies will benefit believers who follow Yeshua in serving others and making the kingdom a reality here and now.
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A crowd including leaders from Judea is gathered and Yeshua is about to heal (17), Yeshua heals and says a paralytic’s sins are forgiven (18-20), a controversy over authority to forgive (21-22), Yeshua’s riddle and demonstration (23-25), amazement and realization of Yeshua’s identity (26).
Luke’s version, compared to Mark’s and Matthew’s, begins with emphases that are particular to Luke. Luke stresses throughout that while Yeshua’s work took place mostly in Galilee, people from Judea came to observe. The Jerusalem connection is important to Luke. He also stresses throughout the role of the Spirit and the human aspect of Yeshua’s power. Here the Spirit is referred to as the “power of the Lord.” It seems that Luke’s understanding of Yeshua is of a person uniquely invested with God’s Spirit (which need not imply a denial of Yeshua’s divinity, but an emphasis on realism and humanity). The main story is nearly identical to that in Mark 2:1-12. Yeshua is in conflict with Judean leaders who seek to control interpretation of the scriptures and religious authority. Yeshua is a threat to their control. So Yeshua deliberately provokes them by his statement about forgiving sins. Yeshua’s riddle is a complex one. The correct answer is that it is harder to forgive sins. But it seems to observers that healing is harder, because healing can be verified by sight while declaring forgiveness is invisible and unprovable. So, Yeshua gives the easier sign of healing to verify the harder reality of his authority to forgive sins. Would a person who blasphemes and falsely hands out divine forgiveness be capable of such a display of divine power? The Son of Man saying here cannot mean “all men” any more than other men could heal a paralytic. Yeshua is claiming for himself authority on earth to do what only God can do.
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Yeshua calls Levi the tax collector (27-28), dinner at Levi’s house and the saying about sinners (29-32), the question about fasting (33-35), the wineskin and the patch (36-39).
The idea that Levi the tax collector and Matthew the tax collector are one and the same individual is possible but has difficulties. In favor of equating them are the following: Matthew’s account in 9:9-13 is very similar in many details to Luke 5:27-32 and Mark 2:13-17, so that they seem to be about the same person. Against equating them we have the following to consider: Levi is never mentioned in a list of the Twelve, Matthew is mentioned in every list of the Twelve, and only in Matthew is the tax collector in this story called Matthew (note that the gospel of Matthew does not anywhere claim to be written by Matthew, but the name is traditional). Levi is a toll collector or a low-level tax collector (unlike Zacchaeus in chapter 19, who is major tax collector). Yeshua’s notion of God’s kingdom is very different from the separationism of the Pharisees and scribes. They seek to have dealings only with the pure. Yeshua dines with sinners to call them to repentance and populate the kingdom with forgiven people. The idea, presented by E.P. Sanders, that Yeshua dined with sinners to say that sin no longer matters is contradicted by Yeshua’s main message of repentance. The saying about the bridegroom is like many of the later rabbinic parables which use aspects of the wedding to describe spiritual realities. This saying of Yeshua about the bridegroom being taken away could not possibly be understood until after the resurrection. The parable of the wineskin and patch should not be read as Christianity vs. Judaism, but as a general saying about accepting new ways. The old things Yeshua is contradicting are not all bad (John the Baptist and fasting are good things). But Yeshua has brought something new which remakes the old and those who want to minimize Yeshua’s renewal (seeing it as a mere patch or trying to keep new wine in old skins) are missing what God is doing. Instead of clinging to old modes of righteousness, which have led Israel astray, they should be looking for the new garment and the new wine Yeshua offers. But it should be noted that Yeshua’s new garment and new wine does not reject everything old (fasting, repentance, etc.).
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The Sabbath-grain controversy (1-5), healing on the Sabbath (6-11).
Luke’s version of the Sabbath grain controversy (Mark 2:23-28) correctly omits the reference to Abiathar as high priest and omits the saying about the Sabbath being made for man. Exodus 34:21 forbids working even during harvest time on Shabbat, which may be taken as forbidding reaping on Shabbat. Yet, the disciples are not reaping, but picking only for their immediate needs. What is it that the Pharisees object to? In general, we can say that the Pharisaic-scribal movement, which was still centuries from dominating Judaism, was at that time enlarging the scope of the commandments by making traditions. Although we have no specific source as evidence, it is very reasonable to assume that this movement wanted to build fences around Sabbath laws, so that even picking for immediate needs was forbidden on the Sabbath. The general meaning of this story is that Yeshua does not agree this is the direction halacha or rules of observance ought to go. Vs. 5 is probably a deliberate, double-edged saying: people (a son of man) take priority over Sabbath and also Yeshua (the Son of Man) has authority to legislate the Sabbath. The second story also follows from Mark’s order (see Mark 3:1-6). The healing is a deliberate enactment by Yeshua to make a point. The man did not ask to be healed. His condition could have been healed privately or later. The public healing of a disability which was not painful or life threatening on the Sabbath is an act of Yeshua to declare what he has already said in the previous scene about the meaning of Sabbath. He now backs up his teaching with a miracle. There is an argument, which Yeshua does not use here, but in the Fourth Gospel (John 5:17), that God does not cease his work on the Sabbath and neither should acts of mercy and lovingkindness cease on this holiest of days. Yeshua does not merely suggest that good works are permissible, but even desirable on the Sabbath. As is often the case, there is more to Yeshua’s words than meets the eye. His opponents are incensed at his healing on the Sabbath, yet they are plotting treachery on the holy day.
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Before a decisive moment, Yeshua prays (12); choosing the Twelve (13); list of the Twelve (14-16).
Two observations should precede any interpretation of this passage. First, Luke has reversed the order from his main source, Mark, by placing the healing and exorcism of the multitude story (Mk 7:1-12; Lk 6:17-19) after the choosing the Twelve (Mk 3:13-19; Lk 6:12-16). As Luke Johnson observes, Luke’s way of telling the story more clearly connects Yeshua’s choosing the Twelve with the controversy with the Pharisees (Mk 2:23-3:5; Lk 6:1-11). Thus, the order in Mark is controversy, healings, choosing whereas in Luke is it controversy, choosing, healings. One other effect of Luke’s order is that he has healings of a multitude just before the summary of Yeshua’s teaching (Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain). The second observation is that Luke’s list of the Twelve (both here and in Acts 1) varies slightly from the lists in Mark and Matthew. The greatest difference is that Luke has Judas son of James whereas Mark and Matthew have Thaddaeus. From these we can improve our understanding of Luke’s telling of the familiar stories (remember that Luke is the latest of the synoptics and also that these stories have been well-known in oral telling for decades). Yeshua is a man of the Spirit in Luke, a righteous Israelite as well as prophet and Messiah. He prays before momentous decisions and events — Johnson lists the following examples: 3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 28-29; 11:1; 22:41, 44-45; 23:46. The choosing of the Twelve is shown by Luke to be the formation of a group within Israel which will follow Messiah’s halakhah (way of living the commandments) as opposed to the other budding movements like the Pharisees. Yeshua is not starting a new religion, but a movement within Judaism. Also, it is important to Luke to record what he knows from his sources, even when they disagree with Mark and Matthew (and he obviously knows of the text of Mark and Matthew and of his divergences from them). For reasons we cannot determine, Luke has a different name on his list (Judas, son of James). Luke’s priority (stated in 1:1-3) is fidelity to his eyewitness sources (probably indirectly passed on to him by those who heard the eyewitnesses) and not fidelity to Mark and Matthew. Yeshua’s Twelve will sit with him at the table in the kingdom and judge the twelve tribes of Israel (22:30).
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Yeshua on the plain (17), healings and exorcisms (18), all sought his power (19).
In the next section, vss. 20-49, we will have Luke’s version of Yeshua’s teaching: the Sermon on the Plain (instead of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount). It is vital for the reader to realize that neither Matthew nor Luke intends us to think their summaries of Yeshua’s teaching are a specific sermon which has been recorded word for word (none of Yeshua’s discourses were recorded by scribes, but his sayings were remembered by disciples and passed down orally). The sermons on the plain (Luke) and the mount (Matthew) are summaries of the essence of Yeshua’s teaching. It is also vital to realize that Luke has numerous parallels with the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew in places other than here in the teaching on the plain. What is the significance of the “level place” or plain as the location of Yeshua’s teaching? It does not seem to be an allusion to a part of Israel’s story from the Torah. More importantly, people come from Tyre and Sidon and Judea and Jerusalem to hear Yeshua. Could Genesis 11:2 be the background, the plain of Shinar (Babylon) to which many peoples came? Could the teaching of Yeshua be foreshadowed here as the reversal of the disunity of peoples, so that Luke is presenting the Pauline idea of “all things united” in Yeshua (cf. Eph 1:10)? The people are drawn by the power of God that flows through Yeshua to heal and deliver from demonic powers, but Yeshua uses their coming to proclaim the mission of God in the world to redeem and bring all things to the messianic age.
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Beatitudes (20-23), woes (24-26), messianic love (27-36), heavenly and not earthly reciprocation (37-42), being precedes doing (43-45), actions must accompany wisdom (46-49).
Luke’s sermon, like Matthew’s, is not to be taken as a transcript of a speech, but a summary giving the essence of Yeshua’s teaching. Luke’s version has much in common with Matthew’s, but also is much shorter (30 verses as opposed 111). Matthew does not have woes. Luke’s beatitudes express more the external condition while Matthew’s have a tendency to internalize. Luke does not have sayings about lawkeeping and ways of piety such as prayer and tzedaka. Many of the sayings in Matthew’s sermon are found scattered in Luke 9-19 instead of being here in the Sermon on the Plain. Vss. 20-23 are the Lukan beatitudes. Each Beatitude is five things: promise of the coming kingdom, wisdom while we wait, the sad reality of the present age, antithesis to common thinking, and the essence of Yeshua’s way for his disciples (see my Yeshua in Context, chapter 10). The woes in vss. 24-26 are very similar and the assumption is that full people will not seek God and therefore will settle for a little in this present world, missing out on greater riches in the world to come. The disciple understands that present prosperity is an unworthy goal compared to understanding and serving every day the vision of the reign of God, the kingdom of the Son of Man, the coming ideal world of feasting and joy God has prepared for us. Vss. 27-36 describe messianic love, and there is no doubt hyperbole here (give all but your loincloth if someone begs from you, says vs. 29!). Johnson says Yeshua is going beyond usual human ethics of reciprocity, to an ethic of going beyond, of extravagant excess in giving love. Yeshua rejects, says Johnson, a minimalism of duty with the snide “what credit is that to you?”. To be sons of the Most High means to act as the Eternal does, who gives extravagantly in his love (giving even his Son). In the next section, vss. 37-42, human reciprocity is again found deficient. Judging others based on relative scales of merit is worthless, but it is the judgment from heaven’s vantage point that matters. This does not mean all transgressions are equal, as some claim. Rather each person’s goal is not about exceeding his neighbor, but something larger, namely participating in redeeming the world. Therefore, disciples are to be concerned with giving, with mercy, with generosity, and in no way with self-righteousness. The disciple follows the teacher, imitating his deeds, unconcerned with the relative merit of other persons. The last two sections show two sides of an issue: wisdom/virtue and action. Those who have not acquired wisdom and virtue can do good deeds, but bad fruit will still come inevitably. One cannot fake goodness. Being precedes doing. Therefore we must acquire wisdom to actually be good so that our deeds flow from our knowledge of the ways of God. Yet it is also an error to acquire wisdom without applying the knowledge to deeds. The servant of Messiah will become a wise practitioner of Torah and messianic halakhah (Messiah way’s of living for the kingdom). Both learning and action are required, so that our understanding and our deeds are balanced. The rabbis said one with much wisdom and no deeds is like a tree with many branches and few roots. Yeshua’s disciples must acquire roots and branches.
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Yeshua enters Capernaum (1), the centurion’s slave (2-10), the widow’s son at Nain (11-17).
The centurion is a God-fearer who kept some Torah commands, supported synagogues, attended, but did not convert. Luke has a theme showing non-Jews coming to Yeshua or having faith. He emphasizes here, as in 4:16-30, that there is often greater faith amongst gentiles than in Israel (likely a very important message for the Yeshua movement in Luke’s time). The healing miracle for the centurion’s slave shows that Yeshua’s ability did not require touch or even Yeshua’s presence. He can heal at a distance. The story of the widow at Nain is only told in Luke. It is placed here because in the next scene, Yeshua will report back to John that “the dead are raised.” The story is very similar to Elijah’s reviving of the widow’s son in 1 Kings 17:8-24 and Luke 7:15 quotes directly from 1 Kings 17:23 (“and he delivered him to his mother”). Yeshua’s miracle exceeds Elijah’s because he does not pray or prostrate himself over the boy, but simply heals with a command. Luke emphasizes the human emotions of Yeshua in this scene and many others. It is one of his characteristics of style to depict Yeshua in human terms and to bring added realism to scenes. Yeshua’s healings are all demonstrations or enactments of the coming kingdom, where death and suffering will not exist.
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John sends disciples to inquire if Yeshua is the one (18-20), Yeshua had just cured and set free many people (21), Yeshua’s response (22-23), Yeshua’s message about John (24-30), Yeshua’s message about his generation (31-35).
Matthew and Luke have this story in common (it is not from Mark). Some see in this and other passages hints of a later dispute between disciples of John and Yeshua (in Luke’s time). This is possible but there is little evidence. Quite simply, the second generation reading the gospel stories needed to know what relationship there was between John and Yeshua. This is a major gospel theme. Yeshua answers John with signs from Isaiah of the Messianic Age. Good news is preached to the poor (Isa 61:1). The blind see (Isa 35:5 and the LXX of Isa 61:1) and the deaf hear (Isa 35:5). The dead are raised (Isa 26:19). It is likely that John has misunderstood what Yeshua came to do. In 3:16-17, John said the one to come would baptize with fire and winnow the wicked out from Israel. Yet Yeshua is healing and teaching peacefully about the kingdom. John’s words about Yeshua in 3:16-17 are true, but they concern what will happen at the return of the Son of Man, not what Yeshua was doing in John’s time. Yeshua even re-orients the thinking of the great John the Baptist and pronounces a blessing if John will receive the word. Vs. 28 is a much-discussed saying. First, it is a hint that John does not yet understand the kingdom and needs to be taught by Yeshua. Second, it is part of Yeshua’s theme that during the kingdom age there will be no evil (so it will be a time of blessing, not judgment). Third, it is a statement that the works Yeshua is doing are greater than those of John, since Yeshua is already bringing signs of the kingdom’s arrival whereas John was preaching repentance to prepare for the kingdom. Yeshua compares the people to children playing games. They can’t decide whether to play “wedding” or “funeral.” When John declared a funeral, they wanted a wedding. When Yeshua declared a wedding, they wanted a funeral.
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LUKE 7:36 – 8:3
Yeshua’s feet anointed by a sinful woman (36-39), a parable of two debtors (40-43), Yeshua explains the parable, chastises Simon, and forgives the woman’s sins (44-50), the women followers of Yeshua (8:1-3).
It is a Lucan narrative technique to introduce a character (vs. 36, a Pharisee) and only later name him (vss. 40, 43, 44, Simon). A major question for understanding this story is whether it is meant to describe the same event as in Mark 14:3-9; Matthew 26:6-13; John 12:1-8. If is the same event being described, the differences suggest that the story has become confused: Simon is a leper in Matthew and Mark but a Pharisee in Luke, the location is Bethany in the other three while Luke’s story appears to be in Galilee, Luke’s version happens earlier as opposed to shortly before Yeshua’s death, and a few more. If the story is of a different incident of anointing it is difficult to explain the similarities: a person named Simon owns the home in both versions, Luke does not mention another anointing in chapter 22 where it would be expected, the reclining posture of Yeshua, the phenomenon of a woman coming uninvited into the home, and the mention of an alabaster jar. If Luke’s story is about the same event, the woman is Mary of Bethany (John 12:3). The story, regardless of its background, illustrates several key features about Yeshua: he does not shun sinners, he does not avoid contact with women, and he claims to be able to announce that sins are forgiven. The forgiveness of sins could be the act of a prophet or a claim to divine authority, but it is enough to scandalize those who witness it. Luke tends to depict scenes more realistically. You can detect in this story the deep gratitude of the woman, her speechless act of devotion. Luke means it as a lesson for disciples: love and servanthood are the proper responses of worship in return for God’s forgiveness. Why did the woman come to Yeshua? She must have already been liberated by hearing his words from her guilt about her past. In Yeshua’s words she found hope and she came to show her love in return. It is also a Lucan theme to emphasize the important role of women in Yeshua’s work. Thus, from the story of the anointing by the sinful woman, Luke turns to a description of the disciples that emphasizes the importance of several key women. These women, one of them (Joanna) being the wife of a Herodian steward, have money to support Yeshua. They are named because (according to Richard Bauckham’s theory in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses) their testimony about Yeshua was known to the community. The presence of these women as prominent witnesses in Luke’s version is one of the possible reasons for his gospel’s unique point of view and may account for some of the differences in the stories as compared to Mark’s version.
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Parable of the Sower (4-15), the lamp reveals and the disciple takes heed (16-18), Yeshua’s true family (19-21).
For a fuller interpretation of the Sower parable, see Yeshua in Context, chapter 11. Yeshua’s reference to Isaiah 6:9 is crucial to a more subtle interpretation of the parable. In midrashic teaching a reference to a verse of scripture puts the whole context of the passage in mind. Thus, Isaiah 6:13 is a helpful clue to the meaning of the seed: it is the seed of the end of Israel’s exile. The “word” is not the scripture as a whole (not really a Jewish concept), but the specific word of Isaiah 6 about the end of exile. The Sower parable is really about reactions to the kingdom message of Yeshua in light of a long delay that is coming. Many want the kingdom now and complete. When instant victory and complete intervention of God in history does not happen, many will fall away or not even become interested at all. But true disciples, who remain close to Yeshua and hear his teachings over and over again, will bear fruit. The fruit should look like the deeds and teachings of Yeshua (healing, serving, giving future hope, making this world like the world to come). Luke’s version is in some ways close to Mark’s, but he follows Matthew in vs. 10 by making the word “secret” plural. Luke Johnson suggests that Mark may have understood the “secret” to be Yeshua himself while Luke and Matthew understand it to mean the knowledge that comes from his teachings. Luke also puts a more positive spin on the parable, with no note of rejection as in Luke. Yeshua is being positively received when he teaches the Sower parable in Luke’s version. Luke is emphasizing the successful gathering of disciples and presents the Sower parable as the quintessence of Yeshua’s teaching. In vss. 16-18, the lamp is probably Yeshua lifted up on a cross. The delay in the coming of the kingdom will become clear when Yeshua dies. Many will fall away. But Yeshua’s death will reveal deeper secrets and blessed is the disciple who understands. Vss. 19-21 fit well after the parable (Mark has this section before the parable) to underscore the difference between insiders and outsiders. What marks a person as a disciple is hearing and doing the will of God as Yeshua teaches it.
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Power over a storm and a legion of demons (22-39), raising the dead and healing a hopeless woman (40-56).
The promises of Isaiah 35 and 61 are being realized in Yeshua’s work (the lame healed, the oppressed liberated). Healing and saving are equated. The identity of Yeshua is illuminated by these acts of power. Faith is called for from those healed and from the reader. Thus, for example, in the stilling of the storm, Yeshua asks, “Where is your faith?” It is similar to the Mark’s, “Have you no faith?” and Matthew’s, “O men of little faith.” Yet Luke has a greater focus on faith and the role of the Spirit. His version of Yeshua’s saying about faith on this occasion directs itself to disciples: when a crisis comes, have faith in Yeshua’s power and presence. The pagans in the region of the Gerasenes react to Yeshua’s mighty power with fear and want him to leave. But the healed man goes about telling everyone what happened. Luke slightly modifies the story to fit an ordered pattern: the power of Yeshua coming into an area devoid of faith, the evidence of a man returned from (virtual) death is proclaimed, and the region will have to consider faith in Yeshua based on the testimony of a witness. It is a parallel situation to the time of Luke, when the testimony of the eyewitnesses was the basis of teaching faith in Yeshua to skeptical gentile cultures. The intertwined stories of the woman who has been bleeding and the daughter of Jairus continue the point that faith saves. To the bleeding woman after she is healed he says, “Daughter, your faith has saved you.” To those who announce it is too late to save Jairus’ daughter, he says, “Do not fear; only believe.” The Sower parable (8:4-15) is being demonstrated. The kingdom is not coming suddenly. People may fall away in light of the delay of the kingdom. But Yeshua shows that the proper response in the current crisis is faith, even when things do not appear to be right. His true family believes the word (that Yeshua preached, 8:21). In crisis, the question is, “Where is your faith?” (8:25). The response of the healed demoniac is going about and telling others what Yeshua has done (8:39). The woman’s faith has saved her and those who despair about Jairus’ daughter need only to believe. Faith is essential to the fruit commended in the Sower parable.
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The twelve sent out (1-6), John the Baptist’s death (7-9), feeding 5,000 (10-17).
At the early stage of the disciples’ mission, Yeshua sent them with nothing — a test of Yeshua’s generation to see if they would receive and give to his emissaries. Luke’s view of this is positive ( he chooses to emphasize the receptive side of Israel more than other gospels). In 22:35, the disciples say that they lacked nothing. In other words, they were well-received on their mission outings (Johnson). One of the famous gospel discrepancies happens here. In Mark 6:8, Yeshua commands them to take nothing “except a staff” while in Luke 9:3, he commands them to take “no staff.” The disciples are sent with the same kinds of powers as Yeshua and their task is the same as his task. The work the disciples are doing multiplies the miracles and also the talk about Yeshua in Galilee, so that these events come to the notice of Herod. That people thought Yeshua might be one with the spirit of John is affirmed in all the gospels. In the feeding of the 5,000, the sequence of verbs (took, blessed, broke, gave) is the same as in the Last Supper (22:15). Luke’s account is shorter and simpler, focusing simply on the greater provision Yeshua brings than money (Johnson). The focus of this section is positive. Yeshua and his disciple are gaining notoriety in Galilee and good things are happening.
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Peter’s confession (18-21), sharing Yeshua’s rejection (22-27), transfiguration (28-36).
Luke’s version of the confession of Peter is much shorter and has a different emphasis than in Mark or Matthew. In Mark, the confession of Peter is woven together with the story of the blind man of Bethsaida. The theme in Mark is blindness of the disciples about the aims of Messiah. Luke has already covered the theme of Messianic misunderstanding in 4:16-30. The people of Nazareth, rather than the disciples, were the ones Luke chose to show that people wanted Yeshua to be a mere deliverer. Now, in Luke’s version of Peter’s confession, the emphasis is on the hard road of discipleship, following Yeshua’s prophetic example. So, Peter realizes Yeshua is Messiah and then Yeshua adds understanding: “Yes, Peter, you are right, but the Son of Man must suffer. And if you are worthy of me, you will be willing to suffer too. But the Son of Man will also come [again] in the Glory of the Father and the angelic beings.” Luke’s focus is on the meaning of discipleship for his generation. The messianic confession is true, Luke is saying, even though there is present distress. While we wait to see the fulfillment of Yeshua’s messianic calling, we suffer with him and we believe. In the same way, Luke places the Transfiguration story as an example of the reality of the Second Coming. Peter and the others get a glimpse into that Glory of the Son of Man. So we wait, serve, and believe in the Second Coming.
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A demon the disciples could not exorcise (37-43), the idea of Yeshua’s rejection which the disciples could not fathom (44-45), serving instead of ruling (46-50).
Luke artfully combines three stories that contrast Yeshua’s mysterious, exalted identity with the secret of messianic suffering. At the same time we see juxtaposed Yeshua’s knowledge and power with the ordinariness and shortsightedness of the disciples. In the healing of the boy with the unclean spirit, Luke omits reference to Mark’s “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29). Whereas in Mark this story is a revealing peek into the divinity of Yeshua (who does not need to pray to heal), in Luke it is simply noted that the disciples were unable to cast out this demon. Yeshua refers to the whole generation, including the disciples, as faithless and twisted. Yeshua’s power amazes everyone, even the disciples. What will Yeshua’s use this teachable moment to say? Naturally, in keeping with the gospel presentation as found in all three synoptic gospels, Yeshua uses this moment to drive home the mystery of messianic suffering. That the disciples are shortsighted and concerned more with movements of power is obvious, as Luke strings together the amazing healing with the messianic suffering with a prosaic group of disciples arguing who is the greatest. The reader knows: the greatest is the one who lays down his life and thinks suffering to redeem beloved ones exceeds all concerns about power and position. Luke theologizes about the ignorance of the disciples: “it was concealed from them.” This is a unique statement, suggesting that God put blinders on the disciples. How can we understand this? Perhaps the hardness of the disciples to the messianic mission of Yeshua already existed and God simply strengthened it so that at the right moment the revelation would come to them. Their shortsightedness serves a purpose, for when they realize the fulness of the messianic mission after the resurrection, their metamorphosis will change the world.
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Yeshua sets his face toward Jerusalem (51), James and John rebuked in Samaria (52-56), the demands of discipleship (57-62).
This begins a long section which is exclusive to Luke (i.e., not found in Matthew or Mark). 9:51 – 18:14 is a travel account toward Jerusalem and only a very tiny portion is found in other gospels. 18:15 – 19:27 continues the travel account with more material from Mark and Matthew, but also with unique Lucan sections (such as Zacchaeus). Luke tends to emphasize the importance of Jerusalem and is second only to John in emphasizing Yeshua’s mission as headed toward the holy city. Thus, in vs. 51, we see the context of this whole section of Yeshua’s life is heading toward Jerusalem. This has been prefigured in vs. 31, when Moses and Elijah talked with Yeshua at the transfiguration about his “departure” (exodos) coming in Jerusalem (probably a reference to his ascension). Vs. 51 specifies that he will be taken up (i.e., ascend) in Jerusalem. Why this emphasis on the ascension (as opposed to the crucifixion or resurrection)? It seems that for Luke, the absence of Yeshua in body, is of major importance for the situation of the disciple community in his day. Yeshua’s disciples serve an ascended Lord. Thus, Luke also emphasizes faith and the role of the Spirit as the means of union with Messiah now while he is ascended. In this, Luke is very similar to John. Ascension talk also brings to mind the story of Elijah and in Samaria James and John wish Yeshua to be Elijah-like and call down fire on the Samaritans. Yeshua does not see the Samaritans as enemies (and in Luke he will say good things about Samaritans (see 10:33 and 17:16). Luke also tends to emphasize the inclusion of gentiles and Samaritans, a live issue for the time of his writing. Finally, on the road to a hard destiny, Yeshua is met by would-be disciples who have reservations and provisions about following. Yeshua accepts no reservations. Discipleship is an all-or-nothing decision. Commitment to Yeshua supersedes attachment to a home. Those who do not accept Yeshua’s kingdom call are “dead” in that they do not have the new life Yeshua is bringing (Johnson). Let these dead (not committed to Yeshua’s call) worry about obligations that detract from service. And Yeshua is stricter than Elijah, who allowed Elisha to kiss his parents before following (1 Kgs 19:19-21). The full weight of Yeshua’s demand does need to be balanced with ethics and love. He is the kind of teacher who speaks in extreme ways to provoke his hearers. These sayings, therefore, do not indicate a rejection of love for family or obligations to work. Rather, they challenge with the greater importance of discipleship.
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The sending of the seventy[-two] (1-12), woes on Galilee (13-15), disciples as Yeshua’s emissaries (16), return of the seventy[-two] (17-20).
The story in Luke left off in Samaria, the large area between Galilee and Judea, toward which Yeshua is resolutely heading (9:51). Having been rejected in a Samaritan village (9:52-56), the mission of the disciples suddenly seems a bit more dangerous. Therefore, the cost of discipleship is emphasized (9:57-62). This background is important for interpreting the sending of the seventy (or seventy-two) in Luke 10. Unfortunately, ancient manuscripts of Luke are divided between seventy and seventy-two as the number. Is the symbolism of Moses choosing seventy elders intended? Or the seventy Gentile nations of Genesis 10? Or the seventy two in Jacob’s household that went into Egypt (Exod 1:5, counting Jacob and Joseph makes seventy-two)? Interestingly, the LXX (Greek version, Septuagint) lists the number of nations in Genesis 10 as seventy-two. Because of the confusion about which number Luke actually used, it is hard to say which symbolism he intended — Yeshua as the New Moses or Yeshua’s good news going to the nations (represented by Samaritans). Johnson notes that, as compared to the sending of the twelve in 9:1-6, there is more emphasis here on rejection. This would fit with traveling through Samaria and passing into northern Judea on the way to Jerusalem. Yeshua’s message was not received well in Samaria and Jerusalem did not know him the way Galilee did. As for the harsh tone in vss. 13-16 concerning those who rejected Yeshua and the disciples as they proclaimed the kingdom, we need to remember the context. Yeshua is not only a timeless Messiah, but a prophet to his own generation. Israel at various turning points in history was in great danger and prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah warned strongly while teaching repentance and clinging to God by faith as the way to peace. Though Yeshua refers to the final judgment (the future, when people will give an account to God), he is not speaking in the language of heaven and hell as it came to be preached in later Christianity. He is speaking primarily about the coming war with Rome, about people being brought down to the grave through death. He adds to this a warning about how people will fare in the judgment after death, having failed to heed the prophet (Yeshua himself, and his disciples). Of course, the warning does not fit geographically as it concerns towns in Galilee, and Yeshua and disciples have come south. But Luke placed it here in the middle of the story of the seventy[-two] to make a point of the fact that Israel as a whole had not heeded Yeshua’s message. By the time Luke is written, Jerusalem and many towns in Israel have been destroyed in the first Jewish revolt against Rome. In vss. 17-20, the disciples are ecstatic about having some of Yeshua’s miraculous power in them. Yeshua uses the occasion to make a cryptic statement (which would be understood later) about how he himself will deal Satan a death blow (via his death and resurrection). He then instructs his disciples to care more about clinging to God and believing they are written in God’s book for life. The kingdom of God is not about who has power or not, but about finding the ultimate source of all goodness and loving him completely.
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Yeshua, the Father, and the disciples (21-22), blessed are those who see what you see (23-24).
Both of these sayings are in Matthew as well (but not Mark). Matthew uses them separately, however, in two different contexts. Perhaps this saying was too direct for Mark, who presents the identity of Yeshua more as a mystery to be seen and not spoken out loud. In Matthew 11:25-27, the saying about the Father revealing sublime truths to little children comes after the woes on Capernaum and Bethsaida. And in Matthew, this leads into Yeshua’s invitation found nowhere else, “Come to me all who are weary and heavily burdened.” The saying about “blessed are the eyes that see” comes immediately after the Sower parable in Matthew 13:16-17. What these two sayings have in common, both in their use in Luke and Matthew, is that they are about the revelation of the Son by the Father. The Father is the revealer and the Son is the revealed. God discloses himself to us by sending and making Messiah known. If Mark knew the sayings of Luke 10:21-24 (and Matt 11:25-27; 13:16-17), it makes sense that he did not include them. They do not fit his literary purpose in presenting Yeshua’s identity as a mystery to be seen and considered. Indeed, these verses sound a lot like the gospel of John. They are remarkable in clarity. Yeshua rejoices in the Spirit, much like Mary in 1:47. For Luke, this expression is the kind of worship a disciple will have: seeing signs of God at work in the world and rejoicing spontaneously. To do things a certain way was the pleasure of the Father. “For this was your gracious will” might be translated “for this [deed] was well pleasing before you” (margin note in the NET version). To reveal the sublime to ordinary people, to make mysteries known to the seemingly unimportant, was pleasing to the Father. Yeshua discloses to us the way God thinks. In contrast to human rivalries and ambitions, God does not reward ego, the will to dominate, and grasping for power. Those who experientially know Yeshua know the Father, because there is something about the Son that makes the Father known. Later, it will become clear that Yeshua is of one being with the Father. Conversely, only those who know the Father can recognize his Radiance in the Son, Yeshua. The disciples are blessed to see what kings (David especially) and prophets (such as Isaiah and Jeremiah) longed to witness, the coming of the Anointed Healer and the signs of the advent of the kingdom. The mission work in Galilee has been full of signs of the messianic fulfillment so longed for. But it has happened through a band of unknowns and not through the normal channels of power. This is the greatest liability of Yeshua-faith: that God does his work quietly and in hidden corners while the world is looking for noise and spectacle.
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A lawyer questions about eternal life (25-28), the lawyer questions about the limits of the term “neighbor” (29), the Good Samaritan (30-37), Mary and Martha receive Yeshua (38-42).
Is Luke 10:25-28 the same incident as related in Mark 12:28-34 and Matthew 22:34-40? Some aspects of Luke’s story are so different that traditional harmonies of the gospels list Luke’s story as unique. Yet the details are so similar, it seems to be the same incident. Luke’s story takes place in Samaria, which makes the follow-up parable of the Good Samaritan in vss. 30-37. In Luke’s story the question is not about the greatest commandment, but how to inherit eternal life. The eternal life question is probably brought to mind by Daniel 12:2. In Mark’s version, the question is part of a series of challenges thrown at Yeshua by seeming opponents. Yet by the end of the story Yeshua says this lawyer is close to the kingdom (Mark 12:34). By contrast, in Luke’s version, the entire episode is hostile. Yeshua says here that loving God and neighbor are the prime traits of a person who will inherit eternal life. Note how Yeshua’s answer is incompatible with some Christian notions of a works-free salvation. The lawyer then tries to show Yeshua an inadequate teacher by asking about the limits of the concept of “neighbor.” In Leviticus 19:18, the neighbor is a fellow Israelite (“the children of your people”). But by Leviticus 19:33-34, as Johnson points out, the stranger in the land becomes also in the category of neighbor. The lawyer is reflecting on a question of legal obligation: to whom am I obligated by neighbor love? The discussion of relation to gentiles is important in the formative stage of the tradition (Johnson). Yeshua turns the question on its head. He ends up asking the lawyer, “Which of these three became a neighbor?” In keeping with Yeshua’s principle of interpreting Torah always in its highest ethical and spiritual demand, he says that everyone is a neighbor (and particularly that obligation is to enemies, outcasts, and those usually overlooked). Yeshua’s story clearly indicates that desire to maintain ritual purity (the priest and levite on their way to the Temple who were afraid of corpse contamination in case the man was dead) is of lower priority than the obligation to neighbor-love. The rhetorical force of making a Samaritan the hero is rather like saying: an Israeli was wounded in a mine field and while his fellows deliberated on how to extract him, a passing Palestinian walked through the mines and saved his life. The Mary and Martha story, by contrast, shows how a prophet and teacher from God ought to be received (Johnson). In Luke’s time, the issue of hospitality to teachers and elders was an important one. Mary and Martha, unlike the leadership of Israel, receive Yeshua and heed his words. Mary’s part is better because she focuses on listening.
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The Lord’s Prayer (1-4), the parable of the persistent friend (5-8), discourse of prayer’s effectiveness (9-13).
Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer is famously shorter. Theories that Luke’s version is original and Matthew expanded the prayer are unnecessary. Liturgy has local variations. It is also quite possible that Yeshua taught his prayer more than once and in more than one form. It is more likely that both Matthew and Luke’s versions are colored by the use of their communities and that neither one quotes Yeshua word for word. Reading about the variation and evolution of the prayers in the Mishnah and Talmud is instructive regarding the amount of variation we should expect even in fixed prayers. It is interesting that the disciples felt a need for Yeshua to teach them something distinctive about prayer as John did for his disciples. This might resemble prayer customs in rabbinic discipleship circles we know of from later periods. See, for example, the notes in the Artscroll Siddur under the benediction that comes after the Amidah. At a later period, we know that some rabbis taught unique prayers to their disciples. The Lord’s Prayer could be seen as a mark of discipleship under Yeshua. The persistent friend parable draws from social customs to make a point reinforced by the other sayings: we should be persistent in prayer, trusting that God has our best in mind and that he is more likely to help us than a friend or even a parent. It is more than possible that Luke’s community struggled with their situation or marginalization and wondered if God was listening. Yeshua’s words teach patience and faith when the answers don’t seem to be coming. And the gift of the Spirit will come, as the disciples will see after the ascension of Yeshua.
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The accusation that Yeshua is in league with demons (14-23), the saying about an evil spirit returning (24-26), a blessing on doers (27-28), the sign of Jonah (29-32), sayings about light (33-36), woes on Pharisees (37-54).
What holds this section (vss. 14-36) together is the incident related in vss. 14-16. Yeshua heals a mute, demon-possessed person. Critics respond in two ways. Some say that Yeshua’s power comes from the prince of demons. Others ask him for a sign (the miracle must not have been clear enough for them). Yeshua’s response to the charge of collusion with evil is important: (1) logic says that it is not in evil’s best interest to attack itself, (2) others are attempting exorcism besides Yeshua, (3) but Yeshua’s success should tell them the kingdom has arrived, (4) Yeshua is conquering the strongman and plundering his realm, and (5) those who love the kingdom and hate evil must side with Yeshua. Vss. 24-26 are likely a warning. If Yeshua’s generation does not welcome the advent of the kingdom manifested in the defeat of the demonic powers, then it will be inhabited by more evil. Vss. 27-28 enhance the main point: it is not enough to admire Yeshua for his powers or wisdom. His prophetic word must be embraced. Vss. 29-32 answer the demand from the beginning of the episode for a sign. Yeshua is already doing all the signs the people need to see. Why are they asking for more signs? It seems they want either a clear declaration that Yeshua is king (or messiah) or they want to see a sign of conquest and political deliverance. Yeshua says they will get only what Jonah gave, a saying with a double meaning. Yeshua gives the people a Jonah-like repent-or-be-destroyed message and also he will give them a three-day sign of burial and resurrection. The next section (vss. 37-54) is a response to another kind of holiness or renewal movement (that of the Pharisees). Yeshua indicates that their main concern is in the wrong direction (emphasizing ritual purity). Ethics outweighs all concerns of ritual purity, according to Yeshua.
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The leaven of the Pharisees (1), confess me without fear of people (2-9), sayings about the Holy Spirit (10-12).
Comparing the “leaven of the Pharisees” saying in Luke with its parallels in Mark and Matthew reveals a unique feature in Luke’s use of the saying. In both Mark and Matthew, the saying comes shortly after the feeding miracle and some Pharisees demanding a messianic sign from Yeshua. In Luke, it comes after the long section on woes against the Pharisees. As Johnson puts it, “It now functions as a metaphoric summary of the entire attack on the Pharisees.” The metaphor is simple: hypocrisy, the root transgression Yeshua charges the Pharisees with, spreads like leaven in a community. And Johnson brilliantly summarizes why vss. 2-3 follow in Luke’s order of sayings: these verses show why hypocrisy won’t work for the disciples. God sees all and the ethical way of the Yeshua movement will need to be pure, free from leaven. In vss. 4-6, the tension between the mercy and judgment of God fits the context. Disciples are to live life with the coming judgment in mind, both trusting in mercy and living as those who will have their case reviewed by the heavenly court. Some will receive mercy from the one who see everything, even the falling sparrow. Others will be sent into the place of separation. In vss. 8-9 the crux for the disciples will be standing firm in their confession of Yeshua in spite of persecution. God’s judgement about reward or exile will be based on persevering in the confession of faith in Yeshua. In vs. 10, the difference between encountering the Son of Man and encountering the Holy Spirit is the level of revelation. Someone seeing Yeshua in his humanity might be forgiven for not understanding his true identity, but when the Spirit makes it plain (through miracles and revelation) people are culpable for rejecting what is shown. Meanwhile, it is the Holy Spirit, in vss. 11-12, who will aid the disciples when the persecution is hard. Luke is bringing the story toward the final confrontation.
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Warning against greed (13-15), the parable of the rich fool (16-21).
This material is unique to Luke. A member of the crowd interrupts. Perhaps it is because Yeshua is a Torah-teacher that he is sought out to rule on a matter of family inheritance. For Luke, the root issue in a matter of legal inheritance is the trait of greed and how it affects our lives. Even the rich cannot say that their life is summed up by possessions. Worries about wealth distract from greater concerns. Life is greater than possessions. Disputes over inheritance are an example of wrong thinking. The saying is a hard one. It leads to a parable about the relative value of life versus possessions. The rich fool thinks his wealth is wonderful, but it is actually life that is wonderful. Yeshua’s teaching is classical wisdom from the tradition of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. For example, Proverbs 11:4 says, “On the day of wrath, wealth doesn’t help.” See also 15:16 and 19:1.
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Do not be anxious about possessions (22-30), the Father gives the kingdom (31-32), sell possessions and give alms (33), your heart and your treasure (34).
This section is very similar to Matthew 6:25-34. Luke has placed it in a different context (combined with the rich fool parable and the saying about greed). The saying about selling possessions and giving alms has no direct counterpart in Matthew, though Matthew does speak of almsgiving in 6:2. The saying about treasure in heaven is found in Matthew 6:21. Luke’s gospel has a heightened theme about poverty, dis-attachment from possessions, and faith. Luke Timothy Johnson’s comment is very apt: “It is out of deep fear that the acquisitive instinct grows monstrous.” Yeshua had been warning his disciples about danger to their lives and counseling them to confess faith in Yeshua without fear when a member of the crowd interjected with a concern about mere possessions (vs. 13). If fear of death should not prevent discipleship, how much less fear about the lesser issue of possessions (Johnson). God alone controls the future. Worry about it cannot bring control or security. God’s provision of humble nature should ease our fears. More importantly, the reign of God on earth, the coming of his power and Presence and ways into the world, should occupy us far more than what we will eat or wear. The kingdom of God is entrusted to Yeshua’s disciples. It is our calling to bring kingdom realities into the present (serving, healing, redeeming, reconciling). Luke gives the most extreme version of the contrast between worry about possessions and single-minded pursuit of bringing the virtues of the kingdom into the world: sell possessions in order to give alms so that the lesser wealth will bring greater riches. Money is little use compared to the attributes of the world to come and a little help and healing for one in need is far more valuable than the false security of money. You can see what a person treasures. For a disciple of Yeshua, this treasure should be living for a bigger vision of the world just as Yeshua did.
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Servants ready for the Son of Man’s sudden return (35-48), time for a decision (49-59).
Luke uses sayings here mostly found in Matthew, but places them in a completely different context. In fact, the differing context even changes the meaning of some of the sayings. Johnson notes that Luke’s organizing principle in chapter 12 makes sense: the unified theme is fear. The disciples should not fear to confess Yeshua, avoid the leaven of the Pharisees, should fear God and not people, trust the Spirit when persecution comes, have no fear about possessions, be unattached from possessions and single-minded in pursuit of kingdom realities, be like servants ready for the sudden coming of the master, expect coming division, read the times rightly and repent, and come to agreement with Yeshua on the road before he gets to the magistrate (the Father) and takes up the case against them. All of chapter 12, then, is about the demands of discipleship in light of the coming kingdom. Fitzmeyer notes that the theme of readiness for a sudden coming of God’s rule is not new to Yeshua. Isaiah 13:6, for example, says, “Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come!” The theme is found in many places: Ezek 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1; Amos 5:18; Obad 15; and Zeph 1:14-18, Fitzmeyer). On the one hand, Yeshua warns of a delay in the promises of the kingdom, but on the other he commands readiness for a sudden fulfillment when least expected. Thus, vss. 35-48 start to round out a section on the demands of discipleship. Those who fear God more than people, who trust the Spirit, and are unattached to possessions, wait like servants who know the master will come at any time. And the coming divisions in Israel and in the Roman Empire over Yeshua should not surprise the disciples or cause them fear (vss. 49-53). The generation hearing Yeshua’s words reads the signs of weather but they are failing to read the signs of God’s kingdom coming (vss. 54-56). They need to appeal to the plaintiff (Yeshua) while he is still on the road to the magistrate (the Father, vss. 57-59). Vss. 57-59 demonstrate how differently Luke can use the same saying as Matthew, since in Matthew 5:25-26 the saying is placed in an ethical context (resolve disputes and find reconciliation with all people as much as possible).
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Deaths in Jerusalem become prophetic warnings to repent (1-5), parable: there is time for the fig tree, but not much (6-9), confrontation about healing the bent woman in synagogue (10-17), parable: mustard seed (18-19), parable: leaven (20-21).
Luke Timothy Johnson’s commentary on this section helpfully brings together what may appear to be a loosely arranged series of sayings and deeds. The theme of the whole section is the mounting conflict as Yeshua heads to Jerusalem and Yeshua’s warning that the time to repent is running short (his death will bring judgment and there is time for his generation to receive him and prevent the catastrophe to come). Two events in Jerusalem, one a killing by a gentile overlord (Pilate) and the other a fatal accident, become occasions for Yeshua to warn about repentance. Some die and others live. This is not because some deserve death and others do not. All deserve death and should repent. Death may come too quickly for repentance to happen. But there is some time for the fig tree. In mercy the gardener will leave it a little longer before cutting it down. A bent woman at a synagogue needs to be loosed from the power of Satan that has disabled her for eighteen years. Those who would set themselves up as controllers of interpretation of Torah are called out as hypocrites: they would loose an animal on the Sabbath, but not an Israelite? The conflict is growing and Luke uses the mustard seed and leaven parables (one is about “a man” and the other “a woman,” interestingly) to round out this section on the need for repentance before the messianic prophet reaches Jerusalem. Yeshua’s little movement is about to be doomed, it may seem, but hidden things are happening. A great plant is growing and birds will nest in it (in Mark and Matthew there is perhaps a hint the birds are unwelcome guests in the kingdom: sinners, the poor, gentiles). A loaf is being fermented. The messianic prophet may be headed to confrontation with powers of death, but something great will come, something the origin of which cannot now be seen. The seed will die to leave behind a plant and the leaven will work through everything and change all that it contacts.
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The narrow door and the locked door (22-27), weeping and gnashing of teeth (28), the table of Abraham (29), first and last (30), Herod’s desire to kill Yeshua (31-33), lament over Jerusalem (34-35).
The messianic prophet is heading for Jerusalem and the great confrontation with Satan and evil. The time is narrowing, the window of opportunity for Yeshua’s Israel to welcome the advent of the kingdom. If Israel misses the narrow door, the offer of Yeshua to teach them the kingdom, they will find it locked and judgment sealed. The words of Yeshua about narrow and locked doors are not about individuals seeking personal salvation, but about corporate Israel in Yeshua’s time responding to the teaching and deeds of the messianic prophet who has come. Individuals can find their place in the corporate salvation, of course, so that Yeshua’s disciples will enter the kingdom (meaning in this case not the full world to come but the community that knows the kingdom realities in advance). But the warnings are primarily corporate. The short time before Yeshua confronts evil on the cross is the narrow door. After that, in general, the door will be locked. This is not because it will be too late for individuals to change their mind and believe in Yeshua’s teaching and deeds. It is because the doom of Israel will be sealed. Yeshua makes this explicit when he says, “You will say, ‘But we ate and drank in your presence and you taught in our streets.’” In other words, figuratively Yeshua’s generation will say when appearing before God (and Yeshua) in judgment: we knew you because you were in our streets. But the time to repent has passed and the judgment is sealed. Israel must recognize it before the cross (perhaps in view is not the idea that the cross can be avoided, but that Israel can recognize Yeshua and avoid being the ones who send him to it). Yeshua also strongly hints in vs. 32 that the resurrection will be his victory. He is defeating evil one battle at a time during his career (“today and tomorrow”) but will decisively defeat all evil on the third day (resurrection). But in Jerusalem he will be killed (vs. 33). Thus, though there is technically a narrow door for Israel, Yeshua knows his generation will not find the door. He laments and says that judgment is sealed until a future day, a day when Israel will welcome him with the greeting, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” In the meantime, Jerusalem will be left desolate (referring especially to the 70 CE destruction by Rome).
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Healing on the Sabbath (1-6), parable of the marriage feast (7-14).
Vs. 1 makes it clear that though invited into their homes, these Pharisees, aspiring leaders but in reality with little political power, have invited him to judge him. Yeshua is not welcomed as a teacher or prophet, but as a potential subversive who might need to be dealt with. Yeshua deliberately seeks out controversy by bringing up the issue of healing the man with dropsy (edema, swollen feet and excess fluid, which can become fatal). Yeshua sternly rebukes them with parables about arrogating themselves and about elitism. He is more than hinting that the leaders of Israel will be humbled by God (via Rome) for being more concerned with their power than righteousness. He explains that the kingdom is for all Israelites: sinners, the poor, the disabled. The kingdom works in a different direction than the machinations of religious power.
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Parable of the great banquet (15-24), counting the cost of following Yeshua (25-33), parable of salt (34-35).
Teachings on counting the cost and the parable of salt follow a pattern in Luke: stories of rejection followed by calls to discipleship. Yeshua is making rigorous demands of disciples, that they would become unattached to possessions and entirely devoted to serving others in a vision of renewing the world. The three excuses in the parable are similar to the reasons one could abstain from war in the Torah from Deuteronomy 20:5-7 (newly planted vineyard, new house, newly married, see Johnson). Yeshua is saying the call to discipleship is even more important and none of those reasons will excuse a person from joining the work. The Pharisees sitting at the table with Yeshua have not been working for the kingdom. They have been rejecting the prophet sent out by the master to gather people for the banquet. They are in danger of missing the prophet’s offer and thus missing the banquet. The costs of discipleship are high, including suffering, possible division with family, and renouncing all attachments. Yet the cost of non-discipleship is higher: missing the banquet of God. A disciple must be singular in purpose or else he or she is like tasteless salt.
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Two distinct groups (1-2), parable of the lost sheep (3-7), parable of the lost coin (8-10).
The two groups (“sinners” and those who would hold power and dominate) in vss. 1 and 2 are key to understand the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son in the rest of this chapter. We should ask ourselves why Yeshua invested so much time advocating for the relatively powerless and for those who had little hope of being accepted by God. We should ask why his barbs were so largely reserved for self-assured religious people. Given the power dynamics revealed in vss. 1-2, we should remember always to see ourselves in the position of needing God’s Father-love. The lost coin parable is unique to Luke, and though the lost sheep parable is also in Matthew there are significant differences. Here in Luke, the lost sheep is placed on the shoulder and the shepherd makes a party with neighbors. The Lukan telling is more emotional and part of a trio of stories about lost things being found and straying persons returning.
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A younger son takes his inheritance early and squanders it (11-13), in squalor, the younger son thinks to return as a servant to his father’s estate (14-19), the spurned father holds no grudges and receives the son back with joy (20-24), the older son complains (25-30), the father explains his mercy (31-32).
The setting for the story is described in 15:1-2. The Pharisees and scribes are the would-be interpreters of the tradition and laws. They do not approve of the kind of people Yeshua is consorting with. In chapter 9 of Yeshua in Context I give a more detailed commentary. It is crucial to recognize the way Yeshua is putting a twist into the familiar story of Israel. That story basically goes: election and initial blessing, unfaithfulness and decline, exile and shame, coming restoration and vindication leading to ultimate glory. Yeshua’s generation saw itself still in the exile and shame part of the story and many ideas about how the restoration and vindication part would happen. This story is told in various ways in places like Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Yeshua puts in a new twist: an older brother who resents restoration when it happens. The prodigal (younger son) is like Israel going into a far country (exile in Assyria and Babylon) and finding shame. Israel returned in the days of Nehemiah and Ezra. One group that criticized the returnees were the Samaritans. Yeshua is (ironically) pointing out a similarity between his opponents and the Samaritans who troubled the returned exiles in Nehemiah’s time. Those who are forgiven much and who seek restoration should not criticize the restoration of others (sinners, tax collectors, etc.). The father (Yeshua’s Father) wants to kill the fatted calf, but the older brother isn’t willing. When God’s restoration is pouring out, grace appears scandalous, but all are in need of the same kind of father-love from God. Blessed are those who know this and humbly receive while thankful that others are receiving as well.
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The shrewd manager (1-9), related sayings (10-13).
As with the manager in the parable, the Children of Light (Jewish leaders) are about to be visited by their master. What will they do to secure friends in eternal tents? Will they help people reduce their debt to God or will they continue doing nothing (or even opposing Yeshua’s movement of reaching out to sinners)? The parable confuses many concerned with the possibility that unethical actions of a manager are being praised. Some deny that the manager’s response is unethical (perhaps he is simply removing the high interest his master charges from the customer accounts). As Luke Timothy Johnson says, the issues in the parable amount to two simple things: how to respond to the visitation of the master and how to use possessions. The manager begins by using possessions selfishly. But when he hears the master is coming, he seeks to use possessions in a way to win friends. He uses his power to reduce the debts of those he does business with. Likewise, Yeshua’s disciples give alms to those in need and also teach forgiveness, so that people may reduce their debts both economically and spiritually. Vs. 9 suggests almsgiving as a way to use money wisely. Vss. 10-12 suggest that God rewards disciples based on their use of possessions. Vs. 13 suggests that money (or possessions) may either be an idol or a means of serving others.
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Scoffing Pharisees (14), what is despised of God (15), from law to kingdom (16-18).
The exact logic of this discourse is hard to follow at first. Luke Johnson suggests the following progression: the Pharisees feel superior in their Torah piety, but Yeshua reminds them something new is here (announcement of the kingdom’s arrival) which builds on top of the old (Torah piety). Yeshua implies that the new teaching of Torah he brings (the gospel of the kingdom) is more intense than theirs (the law and prophets which were until John). He then goes on in vss. 19-31 to tell a parable questioning whether anyone who is not committed to almsgiving can hear Moses at all. And these Pharisees are lovers of money (and, thus, not fervent in almsgiving). Luke’s method of relating this conflict is transparent and simple. He pinpoints for readers a fault of these Pharisees (love of money) and shows this as opposition to kingdom values. Without Luke’s note in vs. 14, we might have guessed the esteemed things of vs. 15 were power and domination. But, while that may be true, Luke is focusing on a more narrow offense: greed. In vss. 16-18, Yeshua claims that the Pharisees are not as good at Torah piety as they imagine. Yeshua’s kingdom gospel is intensifying Torah, not diminishing it. Slackness about divorce is an example of the Pharisees’ failure to intensify Torah. And meanwhile, John the Baptist marked the boundary from before and after the arrival of the kingdom (in Yeshua’s life and deeds the kingdom can be said to have partially arrived). The real piety of Torah looks for the kingdom and makes this world like the world to come by providing for all who are needy and hurting.
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Lazarus and the rich man. **See below for detailed exposition**
Luke has emphasized repeatedly Yeshua’s teaching about renouncing all attachment to possessions, about the importance of almsgiving, and about the kingdom perspective of reward and punishment. The rich man and Lazarus parable is not the place to find information about what the afterlife is like. Parables feature concrete images and unusual descriptions without needing to be taken literally. The term “Abraham’s bosom” reflects the tradition of viewing the afterlife as being “gathered to the fathers” (Johnson). As in a Greco-Roman symposium (banquet), the place of honor is to recline next to the head of the banquet, so Lazarus is pictured as reclining next to Abraham. See Matt 8:11 for the “table of Abraham”. See Luke 13:28 for the idea of people seeing the patriarchs in the kingdom. Many times Yeshua has taught the principle of reversal: those who make this life about riches are poor in the life to come and vice-versa. The whole parable is a denunciation of Yeshua’s opponents, Pharisees in this case, who Luke informs us are “lovers of money” and were scoffing at Yeshua. The Pharisees were a party seeking political power in order to enforce their notions of Torah purity on the people. Yeshua has said that their Torah teaching lacks the intensity of the kingdom ethic. They are not as good at Torah piety as they imagine. Almsgiving is an example of true Torah. So, in this parable, Yeshua makes the decisive point that Moses cannot help a person who refuses to submit to the announcement of the kingdom and to live for its coming. As Luke Timothy Johnson says of these Pharisees who opposed Yeshua, “In spite of their claim to hold the demands of the law, they reject the outcasts among the people.” So they will reject the one who comes back from the dead (vs. 31).
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On causing scandal and stumbling (1-2), on forgiveness (3-4), on having faith (5-6), on being dutiful servants (7-10).
Luke Johnson suggests that after a long section denouncing the comfortable and privileged, Yeshua now issues a demanding challenge for his followers. It may be true that as the poor or marginalized they tend to be humble, but they too need faith, must forgive, and in so doing are only doing their duty. In other words, Yeshua turns from excoriating his powerful adversaries to making hard demands of his followers. The marginalized followers of Yeshua should not rejoice in being a scandal to the power-mongers. Causing stumbling is never something to rejoice about. And if the scandal caused by the disciple falls on the “little ones,” likely a term taken over from Matthew referring to disciples of Yeshua, then the guilt for causing it is very high. In other words, we have a responsibility to assist the faith of others and not do anything to bring it down. Likewise, we cannot nurse the private satisfaction of wringing guilt from others, but must readily forgive offenses against us. These hard demands caused the disciples to say, “Increase our faith.” Yeshua replied that if they had the smallest grain of faith it would be enough to uproot trees. In other words, it is not the amount of faith but the power of the one in whom we have faith that matters. Focus on our own religious affections can be counter-productive whereas focus on the greatness of God and Messiah is paramount. Yeshua then continues his hard teaching. When we so live for others as to avoid causing scandal and to forgive repeatedly, we have only done our duty. The radical life of discipleship is not cause for high praise. To focus on our own greatness would again be counter-productive. It is the Master we must serve and not ourselves.
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Ten lepers (11-19).
Of the ten lepers, only one expresses thanks. The lowly can be as thankless as the privileged. Luke has a soft heart for Samaritans (9:52; 10:33; Acts 1:8; 8:1, 5, 9, 14, 25; 9:31; 15:3) and a story like this one is bound to be included. The mission of Yeshua would continue through the disciples and extend out from Israel to Samaria and the nations. Luke makes it his business to show hints of Yeshua pointing this direction already. There can be no doubt that the posture of the cleansed Samaritan leper is an example for disciples: on his face at Yeshua’s feet thanking him. The saying in vs. 19 suggests that “your faith has healed/saved you” means more than cleansing from skin disease. The Samaritan leper was already healed, but vs. 19 suggests more has happened. Luke Johnson also suggests the story is a transition to Yeshua’s last trip to Jerusalem and the mission of the disciples that will follow. They are like the Samaritan, outcasts healed and saved by the master. Johnson says, “They can never stop giving thanks to the master, never arrogate to themselves the status of master.”
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Timing of the kingdom (20-21), Son of Man (22-25), days of the Son of Man (26-37).
These Pharisees are keeping Yeshua under close scrutiny, but missing the fact that the kingdom is happening where Yeshua is (the powers of evil are being defeated, illness is being healed, and the powers of the coming age are working in this age). Thus, the saying that it “is not coming with signs to be observed” is a rebuke to the Pharisees for their suspicious observation of Yeshua. Though they are watching him closely, they are looking for the wrong things and thus, ironically, are missing the kingdom while looking right at it! This does not mean Yeshua denies a time when the order of this world will be radically changed. The coming of the kingdom in full will happen and it will be obvious and sudden. What Yeshua is bringing in his time is a foretaste, but he also believes it will come in full (the ideas are not contradictory). And many of those who desire the coming of the kingdom assume they will not be judged guilty. But Yeshua warns that if the kingdom comes suddenly, many who think they will be great in the kingdom will be judged instead. Knowledge of the coming kingdom should lead to humility, repentance, and serving the needs of people as worship to God. Those who give up their lives to the demands of the kingdom will find reward in it.
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The persistent widow and the unjust judge (1-8), the tax collector and the Pharisee (9-14).
Vss. 1-8 are given an unusually clear introduction. The moral of the parable is explained in advance by Luke: to encourage prayer during a long wait. As Luke Johnson observes, “Jesus makes clear the kingdom he proclaims is not yet the end-time, that there must be a period in which the disciples will ‘long to see one of the days of the Son of Man.’” Looking over Luke’s shoulders, we can see how this was an issue for him and his community. The Twelve were mostly or all dead and the eyewitnesses were nearly all gone. Yet Yeshua had not returned. It is also easy to see how such teachings fit into Yeshua’s time. He spoke often of the kingdom which gave people hopes of a soon turning of the ages. Yeshua balanced kingdom talk with teachings about delay. The parable of the unjust judge is simply one of many teachings about delay. Those who pray regularly for the Age to Come, the dawning of kingdom realities, understand the frustration of praying for something which will not likely come in our lifetime. Christians and Jews have been praying fervently and often for millennia. Even the unjust judge eventually listens, lest he get a black eye from the widow. But Yeshua adds a twist to the parable: when the Son of Man comes, will people still be praying? Will faith live through the long delay? Does our faith survive the frustration of delay? The second parable is also about prayer and, again, Luke gives the moral at the beginning: that we would not think ourselves more righteous than others and look on them with contempt. The parable is a trap for all readers. It is tempting to commit the very sin Yeshua is warning against by saying, “Thank God I am not like the Pharisee!” The kind of prayer Yeshua commends is practiced very closely in the Russian tradition. Many times a day some Christians pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Just as the delay of the kingdom was a major issue for Luke and his community, so was the issue of religious power. The marginalized disciples of Yeshua were often judged by those with religious power. Ironically, Christendom became the religious power over time and too often acted the part of the self-righteous. Luke continually commends almsgiving (tzedakah), humility, and faith in the invisible.
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Infants epitomize the kingdom (15-17), a rich ruler who epitomizes those that miss the kingdom (18-27), those who leave all to follow and inherit the kingdom (28-30), the disciples do not grasp suffering as messianic (31-34).
This section comes back to following Mark’s gospel briefly before another Lukan section begins. The whole section hangs together on the issues of possessions, self-reliance versus trust, and committing all to follow Yeshua. Babies are helpless, dependent. The ruler is self-reliant, relying on his own wealth and righteousness. Those who leave all behind to trust only in God’s mercy epitomize the kingdom. Better to have nothing with God than to have plenty without. Luke Johnson suggests that the point of commanding the rich ruler to abandon possessions is not that he would earn reward by yet another observance of a commandment, but so that he would become poor and able to trust in God. An example of a rich person doing exactly that is coming soon in the story of Zaccheus (who, it should be noted, did not give away all, but used his possessions for good). The ones who get called into Yeshua’s kingdom are the outcasts, not the rulers. Babies are helpless and dependent like the outcasts Yeshua is calling (Johnson). Rulers are like those who “rely on themselves that they are righteous” (18:9), who “justify themselves” (10:29; 16:15), and who are “lovers of money” (16:14; Johnson). Disciples, by contrast, leave all to follow and rely on Yeshua, are justified in Yeshua, and love the kingdom.
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LUKE 18:35 – 19:10
The blind man at Jericho (18:35-43), Zacchaeus (19:1-10).
Luke 18:35-43 is drawn from Mark 10:46-52 where the blind man is identified as Bartimaeus. Luke Johnson notes that Bartimaeus is like the children if 18:16-17 while Zaccheus is a contrast to the rich young ruler of 18:18-27. Bartimaeus is helpless and open to the kingdom blessings. Zaccheus is rich like the rich ruler, but different from him in two ways: Zaccheus is an obvious sinner and Zaccheus is repentant. Better to be a repentant sinner than a pious prig, is Yeshua’s message and also Luke’s. Better to be a helpless blind beggar and find salvation than prideful, self-righteous, and truly blind. Luke’s blending of teaching and story makes his points effectively. These two stories, says Luke Johnson, answer the question from 18:26, “Who then can be saved?” Luke Johnson: “The good news continues to reach the poor and the outcast; the kingdom is made up of people like helpless children.”
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Introduction: they thought the kingdom would suddenly appear (11), the Parable of the King and the Minas (12-27).
Luke’s Parable of the Minas is significantly different from Matthew’s Parable of the Talents (Matt 25:14-30) and should be interpreted on its own rather than in comparison. Luke Johnson rejects the consensus that the Minas parable is about early-church theology of a long delay of the Second Coming and that the kingship referred to in vs. 15 happens at the Second Coming. Johnson argues persuasively that the kingship of Yeshua begins right away and that the “return” in vs. 15 is the resurrection. In other words, this parable is describing the current age and not the age to come. Yeshua is about to approach the city as king in the next story (19:28-44). He will go away (the cross and the time in the tomb) and return (resurrection). He will entrust the Twelve with kingdom roles (and likely all disciples are part of this bequeathment). The Twelve will “be in authority” in the sense of establishing communities and leading them. We should not read this ruling in terms of power and prestige, but in the sense that Yeshua has taught his disciples what rulership means: serving and sacrificing. In a minimalist application, Yeshua is saying the Twelve will be given leadership based on how they work for the kingdom. In a fuller application, each disciple of Yeshua has a certain role in the kingdom and those who work for the kingdom are given more through their faithfulness. Those who, in Yeshua’s name, serve and heal and give find that their influence and ability increases through the Living Presence of Yeshua.
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Obtaining a donkey (28-35), Yeshua’s entry into Jerusalem with messianic acclaim (36-38), some Pharisees protest (39), Yeshua affirms his messianic identity (40), Yeshua weeps over Jerusalem (41-44), Yeshua cleanses the Temple (45-48).
The elaborate procedure by which the disciples are told to get the donkey suggest the possibility that Yeshua had pre-arranged this with the donkey’s owner. The account is in all three synoptics. Like the unnamed owner of the upper room where the Last Supper was held (possibly even the same person), this donkey owner is unnamed. It may be that in the days the Passion Narratives were first written down the name was withheld to protect these people from arrest. Luke is very clear that Yeshua’s triumphal entry is a deliberate offer of kingship to Jerusalem. Yeshua did believe in his messianic calling and Luke is more clear about this than other gospels. The parable which immediately precedes this (the Minas) represents Yeshua as going off to receive his kingship and giving his disciples authority in his kingdom. The triumphal entry is the beginning of Yeshua entering into his kingship. As Yeshua weeps over the city, he says they did not know the time of their “visitation.” In English this word is misleading. It means they did not know the time of their judgment (but can easily be misinterpreted as “you did not know the time of the visit of Messiah”). The city will be judged for not welcoming the king and rejecting God’s way of kingdom in favor of dreams of power and elitism. The Temple protest action of Yeshua is a deliberate provocation. If the city will reject him, he will force the issue. And the cross is Yeshua going away, as in the Minas parable, to receive his kingship. The resurrection is his return. The messianic prophet, Yeshua, is forcing the issue and enacting his kingship ironically.
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Yeshua’s authority questioned (1-8), Parable of the Vineyard (9-16), the rejected cornerstone (17-18), leaders seek to arrest Yeshua (19).
The Vineyard is a common prophetic image for Israel (Isaiah 5 especially, but also Jer 12:10; Ezek 19:10). Yeshua says that for killing the Son, the leadership of Israel will be handed from the Chief Priests to the Twelve (Luke Johnson notes that this theme of the Twelve as the true leaders in Israel is developed in Acts). With the destruction of the Temple, the leadership structure of Israel changed completely (the Jewish people were leaderless until the rabbinic dominance of the sixth and later centuries).
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Plots to trap Yeshua (20), question about taxes to Caesar (21-26), question about marriage in the life to come (27-40).
Luke Johnson points out how each controversy reveals the shortcoming of the faith of the leaders in Yeshua’s generation. They see compromise with earthly empires as necessary (21-26), others see prosperity in this life as the only blessing (27-40), they have a simplistic conquering king in mind as Messiah (41-44), and their authority is based on affluence and dominion over others. Yeshua’s underlying claim is that God’s blessing comes through unexpected avenues, is based on life and resurrection, and is for the humble and receptive. In being challenged over the question of Jews paying taxes to Caesar, Yeshua forces his opponents to show a silver denarius, a coin which bears on it the inscription, “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus, Augustus.” He exposes hypocrisy in that they carry the offensive coin while he does not. The Sadducees deny afterlife and Yeshua exposes them as corrupt. Their religion is about power and wealth in this life because they lack faith in the life to come. Yeshua more than hints at this when he speaks in vs. 35 about “those who are considered worthy to attain to that age.” The emphasis on power and wealth amongst the leaders of Israel shows them unworthy of this attainment.
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LUKE 20:41 -21:4
(Continued from 20:20, plots to trap Yeshua): Yeshua challenges the messianic theology of the scribes (41-44), Yeshua warns against the pride of the leaders (45-47), the widow’s mite (21:1-4).
This section continues the contrast from 20:20-40 between Yeshua and the leaders of his time. The whole section is prefaced by 20:20, saying that various groups would send spies (enkathetos, those who lie in wait). These would pretend to be “righteous,” which is probably to say favorable to Yeshua. But their favorable stance was a ruse to trap him. Yeshua has withstood several such public challenges and refutes his enemies with powerful scriptural arguments. In vss. 41-44 he takes the common messianic expectations deeper with the mystery of Psalm 110. Messiah, it can be deduced from one way of reading Psalm 110, must be greater than David. The messianic office, says Yeshua, is not merely that of a warrior king, but is David’s Lord. Those who later reflected on Yeshua’s words, knowing that he is Messiah, would see that he is both Son of David and Lord of David. Yeshua’s comment on the scribes (here they seem to be taken separately from the Pharisees, though there is often overlap between the groups) is that they are prideful and greedy. How they devour widow’s houses is uncertain (taking legal fees from widows? accepting large donations for scriptural study?). The widow in 21:2 is giving to the alms-collection at the Temple (thus, not supporting the Temple but an offering for the poor). Though she is poor herself, she gives what she needs to live on to help others in the same poverty as herself. Yeshua is not condemning the Temple for robbing widows here, but commending a widow who gives out of her poverty while others take even in their wealth. The widow represents the final contrast between those in power who oppose Yeshua and those in need, whom Yeshua is calling to be disciples of similar merit to the widow. Yeshua’s disciples are not about pride or greed, but giving life out of their poverty.
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Yeshua foretells the Temple destruction (5-6), signs of nearness (7-11), warnings of persecution of Yeshua-followers (12-19), the terror of the Temple destruction (20-24).
This section focuses on three coming periods (per Luke Johnson): times of persecution coming for Yeshua-followers, times of destruction of Jerusalem, and the times of the Son of Man. Johnson notes that by the time Luke wrote, the first two times had occurred, validating Yeshua as prophet (as per Deut 18) and giving confidence that the third part (the Son of Man’s coming) would as surely happen. Some aspects of vss. 7-11 do not sound like events from the first century and the Temple destruction of 70 CE. Great earthquakes, plagues, and famine are signs of divine judgment mentioned often in the prophets. Terrors and signs from heaven are more vague and Josephus does mention these happening in 70 CE (Jewish War 6:288-300). It seems valid to apply Yeshua’s words in vss. 7-11 not only to the first century turmoil, but also to the time of the end of the age. He is talking about both at once. His advice for the disciples leading up to 70 CE is also advice for later disciples awaiting the greater end, the end of the age and the dawning of the age to come. Vss. 12-19 describe the kinds of trials the disciples would endure and also continuing persecution throughout the age of delay, as the faithful in Messiah await his return. Luke’s description of the siege of Jerusalem in vss. 20-24 is more specific and accurate than Mark’s or Matthew’s. For example, he says “when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies,” a phrase more specific than Mark’s “when you see the abomination of desolation.” Many think Mark’s words were written down before 70 CE and before anyone knew what Yeshua was talking about. Matthew and Luke’s accounts contain more specific and relevant clues pointing to the 70 CE events and demonstrate a clearer understanding of what Yeshua had foretold.
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Signs of the coming of the Son of Man (25-33), readiness for the Son of Man’s coming (34-36), Yeshua’s itinerary teaching in the Temple (37-38).
The situation seems to be something like this: Mark in chapter 13 recorded Yeshua’s words without precision, not knowing what he was referring to since his gospel is before 70 CE. Matthew followed Mark somewhat closely and did not completely clarify though his gospel is after 70 CE. Luke, more concerned with historical clarity and especially concerned about the role of Jerusalem, is the first gospel to clarify Yeshua’s words and present them as describing three periods (the time of persecution for disciples, the fall of Jerusalem, and the time of the return of the Son of Man). Vss. 5-24 concern the first two periods and now Yeshua turns to the end of the age and the coming of the Son of Man. Luke’s community has lived through the first two periods. Now, Yeshua’s words about the coming of the Son of Man in vss. 25-36 are easier to believe since he was right about the other two periods (Johnson). Johnson points to a number of features that mark vss. 25-38 as describing a different era: the signs have changed into cosmic ones, the people involved are the whole earth and the nations, and the advice for disciples is not about fleeing but readiness. Johnson notes that “this generation” in vs. 32 is very vague. In Luke “this generation” is not a strict reference to one generation in the flow of time, but to those who oppose Yeshua’s kingdom teaching (e.g., 7:31; 11:29; etc.). In other words, it is quite possible that Yeshua meant things would remain similar throughout the age with the world divided, as in the days of Yeshua, into those who work against the kingdom vision and those who believe it. But Yeshua’s words are eternal and true regardless of opposition. And those who believe in the kingdom will ever serve it and will, thus, be found doing good when Yeshua returns.
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Passover and the plot of the chief priests (1-2), Satanically possessed, Judas is paid to betray (3-6), preparation for Passover (7-13), the Passover Seder (14-23).
Luke’s telling of the Last Supper in vss. 14-23, emphasizes the positive, the covenant relationship between Yeshua and disciples, dividing the cup as symbolic of sharing the mission of suffering as well as sharing the authority of the new covenant with them (see Luke Johnson for details). There is no equivocation in Luke: the meal is Passover, which is at odds with the account in John. The best evidence suggests the Last Supper was a Passover-themed meal, but was held before the night of Passover. Several aspects of Luke’s account are highly related to Paul’s retelling in 1 Corinthians 11, further evidence that Luke was in the Pauline circle.
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Messiah teaches at the Passover table: who is the greatest (24-27), I grant you a kingdom (28-30), Simon and Satan’s sifting (31-32), Peter will deny the Master (33-34), purse and sword and numbered with transgressors (35-38).
The disciples have already had arguments about who is the greatest (Luke 9:46). One of Yeshua’s sayings about this fits well into the Last Supper scene, that the one serving is greater than the one reclining. Luke, unlike John, does not portray Yeshua as serving at the Last Supper, but perhaps relates the saying to the overall mission of the messianic prophet (his whole life was to serve and even his death). Neither does Luke make as explicit a statement as Mark in 10:45 (“not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom”), but the saying “I am among you as one who serves” carries much of the same weight. At the end of this section, Yeshua cites the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, saying that he will be “numbered with the transgressors” on the cross. The disciples are going to be given authority over a kingdom, but that authority, like Yeshua’s is to be used in serving. Peter (Simon) will be the leader, but is on the edge of failing except for Yeshua’s prayers to strengthen him against Satan’s sifting. And in spite of Peter’s bravado, Yeshua tells him in advance the painful truth that he will deny his own master. While Yeshua has sent them out before on a peaceful mission, their lives will be in danger now. The advice about a sword is deliberate exaggeration. The disciples cannot protect themselves from the Temple guard and Rome. But they will be like bandits, subject to arrest. Many things are not as they appear: a servant is actually lord and outlaws are actually those who sit on thrones.
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Gethsemane and arrest (39-53), the trial before the chief priests (54-71).
In Gethsemane, Yeshua says to the arresting officers of the priests, “This is your hour and the power of darkness.” If even the Son of God had to submit to the reign of evil in this present age, surely we will as well. We remain in the age of evil, awaiting a new hour to arrive, the hour that Messiah calls his own. Peter’s denial and later reconciliation give us hope that we too can be forgiven while we wait. Luke interprets Yeshua’s statement about the Son of Man being beside the throne of God differently than Mark, as occurring immediately after the resurrection, in this age. Both Mark’s and Luke’s interpretation are true: we see Yeshua now beside God’s throne by faith and we will see him come with power.
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First trial before Pilate (1-7), trial before Herod Antipas (8-12), Pilate tries to free Yeshua but is politically bound to execute him (13-25), Yeshua on the way to the cross (26-31).
The account of Yeshua’s trial would have disappointed some Greeks and Romans accustomed to feisty philosophers standing up for themselves and being defiant at their trial (see Luke Johnson). The emphasis here is instead on Yeshua’s silence, his resignation to a foreordained destiny. Also emphasized, and deeply felt by early Yeshua-followers, is that his suffering was innocent. He had not attacked Rome in any way and the famously corrupt Jewish leadership acted with infamous corruption. Regarding Yeshua’s relative silence, especially in his own defense, this theme is part of the tradition and brought to mind Isaiah 53:7 (“he did not open his mouth”), which is cited in Acts 8:32 and 1 Peter 2:22-25 (Johnson). Also made clear is that Yeshua is innocent of all charges and suffers unjustly. For example, he is accused of speaking against payment of taxes when he had said the opposite in 20:25. Luke’s portrayal of Pilate is someone reluctant to be manipulated by the Sanhedrin, but who caves in to political pressure during the volatile time of the feast. Herod Antipas is curious about the power of Yeshua and acts as a cruel despot. Simon the Cyrene is mentioned by name in keeping with the practice of naming well-known eyewitnesses to spoke about their experiences in the days of the early community. Yeshua’s speech on the way to the cross is unique to Luke’s account and fits Luke’s portrayal of Yeshua as the messianic prophet. He turns around the grief of the women for his suffering and foretells coming days when women will wish they had no children. As the leadership of Israel is rejecting the one sent by God, so the fate of Jerusalem is sealed and terrible suffering will come (in the First Jewish Revolt of 66-70 CE). Yeshua’s time is the green wood, when there is life in the city, but the coming days will be dry wood, and the city will be burned.
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Yeshua and two thieves brought to be crucified (32-33); Yeshua’s forgiveness saying and casting lots (34); the reactions of the people, the Jewish leaders, and the soldiers (35-37), the inscription (38), one of the thieves is promised Paradise (39-43); darkness, the veil torn, and Yeshua gives up his spirit (44-46), The centurion’s reaction (47), the common peoples’ reaction (48), Yeshua’s friends at a distance (49), Joseph’s reaction (50-54), the reaction of the women who followed Yeshua (55-56).
Unlike Mark, Luke does not emphasize the suffering of Yeshua (so Johnson). Comparing the parallel passages in Mark and Luke, we see how the same events can be depicted with different emphases. In Luke’s telling, the foreshadowings from the Hebrew Bible are all present in these events. He was crucified with criminals and the soldiers cast lots, as in Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22. And Luke also includes the mockery and reaction of the leaders and soldiers. But in Luke’s version, Yeshua does not cry out in anguish or speak of being abandoned. Instead Luke emphasizes that Yeshua remained on mission right to the end, praying forgiveness for Jewish leaders who have acted in ignorance (see Acts 3:17; 7:25; 13:27 for more on the ignorance theme) and offering the kingdom to a repentant thief. Another distinctive theme in Luke’s version is to deny that a curse has come on the whole people. Therefore, in vs. 35, the people react differently than the leaders and soldiers. They watch but do not mock. A little later in vs. 48 they will beat their breasts in sadness for what has happened. The land and Temple show signs of mourning (no light in the land, the Temple veil tearing which may be the Father rending his garments). And the psalm Yeshua cites is not one of betrayal, Psalm 22 as in Mark, but one of confidence, Psalm 31:6(5) (or 30:6 from the Septuagint version). This is a striking difference, one often overlooked. Did Yeshua make both statements from the cross (“My God, why have you forsaken me?” and “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”) even though they seem like contradicting portrayals of his final emotions in death? The Fourth Gospel has yet another variation, “It is finished.” A harmonizing interpretation could be that Yeshua said all of these things, moving in his last hours from feeling betrayed, to a sense of trust in the Father, to a statement of final accomplishment. Yet the fact that no one Gospel contains all three sayings is evidence that something slightly more complicated is going on. The different witnesses, who were the women and the Beloved disciple, had different impressions of Yeshua’s final words and his emotional state. What we have left to us in the Gospels is not a transcript, but the imperfect memories of those who saw what happened. And it is not unlikely that he would have gone through several emotional states during the hours of his death. Luke shows us good theology about who Yeshua is and the hope of salvation in him for all kinds of people: gentiles like the centurion, common Jewish people like the repentant crowd, Jewish leaders like Joseph of Arimethea, and disciples like the women who followed Yeshua. The centurion says, “Surely this man was righteous” (he means more than “innocent,” says Johnson). Luke is driving home the Suffering Servant of Isaiah theme (“by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous”, cited in Johnson). The common people had gathered to see a spectacle (vs. 35), but seeing the kind of death Yeshua died, they walk away repenting and beating their breasts. Luke is indicating hopefulness for the people of Judea to believe in Messiah. Joseph of Arimethea is part of the leadership, the corrupt leadership, but acts righteously toward Yeshua’s body. The honor he pays to Yeshua suggests hope, important to Luke’s theology, that Israel’s leaders will trust in Yeshua. And the women represent the most devoted disciples. Their love for and care for Yeshua, even in their doubting his word (since they don’t think he will rise), shows that salvation can come to disciples who follow him to the end.
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Perplexity and unbelief at the empty tomb.
The women who followed Yeshua came on Sunday at dawn with spices to anoint (perfume) the corpse as part of the process of honoring the dead. They did not believe Yeshua would rise. The fact that all the gospel resurrection accounts mention this is a clue that we have here ancient accounts based on eyewitness reports. The gospels do not claim that any of the disciples (who became the authorities for the early congregations) understood the death and resurrection of Yeshua. N.T. Wright has observed that the resurrection narratives do not preach sermons about the afterlife. Why, if Luke is writing this down more than forty years after the fact, are these stories not turned into sermons? Wright suggests that the stories started being told early and were well known by oral tradition. The gospel writers felt constrained to tell the story as it was known and not to sermonize. Paul sermonizes in 1 Corinthians 15, but the purpose there is different than in the gospels, which are about reporting what happened. We learn that the women were included in Yeshua’s private instruction for his disciples in vs. 8. The male disciples do not believe the report of the women, but think Yeshua is dead, a failed Messiah and merely a prophet. Vs. 12 (“Then Peter got up and ran to the tomb; and stooping down, he saw the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass”) is in some of the earliest manuscripts, but not in others. Wright thinks it is genuine and should be included, but most modern versions omit it. The raising of Yeshua’s body perplexed the disciples, male and female, because this was not the way people believed the resurrection would happen — but they believed that at the end of the age all the righteous would be raised at once. They did not understand who Yeshua was, what his death represented, or that he would be alive and present with them always.
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Yeshua appears incognito on the road to Emmaus (13-29), Yeshua makes himself known and disappears (30-35).
Luke Johnson says that in contradistinction from other after-death stories of heroes in Hellenistic literature, there are two common elements in the Yeshua-resurrection story that stand out. First, Yeshua’s appearance is not partial, incorporeal, but fully present, corporeal, and authoritative. Second, the appearances are not only to a scattered individual here or there, but to a community which is brought into existence precisely by these appearances (the Yeshua-movement was started by eyewitnesses). We know a few things about Cleopas that are not mentioned here. His wife was at the cross (John 19:25, Cleopas is a rare name and Clopas is equivalent). He was Yeshua’s uncle, Joseph’s brother (Eusebius, Hist. Ecclus. 3.11; 4.22.4). Cleopas’ son, Simon, the cousin of Jacob (James) and Yeshua, was the leader who replaced Jacob (James) over the Jerusalem congregation. Richard Bauckham explains that Cleopas is named here, while the second disciple is anonymous, because Cleopas is a well-known eyewitness and is the source of this story. Yeshua’s appearance, his brief revelation at the moment of breaking bread, indicates that Yeshua is present incognito and invisible with disciples in community. He is not dead, but alive. His presence is the basis of community in Messiah. And remembrance of him is what disciples do to find strength to live in him and to live as he taught.
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Yeshua appears to the eleven and more (36-43), Yeshua extends their understanding and purpose (44-49), Yeshua’s blessing and ascension (50-51), the disciples’ joy and worship habit at the temple (52-53).
The appearance stories are intended to verify the reality of the resurrection, which signified a partial realization of the age to come. A common belief of the time included the notion of an afterlife in the underworld with people dwelling as shades or ghosts in Hades or Sheol (this was not the Jewish view, but Jews were susceptible to pagan notions at times). The disciples needed to see that Yeshua was not a shade or a mere bodiless spirit. Yeshua’s final teaching reveals that the events of his passion and raising were in the plan of God and the scriptures from the beginning. The disciples receive both empowerment and a mission to spread what Yeshua started. The empowerment will come upon them in Jerusalem in Acts 2. The empowering Presence that the Spirit brings is the Spirit of the Living Yeshua and the power is on the disciple community corporately, just as Israel corporately bore the Presence of God. To have this empowerment today, it is necessary for Yeshua-followers to form communities modeled on the disciples and their communities and to serve the Living Yeshua. When the disciples returned to Jerusalem, it should be noted that they continued worshipping as part of Israel, a renewal within Israel and not a new and separate religion.
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